Sensor-WLAN Links on Tap

The wireless networking industry is working to integrate sensor technology into access points without compromising the integrity of voice and data transmissions.

The wireless networking industry is working to integrate sensor technology into access points without compromising the integrity of voice and data transmissions.

Network Chemistry Inc. this week will announce plans to make its radio-frequency sensor agent available for several WLAN (wireless LAN) hardware platforms, allowing third-party access points to work as RF sensors.

"We have customers who have unused access points sitting around," said Rob Markovich, CEO of Network Chemistry, in Redwood City, Calif. "Weve had a lot of requests from larger companies [asking whether] we can have our sensor software run on their AP hardware." Initially, the sensor agent will be available for access points from Symbol Technologies Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.

Within a few months, the agent will be available for multiple consumer-grade access points, which are generally less expensive than stand-alone sensor hardware, Markovich said. Network Chemistrys sensors cost $350 each.

Network Chemistrys actions follow those of AirMagnet Inc. and AirDefense Inc., both of which recently announced the ability to let Ciscos Aironet access points work as scanners with their respective software offerings. In each case, an access point configured to work as a sensor can work only as a sensor, but the industry is working toward further integration, Markovich said.

"The next phase of this will be the ability to change the firmware on the fly—to change from 20 percent being sensors to 40 percent being sensors," Markovich said, although he gave no time frame for that capability.

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The next step will be multiradio access points that can scan airwaves and transmit data simultaneously on the same frequency. Symbol has been testing such an access point and plans to ship it next year. "The market has matured to requiring security and quality 100 percent of the time, as opposed to part-time security when the access port is scanning for only a few cycles," said Anthony Bartolo, vice president and general manager of the wireless infrastructure division at Symbol, in San Jose, Calif.

Bartolo said Symbols plans are not directly tied to Network Chemistrys. While Network is providing an engineering team to port and test the software for access point vendors who want it, "we do not have a partnership with Network Chemistry," he said. "We dont know if their product will work on our network, as testing has not been conducted."

As for Ciscos plans for an access point that can scan and transmit simultaneously, "we are looking at that," said Alan Cohen, senior director of product management in the wireless networking business unit at Cisco, also in San Jose.

Beyond security, simultaneous scanning and data transmission may ease network administration and improve quality of service, too. "I favor the all-in-one-box solution myself rather than adding more wiring in the crawl spaces to put up sensing APs at more cost," said Chip Greel, senior network engineer at Finisar Corp., in Sunnyvale, Calif. "Most solutions that do rogue-access- point monitoring within their production network do it at a cost. The AP must suspend active sessions while it scans through channels for rogue APs. Thats not too sweet if one of the sessions is doing voice or video; you can get a dropout or jitter."

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