As anticipated, the first WLAN planning and analysis tools made their way into the light at the Interop show in Las Vegas, as AirMagnet announced 802.11n support for both its Survey Pro and Laptop Analyzer Pro applications. Full 802.11n analysis will require new hardware, so AirMagnet also announced its new Wireless PC Card.
All three products can be purchased as a package for $7,305 or separately: Laptop Analyzer Pro ($3,995), Survey Pro ($3,695) and the Wireless PC Card ($150). Fortunately, current customers of Laptop Analyzer Pro or Survey Pro with up-to-date service contracts can download the 11n-capable versions for free.
AirMagnet's tools try to blend the theory and the practice of 802.11n wireless networks, including tools that aim to provide its customers with theoretical advice on 802.11n propagation in order to help them purchase the right 11n-capable infrastructure devices and then the right tools to manage and troubleshoot the network after it is deployed.
For instance, Analyzer Pro includes a Device Calculator that allows wireless administrators looking to buy new 802.11n equipment to enter the configurations options they would like to use (like short guard interval, channel width, frame size and protection scheme) -- and then the tool will spit out characteristics like maximum data rate, number of spatial streams and modulation coding schemes supported by various vendors. Of course, this information is based on the specifications published by the vendor rather than real detections, so expectations should be tempered.
Predeployment, wireless administrators can also scan their existing legacy networks to build a good map of current coverage and then drop in simulated 11n access points to the network to predict the impact of the new devices when placed in various locations.
AirMagnet is pushing the predeployment use of active surveys, in which the survey machine joins and actively uses the wireless LAN while conducting the scan. Passive surveying will be insufficient for 802.11n networks because a passive scanner cannot accurately measure the effects of spatial multiplexing used by MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technologies or for devices using beam-forming antenna technologies. AirMagnet's tools can also provide different information based on the intended usage scenario -- whether the network will be deployed supporting only 802.11n or, more likely, with support for legacy devices.
For use once 802.11n is deployed, AirMagnet introduced tools like Analyzer Pro's Efficiency Tool, which helps the wireless administrator determine where the network is not operating in High Throughput mode and gives detailed explanations of the various 11n features and options that could be causing the problems. AirMagnet's tools also include a copy of the NLANR (National Laboratory for Applied Network Research) Iperf throughput measurement tool, so administrators can conduct on-the-spot performance measurements.
All three products should be available on May 6. I will provide an update on how the products perform in the labs once I can get my hands on them.