Spectrum analysis to be built-into Aruba's Wi-Fi product line

Wi-Fi networks can monitor their own radio environment for interference

Aruba Networks will offer radio spectrum analysis built-into its line of 802.11n Wi-Fi access points for the enterprise market.

Aruba Networks announced today a software-only radio spectrum analyzer, which is integrated into its enterprise Wi-Fi product line, including 802.11n access points.

Low-cost wireless spectrum analyzers do the trick

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With the Spectrum Analysis Module, available this fall, loaded on an Aruba controller and access points, network administrators can use the existing Wi-Fi network to monitor the physical layer of the radio environment. The software finds and identifies interference sources, including jamming. Correcting or compensating for interferers can make the Wi-Fi network more reliable and boost throughput.

Traditionally, spectrum analyzers have been standalone systems, usually including hardware separate from the Wi-Fi access points that comprise the enterprise wireless LAN. But the trend is to incorporate these detection and analysis tasks into the core WLAN system software.

Writing a year ago, as part of a Network World Clear Choice test of spectrum analyzers, Craig Mathias noted that an integrated approach has several benefits, among them: eliminating the need to buy one or more portable spectral analyzers, coupled with sending off your expensive IT staff with them to track down interference problems. Instead, a round-the-clock central monitoring capability tracks the radio environment and alerts when problems are detected. He calls this capability "spectral assurance" – improving the quality of RF by constant monitoring.

"We believe that…[this] network-centric spectral-assurance strategy will eventually dominate," he wrote then. "Especially as competition heats up in this area and always-cost-conscious customers insist on network-centric spectral-analysis capabilities."

Aruba now enables this on its AP-105 and AP-120 series 802.11n access points by offering a checkbox entry on an Aruba controller (the new module offers a graphical user interface designed to simplify configuring access points, reviewing events and recording data). The entry triggers the spectrum analyzer into action on any of the access points in the wireless network, whether local or remote, scanning both the 2.4- and 5-GHz radio bands. The software can report on channel performance and interference sources. Information can be charted, and the spectrum activity for a location recorded for later playback and analysis.

Rival vendors include AirMagnet Spectrum XT, unveiled in February (AirMagnet was acquired by Fluke Networks), Cisco Spectrum Expert (based on software from its own acquisition, of Cognio, in 2007), AirSleuth, Metageek's Wi-Spy, and Berkeley Varitronics.

The Aruba Spectrum Analysis Module will ship in the third calendar quarter of 2010. The new software will be bundled with Aruba's Wireless Intrusion Prevention Module. Customers with the WIP application will receive the new spectrum analysis features at no extra charge.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

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