NetSpot a handy tool to help you install a wireless network

Installing a wireless network isn't always easy, but NetSpot can make it easier. It’s an app for wireless site surveys, Wi-Fi analysis, and troubleshooting on Mac OS X (10.6 and higher). All you need is a Mac laptop — the tiny MacBook is perfect for this — and a 802.11 (or better) network.

You implement your wireless network via Wi-Fi surveys. You run a survey by walking about your environment (which is why the ultraportable, 12-inch MacBook is a great choice for the job), marking your position on the map, giving NetSpot a few seconds to collect data samples, watching Wi-Fi networks being detected and visualized.

NetSpot collects details about surrounding Wi-Fi networks and presents wireless data as an interactive table. With it you can troubleshoot and improve your network's coverage, capacity, performance, APs configurations, signal level, interference, noise, etc.

NetSpot Pro — there are different versions, which I’ll explain below — can visualize your wireless network by building a visual Wi-Fi map. It lets you see our dead zones without coverage and place hotspots (access points) correctly. Using the visualized map of collected wireless data you can also see channel load, which can help you determine how to optimize your Wi-Fi site.

You can also use NetSpot Pro as a wireless network planning tool. Load a map, collect wireless site survey data, build a heatmap of your network and you’re ready to build the optimal configuration of a new Wi-Fi network and wise radio channels usage with minimal signal to noise ratio. 

All versions of NetSpot are relatively easy to use. To launch the app — which supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands at 20/40/80/160 MHz channels —

  • Give your project a name (such as “My House”) and then give a name to the first zone you are going to scan (such as “First Floor”). If you are a Pro user, you can also set the zone environment type.
  • Select the option to load a map from your computer, or draw a map, then click Continue on the bottom-right of the screen.
  • Click on two points on the map, and then input the actual distance between them in the box at the bottom of the window. Be sure to sure to select the correct unit of measurement (feet or meters).  Then click Continue.
  • The next two screens allow Pro users to add hidden (non-broadcasting) networks and to perform an active scan. If you’re not using the Pro version, or don’t need these options, simply click Continue to move forward.
  • Walk to one corner of your space and click the point on the map that corresponds to where you are standing. The app will then take its first measurement, which can take 10 seconds to a few minutes. Be sure to stay still during this time. It is finished when the green circle appears.
  • Continue moving and scanning until you have covered the whole area of the map that you wish to scan. You don’t have to scan the entire map area. Scan only the portions you wish to survey for this zone. You should take your measurements close enough that the green circles overlap slightly. Most of your survey area should be green by the time you are finished.
  • Click the Stop Scan button on the bottom-left of the NetSpot window when done, in order to view the heatmap visualizations.

Okay, now let’s look at the multiple versions. NetSpot has four versions: two versions that can be downloaded directly from the NetSpot website, and two that are available on the Mac App Store.

NetSpot Scanner (available in the Mac App Store) is similar to NetSpot Free (available on the NetSpot website). Both are free and are limited to personal use, with limitations on the size and scope of the scanning project. NetSpot Reporter (available in the Mac AppStore) is similar to NetSpot Pro (available on the NetSpot website). Both are $49.99 can be used for commercial projects and have expanded capabilities.

So why do they have different names? The folks at NetSpot say the reason is that Apple imposes certain limitations on the apps sold in the Mac App Store. So the versions in the App Store (Scanner and Reporter) don’t have the full capabilities of the versions sold on the NetSpot website (Free and Pro). 

The biggest difference is that the versions from the App Store don’t have Discover Mode. There are other, smaller differences as well, so I’d recommend getting the app/s directly from NetSpot.