Wanted: 2 Standards on 1 Card

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2002-04-22

Dont expect the latest crop of wireless protocol analyzers to stand still if dual chip sets that allow wireless cards to support 802.11b and 802.11a achieve traction.

It mostly comes down to writing a driver that can support features of both chips in a single card, but as our tests revealed, this task is more daunting than might be expected.

IT managers should insist that protocol analyzer vendors get this right because effective wireless trouble-shooting is going to require that a single PC equipped with one of these cards act as a sniffer and a terminal. After ascertaining the nature of a wireless problem, IT technicians will likely have to connect to a wireless access point and configure it in some way. This will require that technicians quickly switch out of "sniffer" mode and into "configuration" mode, which will be a real hassle using current card drivers.

Supporting both standards—802.11b for legacy installations that can get away with lower bandwidth but greater roaming distances and 802.11a, which provides higher bandwidth but shorter transmission distances—will likely be a burden for IT for at least the next couple of years.

The two standards leave similar problems in their wake, problems that are usually related to access point placement and intermittent radio obstructions. The other problem that both standards will likely present is rogue transmitters, whether set up to provide flexible access or to crack the network.

Either way, technicians will need tools to help them find and fix problems in both kinds of networks.

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