Days may be numbered for standalone spectrum analyzers

Spectral analysis can involve a significant investment in time and money, and the result is the availability of a tool that is carried from location to location as part of normal operations.

As is the case with enterprise-class Wi-Fi assurance tools, there is currently an emerging trend of integrating spectral-analysis capabilities directly into Wi-Fi infrastructure. This is the strategy being applied by Cisco with its Spectrum Intelligence solution and Motorola with its AirDefense Enterprise Spectrum Analysis solution. AirMagnet also has a version of its sensor packaged like an access point for distributed spectral analysis.

The advantages of this integrated approach are many: there is no need to purchase (perhaps several) mobile spectral analyzers; no need to send expensive talent on a foot race in search of interference; no need to train staff to recognize particular waveforms (thanks to centralized automation); and the advantages of having centralized 24/7 monitoring of potential spectral issues are obvious.

We believe that given ever-increasing traffic and the mission-critical nature of Wi-Fi in an ever-growing number of enterprises, that the network-centric spectral-assurance strategy will eventually dominate, especially as competition heats up in this area and always-cost-conscious customers insist on network-centric spectral-analysis capabilities.

We do not believe, however, that ever-greater levels of accuracy will be part of this vision. Enterprise-class spectrum analyzers need not be the calibrated test equipment used in product design, manufacturing, regulatory compliance, and similar high-precision engineering activities. All that's really required is the ability to identify interference and coverage problems, report these, and, ideally, take action in terms of automated network-management reconfigurations to address Layer-1 challenges as they are recognized.

Finally, we expect an increasing number of Wi-Fi chipsets to include raw energy output capability, broadening the number of devices that will be capable of spectral capture and analysis, and eventually even including client devices that evaluate (or at least report) spectral and other wireless-network conditions during otherwise idle time.

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