Peering Into the Wireless World

Cognio and Cisco combo makes for easier RF monitoring

Enterprises that need a clearer view of their wireless environments are getting help from Cisco Systems and Cognio.

The two companies are teaming to bring new RF (radio frequency) monitoring capabilities to Ciscos WCS (Wireless Control System) by integrating Cognios Spectrum Expert.

The move will give administrators a way to view their RF environment as a part of their basic Cisco management screens. The result is that administrators can see in a single glance how their wireless devices cover each location served by their wireless network. In addition, administrators can spot rogue devices such as intruders and unauthorized access points, as well as devices such as cordless phones and microwave ovens that can produce interference for Wi-Fi networks.

"[The integration of the products] was more about the ability to find spectrum interference and find out why things arent working," said Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala in Boston. "The more dependent companies get on wireless, the more important this becomes. It should be a priority for more companies."

Spectrum Expert goes beyond the capabilities Cisco already has, according to Jeff White, executive vice president for strategy at Cognio, in Germantown, Md.

"Its for rogue things that are not access points," White said. "The systems that Cisco has in place do a sufficient job of finding whats out there in terms of access points. Anything thats Wi-Fi, Cisco is going to have a great handle on, but they also see energy thats non-Wi-Fi. We actually tell you what the energy is. We go in and do signature analysis."

That energy can include everything from cordless phones to wireless cameras to Bluetooth devices, White said. "Thats the real thing that we think is different and adds value on top of the Wi-Fi infrastructure," White said.

Spectrum Expert software has databases of devices at two levels, White said: In some cases it can identify the specific devices, while in others it can only tell the type of device, such as whether interference is coming from a microwave oven. Spectrum Expert includes a hardware component thats delivered on a mini-PCI device or on a PC card, both of which provide input as to the type of interference and the strength, with a range of about 150 feet.

Motion Computing regularly uses Spectrum Expert to find and deal with sources of interference in its own office and those of customers.

"It makes a big difference when youre trying to troubleshoot difficult interference issues," said David Mackie, director of wireless services for Motion Computing, of Austin, Texas. "Its getting to be a difficult process in the wireless space. The need for quality of service and packet certainty has gone up a lot. Its moved away from just hot spots and basic connectivity."

"Its good to see Cisco focusing on [the management] aspect instead of only the speeds and feeds," said Yankee Groups Kerravala. "Cisco as a company has not focused on manageability as much as they should, and this time theyre out in front."

Kerravala said that some companies will see the need for WCS integrated with Spectrum Expert immediately. "It helps companies that rely more heavily on wireless infrastructure," he said. "They will understand its value."

Organizations that have a great need for mobility, such as hospitals and schools, will get the most out of it.

Motion Computings Mackie said that having the ability to actually view the RF environment has shown him that interference can come from more than just cordless phones.

"It can be a lot of things, from medical equipment and radiology equipment to microwaves," Mackie said, adding that interference is a growing challenge, especially with the growth of Bluetooth devices, RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags and other wireless products. "Theres no doubt that [the new monitoring capability] cuts down on time to troubleshoot issues."

White said that an important early use will be with mesh networking. "Mesh environments are notorious for interference," he said, adding that Cisco technology is often used in mesh environments. "Knowing what the interference is and whether you can get rid of it is important."

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...