Rollout: Air Magnet Survey Pro and Planner 5.0

With AirMagnet Survey Pro and Planner 5.0, setting up and maintaining a wireless LAN is a breeze.

October 9, 2007

7 Min Read
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Nowhere does up-front planning pay off more than in wireless network design. Getting measurements right the first time saves the cost and hassle of having to rework a deployment.

AirMagnet's Survey Pro and Planner 5.0 provide a slick toolset to demystify critical planning steps. And even the best-planned WLAN needs ongoing support and occasional troubleshooting, so Survey Pro and Planner also provide deep views into the nitty-gritty of wireless environments that will have IT coming back to the toolset over and over again.

The new versions extend AirMagnet's lead over competitors such as AirWave, Ekahau and Cisco Wireless Control System (WCS) by adding cool features such as side-by-side comparisons of deployment scenarios, the ability to diagram RF coverage in three dimensions, and integration with Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth.Flexibility, Features Galore

Existing AirMagnet customers will recognize Survey Pro/Planner 5.0's well-designed GUI, and those new to the product set will appreciate the friendly interface. Downloading and installing the latest versions was a snap, and though I prefer my venerable Windows XP Pro laptop, AirMagnet's latest software is compatible with Microsoft Vista.

As always with AirMagnet, only certain wireless NICs are supported, and running the program requires a proprietary driver that gets loaded as part of the program installation. My testing was done with Cisco's CB 21 a/g PCMCIA card, but specific adapters from Netgear, Proxim, Intel, Belkin and others are available.

As I began a couple of new wireless test "projects" (in AirMagnet's parlance), I was pleased to see that virtually any graphics format imaginable is supported for imported floor plans, including Visio and CAD files. In contrast, competitors like AirWave, Ekahau, and Cisco WCS require imported floor plans to be of specific file types, and conversions prior to use can be a nuisance.

To kick the tires, I surveyed an existing "live" building and planned the coverage for a new building that exists only on paper. With Survey Pro/Planner 5.0, I completed both tasks satisfied that there would be little mystery about how well the WLAN would perform. And during my evaluation, I found an impressive collection of new tools to leverage during both WLAN design and for ongoing performance verification.

Notable Features of AirMagnet Planner

• Properly size new wireless deployments for any environment or location
• Build detailed indoor RF models based on building materials and environment• Automate WLAN installation plans including all AP deployment and configuration options
• Model any antenna and preview the impact to your WLAN• Ensure complete RF signal coverage while minimizing signal leak into unsecured areas
• Analyze total predictive co-channel interference for any AP• Predict network speed information
• Use seamlessly in conjunction with AirMagnet Survey for complete wireless modeling, deployment and optimization

One differentiator between AirMagnet and its competitors is the ability to perform both active (interacting with a live wireless environment) and passive (merely listening to nearby APs) wireless surveys. With Survey Pro 5.0, AirMagnet emphasizes use of as much real data as can be mustered to produce accurate live and predictive representations of throughput, packet loss, interference, network suitability for voice traffic and more. With 5.0, active clients are part of the mix. By comparison, most competing products don't use live client transmissions in their calculations.

And because surveys are used as much for post-installation verification and troubleshooting, Survey Pro and Planner tightly integrate with each other and other AirMagnet modules, such as Spectrum Analyzer and Laptop Analyzer—a feature I toggled often while surveying my live test environment. This is proof positive that the toolset won't just sit on the shelf once the WLAN survey is complete.

Another new feature I liked very much is the ability to run simulations of what various client cards might perceive the WLAN environment to be, with a fairly impressive list to choose from.


We liked AirMagnet Planner's 3-D view, and the calculator takes the guesswork out of AP placement.
Click to enlarge in another window

While planning of my virtual building's WLAN, I marked walls of various attenuation values and played with Planner's Object Manager feature to build new wall types with custom attenuation values. This function couldn't be simpler to perform and is much easier than Ekahau's Site Survey tool.As I ran various simulations, I used Survey Pro's DiffView feature to see how the same area's wireless characterization would change as I added APs, changed channels and power, or manipulated areas where APs were and were not allowed to be installed. With its side-by-side views of various scenarios, AirMagnet's planning function dwarfs Cisco's Wireless Control System.One aspect of WLAN planning that can be frustrating is the inability to quickly achieve a 3-D sense of the range of access points between floors. Usually this problem is solved by a walk-around survey and graphic portrayal, with accuracy depending on the admin's drawing skills.

AirMagnet comes to the rescue. With inter-floor signal characterization and simulation and the ability to render diagrams with a 3-D view of given area's RF coverage, you can actually have fun with this toolset. If you make multiple "walks" of a given area to contribute to an overall survey, either the entire area or an individual segment can be rendered in a 3-D mesh diagram.Take it Outside

Many wireless network managers need to worry about out-of-door, as well as indoor, coverage. So Survey Pro now integrates Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth. In minutes, from within Survey Pro's GUI, I was able to get an image of an outside area of interest and use it for wireless planning. I was also able to quickly get my Garmin GPS 12XL to talk with AirMagnet—which arguably can be the hardest part of a GPS-enabled survey on any vendor's toolset. The ability to import images and export GPS-based projects adds to the versatility of the product set, as does the ability to support the 4.9 GHz Public Safety Spectrum.Whether inside or out, working with access points is only half of the story. Antenna selection is perhaps even more significant to how a given wireless cell with behave. Planner recognizes this and provides a customizable library of WLAN antennas. Current built-ins include a variety of antennas from Cisco, Aruba and Symbol, along with a "General" category that allows for custom-configuration of azimuth and elevation charts for other antennas. I was surprised to see no mention of antennas from other WLAN vendors (like Meru or Tropos), but with a little effort any antenna can be modeled and made a permanent part of the Antenna Manager library for use in both Survey Pro/Planner.

Buyer Beware

If there was any confusion for me as I put both Survey Pro 5 and Planner through their paces, it was over what feature belongs to what program. Much of what shines in Survey Pro 5 is not available in the standard edition of the program, and without Planner installed, Survey Pro 5 loses some of its gee-whiz factor. Thus, you'll have to pay for both programs if you want the full functionality.AirMagnet Survey 5.0 is priced at $1,995 for the standard edition and $3,695 for Survey Pro. AirMagnet Planner is available for $1,000 as an addition for Survey customers, or for $2,000 as a standalone product. Current customers with active software support subscriptions are entitled to upgrades at no charge.

Feature

Survey PRO

Survey Standard

Integrated Planner

Requires additional Planner license

Requires additional Planner license

Survey (survey page)

Yes

Yes

Display (Survey analysis page)

Yes

Yes

Simulation (simulate "what-if" scenarios)

Yes

Yes

AirWISE screen to set design requirements

Yes

No

Multiview screen commonly used for multi-floor deployments

Yes

No

Generate professional reports

Yes

No

Spectrum Analysis (spectrum heat map, identify and locate non 802.11 devices)

Yes

No

Outdoor Survey (GPS Support)

Yes

No

Calculator (parameter calculations for deployments)

Yes

Yes

Tools (network connectivity test, multipath detections, etc.)

Yes

Yes

Lee Badman is a network engineer at Syracuse University. Write to him at [email protected].

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