Meraki's free HeatMapper, Wi-Fi Stumbler, and Client Insight tools can help IT plan, improve and troubleshoot WLAN coverage, and diagnose Wi-Fi problems for local and remote Windows, Mac users.For many of us, Wi-Fi, along with mobile broadband, has become an essential daily tool, in the office, at home, and at coffee shops, hotels, airports, conference centers, libraries and other places. But wireless LAN environments, and Wi-Fi problems, can be tricky to work with, and the tools have often been expensive.
Meraki, which sells cloud-managed 802.11 wireless LANs (and recently announced some free new features for their gear -- see my InformationWeek SMB news article, Meraki Adds Wi-Fi Management Tools) has released/announced several free new tools useful for any user and usable with any Wi-Fi network: Meraki Heatmapper, Meraki Wi-Fi Stumbler, and Meraki Client Insight.
The price is right, and they sound useful. Here's the scoop.
HeatMapper Shows Coverage
One traditional challenge, especially for small-to-midsize businesses, is that the tools needed to create coverage and configuration plans for Access Points, and for Wi-Fi endpoint settings, have been too expensive.
Meraki Heatmapper is a new coverage reporting tool that generates "heatmaps" showing Wi-Fi signal strength (RF -- radio-frequency -- coverage) and throughput for the user's location. By default, Heatmapper attempts to figure out your location with Google Maps and the satellite view, according to Meraki CEO Sanjit Biswas, or it can be used with digital floor plans if available.
Meraki Heatmapper is available free from Meraki, and runs on all major browsers and is compatible, according to the company.
Meraki Wi-Fi Stumbler Goes Handheld
Meraki also announced Meraki Mobile Wi-Fi Stumbler, a handheld version of its cloud-based WiFI Stumbler, for use on Android 2.0-based devices, available free via Android Market.
Mobile Wi-Fi Stumbler is and displays information about the local Wi-Fi environment -- what Access Points are around -- including channel, signal, and Access Point vendor, for planning and troubleshooting wireless deployments.
Mobile Wi-Fi Stumbler is "finer-grain" than the Wi-Fi detecting and reporting displayed by the "chooser" applications on most Wi-Fi-enabled devices, Biswas notes. "You may want to know what else is around, since this information is for diagnosis, not connecting. FOr example, an SMB with a warehouse can use it before deploying a Meraki network, to know what Wi-Fi is currently there."
Uses for Wi-Fi Stumbler, according to Meraki, include troubleshooting coverage and performance issues; detecting rogue Access Points; doing basic site surveys before deployment; improving your WLAN coverage by placing Access Points optimally; and improving your WLAN performance by optimizing the channel selection.
Meraki Client Insight
Client Insight is intended to help IT diagnose user Wi-Fi problems, regardless of where the users are. Windows and Mac users add a small agent program, which monitors Wi-Fi activity, which reports to Meraki's cloud management service; IT accesses and views the information from any browser, as a dashboard.
"Client Insight provides a centralized reporting view of what's going on with all your laptops in terms of wireless activity -- at all Access Points, not just Meraki APs --including location, usage, what the user was connected to, for an instantaneous or overall view," says Biswas. "We don't think anybody else offers this.
Client Insight displays aggregated data, such as all laptops in Sales, who's logged in, and what networks they're connected to. "So, for example, if somebody had trouble connecting to AT&T at Starbucks, this can help IT diagnose the problem," says Biswas.
Client Insight is currently in private beta; the agent program and associated management service are currently expected to be free, once available.
Again, you can't beat these prices -- and they may help you save a bunch of IT time and dollars, and improve user productivity.