New tools announced for planning, securing 802.11n networks

One analyst cautions not to rely on predictive tools too much and to measure actual performance once 802.11n is installed.

As faster wireless 802.11n networks gain adoption, organizations want to deploy planning tools to deal with complexities in rolling out the new technology and to keep the networks secure.

Two vendors separately announced such products this week. AirTight Networks Inc. launched an 802.11n sensor platform and a new version of its SpectraGuard Planner product for 802.11n infrastructure that also offers tools to plan for wireless intrusion-prevention systems. Meanwhile, Motorola Inc. announced the Motorola 11n LANPlanner.

John Kemon, program manager for information systems security at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, said he won't be deploying any 802.11n access points because of agency policy, but he's interested in the new 802.11n sensor platform as an enhancement to AirTight's SpectraGuard Enterprise appliance. USAID is using the SpectraGuard hardware to detect, report and remove rogue wireless access points running in 802.11a/b/g on its wired network.

With the AirTight enhancements for 802.11n, the agency expects to see benefits, Kemon said. "We are very interested in the detection and prevention of 802.11n threats," he said in an e-mail. USAID has not developed a policy recognizing Wi-Fi and, as such, has no Wi-Fi access points at all.

The new 802.11n system will be available in mid-September at $1,295 per sensor, said AirTight. A starter kit with the SpectraGuard Enterprise appliance and two 802.11n sensors, as well as site-planning software for security, will start at $9,995.

Troy Wood, a senior network administrator at John C. Lincoln Health Network in Phoenix, said he is in the planning stages of deploying up to 50 access points from Extreme Networks Inc. running 802.11n and is interested in the new SpectraGuard Planner 5.0 release for its planning and calculation tools. "With [802.11]n being new to us, it will help with the learning curve," he said in an e-mail.

AirTight said the SpectraGuard update will ship in August, starting at $2,495 for a single seat license.

Connect802 Corp. in San Ramon, Calif., plans to use the new Motorola 11n LANPlanner in its integration work with clients deploying 802.11n networks, said Connect802 CEO Joe Bardwell. Because 802.11n is based on multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) technology with multiple antennas and radios, "it becomes a very different engineering animal" from 802.11a/b/g networks, which justifies the need for a special planning tool, he said.

Bardwell's experience with 802.11n installations thus far shows that the location of 802.11n access points is not what an 802.11a/b/g engineer would expect. "With b and g, you want a line of site from the user to the access point, so you might put the access point in the middle of the conference room," he said. "But with n, putting the AP in the middle of the room would defeat the purpose, since MIMO wants a scattering of the signals" to be the most effective.

Connect802 resells a variety of 802.11n equipment, but it will not be reselling the Motorola 11n LANPlanner, Bardwell said. He said Motorola LANPlanner is the only predictive modeling product with 3-D capability, which helps lessen the need to make adjustments once the network is launched. Others on the market only provide two-dimensional models inside of computer-aided design applications, he said.

Motorola said the product will be available sometime in the third quarter. Pricing was not announced.

While predictive modeling products can be a good purchase for "general guidance" in planning for 802.11n, IT managers should use caution in relying on them too much, said Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass.

Because radio frequencies are sometimes unpredictable, IT shops should expect to use postinstallation tools to measure 802.11n networks, especially to see how much bandwidth the users in a particular part of a building are using. Some users in one part of a building might be sapping up network capacity because they are accessing video or multimedia content, which is something a predictive modeling tool won't necessarily anticipate, Mathias said.

Mathias and other analysts noted that a wide variety of planning tools are available from just about every Wi-Fi equipment vendor. Many vendors are already shipping 802.11n gear based on the Draft 2 specification. A final ratification of the 802.11n standard by Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. is not expected until next year. However, analysts said that many vendors expect little change in the Draft 2 version and the final version, which is why they are building Draft 2 products.

"From what we've seen in our work, Draft 2 is fully deployable," Bardwell said. "Yes, n is absolutely the next thing."

The 802.11n technology offers greater speed and distance than 802.11 a/b/g. Many 802.11n networks support speeds up to 600Mbit/sec.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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