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AirMagnet Upgrades Planner and Survey Products

AirMagnet has issued an upgrade labeled 5.0, almost exactly a year to the
day from their previous major release, to their Planner and Survey products
that assist network administrators in planning for and verifying the
coverage and quality of their Wi-Fi networks.

Some enterprise Wi-Fi vendors such as Meru Networks downplay the need for
planning tools while others such as Trapeze Networks and Aruba Networks have
built their own (Aruba was recently slapped with a patent violation lawsuit
from Wireless Valley regarding two patents dealing with 3D visualization).
Still others such as Colubris Networks and Xirrus have OEM deals in place.
For those enterprise who want their own, there are only a few on the market.
Wireless Valley was purchased by Motorola some time ago but remains a
separate subsidiary; Ekahau is another significant player. Wireless IDs/IPS
vendor AirTight Networks has their SpectraGuard Planner and also offers it
as a service. And there's also EDX Wireless, which deals in many more
wireless technologies than just Wi-Fi.

Unless IT wants to totally wing it, most organizations do some kind of
planning, even if it's as basic as using an access point, measuring the
signal levels, and shuffling it around to other points in the building. For
those who want to remove at least some of the tediousness away from the
process a planning tool comes in very handy. AirMagnet's Planner now adds
an advisor that optimizes the layout of APs rather than requiring the user
to manually place them on the imported map. Certain areas can be marked as
locations where APs cannot be placed, to avoid those locations such as
supply closets or rest rooms where an AP may not be acceptable. The current
release doesn't place dual-mode radios simultaneously, a feature gap that
needs to be addressed as organizations transition from 2.4 GHz 802.11b/g to
APs that also support 5 GHz 802.11n.

Post-install survey tools aren't as often provided by infrastructure
vendors, but many of the same stand-alone player supply a solution. This
release of Survey adds a differential view between surveys. This can come
in handy when users complain about degradation or if changes have been made
to the wireless network in order to improve coverage and capacity. A top
view displays the overlay, with varying colors for loss or increase in
signal strength, quality, and more, while the bottom half of the screen
places the before and after surveys side by side. Wireless adapters can now
be simulated as well. Some cards have better or worse gain due and
simulating them provides a more accurate view of what can be expected in
terms of coverage. A software tool provides calibration for that feature.
Also added is an RF spectrum heat map that shows the power level for each
channel at any given point on the map, helping display areas of unusual
spectrum traffic (this requires the PRO version of Survey and AirMagnet's
Spectrum Analyzer). Rather than use Microsoft MapPoint which costs extra,
AirMagnet now uses Microsoft Virtual Earth (delivered online via Windows
Live Local, free registration required).

AirMagnet has included some helpful additions to their software, but it
appears to lacking in regards to pre-802.11n and dual-radio support.
Although mass deployments of pre-802.11n Draft 2.0 access points are months
away, organizations are already now taking their first look at new products,
even if it's just an access point within their own department or in a
highly-trafficked location. In AirMagnet's defense, the enterprise WLAN
infrastructure vendors themselves are still gathering the performance
characteristics of their own products and their competitors have made none
of their own announcements around pre-802.11n, but AirMagnet should not
needlessly delay.

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