as someone who is just getting their feet wet in networking (going for a+ cert currently and would like to go further,) ive noticed that oscilloscopes can be used to monitor... seemingly any wavelength. as someone who may possibly buy one in the future, once i know more about them, what are the possible uses in networking?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Networks are used for communication. All communication is voltage and current pulses/waveforms. Oscilloscopes let you view these waveforms. Expensive oscilloscopes may even do some comms decoding. \$\endgroup\$ – Rohan Dec 31 '17 at 4:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oscilloscopes are time-domain devices that will only indicate a signal is or is not what you want. To analyze a network you need an expensive ($30,000) network analyzer (frequency domain)that sources wide-band RF then shows what frequencies your device passes through. Then there are very expensive packet analyzers for USB, Ethernet, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Sparky256 Dec 31 '17 at 5:39
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Sparky256 It might be confusing to the OP if you use the term "network" to mean something different than it meant when he used it. He clearly isn't talking about the kinds of networks that a network analyzer analyzes. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Dec 31 '17 at 5:54
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ People who setup and install and maintain ethernet and related networks don't usually need oscilloscopes. High end oscilloscopes can be used for validating signals coming from USB and ethernet phy's. But that is not something you would need to do. \$\endgroup\$ – mkeith Dec 31 '17 at 6:36

The short answer is that for the kind of work you're talking about, an oscilloscope probably isn't a particularly useful piece of equipment.

An oscilloscope can be useful for things like designing/testing/measuring the design of a network adapter, to assure against doing things like running (what are supposed to be) separate lines too close to each other so they interfere with each other.

If you're reasonably certain the network adapters you're dealing with work correctly, and you're interesting primarily in looking at the network from a viewpoint of how the software is using the network, you probably want to consider a packet analyzer or a protocol analyzer.

For quite a bit of mainstream network diagnosis, you can use a free packet capture/analysis tool like WireShark. The main specialized hardware you might consider in this case would be an AirPcap WiFi adapter, which lets you capture and analyze packets between some other computer and an access point. There are also some special network capture drivers (e.g., Acrylic WiFi) that are supposed to accomplish roughly the same thing (but I can't vouch for them personally--I've never had occasion to use them).

  • \$\begingroup\$ WireShark works great. The data comes pouring in fast. Do NOT use a packet analyzer if online with a bank or other federal institution, as they can detect packet sniffers and may block your PC from accessing their site. Somehow they can read your MAC address, not just your IP address. \$\endgroup\$ – Sparky256 Dec 31 '17 at 13:11

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.