Note: This user guide is a work-in-progress, and will reach completion over the coming weeks.
MetaGeek Tonic is a blend of MetaGeek's best ideas, including:
- Graphical Wi-Fi scanning (from inSSIDer 2)
- Airtime-based, visual packet analysis (from Eye P.A.)
- Combining Wi-Fi scanning and spectrum analysis (Chanalyzer)
The result is a fast and detailed "Swiss Army Knife" Wi-Fi tool that can be used for a variety of tasks, such as:
- Discovering non-Wi-Fi interference
- Measuring Wi-Fi channel congestion
- Identifying clients and access points that are consuming air time on the channel
- Spot-checking signal strength
- Discovering and monitoring client device behaviors
- Viewing packet exchanges between clients and access points
- Capturing packets to perform deeper protocol analysis
Tonic focuses on being information-dense to help Wi-Fi network engineers gather as much data as possible, all with a clean user interface that is easy to read and navigate.
Is Tonic a Wi-Fi Scanner?
While Tonic does feature graphical Wi-Fi scanning views, the way that it collects data is significantly different from a Wi-Fi scanner.
Wi-Fi scanners work by asking their host operating system (such as Windows) for a list of nearby access points. The operating system then checks each Wi-Fi channel Beacons (and in some cases, Probe Responses) from access points, and then reports back to the Wi-Fi scanner. While every operating system (Android, macOS, and Windows) handles Wi-Fi scanning differently, results are usually only returned once about every 4 seconds.
Additionally, the results that the operating system returns are only the contents of the Beacons and Probe Responses. Wi-Fi scanning is extremely useful for performing site surveys (in other words, plotting signal strength and other measurements on a map), for spot-checking coverage, performing channel planning, and checking access point security and configurations. It's an important tool, but it does not provide as much data as packet capture and/or spectrum analysis.
Real-time Packet Analysis
Instead, Tonic is a real-time packet analyzer. It leverages full Wi-Fi packet capture to listen to all Wi-Fi activity. This includes Beacons, Probe Responses, Data, Acknowledgement, and many other types of 802.11 frames. With this data, Tonic is able to provide a much more complete picture of the Wi-Fi environment.
To perform packet capture and live packet analysis, Tonic requires at least one packet capture adapter. The adapters that Tonic can leverage are standard, off-the-shelf USB Wi-Fi adapters, but they use a special packet capture driver to perform full packet capture.
To begin, connect one to three supported packet capture adapters, and launch MetaGeek Tonic. As Tonic launches, it will swap out the packet capture adapter's default driver for the special packet capture driver.
Note: While Tonic does support hot plugging and hot unplugged packet capture adapters, hot plugging adapters can sometimes cause unexpected results. This is especially true when mixing adapter models. As a result, we generally recommend connecting all desired adapters before launching Tonic.
Optionally, a Wi-Spy DBx can be connected to provide Layer 1 spectrum analysis data.
Supported Packet Capture Adapters
Tonic supports several standard, off-the-shelf Wi-Fi adapters. You can bring your own adapter(s), or purchase adapters from MetaGeek or a MetaGeek Partner.
To perform packet capture functions, Tonic installs a special packet capture driver for each supported adapter. This process happens automatically when Tonic launches, and is why Tonic requires Administrator privileges.
Before Tonic launches, supported packet capture adapters will either have no driver installed, or a standard driver.
While Tonic launches, a "Reconfiguring Wi-Fi adapter..." progress will appear while the special packet capture drivers are installed.
For the rest of the user session, Windows Device Manager will show that the special packet capture driver has been installed.
When the user session concludes and Tonic is closed, it will uninstall the special packet capture drivers, and reinstall the standard driver (if available).
Troubleshooting Packet Capture Adapters
If you experience issues where supported packet capture drivers aren't detected, or Tonic is stuck at "Looking for Packet Capture Adapters...", consult the packet capture adapter troubleshooting guide.
- Navigation Breadcrumbs
- Status Pane
- Navigation Table
- Visualization Pane
- Details Pane
- Time Graphs Pane
At the top level, Tonic has three views:
- Networks View, which shows a list of all of the ESSID's that have been observed
- Clients View, which shows all of the client devices that have been observed
- Channels view, which lists Wi-Fi channels, and details about them
From the Networks View, the user can enter the Navigation Breadcrumbs, and drill down through:
- Networks View
- ESSID View
- BSSID View
- Client View
The Status Pane shows how many packet capture adapters are connected, if a spectrum analyzer is connected, and how much system memory Tonic is consuming.
Each packet capture adapter receives a unique color (indicated by the dot), which is used to identify that adapter's influence elsewhere in Tonic.
A table of selectable objects, depending on the current view. For example, the Navigation Pane shows a list of ESSID's (i.e. Networks) in the Networks View, and a list of active clients in the BSSID (i.e. AP Radio) View.
Click any object in the Navigation Table to drill down into it.
The Networks View is analogous to the "home" screen in Tonic. It's where Tonic begins by default, and is the top-level of the Networks > ESSID View > BSSID View > Client drill down.
The Clients View shows any clients within range of your adapter, including clients that are unassociated or associated to a neighboring network. Clicking on a client will drill down into more details (see Client View below).
The Channels View will display all relevant information for each channel in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. This is helpful for understanding which channels are at at capacity, or which channels are the most clear.
|Spectrum Utilization||Only available with a Wi-Spy attached. How often RF activity is occurring on the channel, or how often the channel is being "Utilized"|
|Airtime Usage||Current Airtime utilization taken up by Wi-Fi devices (dark purple) compared to total available airtime on the channel (grey)|
|Highest Utilization||Indicates which ESSID is taking up the most airtime on that channel|
|Legacy Present||Indicates whether an 802.11b device is present on the channel|
The first "drilldown" from the Networks view by clicking on an ESSID. This view will display the radios or BSSIDs underneath the selected ESSID. This view is helpful to understand client distribution per radio.
The second "drilldown" from the Networks view by clicking on a radio or BSSID. This view will display a table of all clients connected to the radio, an Airtime Usage treepie, and AP Radio Details.
AP Radio Details Pane
In the AP Radio Details Pane, you can find live information about the client.
|SSID||The network name that the BSSID is broadcasting|
|Access Point||The device name being broadcasted by the AP, or AP alias. Click the pencil icon to alias the radio.|
|MAC Address||MAC address of the radio|
|Model||Model of AP - select the pencil icon to enter / edit AP model|
|Signal||Current signal strength of radio in dBm|
|Airtime Usage||Current Airtime utilization the radio is taking up (darker purple) compared to total utilization the AP is taking up (light grey)|
|Channel Airtime||How much airtime the radio is taking up compared to the total airtime available on the channel|
|Spectrum Utilization||Only available with a Wi-Spy attached. How often RF activity is occurring on the channel, or how often the channel is being "Utilized".|
|Clients||Number of clients picked up by the adapter|
|Channel||Current channel of the radio and its channel width|
|Security||The security protocol that the access is configured to support|
|Basic Rates||Shows min supported data rates (slower data rates fly farther, but cause more channel utilization)|
Country config currently being used
|PHY Types||Phy type|
|Generation||Wi-Fi Alliance generation designation|
|Max Data Rate||Maximum supported data rate|
How many spatial streams AP is able to utilize
|Max MCS Index||Max MCS index number|
Displays other AP capabilities, such as 802.11v transition
The Clients View is the furthest extent of "drilldown" in Tonic. It contains details about recent Packet Events that the client has experienced, as well as details about the client status, identity, and capabilities.
By performing live analysis of captured packets, Tonic detects Packet Events that occur to clients. In some cases, Packet Events are detected due to the capture of a specific type of packet, or due to a series of events.
For example, if a Deauthentication Frame is heard, then a Deauthentication Packet Event is assigned to the client.
If a client is associated to a BSSID (access point radio), and is seen sending frames to another BSSID (other than Probe Requests), then a "Roamed" Packet Event occurs, indicating that the client must have roamed to a different access point.
Selecting a Packet Event
When a Packet Event is observed, Click on the Packet Event to open the Packet Flow Pane.
Disabled Packet Events
Tonic keeps a 10-minute buffer of all packets in memory. When a Packet Event becomes older than 10 minutes, the packets from the event are no longer available for Tonic to reference. As a result, Packet Events old than 10 minutes are greyed out and are no longer selectable.
Packet Flow shows a list of packets between the access point and client that were captured during or immediately following the Packet Event.
- The AP column, when populated, shows what data rate the access point transmitted the frame at.
- The Frame Type column shows what kind of 802.11 frame was transmitted. The arrow direction shows who the transmitter was, and who the receiver was.
- The Client column, when populated, shows what data rate the client transmitted the frame at.
Air Time Usage Pane
The Multi-Layer Pie Chart (or "treepie") shows how much airtime was consumed in the conversation between the access point and the client.
Client Details Pane
In the Client Details Pane, you can find live information about the client.
Packet Counts Pane
The Packet Counts Pane shows how many packets have been captured in the conversation between the access point (or multiple access points, if the client has roamed) within the selected timespan.
Inferred Data Frames
In some cases, the packet capture adapter(s) might not demodulate some or all of the data frames transmitted by the access point or client device. Missed data frames can be caused by:
- Poor signal strength from the capture adapter's perspective
- AP and client with more spatial streams than the capture adapter
- AP and client newer phy type than the capture adapter
In most cases, even if the capture adapter fails to demodulate the data frames, the capture adapter will still successfully demodulate the Control frames, which are largely responsible for helping coordinate traffic on the Wi-Fi channel. Note: Control Frames are always colored orange in Tonic.
It Tonic captures a CTS (Clear-to-send) and ACK (Acknowledgement), it adds an Inferred Data Frame to the to the Packet Counts table and Airtime Usage graph. The Airtime Usage value is derived from the NAV (Network Allocation Vector) timer set by the CTS.
When packets are exported from Tonic, Inferred Data Frames are not included. Instead, they are only calculated at the time of capture, or when reading in a packet capture file.
Time Graphs Pane
Under each Navigation Breadcrumb (ESSID View > BSSID View > Client View), certain Time Graphs become available at the bottom. You can toggle which Time Graphs are displayed under the dropdown. Time Graphs can be moved up or down using the down and up arrow icons.
|Time Graph||Description||View(s) available in|
|AP Transmit Data Rate||Data rate (Mbps) of selected object over time||BSSID & Client|
|AP Transmit MCS||MCS index of the selected radio over time||BSSID & Client|
|Client Transmit MCS||MCS index of the selected client over time||BSSID & Client|
|Retries||Retry rate (%) of the selected object over time||BSSID & Client|
|Signal Strength||Signal strength (dBm) of the selected object over time||ESSID, BSSID, & Client|
Automatic Adapter Management
Most packet capture tools require the user to manually configure what channel or channels to capture on. Tonic handles capturing significantly differently through Automatic Adapter Management, where the adapter capture channels are automatically changed based on what is being viewed. To change channels, simple navigate to different views, and Tonic will change adapter channels as needed.
Note: This section is technical in nature. Understanding it is not important for operation of MetaGeek Tonic.
Tonic can address up to three packet capture adapters:
- Primary Adapter
- Secondary Adapter
- Tertiary Adapters
The status and current channel of each packet capture adapter is displayed in the Status Pane. Hover the mouse over the capture adapter to see details about it.
- Sweep - Moves the adapter through the set of channels, usually in a cyclical fashion. The adapter dwells on the channel for 150-300 milliseconds, depending on the current view.
- Capture - The adapter stays tuned to the Current Channel, unless an event causes the adapter to be moved elsewhere.
Tonic uses Channel Sets to define what the packet capture adapter will sweep or continuously capture on. Some channel sets are variable.
- Current Channel - The channel that the Current Object (see below) is on.
- Non-Current Channels - Channels that the Current Object (see below) is not on.
- All Channels - Sweeps all channels in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands.
- ESSID Channels - Sweep all channels occupied by the current ESSID.
- non-ESSID Channels - Sweep all channels that are not occupied by the current ESSID.
- All 2.4 Channels - Sweep channels 1-14 (14 channels)
- All 5 GHz Channels - Sweep channels 36-165 (25 channels)
- Lower 5 GHz Channels - Sweep channels 36-116 (15 channels)
- Upper 5 GHz Channels - Sweep channel 120-165 (12 channels)
In Tonic, a Current Object can be:
- An ESSID, which can occupy many channels
- A BSSID, which can only occupy one channel
- A Client, which can only occupy one channel
- A channel
The Current Object changes depending on the view that is selected in Tonic. If the Current Object is an object type that only occupies one channel (such as a BSSID, client, or a channel itself), then that single channel is defined as the Current Channel.
Single Packet Capture Adapter
Using a single packet capture adapter in Tonic provides basic capture functionality, but requires the adapter to occasionally go off-channel to detect the presence of new BSSID's, and to detect Unobserved Client Roam events.
Two Packet Capture Adapters
Using two packet capture adapters in Tonic is ideal, as it allows the primary to focus on capturing the Current Object, while the secondary adapter is free to monitor for new BSSID's and Unobserved Client Roam events on other channels. It also splits the workload between 2.4 and 5 GHz in many places, which drastically increases the speed at which channels (and their child objects) are updated.
|View||Primary Adapter||Secondary Adapter|
Three Packet Capture Adapters
Using three packet capture adapters is supported in Tonic, and further increases the speed at which channels are updated.