Cisco unveils Wi-Fi interference detector

Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) has announced wireless gear with a hardware-based Wi-Fi testing tool, known as CleanAir and designed to find sources of interference and unauthorized access points.

San Jose, Calif,-based Cisco’s Aironet 3500 series access points are scheduled to ship next month, at prices starting at US$1,095.

Other vendors, such as Fluke Networks Inc. and Helium Networks Inc. of Pittsburgh offer tools designed to troubleshoot internal wireless networks using the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 set of standards, used in Wi-Fi networks.

Everett, Wash.-based Fluke bought AirMagnet Inc. last August so it could expand its wireless testing and troubleshooting product line.

But Cisco developed CleanAir as an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) with spectrum analysis capability, said Dave Stiff, manager of product management for Cisco’s wireless networking business unit.

He said CleanAir lets administrators pinpoint locations of interference on a floor plan, and allows them to view the history of a wireless network.

Stiff added in one of Cisco’s beta testing sites, users often would not tell administrators about outages or wireless problems until hours after the incidents happened.

CleanAir can get a history after the interference is no longer a problem, allowing administrators to figure out what was causing it, Stiff said.

The technology can detect and locate more than 20 types of sources of interference, including cordless phones, wireless video cameras, microwave ovens and hardware that uses the Bluetooth wireless standard, which has a much shorter range than 802.11 and is used to connect mice and other peripherals, plus smart phones, to desktop computers.

Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of Yankee Group Research Inc., said Motorola Inc. also has products that detect and locate interference sources, but only in a system software offering, rather than an ASIC.

CleanAir also helps detect “rogue” access points – those brought in by users without authorization from IT departments – even if they are using different channels, Stiff said.

Although rogue AP detection is a common feature offered by wireless vendors, some users try to hide rogue APs by making them transmit on a different channel. He claimed CleanAir can defeat this trick.

CleanAir can also figure out how much spectrum a different device is taking up, he said. For example, it could determine that a surveillance camera is using 90 per cent of spectrum resources.

Stiff said one source of interference that universities are faced with is Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox game hardware, which includes a wireless adapter.

He said a university could have a policy  barring Xboxes from libraries and enforce it by detecting the gaming devices using Cisco CleanAir.

In addition to the 3500 series access points, Cisco will also use CleanAir in version 7.0 of its Unified Wireless Network software, the 3300 series Mobility Service Engine and its wireless controllers.

Cisco claims with CleanAir, its devices can react to interference by adjusting signals within 30 seconds.

With files from Matt Hamblen, ComputerWorld US

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