Keeping a critical wireless network up and high-performing takes good design, sound policies and effective tools. Thankfully, Wi-Fi support tools have evolved along with wireless technology, and we have plenty of options to pick from. At the same time, some tools have steep learning curves and big price tags that keep them on the wish list, but out of reach. And then there are tools like those offered by TamoSoft, whose robust feature sets don't cost a fortune or require an engineering degree to glean value from.
Anyone supporting wireless networks for a living has his or her favorite utilities. For me, I can't do without my AirMagnet WiFi Analyzer for overall general support. For survey work, it's a toss-up between Ekahau Site Survey and AirMagnet's Survey and Planner platforms. And I've become a fan of AirPcap (Riverbed Technology) and Wireshark for wireless packet capture. These utilities, along with my central wireless management server, help keep thousands of users happy every day on one of the biggest WLANs in the Northeast. But a recent introduction to TamoSoft has me re-evaluating my toolbox somewhat.
Using TamoSoft's CommView for Wi-Fi as a capturer of packets has been great fun. Per-channel statistics could not be made simpler, and there is simply nothing within earshot of the many supported wireless NICs that won't be exposed for analysis. My Airpcap USB adapter has been giving me the stink-eye for the last couple of weeks, but so far CommView just feels more complete in its views and seems easier to squeeze value out of. Though I have yet to get myself in trouble by trying it, CommView also has a combination packet builder/generator that lets you custom-craft wireless packets and send them at the data rate of your choosing for performance testing and troubleshooting. I used CommView years ago on the wired network, and, thankfully, the GUI on the Wi-Fi version is just as simple as it was back then, with a spartan front door that yields to a rich suite of analysis capabilities.
I've also been playing with TamoGraph, the site-survey tool from TamoSoft. Though it won't push Ekahua's Site Survey out of its position as my preferred planning tool and what-if WLAN topology analyzer, TamoGraph is as good as I've seen for interactive live survey work. Unlike products that give simple "heat map" depictions based on the receiver in whatever wireless NIC came in the laptop in use, TamoSoft uses its own driver to get TamoGraph closer to being a legitimate RF analysis tool. After loading a floor plan and doing a walkabout survey, I was pleased with the ability to easily manipulate and plot gathered access point data to turn the live RF environment into a series of digestible graphics. Report generation is effective and complete, and the price is right for a tool that can't work with native CAD drawings.
As I kicked the tires on TamoSoft's wireless support offerings and made mental comparisons to competitors' tools, I was struck by an epiphany of sorts. By virtue of being most familiar with all things RF, many of us in the WLAN game also get dragged into discussions on cellular signals. A given area has a weak signal for one or more carriers, and we end up either looking for home-grown fixes or interfacing with the carriers to resolve the outside-in coverage deficiencies. So what, right? Wouldn't it be nice to have a single support tool that put a pretty, graphical face on not only Wi-Fi coverage but also each of the mobile carriers? Sure, each carrier has its own frequencies and such, and the complexities of building this sort of tool relegate it to the stuff of daydreams, but can you imagine the value of seeing 3G/4G heat maps overlaid on 802.11 signals in the windows of AirMagnet, Ekahau and TamoSoft? So what if you'd need to schlep around an antenna-laden laptop; if it could be done affordably (key point), chances are most of us would jump on such a tool. See what RF does to your thinking?