Lee H. Badman

Network Computing Blogger


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AirMagnet Planner Gives Cisco Small Business Wireless a Boost

Big wireless networks may get the media attention, but small WLANs are every bit as crucial to the clients that use them. Gone are the days of "'plug and pray" for small-business wireless environments, where lost packets often translate to lost dollars. The recently introduced AirMagnet Planner for Cisco Small Business brings big-network quality to smaller wireless environments with the same excellent tool set that has been the genesis for many successful enterprise WLANs.

AirMagnet has been in the WLAN game for a lot of years. Now part of Fluke Networks, it shares company with the likes of Ekahau and the Berkeley Varitronics for putting top-quality tools in the hands of those designing and supporting Wi-Fi networks that simply must function well. Good planning means less grief when clients hit the air, and in a perfect world there's very little mystery to the operation of the business WLAN of any size. And good planning for the small business wireless environment is what AirMagnet's latest Planner utility is all about.

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I routinely use AirMagnet Planner (and Ekahau Site Survey) for modeling new wireless spaces before actual deployment. Whereas my designs tend to be aimed at large buildings or outdoor areas, the occasional smaller-space design does get the same treatment. By accurately modeling the environment that your access points will work in, you can achieve impressive predictive accuracy on how many APs will be needed to provide various levels of capacity and data rates in a variety of "what-if" scenarios. Better tools--and I include AirMagnet Planner for Cisco Small Business in the category--allow for easy changing of wall types and other attenuation sources to show how things like new modular furniture might affect the RF environment of a given space.

But what about the Cisco Small Business part of the planner's name? Between Cisco's big-dollar Enterprise Wireless product set and its Linksys home-networking line lives a niche of access points and wireless routers aimed at the small-business space. Most of these devices have profiles in the AirMagnet Planner tool, making for highly accurate simulation at planning time. For example, if I'm designing a wireless network for a car dealership and want to determine how many Cisco WAP4410N access points will be needed to provide a high-throughput WLAN, I simply plop down APs on the floor plan and ask the tool to tell me how I'm doing.

Antenna characteristics and available power and channel settings are built in for each Cisco Small Business wireless component so you can compare different components virtually before settling on a design. You can even have the tool take a stab at doing AP placement work in "adviser" mode, after you designate minimum required data rate, areas where signal must be present, locations where APs cannot be placed and the like.

Given the exponential growth in the use of Wi-Fi for all sorts of business applications, I am very pleased to see a top-tier WLAN toolmaker like AirMagnet recognize the need for small businesses and those who support them to get wireless right. Despite the increasing overall user savvy that comes with more devices in more hands, system design is still an area fraught with confusion. Wireless networks can be overbuilt to the tune of wasted dollars, or underbuilt and therefore unusable. Neither situation is good, and small business tend to have less tolerance for wasted infrastructure dollars. With AirMagnet Planner for Cisco Small Business properly used for wireless design, small business won't have to worry about the design quality of their WLANs.

Disclaimer: I do not use AirMagnet Planner for Cisco Small Business, but I am a customer of AirMagnet and Ekahau, as mentioned. There are only so many enterprise-quality wireless tools out there.


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