Wireless networks are reliant on close proximity to an access point, losing signal strength as the distance grows. Setting up a WiFi network for business often means coverage for a significantly larger area, and that requires extra considerations for a variety of potential problems that can arise.
As we expand the service range, signal interference can occur from physical obstructions such as walls and furniture, but also intangible things as well. Nearby wireless devices on the same frequency, microwaves and other appliances, or even a neighboring company’s WiFi network near the building.
Any combination of these factors can affect your wireless signal, resulting in slow transfer speeds, dead zones or even connection drops. This is where WiFi Heat Maps can prove to be invaluable tools, pinpointing the problematic areas and helping to narrow down the cause.
What are WiFi Heat Maps?
Instead of making a blind guess as to the source of problems, WiFi Heat Maps provide the ability to map out and visualize an entire wireless network. Displayed as color coded heat waves, we can easily check the signal strength in each room and see if it’s hot, cold or somewhere in between.
To accurately replicate your coverage area, most tools can import images or blueprints of your layout for georeference. Alternatively, manual surveying allows you to walk around the space with a mobile device, building a dynamic map from the data it collects. For organizations where outdoor coverage is a concern, some enterprise oriented solutions even implement GPS.
In a nutshell, these tools translate our environment in to a 2D or 3D space, then show us the problematic zones in our network. Several applications will even recommend changes that can help optimize performance.
Here’s the 6 Best WIFI Heat Map Tools & Software of 2019:
- SolarWinds Wi-Fi Heat Map
- Ekahau HeatMapper
- Acrylic Wi-Fi Heatmaps
- VisiWave Site Survey
- AirMagnet Survey Pro
1. SolarWinds Wi-Fi Heat Map
As part of the Engineer’s Toolset, a complete bundle of Enterprise grade networking tools from SolarWinds, Wi-Fi Heat Map is one of several solutions designed to optimizing wireless networks. Capable of creating custom WiFi heat maps, you can poll the strength of signals to locate weak areas and pinpoint dead zones.
In contrast to most software that requires a manual survey of the coverage area, Wi-Fi Heat Map is able to generate dynamic heat maps as well. By polling the signal strength of adjacent access points and connected clients, it is possible to plot out the area based entirely on existing device connectivity.
Once the heat map has been established, you can visualize the signal strength to identify problems and make adjustments to compensate. The color coded representation makes it easy to tell where hot and cold spots exist. Best of all, when used in combination with SolarWinds Network Monitor, you can even determine the physical location of every single network connected device within a range of 3 meters.
Free Trial for 30 Days
2. Ekahau HeatMapper
Ekahau HeatMapper is a great alternative for home, office or small business use. Advertised as the little brother to their Enterprise package called Site Survey, it’s a no-frills application, including only the essential tools needed to map out and analyze a wireless network.
The Installation Wizard provides a quick, one minute setup and works on practically any machine with a Windows operating system. Out of the box it supports 802.11/a/b/g/n, capable of finding all available networks, their access points and even detects the security settings, making it a breeze to get started without a fuss.
Compared to similar products on the market, HeatMapper lacks some of the more advanced features, but the simplicity is perfect for users that don’t need all the bells and whistles. Once you have imported an image of your building layout, you just walk around the space with your laptop to survey the premises. The software handles the rest, determining signal strength in each area and plotting that data to a map.
NetSpot is one of the more balanced packages available, designed to meet the needs of both personal and commercial users alike. It’s also one of the few cross platform solutions, able to run on MacOS 10.10+ and Windows 7, 8 or 10. They are a self-proclaimed leader in the heatmap sector, with dozens of testimonials from the big tech sites such as C|Net, TechRepublic and LifeHacker.
The biggest appeal of NetSpot however is the user friendly interface, with guided navigation for quick on-boarding.
After entering Survey Mode, the setup wizard will assist with the necessary steps, either importing an existing floor plan blueprint or walking the space to generate a real-time map of the space. Depending on what option is used, it will build the heatmap based on the data provided, and offer a visual representation of the wireless signal strength.
Free Edition – $0
Home License (Personal Use) – $49
Pro License (Single User / Commercial License) – $149
Enterprise License (Multiple Users / Commercial License) – $499
4. Acrylic Wi-Fi Heatmaps
As one of the most advanced WiFi analysis solutions on the market, Wi-Fi Heatmaps from Acrylic is an Enterprise level package in a league of its own. Advertised as a wireless planning and site survey tool, it allows the user to design, analyze and detect problems within their network, and even generate detailed reports from the data.
In addition to the basic mapping features, there is also specialized functionality for large scale deployments. It is able to import online maps and scan massive areas using built-in GPS, making it ideal for extensive landscapes such as a college, facilities or even smart cities. With 14 different styles of map to choose from, they can be generated as 2D images or 3D models and modified as needed.
While heatmaps are great for optimizing an existing network, the planning tools included with Wi-Fi Heatmaps let you design a deployment from scratch. It helps identify the best location to install access points, calibrate optimal antenna orientations and simulate virtual connectivity for the environment. Using a database of materials, the layout can be made to parallel reality by drawing walls and building elements with the actual construction material assigned (ex: concrete, brick, etc).
1 Month License – $129
3 Month License – $325
12 Month License – $879
Perpetual License (Lifetime) – $2199
5. VisiWave Site Survey
VisiWave’s Site Survey is a direct competitor to Acrylic Wi-Fi Heatmaps, targeting a similar Enterprise market with many of the same advanced features.
There are three different methods for capturing map data, which include specifying individual plot points, walking the grounds to populate a layout or using GPS positioning to survey outdoor areas. When finished, the generated map can optionally be imported in to Google Earth for a three dimensional, panoramic view of the coverage.
Predictive surveys are however VisiWave’s strongest component (available in the Pro edition). Similar to the design tools in Wi-Fi Heatmaps, you are able to describe the physical structures that act as barriers, then simulate how the signal waves propagate through the area. This can help estimate signal strength and determine what may obstruct the wireless connectivity.
VisiWave Site Survey – $549
VisiWave Site Survey Pro – $849
6. AirMagnet Survey PRO
AirMagnet Survey PRO from NetScout is yet one more Enterprise level heatmap solution to consider. While the user interface has become rather dated in recent years, it does pack several unique features under the hood, helping it stand apart from similar competitors in this sector of the market.
Looking past the less than intuitive front-end, we find practical tools such as channel overlap & interference detection, access point placement suggestions and multi-floor heat maps. For more granular control, heat maps can be generated with data for signal to noise, SNR coverage, packet loss, retry rates and PHY data rates.
The most intriguing aspect however is Survey Mobile Pro, a mobile app with basic heatmap capabilities. Considering most software is exclusive to the Windows or Mac operating systems, yet requires a mobile survey of the area, this feature is a modernized solution that makes the process more convenient.
AirMagnet Survey Pro – $3898
Whether it’s for personal use in the home or designing enterprise grade deployments, any wireless network can benefit from the information provided by heat maps. Visualizing weak signals and dead zones can point you in the right direction, while tools like predictive survey can help narrow down the cause to a specific object as the culprit.
With a range of options, both free and paid, there is no reason to try and guess at invisible problems. Software with a licensing cost often include a trial version to demo the product, letting you decide if it’s right for your needs. Download a few that look applicable and try them out before settling on just one.