Rollout: AirMagnet Laptop Analyzer Pro

AirMagnet continues to add and expand features and functionality to Laptop Analyzer Pro, making it the de facto tool for wireless LAN troubleshooting and analysis.

March 30, 2007

6 Min Read
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Wireless network management remains somewhat of a black art because the RF medium adds a level of complexity not found in the wired world. AirMagnet's Laptop Analyzer Pro helps materialize the invisible and identify potential security threats and performance problems quickly.

AirMagnet continues to add and expand features and functionality to Laptop Analyzer Pro, making it the de facto tool for wireless LAN troubleshooting and analysis. One would think that any new features found on a product in its seventh major release would be window dressing, but the changes and additions are welcome. The new interference analysis and AirMagnet Spectrum Analysis integration, for instance, are so useful you almost forget about core features like rogue detection and wireless policy enforcement.

Both AirDefense and Network Chemistry introduced their mobile products after rolling out their enterprise products. AirDefense offers many of the same alarms and functionality as its enterprise product in a mobile package, but is targeted mainly as an add-on to an enterprise sale. Network Chemistry's mobile product offers site surveys and Geiger-counter style rogue location, as well as many wireless security features found in their enterprise product. Laptop Analyzers feature set, however, keeps it at the head of the pack. This software loads on any modern laptop and supports a wide range of Wi-Fi cards.

The 7.0 release supports Intel's 3945ABG, bringing the total number of cards supported to more than 30. Note that AirMagnet loads a special driver to access extended features within these cards, as well as to establish a level playing field for variable aspects, such as signal levels.Looking Good

This release spruces up the GUI with a Microsoft-like look and feel. Gone are the rounded edges at the corners of the main window, and maximizing the window actually locks it into place. Keeping in line with Microsoft's latest visuals, menus are kept to an absolute minimum and icons dominate the top row.

The Start screen details signal levels for the two bands on the left; AirWise alarms and graphs are found at the bottom; and the center of the screen lists all discovered wireless devices and key attributes. Hovering with the mouse over any device generates a tool tip that list much more, such as time of first/last received packet, signal strength, number of alarms on that channel and associated AP. New in this release is the ability to group, sort and filter the information as needed, letting network administrators or technicians organize and focus on the data most helpful to them.

Less attractive is that some of the information reported by the product in our tests was inaccurate. Most of the time the software reported that our laptop was operating on 802.11b, for example, but it actually has an integrated 802.11a/b/g Broadcom chipset that was associated and transferring data at 54 Mbps. AirMagnet confirmed this bug and says it's working on a fix. Analyzer also indicated that we were using 802.1X security, but we were using WPA-PSK, which was documented on another screen; again, AirMagnet is working on a fix for this bug. These inaccuracies in our small test bed suggest that some of the data gathered should be verified in some other way.

The Interference page is all new and has the same channel list on the left side of the page, but shows a dynamically computed interference score, number of hidden stations and number of interferers. The details of each value are listed in the middle of the screen. The interference-score column can be sorted so you can quickly identify the worst channel and start digging into the sources. If AirMagnet's Spectrum Analyzer is installed on the same machine as the Pro version of Laptop Analyzer, it will identify non-Wi-Fi sources of interference. The interference score can fluctuate considerably based on the traffic level of any particular device, sometimes making it harder to track down problems related to short but heavy bursts in traffic.The Infrastructure page lists all the devices on the left and lists the same metrics as the channel page, but on a per-device level. The AirWise screen lists all the potential security and performance problems, and this version offers a lot of flexibility in how it's displayed. The Top Traffic Analysis page is a quick and dirty way to find your Top 10 of almost any traffic metric, including Top 10 stations and APs by speed, frames and retries/fragments. The Decoding page is essentially a packet-capture and analysis tool.

The last screen, WiFi Tools, has its own page rather than being relegated to a separate dialog box. The RF Coverage and Site Survey tools found on that screen offer a poor man's version of some tools found in other commercial products, but for those who need something quick, this should do the trick. The connection diagnostic tools and remaining tools can all come in handy at times.

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Going Pro

Laptop Analyzer comes in two versions: Standard and Pro. The Pro version adds several advanced features. If you own a copy of AirMagnet's Spectrum Analyzer, you can view spectral graphs for the 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz ranges. Information regarding non-Wi-Fi signals flow into the calculations for each channel in the Interference page to add a level of sophistication that even the best Wi-Fi card is unable to contribute. Unfortunately, the device identification found natively in the Spectrum Analyzer does not feed the AirWise alarms with information regarding the specific device type or brand and model, due to API limitations or implementation choices. An interferer that was listed as DECT device in Laptop Analyzer was more specifically classified as a Panasonic KX series phone in Spectrum Analyzer. The Pro version also adds 4.9-GHz support for the 50 MHz of spectrum in the public safety band. Wireless cards that support 4.9 GHz remain relatively rare, but AirMagnet lists three cards that can assist with monitoring security and performance issues and troubleshoot problems in that band.At $3,995, the Pro version is not cheap. (The standard version knocks $500 off the price). But the complete set of capabilities puts this product far beyond any other tool on the market, making it money well-spent.

Frank Bulk is an nwc contributing editor and works for a telecommunications company based in the midwest. Write to him at [email protected].

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