Product Review: AirMagnet's Spectrum XT Analyzer - Put This One on Your List

A solid improvement in a USB form factor

I am, as I'm sure you know, a huge fan of Wi-Fi-oriented spectrum analyzers. My favorite has always been Cisco's Spectrum Expert, and Fluke, who now own AirMagnet, have been selling their version of this product for some time. Now AirMagnet has stepped up with an improved version, AirMagnet Spectrum XT announced today, that features a USB interface (replacing the PC Card - anybody remember those?), an updated application user interface, and several new functions.

The adapter itself is a fairly large USB unit that can be plugged directly into a USB port, but AirMagnet also provides a clip and a short extension cable to allow the electronics to be mounted to the lid of the notebook PC. I tested the 1.0.1 version of the software. The first thing one notices upon starting the tool is that the user interface is reorganized from previous versions - Spectrum XT is easier to use and it's also easy to customize views to display exactly what you want (check out the huge range of analysis displays provided). The mid-band 5 GHz. channels are supported, as is the licensed 4.9 GHz. band. There's new support for 802.11n. Recording and playback are available. Even those with little experience in spectral analysis will find Spectrum XT simple and productive in no time. Within seconds of firing the tool up I'd located a mis-configured AP - one that really shouldn't still be in use at this point, truth be told. I've left it running now for several days, exploring many of its features, and, of course, making sure that my channel selections are still optimal - there's still no one else around here using 5 GHz., much to my surprise.

An important new feature is the ability to integrate with AirMagnet's WiFi Analyzer Pro and Survey Pro tools. WiFi Analyzer Pro is one of the leading assurance tools and having spectral information available here is a big plus. Similarly, Survey Pro, which took top honors in my Network World testing project of mid last year, is also enhanced by being enabled to evaluate the effects of non-Wi-Fi traffic.

A spectrum analyzer is essential, as I've noted before, for any enterprise or other installation really of any size. It's also great, of course, for consultants and analysts who need to isolate PHY-layer problems quickly. Interference isn't yet a serious challenge in most locales, but it's something you need to keep your eye on. My suggestion is to dedicate a notebook PC to this function (possibly now in conjunction with WiFi Analyzer Pro) and have it ready to go when problems are suspected. I'd love to see a Linux version of the Spectrum XT software, since booting Windows just to do a little analysis can take a while. But, overall, Spectrum XT should be on your short list if you're in the market for a spectrum analyzer - and, again, you really should be.

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