Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter

Quick look

Tiny Wi-Fi detection tool

Price: $49.95


Phone: 888-898-0400

Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter

Back in the old days, miners used to send canaries into mineshafts to test the quality of the air before going down. If the canary suddenly went feet up, it meant there was a problem.

Today, you can use a device not much bigger than a canary to sniff the air and determine what WiFi signals are floating around out there.

The Digital Hotspotter from Canary Wireless LLC of Chicago is a two-inch-square device that is only half an inch thick. Though not much bigger than a block of chocolate, the unit includes a 12-character black-and-white LCD screen for information display. It is powered by two AAA batteries that last for several months with average use.

A single button on the front is the only control. You push the button, and the Hotspotter starts scanning the area for wireless computer networks. When it locates one, it will tell you several things about the network by scrolling data across the small screen.

It tells you the Service Set Identifier, or name of the network, the channel it's running on from one to 13, the signal strength of the network from your current location and the encryption level of the network you are detecting.

The single button control is easy to use. Let's say you're at a hotel and need to find an open network to check your e-mail. You push the button, and the first network the Hotspotter finds is a secure one called Hotel-Finance. That's probably not the one you want. So you simply push the button again to find another network that's open. This way you can see if a usable network exists before you unpack your computer gear.

Using the device, you can also move closer to an access point to get a better signal. As you move you simply monitor the strength bars on the Hotspotter.

In addition to helping road warriors, the device is useful back in the office for determining what networks are around so you can eliminate interference from competing wireless access points.

The Hotspotter helped solve a WiFi problem at the GCN office. People were having trouble connecting to a conference room wireless network that was running on channel six. It turned out that there were several networks set to channel six on other floors of the building. Resetting the AP to channel one eliminated the interference.

The Hotspotter can even detect cloaked networks. If someone is using proper security protocols and cloaking their SSID, the Hotspotter can detect that network and give you basic information about it. This can be helpful if you are supposed to connect to a cloaked network and know the secret SSID but don't know where to sit to get the best connectivity. I suppose it could also be helpful for hackers, since knowing a cloaked network exists is the first step to breaking the security, if there is any behind the cloaked AP.

Everyone I showed the Hotspotter to loved it, and I also count myself in that camp. For such a tiny device, it is an extremely useful tool perfect for both overworked technicians and busy executives on the road.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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