AirMagnet updates WLAN site survey

It can integrate with Google Earth; features improved wireless spectrum analyzer

AirMagnet Inc. has released a version of its wireless LAN mapping application that includes a companion program for creating and refining the initial WLAN design.

Also new with AirMagnet Survey 4.0 is an interface with satellite-photo data drawn from Google Earth, and an improved wireless spectrum analyzer that can detect and identify interference caused by radios outside the 802.11 standard, such as microwave ovens or Bluetooth devices.

Overall, the changes are intended to make the laptop application a more accurate and comprehensive design, planning and monitoring tool for indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi networks. A network administrator runs Survey on a Windows XP or 2000 laptop and collects radio data via the laptop's wireless network interface card by walking or driving around a site.

Most WLAN vendors, such as Aruba Wireless Networks Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Trapeze Networks Inc., have at least basic site-survey and planning tools. Third-party rivals include Ekahau Inc. and Wireless Valley Communications Inc. (now part of Motorola Inc.).

The previous edition of Survey worked with an image or file of a building's floor plan. A user walked around the building with the laptop and Survey to collect data on access points, including their locations. This information was then associated with icons overlaid on the floor plan, showing channel assignments, the signal strength of the access points, link speeds with wireless clients, the actual radio coverage throughout the building and other data.

The new application, Planner, can run on its own or as a companion to Survey. On its own, Planner lets a user design a network model of what the initial WLAN would look like based on answers to questions about the structure's layout, the building materials in its construction, user requirements and so on. Planner suggests locations for access points and a channel assignment plan.

As a companion to Survey, Planner then can use the real-time data collected by Survey, factor this into the design and let users compare the original design with the actual performance of the WLAN.

The combination of tools lets users accurately decide about capacity planning, about whether the WLAN can support voice or video applications and about the effect of increased numbers of users on the network's performance, according to Wade Williamson, product manager for AirMagnet.

Planner includes a catalog of performance characteristics of about 90 commercially available antennas. Users can select different antennas, such as a directional antenna with a specific energy pattern, to see what affect that choice will have on coverage, range and signal strength.

As for the new version of AirMagnet Survey, users can now work with Google Earth images by driving through an area with their wireless laptops and, optionally, a Global Positioning System (GPS) device linked via Universal Serial Bus port to the laptop that feeds satellite coordinates to the Survey software. Survey picks up information about WLAN access points active in that area. Later, users download an area image from Google Earth, and the software maps the access point data to the Google image, creating an accurate visual map of Wi-Fi coverage and performance.

AirMagnet Planner costs $2,000 as a separate product. Bundled with Survey, the price drops to $1,000.

Version 4.0 of AirMagnet Survey standard edition is priced at $2,000. The more advanced Survey Pro edition, which includes the improved Spectrum Analyzer, GPS support and the Google Earth interface, among other added features, costs $3,600.

This story, "AirMagnet updates WLAN site survey" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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