Reporter's Notebook: Wireless LAN vendors took center stage at Interop Las Vegas 2010 to announce new WLAN products and technologies. While product vendors argued about the best way to do things and looked ahead to future technology advances, implementers wanted best practices for the present.
Despite the noticeable absence of several key WLAN-only
companies from Interop Las Vegas 2010, wireless LAN
product and technology announcements took center stage twice at the annual
conference and exposition.
Closing out Interop's first-day
keynote addresses, Brett Galloway, senior vice president of Cisco's Wireless,
Security, and Routing Technology Group, introduced the networking giant's new
CleanAir technology. Extending his presentation about borderless networks
and the need to better help users do their jobs effectively from anywhere,
Galloway extolled the
ability of Cisco's new hardware-based spectrum analysis access points to work
in concert with enhanced back-end management resources to detect RF interferers,
deliver AirQuality assessment scores to wireless administrators, and take
automated avoidance actions to mitigate the effects of radio interference.
Chris Kozup, Cisco's senior manager for Mobility Solutions,
gave me a quick CleanAir demonstration on the show floor, providing an
opportunity to clarify a few things I didn't glean from my initial explorations
into the technology. During the demo, a
heat map showed a precise location for numerous interferers detected throughout
Cisco's network, most of which were Bluetooth headsets. Specifically, I wanted
to know how Cisco determined each of those headsets was a separate device,
rather than a few devices strapped to the head of a couple guys wandering the
hallways that were detected here and there by different access points, since
CleanAir tracks interferers over time.
Kozup explained that each interferer is uniquely identified
within the system and assigned a fake MAC
address to identify it in an ongoing fashion. When I asked how Cisco could
ensure it was tracking the same device over time-for instance, if there were a
bunch of the same model of headset in use (a likely scenario if the company
standardized on a model)-he replied that there are detectable differences in
the timing of the detected RF pulses that could be used for specific
identification, even within the same product family.
Such accuracy is made possible through the use of a spectrum
analysis ASIC built into Cisco's new Aironet 3500 access points. And a few companies delivering spectrum
analysis via software enhancements to standard WiFi access points scoffed at
the need for a hardware-enabled solution and the added expense of such
The first time I encountered spectrum analysis features
baked into standard WiFi access point hardware was when I tested AirDefense
Enterprise 7.3 two years ago. On the show floor, I happened to run into AirDefense's former CTO
Amit Sinha, now fellow and chief technologist for Motorola Enterprise Wireless LAN
(Motorola acquired AirDefense in 2008), and I asked him what he had found
customers wanted and expected from their spectrum analysis features in the two
years since AirDefense introduced the feature.
Sinha stated that customers didn't want to spend a lot of
money just for spectrum analysis, and they didn't want to have to choose where
to deploy spectrum analysis features, since they didn't know where problems
would occur. And they did not want or need to know detailed and specific
information about the interferer, just where it most likely can be found and
what kind of device it is likely to be.
A software enhancement to off-the-shelf WiFi hardware provides an ideal
solution-inexpensive to acquire and easy to deploy and use.
Meanwhile, an Aruba representative e-mailed
me at the show to stress that a software solution negates the need to rip and
replace the entire access point fleet, which is what Cisco proposes in delivering
the full complement of CleanAir features. For those who have already deployed
802.11n, that would be a tall order.
Avaya President and CEO
Kevin Kennedy used his keynote address to announce Avaya's new Wireless LAN
8100 Series of wireless controllers, 802.11n access points and management
software. The solution touts a split plane architecture that separates the
control plane from the data and management planes. While the press release makes the 8100 series
sound like a verbatim rebranding of Nortel's WLAN properties,
it looks like there will be a selection of controllers and access points to
choose from, and Avaya has promised the tightest integration of WLAN and wired
network management. We'll see how that shapes up when the products ship in
Xirrus is present and is hosting Interop's public wireless
network again, with greater success than I understand it had last year. It is also
hosting boxing matches on the show floor for the second year in a row,
while touting a recent Tolly Group report that Xirrus commissioned. The report
iterated that Xirrus' XN8 Wi-Fi Array delivered higher user density per device
and greater coverage area in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands than an unnamed wireless
controller with four dual-radio access points.
Several notable wireless LAN
vendors were absent from the show floor. Companies such as Meru Networks,
Aerohive Networks and Aruba Networks chose to forgo sponsoring a booth at the expo,
to save money or to focus their tradeshow agenda on vertical specific
conferences-particularly shows focusing on the health care sector. However, I
found representatives of those companies sprinkled throughout a handful of
Dorothy Stanley, Aruba's senior standards
architect, participated on a panel titled "Wi-Fi 2015-The Next Five Years" that
attempted to focus on a handful of forward-looking WiFi issues. The panel
briefly touched on the IEEE 802.11ac task group looking at gigabit and up
network speeds leveraging multiple-user MIMO to send different users
simultaneous streams on the same channel, as well as the 802.11k (radio
resource management), 802.11r (fast roaming) and 802.11v (wireless network
management) efforts currently under way.
However, the audience seemed much more interested in
discussing the present, looking for more information about the reliability of
802.11n and the viability of voice over WiFi. Obviously, those who have not yet
taken the plunge on 802.11n were looking for confirmation that their near-term
adoption will still be relevant and useful for them in 2015.
They got it.
Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.