In this study, the authors present the measurements performed on a free space optics (FSO) communications link using an indoor atmospheric chamber. In particular, the authors have generated several different optical turbulence conditions, demonstrating how even the weak turbulence regime can strongly affect the FSO link performance. The authors have carried out an in-depth analysis of the data collected during the measurements, and calculated the turbulence strength (i.e. scintillation index and Rytov variance) and the important performance metrics (i.e. the Q-factor and bit error rate) to evaluate the FSO link quality. Moreover, the authors have tested, for the first time, an appositely developed temporally-correlated gamma–gamma channel model to generate the temporal irradiance fluctuations observed at the receiver. This has been accomplished by using a complete analysis tool that enables the authors to fully simulate the experimental FSO link. Finally, the authors compare the generated time-series with the collected experimental data, showing a good agreement and thus proving the effectiveness of the model.