Cisco Systems is clearing the air around enterprise wireless LANs with a partner that specializes in radio spectrum analysis.
The company is offering Cognio's Spectrum Expert for Wi-Fi, a tool for studying interference around a wireless LAN, to complement its own Wireless Control System. Together, the tools are intended to help enterprises lay out wireless LANs and take care of rogue wireless gear and interference from a variety of sources, including non-Wi-Fi devices such as microwave ovens. Cognio's product is available now through Cisco's regular sales channels.
Interference and security are two key issues for enterprises that want to set up comprehensive wireless LANs for demanding new applications, namely VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol). Cognio is one of many specialist companies that offer tools for working out those issues. Cisco, which is betting big on the spread of Wi-Fi from vertical industries to general businesses, wants to make sure its networks deliver a good experience.
The Spectrum Expert is a CardBus device that plugs into a Windows notebook and works with software to detect and identify interfering devices and help a technician locate the device. Wireless LAN security systems from AirMagnet, Fluke Networks and WildPackets use Cognio technology. Cisco's Wireless Control System is a server-based application for planning, designing, monitoring and managing wireless LANs. It can support thousands of access points around an enterprise and carry out tasks including user tracking and security monitoring, according to Cisco.
The main thing Cognio brings to Cisco's wireless management offering is the ability to identify what is causing interference on a wireless network, executives of the companies said.
The relationship is not exclusive. Cisco may integrate Cognio's technology more tightly with its products in the future but is continuing internal wireless development, said Ben Gibson, director of mobility solutions marketing.
Many different products operate or emit radio waves in the unlicensed spectrum used by Wi-Fi. Using profiles of different types of devices, Cognio's system can tell whether interference is coming from a Bluetooth device, a cordless phone, a microwave or another source, including a jamming device, said Jeff White, executive vice president of strategy and business development at Cognio.
Wi-Fi jammers are easily available but not a common threat today, said Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias. However, there are enough potential sources of interference to justify buying an analyzer like Cognios's, a fairly inexpensive purchase, he said.
"It's not so much a question of security as it is of integrity. You want to make sure your network's operating," Mathias said.
Interference is especially bad in shared properties such as an office park, and it may get worse as enterprises embrace the emerging IEEE 802.11n standard, Mathias said. That standard will probably use a wider frequency band than current Wi-Fi, making it more likely your neighbor's transmissions will bump up against yours. On the plus side, traffic won't spend as much time on an 802.11n network because it will move faster, and there will probably be new mechanisms built in to keep connections stable.