With its 11ac update, Fluke Networks' AirMagnet Survey tool can help you with the transition to the latest Wi-Fi standard, however its value will depend on the complexity and scale of your environment.
With a familiar interface, AirMagnet Survey can demystify the important-but-murky radio goings on of legacy Wi-Fi and new 11ac networks. Channel widths, data rates, proper or detrimental channel layouts, and expected voice quality metrics are among the many parameters that Survey can quantify. When it comes to wireless support, knowledge is king, and the ability to interpret that knowledge largely depends on the effectiveness of the tool in use.
Other than providing high-value Wi-Fi RF show and tell, Survey also promises to help with lofty tasks like planning for 11ac’s very intricate and complicated use of wide channels. The wider the channel used, the more difficult this process can be. Here’s one of the few places I scratch my head as I play around with my own copy of the new Survey.
My large Cisco WLAN uses automatic Radio Resource Management (RRM) to dynamically and automatically configure network settings such as power, channels, and channel widths across my thousands of APs. Other wireless vendors use similar proprietary algorithms, and these mechanisms are the rule rather than the exception in modern, sizable WLANs. Though Survey’s 11ac channel planning features can help with the theoretical, many of us have largely surrendered those tasks to the likes of RRM. At the same time, Survey can make short work of showing you what channels and widths are in play when it comes time to troubleshoot.
[Read why the arrival of certified 802.11ac products may be a good time for you to consider other enterprise WLAN vendors in "802.11ac: Time To Change Vendors?"]
11ac’s performance gains will be all over the map for different clients in different places on the WLAN. Despite the client diversity that comprises the modern WLAN, Survey can provide valuable “what if” views for how devices using different channel widths would behave in a given topology. With the Pro version of Survey, you also get handy throughput performance testing capabilities, which many argue indicate the true “health” of a WLAN in a given location for a given client.
One point of confusion that Fluke Networks needs to fix is the odd situation between AirMagnet Survey and the AirMagnet Planner tool for engineering new WLANs. If you buy just Planner, you get an 11n tool. If you purchase Survey, the tool supports 11ac in active environments. And if you buy Survey Pro (now supporting 11ac), Planner is built in. Confused? Join the crowd.
Fluke Networks' closest competitor on the wireless tool front is Ekahau, which has been touting an 11ac planning tool (Ekahau Site Survey) for several months now. It’s not uncommon for network architects to plan a Wi-Fi network using Ekahau, but to conduct field verification with AirMagnet.
If Fluke wants to own the whole support story, it'll need to strengthen its 11ac Planner tool as a companion to the latest Survey feature set. But as a stand-alone tool, Survey is worth taking a look at if you are shopping for 11ac support capabilities.