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Cherokee Nation sniffs out, snuffs WLAN troubles

From the comfort of his truck, Jon James has found rogue and unsecured access points and has found out what is causing interruptions on the WLAN in Cherokee Nation.

It's not uncommon to find Jon James in his truck, circling the buildings of Cherokee Nation and scanning the airwaves.

As IT manager for Cherokee Nation in the Northeast corner of Oklahoma, it is James' job to keep the network up and running and to ensure the nearly 2,000 end users and 3,700 devices have constant connectivity. That can be challenging, considering the area spans 7,000 square miles and has a population exceeding 220,000.

But monitoring Cherokee Nation's WLAN has become a breeze, James said, thanks in part to AirMagnet's portable airwave scanner, Laptop Analyzer.

"Management wise, Laptop Analyzer helps us detect problem areas before we deploy and helps us locate antenna placement for optimum reception [and] transmission," he said.

It is amazing, though, if you drive through the city with the Laptop Analyzer scanning, how many unsecured access points there are.
Jon James
IT ManagerCherokee Nation
James said uninterrupted Wi-Fi access is critical in Cherokee Nation, especially in areas where Voice over Internet Protocol is being used.

"Voice packets are real time and can't be retransmitted," he said. "If voice packets are interrupted, then the conversation is interrupted. Users complain and it appears to them that the equipment is junk."

Aside from VoIP, other data sent via the WLAN is also critical, James said, because "an interrupted connection could result in corrupted data."

Last week, AirMagnet unveiled Laptop Analyzer's latest version, 6.0. Rich Mironov, vice president of marketing for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AirMagnet Inc., said Laptop Analyzer 6.0's main purpose is to scan the airwaves. If a user is having a problem, the IT department can run, or in James' case drive, a laptop to that area, check the waves and see what's up. It can show who is connected, measure the Wi-Fi network's performance and determine what access points are being used.

"In under 60 seconds, it scans the airwaves," Mironov said. "It can tell who's connected and who's not connected and why."

With 130 diagnostics, Laptop Analyzer 6.0 can pinpoint any problems or anomalies on the Wi-Fi network. If a new microwave in the eighth floor break room is disrupting the WLAN, Laptop Analyzer can detect it. If someone set up a rogue access point, it can find that, too.

James said he knows first hand about Laptop Analyzer's troubleshooting capabilities. It's helped him find rogue access points and access points that aren't secure. It's assisted him in discovering why certain users are losing their connections and helped him remedy the problem. He primarily uses Laptop Analyzer for wireless surveys and to examine problem areas for frequency noise. Cherokee Nation has used Laptop Analyzer for about two years, and has now updated to version 6.0.

"Locating sources of frequency interference -- noise -- is the most difficult thing to find and virtually impossible without an analyzer," James said. "Since AirMagnet can show the noise graphically, it is easy to isolate and, if possible, eliminate. In one case, we found that a cheap 2.4 GHz cordless phone was causing excessive noise and when the phone passed between the computer and the access point, the computer would lose connection.

"Periodically, in the past, as time permitted, we would drive around some of the buildings where we have a lot of users and scan for rogue access points," James continued. "We found some, but educating the users has helped eliminate that."

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User education about rogue points, James said, has virtually eliminated the need to "drive around and sniff them out." However, "it is amazing, though, if you drive through the city with the Laptop Analyzer scanning, how many unsecured access points there are."

What sets the Laptop Analyzer apart is Intel Centrino support, which eliminates the need for users to buy a separate Wi-Fi card to use the software.

"Before, customers had to get an external card and slide it into their external slot," he said. "The Centrino support eliminates that need."

The software also features compliance reports for the credit card industry's latest security standard to protect against identity theft and credit card fraud, which as become a necessary tool for retail businesses.

Laptop Analyzer also features remote visibility capability. It allows office-based IT professionals to virtually "look over the shoulder" of remote filed workers using Laptop Analyzer, giving both a real-time view of Wi-Fi performance and problems. Mironov said remote visibility of shared applications reduces the need for offline packet capture and analysis and helps train distant users.

James finds Laptop Analyzer has boosted network uptime. He said the most important feature version 6.0 offers him "is the pop-up window when you hover your mouse over a device. It immediately displays all the information about that device inside the window without having to double click a device in the discovery window. This helps keep you at the start screen."

Other features of Laptop Analyzer 6.0 include:

  • Direct security alarm notification to e-mail, cell phones, pagers and other devices as problems arise.
  • A device peer map that illustrates connections and bandwidth usage.
  • A monitoring range with external 802.11a/b/g antenna support.
  • Enhanced decoding support for Internet protocols such as FTP, SMTP, Telnet, HTTP and POP.
  • A free download of BlueSweep, which detects the presence of Bluetooth.

Laptop Analyzer 6.0 is available now for $3,495. Upgrades are also available at no cost to customers with support contracts.

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