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Help Wanted: Site Planning And Surveying

It's not often that vendors alert me of feature gaps from supporting products in their ecosystem. Many times vendors partner with them to build out a feature or functionality that will more effectively leverage their own products.
With the vendor hoopla surrounding 802.11n already before Interop this year, and most recently with market leaders Cisco and Aruba, it would have been my assumption that the site survey vendors would have had pre-production versions of these products in their labs for profiling and testing this summer and fall, with product on the shelves before the end of the year. So I've made it a point over the last few months to ask the leading site enterprise Wi-Fi site survey vendors -- AirMagnet, Ekahau, and Wireless Valley -- about their products' 802.11n support. The unfortunately consistent answer has been that it's "under development." It appears that we won't see any such 802.11n support until the first half of 2008. Vendors are saying that the multistream capabilities of MIMO make it more difficult to model, and they're waiting for a great number of production units and customer trials to test their product before they're comfortable in releasing the product to market.

In the meantime, that leaves organizations trialing the newest access points and client support without a tool to design and plan larger and more pervasive 802.11n deployments next year. For organizations whose fiscal year begins in January, budget planning is near completion or already done, which means that next year's deployment will either be limited to what's in the budget or deployed on a much smaller scale for further evaluation. If the person putting together a budget number used the existing counts of APs and their favorite vendor's list price, you can be pretty sure that there'll be enough money left over for a few gadgets at next year's Christmas party.

The good news is that initial feedback confirms that 802.11n APs do provide better coverage, higher data rates at an equivalent range, and greater reliability. In summary, many of the enterprise Wi-Fi vendors' claims about their 802.11n appear to be holding true. Hopefully we'll see next spring how the site planning and survey vendors fare in assisting a more trained, knowledgeable, and experienced set of network administrators and engineers plan their next generation wireless network.