New Ethernet tester promises to speed video installations for integrators

July 2, 2014
Fluke Networks' LinkSprinter provides installers with a quick, affordable way to test networks

Earlier this year, Fluke Networks, a manufacturer of network testing and monitoring solutions for enterprise applications, launched LinkSprinter, a new, pocket-sized Ethernet tester. LinkSprinter provides technicians and systems integrators with the ability to identify various problems with a facility’s network in as little as nine seconds.

The tester features a one-button, auto-test design allowing security installers to simply plug in the Ethernet cable they’re working with to determine if the network is working properly, thereby saving them the extra time and hassle of trying to figure out if any problem they might be having is a hardware issue.

James Kahkoska, the chief product architect who designed LinkSprinter, said that Fluke Networks has traditionally targeted enterprise Ethernet networks as that was where the majority of their business originated, but as Ethernet has spread out into “uncarpeted area,” they’ve been able to gain traction with a lot of systems integrators for their products. However, many of the company’s network testing products were simply too expensive and complex for most integrators to be able to leverage, which is what spawned the idea to develop a cheaper, more user-friendly solution.

“If I went out and talked with them I would get the same type of feedback: ‘you’re too expensive, they are too complicated and they are too big,’” said Kahkoska. “So, a couple of years ago we set out to reimagine what a network tester could be and, internally, we called this program ‘Juicy Fruit’ because it sort of personified what we were looking for in terms of size and ubiquity.”

Eventually, Kahkoska said they realized that in addition to making a tester more affordable, they also needed to make one that was “asset-light” and didn’t require anymore hardware than was absolutely necessary.  To accomplish this, they decided to leverage smartphones that most installers already carrying around with them.

“We knew that when you ran a test, it should be instantly posted to the cloud, and once in the cloud, you could see those results on your mobile (phone) or on a web portal with all the aggregated results,” explained Kahkoska. “And those results should be accessible anywhere you can launch a browser.”  

According to Kahkoska, the tester has three modes of operation. The first is a fast test, which is where the installer takes the tester out their pocket and plugs the Ethernet cable in to see if everything is in working order. There are five, tri-colored LEDs (Internet, Gateway, DHCP, Link, and PoE) on the LinkSprinter that help installers troubleshoot various network issues. “This happens super-fast,” said Kahkoska. “I’ve clocked this on a fast network in under eight seconds, including power-up or boot time.”

If one of the indicators lights up and more details are needed, then the second mode of operation would be the technician using their phone as a user interface to diagnose the problem. No app is needed, however, as the installer just has to tap the power button a second time to turn on a Wi-Fi hotspot located in the head-end of the device, associate it to the SSID and launch their phone’s web browser where they will find the LinkSprinter user interface. “You can just get a ton of detail out of there,” Kahkoska added. “In fact, one of the most beloved features by the systems integrators and VARs is this switch port advertisement. When you plug in Ethernet switches, they send out a port advertisement – this is either called CDP (Cisco Discovery Protocol) or LLDP (Link Layer Discovery Protocol) – and in that information packet is a lot of info on the slot port that you’re plugged into, the VLAN that you’re on and about the exact switch that you’re plugged into.”    

Lastly, everything is captured in a cloud management portal where an integrator or their manager back in the office can generate reports. “This is really where the owner of the (installing company) would live because here he can see what people are doing, have a record of what’s going on and even generate some really nice reports of the activity,” said Kahkoska. “It’s a far cry from where we were. Reports have always been interesting; they are an attraction for people in terms of buying our products, but there is kind of an overhead of the testers out there. The technician is using it, you’ve got to bring it back in, you’ve got take a USB cable and plug it in, run an application on the PC, and pull the test results up. That’s just gone away with the cloud service, because we just automatically push them for you.”         

There are two models of the LinkSprinter currently available; the LinkSprinter 100 which retails for $199 provides users with network testing and automatic reporting to the cloud, and the LinkSprinter 200 which sells for $299 and also features the built-in Wi-Fi hotspot and diagnostic details that can be accessed on the user’s mobile device.  

"As a technology consultant specializing in video surveillance, I work with contractors and integrators on a regular basis,” said Kirk Gish of Gish Technology. “The Fluke Networks LinkSprinter is a wonderful addition to our arsenal of recommended tools. It's easy to use and the one button, sub-10-second auto test allows the installing technician to log valuable information in a timely manner. The ability to quickly test and document PoE, Link, DHCP, Gateway and Server at the time of installation is invaluable. The LinkSprinter is a clear win-win for everyone involved with the project."

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