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Cisco, Cognio team up on Wi-Fi interference detection

Andrew R. Hickey, News Writer
Networking giant Cisco has teamed up with Cognio to give users better Wi-Fi security, reliability and performance.

Cognio announced today that Cisco will market, sell and distribute Cognio's flagship Spectrum Expert, a Wi-Fi spectrum and analysis platform, as part of Cisco's SolutionsPlus Reseller Program.

William Flannigan, vice president of marketing at Cognio, said the partnership is unique because it creates the only Layer 1 spectrum-monitoring tool certified to work with a Cisco wireless infrastructure.

The Spectrum Expert troubleshoots and diagnoses problems on the Wi-Fi network, including interference from non-802.11 devices, dead spots and more. The partnership combines Cisco's wireless networking gear with Cognio's Spectrum Expert, which comes in a Cardbus form factor that works with any Windows 2000 or XP device.

"It makes troubleshooting easier," Flannigan said. "It shows what the problem is and where it is. Combined with Cisco's early warning system, it's a one-two punch."

Travis Durick, wireless network engineer for the city of Moorhead, Minn., has used Spectrum Expert for about a year. He oversaw a 17-square-mile municipal Wi-Fi deployment in the city and was contracted for a deployment within several residence halls at Minnesota State University's Moorhead campus.

"We've used it quite frequently over one year," Durick said. "It's alarming just how much interference is out there that you don't know about."

At the university, cordless phones

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and microwaves often interfere with or create trouble on the wireless network, Durick said. In one instance, four small wireless surveillance cameras installed in one building tucked behind lighted exit signs interfered and made the wireless channel unavailable. Complaints came pouring in. Durick said he found the access point that wasn't working and replaced it, but there was still no connectivity. Using Spectrum Expert, he was able to determine why the access point wasn't transmitting and was able to fix the problem.

The city of Moorhead's Wi-Fi deployment created a different set of challenges. In many cases, too many devices were operating on the same channel and were canceling one another out.

"For anybody putting in a wireless network, there needs to be a good level of awareness," Durick said, adding that the Cisco pairing will boost the awareness of wireless monitoring tools. "It eliminates the guessing game as to why a channel is not working. You never know what someone can be running."

The city also has its share of HAM radio operators, and they can create interference. Using Spectrum Expert, Durick can see where the problem is and which channels are being used, and switch the access points to ensure the channels don't conflict.

"My biggest concern is keeping people happy," he said, adding that to keep them happy, wireless access has to be available.

Before using analysis tools, Durick said, he was limited to the reporting on the access points themselves, which is "only so much" and does not dig down far enough to identify exactly what is causing interference and where that device is.

For users, he said, the Cisco-Cognio partnership can help boost ROI on wireless infrastructure investments, simplify deploying and managing the wireless network, and ease troubleshooting.

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Craig Mathias, principal of the Farpoint Group, an Ashland, Mass.-based wireless and mobile advisory firm, said interference from Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi devices is a challenge all enterprise network managers face.

"It's a matter of both integrity and reliability, and it's essential that interference be managed as Wi-Fi becomes the center of mission-critical and advanced application service delivery," Mathias said in a statement.

In addition to the Cisco-Cognio partnership, both vendors also said they will work together to educate the market on the impacts of interference and to drive industry adoption of interference detection and mitigation tools. Cognio was certified as part of the Cisco Technology Developer Partner Program, which means Cognio underwent rigorous testing to ensure quality and compatibility with Cisco gear.

"Enterprises are reliant on Wi-Fi networking solutions as they move to a mobile work environment," said Brett Galloway, Cisco's vice president and general manager of the wireless networking business unit. "With Cognio's Spectrum Expert as part of our overall Wi-Fi toolkit, Cisco customers and partners now have the ability to prevent and rapidly troubleshoot interference issues before they impact the integrity of the Wi-Fi network."

The Spectrum Expert sits side-by-side with Cisco Wireless Control System (WCS) and fills the remaining gap for troubleshooting the Wi-Fi physical layer. With Spectrum Expert, users get a list of specific devices, by name, that are using capacity, and they can quickly tell which ones are causing problems and lock onto and eliminate the devices.

Cognio's president and CEO Thomas McPherson said Cognio's relationship with Cisco creates true parity between the wireless and wired networks.

"IT managers now have the means to deliver advanced IP services such as voice and video over the Wi-Fi network," he said, "removing the limitations of the wired network infrastructure."


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