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AirMagnet breaks new ground in wireless spectrum analysis

Craig Mathias | March 25, 2014
Everyone needs a Wi-Fi spectrum analyzer, but there are times when analyzing cellular spectrum is also essential. Fluke Networks' new AirMagnet Spectrum ES provides a broad range of capability at a very attractive price. Spectral analysis, a longstanding fixture in electronics and manufacturing test, and, more recently as a valuable tool for understanding coverage, interference, and other elements of Wi-Fi, is the art and science of extracting meaning and insight from wireless systems at Layer 1 -- radio waves.

Clever readers have already noticed that the 900-MHz. unlicensed band is within the useful range of Spectrum ES. While long ago abandoned for WLAN use, this band is seeing renewed interest from the machine-to-machine crowd, so we suspect that many will purchase Spectrum ES just for this capability.

There's also coverage of the 2.4 GHz. band, but the services provided are nowhere near as comprehensive as what's in AirMagnet's own Spectrum XT product. There is, in fact, a button in Spectrum ES to switch to Spectrum XT, but we didn't test this as Spectrum XT is not, as of this writing, fully operational on Windows 8.1.

One additional interesting application is to connect the USB device (via an attenuator, of course) directly to the antenna cable of a DAS or microcell for precise measurements of transmitter output. This specialized activity should, of course, be limited to qualified personnel, but it's nice to have this option for that very significant audience. A Power Meter screen, ideal for this specific function, is also included.

The only real caution we noticed is that the screen update rate can be as slow as several seconds; this really isn't surprising given the amount of data and processing involved, and not unlike the case with enterprise-grade Wi-Fi analyzers.

So, no, Spectrum ES isn't as good as a $50,000 spectrum analyzer, but it's more than useful as a field tool where ease-of-use and portability are key.

AirMagnet Spectrum ES lists for $5,995, but deals are available on the Web. Overall, Spectrum ES is a real bargain for anyone involved in the analysis, troubleshooting, and verification of cellular performance at carriers and a broad range of other venues and applications, and will very likely find its way into the toolboxes of installers, technicians, and even product developers over the next few years.

 

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