Welcome to the dead zone, where wireless LAN access does not exist, despite a proliferation of access points.
Maybe it's interference. Maybe it's overuse. Maybe it's a combination of things the naked eye can't see.
A pair of new tools from Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AirMagnet, however, intend to make it easier to find those problem areas, snuff out dead spots and make wireless site surveys more accurate and informative. This week AirMagnet rolled out its new laptop-based site survey software, AirMagnet Survey 3.0, and integrated it with Spectrum Analyzer 2.0, its new radio frequency spectrum analysis software. The tools are bundled together or can each be bought separately.
The combination gives users a comprehensive and predictive view of root causes of WLAN performance problems along with pinpointing security and compliance issues before, during and after deployment.
Jed Ortner, network technician at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., has been testing the Spectrum Analyzer portion for about a week. In that short time, he's already solved some previously puzzling problems.
"The nurses would be putting in their data and they'd lose connectivity," Ortner said. He sent the Spectrum Analyzer to find the trouble -- a nearby microwave that, every time it clicked on, interfered with a certain access point.
Ortner said he's also using AirMagnet Survey to run a site check on all of the hospital's 15 floors to determine how each of the 160 access points react to each other. He's trying to eliminate dead spots, find areas where the signal is weaker than it should be and modify the wireless network to get the best connectivity possible.
"We've gotten pretty aggressive," he said of the hospital, which has roughly 1,500 wireless-ready laptops. "We were able to verify our setup was incorrect and modify the channel. This is something that we've never been able to do before."
Ortner added that the setup Wizards make the tools easy to use, and the report function, which prints out detailed diagrams, make presenting problems to upper management much easier.
"We can show them exactly where there's signal interference," he said.
According to Forrester Research, nearly 70% of U.S. businesses are using wireless LANs. In 2005, the size of the average wireless network doubled from 75 to 150 access points. Along with that growth, site surveys have become increasingly important, especially with new uses for Wi-Fi, including Voice over WLAN, which are more sensitive to dead spots than more traditional WLAN applications.
In a statement, Joel Conover, principal analyst with research firm, Current Analysis, said, "Organizations are no longer under the delusion that they can set up a reliable wireless LAN without a site survey. It's critical to WLAN performance."
AirMagnet product manager Wade Williamson said Survey 3.0, which is available as a stand alone or integrated with the Spectrum Analyzer, simplifies the site survey process. It includes Microsoft MapPoint and the ability to map to GPS coordinates, giving companies a physical blueprint they can use to build and troubleshoot a wireless network. He said it can be used for indoor and outdoor wireless site surveys.
The Spectrum Analyzer, Williamson said, can identify more than 15 types of devices that interfere with WLANs, like that pesky microwave Ortner uncovered or Bluetooth devices and cordless phones.
Williamson said the combined surveying and spectrum analysis capabilities improve the ability to predict and troubleshoot WLAN performance and usability problems.
AirMagnet Survey 3.0 can also be used for capacity planning, and it uses AirWISE and allows users to find areas that fail to meet security, performance and compliance requirements, while explaining the problems it found and recommending specific remedies, Williamson said. The survey tool also features 3D Data Visualization, which uses a color-coded map to pinpoint signal strengths and weaknesses.