Ekahau unveils Wi-Fi interference detector tool

Ekahau Inc. has announced a spectrum analysis device for its wireless site survey product, which an ABI Research analyst says will appeal to IT managers who want to scan their workplaces more than once and detect unauthorized devices.

Reston, Va.-based Ekahau is offering a dual-band spectrum analyzer as an optional add-on to its Site Survey software, which is designed to display the coverage of 802.11, or Wi-Fi networks, on floor plans. The spectrum analyzer is a stick that plugs into universal serial bus (USB) ports, said Tuomo Rutanen, Ekahau’s vice-president of business development.

“You plug it into the laptop or tablet that you’re doing the survey with, and then the software is basically able to take the spectrum analysis information and display that,” Rutanen said. “It will show you in a graph form where in the 2.4 GHz band the interference is. The closer you are to the (source of interference), the higher the graphs are on the graph chart.”

It can also detect devices in the 5 GHz spectrum, the frequency range that 802.11a devices operate in. But most devices that could potentially interfere with 802.11 networks are in the 2.4 GHz range.

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The device is available through networking resellers and integrators. Customers that do not already have Ekahau Site Survey (ESS) software can buy the package comprised of ESS Professional and the spectrum analyzer for US$4,450. The standard version of ESS with the spectrum analyzer costs US$2,495, Rutanen said.

Both versions of ESS are designed to locate access points and detect information such as data rates and access points overlap. The professional version has additional features, such as three-dimensional network planning, customized reports, network expansion planning and the ability to use global positioning satellite (GPS) service to plot points on the map.

Network managers are starting to see more devices, such as microwave ovens, printers and smart phones, on their corporate wireless networks, said Stan Schatt, vice-president and practice director for wireless connectivity at ABI Research of Oyster Bay, N.Y.

“It’s getting to be a pretty noisy environment,” Schatt said, adding the ability to detect Bluetooth devices is a feature that sets Ekahau apart.

Schatt noted another vendor rolling out site survey technology is AirMagnet Inc. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based vendor said last week it is adding voice over Wi-Fi troubleshooting capability to its AirMagnet product line. Like ESS, AirMagnet Survey Pro also includes coverage maps.

“We’re starting to see with AirMagnet’s announcement, a push by vendors to validate the use of site surveys on a continuing basis rather than a one-off,” Schatt said. “For a long time customers thought site survey was something you conducted once and that was it.

But now we’re starting to see vendors point out the necessity of regular site survey checks.”

Schatt predicts some vendors will offer site survey tools as managed services, and companies like Ekahau will soon make spectrum analysis a standard feature in its products.

But for now, the spectrum analysis will be an optional add-on, Rutanen said.

He added one advantage of the site survey is that it gives companies a “client device view” of the network.

“You’re actually walking around and collecting network signal strength information and doing calculations on signal to noise ratios and things like that,” he said. “It allows you to simulate different devices on that network – for example, a laptop with a built-in Wi-Fi radio or a voice over IP phone – so when you put these simulation modes on you can basically get heat map renderings and look at how my network will perform for this specific Wi-Fi phone, or this specific PDA, or this specific bar code scanner or these types of computers.”

Schatt said spectrum analysis tools could even be used to detect unauthorized devices.

“There are an increasing number of companies that are restricting the use of cell phones in a facility by visitors, because they are afraid of sensitive material being photographed with camera phones. Some are even asking you to check cell phones at the desk. This is a way companies could identify any Bluetooth source and locate anybody who is breaking the rules.”

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