The Unstoppable MetaGeek – now with CleanAir!

Rarely does such an organization come around that expresses it’s agility and prowess with as much regularity as MetaGeek. The most recently of which is their ability to use Chanalyzer Pro (their premium Spectrum Analyzer software) to talk to the Cognio chipset in a Cisco CleanAir Access Point. PC based Spectrum Analyzers have had a sordid history to say the least. Way back when, Cognio made what you would call ‘the best of the best’ PC based Spectrum Analyzer. This took the place of many of the bulkier, more expensive Spectrum Analyzers and proved to the world that a) it was important to get Layer 1 visibility for enterprise WLANs and b) that they could make it affordable for most services based partners. Everyone OEM’d the Cognio analyzer, AirMagnet, Fluke, and WildPackets. Along came Cisco. They purchased Cognio, killed off all of the OEM agreements, rolled the hardware into their Access Points, and started selling the Cognio product with the Cisco name on it (Cisco Spectrum Expert). Unfortunately, they didn’t do much with the CardBus product and let the non-AP components stale. The aging interface form factor left quite a few holes in the market and along came a few people here and there to make it all shake out like this (generally):

  • Cisco Spectrum Expert: Highest resolution, CleanAir AP and CardBus form factor, Cognio based
  • AirMagnet Spectrum XT: Middle resolution, USB form factor, bandspeed based
  • AP based Spectrum Analyzers: Low resolution, integrated into many APs, Atheros based
  • MetaGeek Wi-Spy: Low resolution, USB form factor, keyboard controller based

Ryan and team over at MetaGeek did an excellent job of using very affordable components to give us an alternative to the aging CardBus adapter and the newer, more expensive AirMagnet adapter. They were an awesome product for the money but never really achieved huge market penetration due to the fact that the Cognio and bandspeed products still offered higher resolution. With the Cognio hardware all locked up in the Cisco Access Points, it seemed inevitable that we’d never have a good way to access it. Imagine our surprise when at this years Cisco Live event, MetaGeek was there – showing off their integration between Chanalyzer and the CleanAir Access Points! Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the *exact* same Cognio hardware, high resolution Spectrum Analyzer goodness that we all know and love from the old days. When I first heard about this, there was much trepidation about MetaGeek perhaps not being able to address the ‘full power’ of the Cognio (ahem, CleanAir) chip in its rawest form, but I’m here to tell you, when compared side by side with a legacy CardBus based Cognio adapter, the data is identical! The user interface is the updated, Chanalyzer interface with all of the modern enhancements they’ve made over the years with the WiSpy products, but you’re using the high-fidelity data that Cognio gives us. Here’s how it works:

You can connect to a CleanAir AP that is autonomous or lightweight (registered to a WLC) and it can be either servicing clients or in dedicated ‘SE-Connect’ Mode. You get the highest resolution, widest image when it’s in this last mode so let’s start there. Log into your controller, select your AP from the wireless tab and change it from ‘local’ to ‘SE-Connect’. Click Apply and let the AP reboot and join back to the WLC.

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.02.03 PM

Once it’s joined back, select the AP again and you’ll find both the IP address of the AP and something called the NSI key:

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.08.06 PM

Lauch Chanalyzer Pro with CleanAir and goto the File Menu. Select the intuitive ‘Connect to a CleanAir AP:

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.12.25 PM

Once you do that, enter the values from the AP page that you previously saw including the IP address, NSI key and a friendly name for this AP:

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.13.07 PM

Once you’ve done that, mash the Connect button and you’ll start to see the familiar Chanalyzer Pro interface with all of the wonderful resolution we all grew so fond of all those years ago! For reference, I ran Chanalyzer Pro with CleanAir on the same machine at the same time as a Cisco Spectrum Expert instance (using the CardBus adapter). Aside from the waterfall flowing up in the Cisco product, and down in the Chanalyzer product, you’ll see striking similarities in the respective waterfall views:

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.21.24 PM

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.21.41 PM

and at the same time, getting all of the other awesome details out of the Cognio SaGE like interferer auto-classification and AirQuality Index. Proving once again that MetaGeek are the top kids on the block when it comes to innovation and integration – but don’t take my word for it, head on over to MetaGeek, grab yourself a copy and give it a spin!

Full Disclosure: As an delegate of the Wireless Field Day event, I was given a copy of Chanalyzer Pro with CleanAir to play with without promise or commitment to write anything – much less something positive. :) MetaGeek is a regular supporter of the Tech Field day events and generally makes awesome products and is regularly engaged in Social Media – you should go follow them at @metageek and catch up on the NoStringsAttached Show where Blake Krone and I also talk with MetaGeek about Chanalyzer with CleanAir!

MetaGeek inSSIDer for Office hands on

The unstoppable MetaGeek.

Talk about a company that knows their target audience! MetaGeek proves once again that they can pull off simple to use tools that incorporate legitimate (and sometimes difficult to get) data into a simple to use interface, targeted at a specific type of user. In this instance, MetaGeek has launched their inSSIDer for Office product – intended to provide the small office user unprecedented insight into their RF to help them make intelligent decisions about their wireless infrastructure.

The first thing you should know about MetaGeek is that they specialize in visualizing spectrum analysis data. This is the geek-out squiggly lines that your favorite wifi engineer loves to gaze at for hours on end (okay, maybe not – but you get the point). In inSSIDer for Office, they incorporate some pretty significant RF spectrum analysis data with a no-nonsense approach to telling what you need to know. This product is targeted squarely at the office user (and is named aptly). If you run a small office with a couple of wireless Access Points, you need this. inSSIDer for Office couples MetaGeeks WiSpy-Mini product in an easy to use form factor with your laptops existing wifi adapter to tell you not only what wireless networks are around you, but what the raw RF behind the scenes is doing. If you are experiencing interference from a microwave oven – or other wifi interferrer, this will show that quite nicely. Basically, if you’ve tried to use the netstumbler type products (even the free MetaGeek inSSIDer for home) but are looking for a low-cost ‘step up’ – this is it.
With an easy to use user interface, the main page of the application is broken up into four sections that logically flow from left to right starting with a good ‘Learn tab’ that gives you a good overview into what you’re about to see.

ImageFollowing through the top tabs into Networks, Channels, and Analyze basically walks even the most novice user logically through visually displaying what they have in the air around them, what’s free/used, and gives you a really strong understanding about what’s going on in the non-802.11 world without needing a degree in understanding RF.

Once you’ve launched the application, the Networks tab gives you a wealth of information including a spectral mask view in the bottom of the page as well as a list of SSIDs in range of your adapter.

Image

The first thing you should do is select your network from the list by moving up and down using the arrow keys then pressing the intuitive ‘s’ key for select. Once you’ve ‘starred’ your network(s), pop on over to the Channels view for a good Green/Yellow/Red view of your environment, then onto Analyze for an easy to read and understand ‘observed issues’ with your selected networks – including some no-nonsense advice for you such as, “Overlapping Starred Network: This condition will cause slow speeds on each network. Please use the standard non-overlapping channel scheme of 1-6-11.”. The application is deceptively easy to use but don’t let it fool you.

Image

The fine folks over at MetaGeek once again have taken some very complex data, well beyond what you can get with the free tools, and incorporated it into an easy to use, accurate, and cost-effective tool for the small office environment. Any semi-tech savvy user, office admin, or support-geek will find that this pays for itself in very short order.

Full disclosure: I met up with the MetaGeek folks over at Interop recently where I spoke with them about inSSIDer for Office. They gave me a copy of the product to review without obligation. MetaGeek regularly supports such events as the Tech Field Day events and make products that even the most seasoned WiFi expert should have in their toolbag. I can’t wait to see what they come out with next!

Aruba wants you to stop buying the AP134-135. 3rd times the charm?

Earlier this month, Scott Calzia, Director, Product Marketing at Aruba posted an article deriding the announcement of an 802.11ac module from Cisco for their flagship Access Point – the 3602. I took umbrage at the article which lead to the following posts and replies between myself and Aruba Product Marketing Manager, Ozer at Aruba: My first postOzers replyMy next replyHis next reply, and now this post.

Before going any further, I certainly acknowledge that this threaded saga of post-reply-post-reply is a difficult one to follow and I believe that further discussion will likely take place on the No Strings Attached Show. There is a good deal of technical discussion and rabbit trailing in the threads between Oz and myself and I some of them are quite tangential but I’m trying to keep topics centered around the original post topics. I welcome further discussion about performance & feature sets that are outside of the original post and if you’d like to have something addressed in further detail, please leave me a comment in the section below! Having said that, it’s hard to thank someone of Ozers caliber for continuing to stay engaged without sounding trite or insincere. I (and many of my readers that prefer offline comments) genuinely appreciate the dialogue and open discussion. Keeping each other honest with an above board, fun and engaging conversation is exactly the point of this.

Onto the meat!

Alright I am back for round 2… I hope this does not last until round 15 :) I gotta tell you I love the “ding-ding” opening! I am glad that we can keep the discussion fun, engaging instead of using anger and personal attacks… Thanks again for accepting my reply, glad to have the discussion going. BTW, you type fast!

Your comment to Aruba blog…
I am assuming it is a side effect of web changes yesterday (new navigation and converging 3 blog pages into 1) but I will check shortly.

Sounds good! It looks like my original post is still ‘awaiting moderation’ but I look forward to having it approved – Mine get auto-approved, pending spam filtration so I’d be interested in hearing from Scott as well!

Regarding 2400…
small typo as you can guess: meant to refer to 2500 series controllers.

Well, that’s what I was thinking Scott meant in his first post. This means that the corrected statement would be (in reference to controllers that support the 3600):

So if you have older 2500, 4000, WiSM or WCS, it is that time to write your Cisco tax check again.

Sadly, this statement is also false since the 2500 WLC does indeed support the 3600. As a side note, the WCS release notes call out support for the 3600 as well. I’ve been asking for some time about clarification of code support for the controllers and how that meshes with the WCS/3600 support, but it does state it and I presume that since WCS supports code release 7.1, Cisco can claim 3600 support. Yes this is slightly ambiguous and not 100% clear but as the Aruba statement sits, it’s incorrect. Cisco isn’t perfect (there, I said it) but, at minimum, checking the release notes is a) easy to do since they don’t change locations and b) should be a requirement before declaring something is incompatible.

Alright back to tech…

Regarding 1250 series AP (since many commented on it)…
Almost a year after 1250 series, 1140 series was announced. I am not claiming that the AP actually physically failed (it obviously worked just fine after you managed to install it) – it was no longer the right AP to install for many, unless you are installing APs in a warehouse or similar challenging environments. Cisco’s promise of “modular AP is the way to go” was no longer. 1140 had better form factor, better price, did not need external antennas, better PoE efficiency. There was almost no reason to install 1250 series in a classroom or a carpeted office space after 1140 series was released. During that timeframe Aruba’s AP-124/125 series won many deals against Cisco 1250 series (support for PoE and better form-factor were big technical reasons) when we get the chance to sit at the table. Market demanded something better than 1250 series.

Well, I don’t think Cisco ever declared that ‘modular was the way to go (forever and ever)’. We all know that manufacturing efficiencies can be achieved with highly integrated component and if you’ll recall, the IEEE ratified the 802.11n spec during that first year – that’s the reason the 1142 came out in short order. The 1252 was a modular goto-market product that addressed a specific need and was very successful at it. Don’t get caught comparing Apples to Oranges here though, the 1252 and the 1142 are not positioned as competitors and the 1252 was still positioned as the de-facto 802.11n Access Point for external antenna support and extended operating ranges well after the 1142 was launched (as you rightly stated). The 1262 is the Access Point that ultimately replaced the 1252, not the 1142. If you needed an Access Point with flexible antenna options that operated in an environment up to 131F, the 1252 was your man. Admittedly, you may not have been at the table for deployments like that since Aruba doesn’t play well in extreme environments (over 122F for the Aruba 120/130), but I was and I continued to sell the 1252 in significant quantities well past the launch of the 1142. I didn’t realize that defending the 1252 was going to be such a popular topic! I suppose it’s easy to mis-construe the past to those that didn’t live it first-hand, but there you have it.

Of course, there is a trend with Cisco’s modular APs – great marketing for Cisco, brings in more dollars. I am just not convinced that it is the right thing for the customer. My humble opinion…

And you’re close to the point here. Yes, it’s good marketing, but it also fills a need (not just Ciscos coffers). It’s easy to beat up on the dog in front declaring missteps or some other ‘lack of vision’ as a defensive strategy, but the 801.11ac module fills a need that we’re seeing more and more in RFP responses and as a growing concern among enterprises. It’s investment protection and people want this today.

Let’s double click on Cisco’s investment protection….

Note that 1st gen 11ac AP does not go above 3 spatial streams (instead of up to 8 defined per 11ac standard) and does not support multi-user MIMO (which is really beneficial for the upcoming 11ac capable smartphones and tablets as you know). My guess is 2nd gen 11ac APs will have up to max of 5 spatial stream support… since putting 8 antennas in an AP may not be that great of an idea since folks want APs that can be carried by hand… alright let’s go through couple of investment scenarios.

Case#1: Case#2: Case#3: Case#4:

(Note: actual cases omitted for brevities sake, but are available in blog post comments here.) There are indeed numerous ways to slice and dice situations to the benefit (or not) of a particular manufacturer. The 802.11ac module is not intended to be the only 802.11ac Access Point Cisco will ever offer (obviously), nor is it intended to address 100% of each and every purchase requirements for every customer. It’s modularity is intended to bridge the gap to a new technology which is why it was developed in the first place. Will it fit every customer? No. Are there customers today that want to make sure they have a low-cost way to move to 3SS 802.11n and upgrade to 802.11ac in the future? Yes. Scott seems to miss this point in his blog post. Aruba does not have a public facing 802.11ac option so it’s only natural that they’re defensive.

Having said that, there is a portion of your Cases that I’d like to address (and maybe move to another blog post-conversation-thread). ‘Spectrum Analysis’: Noise awareness has been available and considered in RRM calculations for a long time now but Cisco made the decision to develop the best available spectrum analysis capabilities into their solution. ‘Spectrum Analyzers’ that are coarse noise-floor analysis are less accurate and in Arubas case, require additional licenses. Are the licenses expensive? Not in small quantities, but ask any Aruba customer and they’ll complain about feature set licenses. That’s two things that Cisco does better than anyone – no featurset licenses and the best available spectrum analysis. Can you compromise on those features in your enterprise? Perhaps – that’s for you to know. Can I compromise on those features in my enterprise? No. I need the best and when I go hunting for an X-box controller, finding out that it was a transient bluetooth device after 3 hours of looking is unacceptable. This is the reason that Cisco differentiates this feature in it’s Access Points. Implementing ‘Spectrum Analysis’ without a discreet analyzer is less accurate. Cisco won’t put their name on that for a reason. In her article, Joanie Wexler, Network World, claims, “Indeed, Aruba product manager Peter Lane acknowledged about a 5% throughput drop in cases “where you’re maxing out the throughput of the APs already.” Aerohive’s Matt Gast, director of product management, estimated the performance hit as closer to 30%; however, he recommends turning it on only when there’s a problem.

Ok I think I just got the cross-eye that Scott was talking about in his blog… without having to use the OptiGrab! So investment protection argument by Cisco applies to the last case listed above. My educated guess is we will see more of #1, #2, #3 than #4. Again that’s my opinion… agree to disagree.

I suspect we’re heading down the ‘agree to disagree’ path, but the fact remains, in the market today I have customers that have a vision. Their vision is to support tomorrows technology leveraging todays investments. The only manufacturer that has a solution is Cisco and Cisco is going to advertise the heck out of that since it’s a clear competitive differentiator. They’re going to take heat for it, they’re going to get beat up, they’re going to have it mis-represented to the needs of other manufacturers, but Cisco took a leap that no-one else did. Will Cisco sell modules? Yes. Will they be the only way to get 802.11ac? No. There will always be bigger and better on the horizon? Yes. Those that do proper lifecycle management of their infrastructure can leverage this product to future-proof their investment.

FCC link and conversation omitted because:

This is an interesting point and since I work for a Cisco partner under NDA, I can’t discuss this until products ship and are publicly announced. I hope you understand. :)

Aruba performance tests…
We do not have Android tablets to replace iPads – no reason to – we have 100+ iPads in the TME labs.

As may be the case, but there is a huge discrepancy in your ‘internal tests’:

You claim to be file transfers to iPads, but don’t list them in your ‘Clients used for testing’. (continued below)

No change in video resolution for Aruba WLAN compared to Cisco WLAN

Aruba uses Active Transcoding in their tests. Cisco does not. This has the net effect of reducing the resolution of the stream for every client and is a mis-representation of the Aruba test. Cisco tackled this head on using the full resolution streams and shined. Aruba changed the parameters and represented it as the same tests. (continued below)

– it is the same exact infrastructure, testbed. Again no reason to. Enabling and disabling RF scanning, IDS, spectrum/CleanAir does not make any difference for either vendors.

I’d love to tackle this first hand. In the interest of full-disclosure, I have an AP-135 and attempted to enable spectrum analysis, but was unable to since at the time it wasn’t supported in ‘Instant’ configuration. I look forward to seeing this development come to market unless of course you want to get me an Aruba 200 controller (and licenses) to play with. :) If it doesn’t impact the performance of the tests, turn them on and prove it to us (continued below)!

Aruba TMEs ran those tests for weeks. We should talk about “maximizing airtime” in another opportunity – Aruba’s RF engineering focuses on this topic nowadays than ever. For instance, a test for you to consider running on Cisco WLAN… start with 5 smartphones on 11n 2.4GHz radio. Record TCP download throughput. Repeat with 10, 15, 20 smartphones. Then add TCP upload traffic into the mix and record total throughput. Results are interesting.

Would love to discuss this more, but as you pointed out, we should tackle that in a separate thread – this is getting long winded as it is! :)

Miercom = independent… really? Cisco TMEs run these tests in their labs, publish it on the website URL that you shared and it just happens that a separate set of engineers who work for Miercom happened to run the same set of tests – not less or more – and come up with exactly the same set of test results. Independently. Without being paid any consulting fees by Cisco. Really? :) I firmly believe that something like Network World Clear Choice test reports are independent – and I cannot see how Miercom follows the same model.

(this is the continuation you were looking for) The reason I suggest a Miercom report instead of publishing ‘internal Aruha test results’ is that Arubas tests seem fraught with inconsistencies and, in my book, this calls into question the validity of their test process and results. Put another way, how can we be sure your data is accurate if you’re testing iPads without listing them as clients and pulling shady transcoding  shenanigans, calling it the same as full-resolution media streams. Is that an extreme opinion? Perhaps, but independent reporting should clean up those rough edges and level the playing field.

NSA podcast show is a great idea! Let’s do it. I will email Blake.

ps. Happy to chat about ISRs and ISE more down the road!

Deal on both fronts! Looking forward to visiting Aruba during Wireless Tech Field Day 3!

-Sam

Post Script:

Several folks have either outright asked offline or insinuated a handful of statements about this thread which I’d like to address:

You’re just flanning the flames for readership to make money. I do not monitize my blog with ads. I do not make revenue from it in any way shape or form and pay for it out of my own pocket.

You’re being spoon-fed responses by Cisco. I am not. My blog is mine and mine alone. My thoughts are my own and (with the exception below) are not generated by anyone else. If I get data from other sources, I will do my best to list those sources clearly.

You work for a Cisco reseller and have ‘the inside scoop’ which sways your opinions. Well, yes. I do indeed work for one of the largest Cisco resellers in the US. This does give me insight and access to hardware that others may not have and since it does, I do consider myself ‘up on the solution’. My employer does not endorse or influence my blog with the exception of discussing NDA information. I am bound by my employer to not discuss NDA information outside of the scope of the agreement and I continue to abide by that.

Wireless Tech Field 2 – Recap and first looks

This past week, I attended the Gestalt IT Wireless Tech Field 2 event hosted by several leaders of the wireless industry in San Jose, CA. The Tech Field day events are an opportunity for vendors and manufacturers to get in front of a highly focused group of delegates to tell their own story, on their own playing field. The Wireless specific event is the brainchild of Steven Foskett and Jennifer Huber and I consider myself privileged to have been able to participate in this very prestigious event – now for the second time! This event was sponsored by industry leaders in the wireless space – Aerohive, Meraki, MetaGeek, Ekahau, Aruba, HP, and Ruckus (in order of visit). The delegates for the event were given the opportunity to meet with these companies, in many instances at their home offices, to share first hand their stories and visions for what they feel is the market drivers in the wireless space as well as their respective visions for what the future of wireless is going to bring. This post will be the first of several as I dive into each of our sessions with many of the vendors and share my take on the vendors, their products, and how I perceive them to fit ‘in the industry’.

This Wireless Tech Field day was preceded by the first wireless symposium where members of the industry and media were invited to participate in an open discussion on the future of wireless with a focus in particular on upcoming technologies 802.11ac/ad (gigabit WiFi), 802.11u (Hotspot 2.0), and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) technologies. Devin Akin (Aerohive), Carlos Gomez (Aruba), Paul Congdon (HP Labs), and GT Hill (Ruckus) treated us to their vision of how these topics will shape and form the foreseeable future in the wireless industry. I’ll also be exploring these various topics in upcoming blog posts, so consider that a teaser! :)

Each of the sponsors of the WFD event each brought something special or different to the table. I think one of the most important things I learned during the event is that, when given the opportunity, each manufacturer tells a compelling story when given the opportunity to. I consider myself a fairly impartial technologist so it was refreshing to be able to receive these messages in their native, or ‘best case’ format highlighting the various strengths that each company has to offer:

Aerohive continues on their self-proclaimed mission to rid the world of controllers. Aerohive is rolling along with their ‘protocols are free’ mantra to bring solutions rapidly to market in a low-cost, easy to deploy fashion. Their cooperative control architecture enables many of the features of a centralized controller based solution and they are extending this into the routing world with the introduction of the BR-100 branch edge router. This device is managed ‘by the cloud’ – by either using the Hive Manager Online solution that is hosted by Aerohive or hosting your own ‘private cloud’ instance of the rapidly evolving NMS.

Meraki, to be perfectly frank, was perceived by many of the delegates as the ‘underdog’ of the event and many of us had some pretty negative preconceptions of who they were and what they do. I think it’s safe to say that Meraki portrayed a strong showing overall and rapidly showed the room at large that they’re clearly more than a niche player in the wireless space. They showed off their NMS platform and gave us some ‘under the hood’ insights into their operations overall. The way Meraki is able to manage and aggregate data from the vast (that word seems woefully insufficient) deployment of edge Access Points was staggering.

MetaGeek once again showed off to the TFD delegates. Last year at the first TFD event, they stole the show by showing off their low cost – feature rich PC based spectrum analyzer product. This year, demonstrating the agility that is impossible in a larger organization, they showed off their extension of ‘wireless visualization’ products – Eye P.A. This play on a TLA stems from their ‘eyeball’ view of Packet Analysis. As an organization that is clearly focused on getting information to a place that its easy to understand, they presented (showed off?) a pre-release version of this product. It’s safe to say that all of the delegates were blown away by the unique and innovative show of application development. MetaGeek has sprung up from seemingly nowhere to make a name for themselves in a technology that is exciting and that knows no growth boundaries.

Ekahau came to the table with their site survey product ESS (Ekahau Site Survey), the mobile version of their vision for tablet-based site surveys, and their tags. As an avid user of competing site survey products, I can clearly see that I’ll be rethinking my overall approach to performing the most important part of a wireless deployment – the site survey. I look forward to some hands on time with their android tablet compatible piece of this software. This is clearly a place that the major competitors are deficient in and Ekahau stands to be the first to market with an exciting product. Almost running out of time at the event, we got a very quick overview of their RTLS tag for wifi based deployments. As a side note to the Ekahau team directly, you have enough exciting things to talk about that maybe next time two sessions would be appropriate. :)

Aruba brought out the big guns during their sessions showing off their Aruba Instant product – essentially a wireless controller running on an AP. Those of you familiar with the now all-but-defunct WDS can consider this WDS in a fully automated, steroid enhanced feature set enabling rapid deployments of premise-based and managed lightweight deployments. After a good discussion regarding Spectrum Analysis, we dove off into the BYOD deep end with a realtime display of managing guest devices including a strong iOS MDM application utilizing products from their recent Amigopod acquisition.

HP gave the delegates a good overview of their 3×3:3 wireless Access Points including their newly launched outdoor product the MSM-466R. They also showed off their newest member of their controller line the MSM720 including some fervently discussed licensing features such as a discreet ‘advanced feature set’ as well as the ability to pool AP licenses across controllers.

Ruckus closed out the event with us by bringing a deep dive discussion regarding their approach to RF management. Ruckus gets top marks for their no holds barred approach to interacting with the delegates. Future sponsors of the event can take a page from their book – using a combination of geek + relevance to the table. Hands down, Ruckus had the room enthralled by the discussions and philosophies surround their approach to the market – no small feat for the last sponsor of the event.

Needless to say, the WFD event was exciting, exhausting, fun, and educational for everyone involved. As a delegate, I received a variety of products and marketing swag from the vendors with the understanding that I’m under no obligation to do anything with it that I don’t want to. The opinions that I intend to express from evaluating and trying out these products are my own and I’m also under no obligation to be positive or sway my opinion based on any gifts, equipment, or swag I have received. I look forward to digging deeper into these manufacturers and sharing what I feel and offering my honest, direct opinions on them. I hope you’ll stay tuned for future posts where I discuss the event, sponsors and products!

Securing your small WiFi tools

I find myself lugging around a variety of tools recently – more so than I usually do courtesy of #TechFieldDay. While I typically carry a Spectrum Analyzer, it is usually one of those ‘dedicated pockets in the laptop bag’ kind of tools that gets packed in with my trusty CB21AG survey card. Those of you keeping notes would realize that any machine purchased in the last 3 years or so is lacking a CardBus slot so we’ve been relegated to keeping our old machines around for compatibility with our trusty tools or using a clunky ExpressCard to CardBus adapter if we want to keep compatible. This works okay if your new machine sports a shiny new ExpressCard slot but those of us moving (back) to the Mac platform and not wanting to chunk out the change for a 17 inch Mac Book Pro which has the coveted ExpressCard slot but weighs a ton (not good for survey work!).

The answer? USB. Most everything has a work-alike or a preferred card that is USB so I find myself with:

Orinoco 8494 card for the AirMagnet products (Survey, and WiFi Analyzer)

MetaGeek Wi-Spy DBx with device finder antenna

AirMagnet Spectrum XT

and to round it all out, a Ralink (thanks @sevanjaniyan) based adapter for compatibility with WildPackets Omnipeek for next weeks CWAP Beta class!

The challenge: All of these things have been rolling around in my bag (in the WiSpy DBx box actually) which is a less than graceful way to treat your tools. I needed a sturdy case that could hold it all and not be so large I wouldn’t want to pack it wherever I went. Enter the Pelican 1120 case. With inside dimensions of 7.25″ x 4.75″ x 3.06″, it’s the smallest ‘small case’ they make. Being a fan of the larger 1510 case for my survey gear, and being priced (with shipping) for a modest $35, it was pretty well a done deal. Pictures of my handywork (pick and pluck style) to follow:


Hands on with the AirMagnet Spectrum XT

AirMagnet Spectrum XT is the second generation of spectrum analyzers to carry the AirMagnet name. The XT is a USB connected device whereas the previous model was a 32-bit CardBus version (OEM’d from Cognio). AirMagnet was gracious enough to host a session at the recent Wireless TechField Day event and we got to spend some quality time with the AirMagnet team discussing the WiFi Analyzer (protocol analyzer) and the Spectrum XT product.

Begin RF Background (okay to skip if you’re a seasoned Wi-Fi guru): WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n) runs in frequencies that are unlicensed by regulatory bodies. Here in the US, that is the FCC. This generally means that anyone can do anything they want in those ranges and they commonly do! People running non-WiFi devices in the 2.4 and 5GHz spaces can often cause interference for wireless networks causing poor performance, intermittent connectivity, or outright failures of wireless networks – especially in the very crowded 2.4GHz range. End RF Background

This being the second iteration of Spectrum Analyzers from AirMagnet, much of my opinions come from using the previous model which was OEM’s from Cognio. Cognio was acquired by Cisco and the old product was relabeled the Cisco Spectrum Expert. All 3 of the CardBus products (Cognio, AirMagnet, Cisco) share a similar (same) codebase and the new Spectrum XT product appears to be a rewrite from the ground up. This brings with it a new interface into the product including views such as the Spectrum Density view. This also brings some quirks for those of us that are familiar with (expecting) one or features from the old application. The USB form factor was easy to manipulate and a welcome change from the CardBus only solution that has forced many of us to resort to the cumbersome ExpressCard to CardBus adapters.

Spectrum Analyzer CardBus with Spectrum XT USB

Spectrum Analyzer CardBus with Spectrum XT USB

The AirMagnet dance of acquiring a license, User Access Control dialogue box, unsigned drivers and no ‘proper’ SSL cert on their My Airmagnet site aside, the installation was relatively straightforward on my Mac running Fusion and Windows 7. It should be noted that in this configuration, Spectrum XT has no direct access to the built in WiFi adapter on the Mac so you’ll either need to reboot into BootCamp or attach a supported USB wireless adapter to be able to pickup SSIDs.

None of us like dealing with SSL certs, but seriously?

UAC Errors are so Vista... I know you can work around them, but should you *have* to?

The main interface of the application sports numerous easy-to-digest views including the new Spectrum Density view, a Real Time FFT with Avg, Max, and Max-Hold views, and the Spectrogram (historical waterfall) view. The less obvious components of the screen along the left side reveal some pretty important data being hidden such as the Duty Cycle listed per-channel and the Interferers and Devices pane. As you can see from my screenshot, I must be doing something wrong because there is a tab for Bluetooth devices and my Bluetooth device isn’t showing up there – it’s showing up in the Non-WiFi Interferer tab. Clearly there is at minimum some ambiguous terminology here that must be explored further – this didn’t seem to be the case with the Cognio card.

Easy to read even if the Bluetooth is sorted wrong.

The card is a touch on the wide side so if you have USB ports that are close together, you’ll want to use the included USB extension cable or a 3rd party USB hub. If you’ve got a Mac setup, it should be noted that with a USB hub, you can easily attach a supported wireless adapter and have a fully functioning product running within a VM.

The addition of SNMP integration makes this application easy to plug into monitoring systems to to trap out to. A nice addition for those of us looking to leave something in the field at a remote location for a few days to ‘watch the air’. Integration with the AirMagnet Survey pro application rounds out the major feature list. Those of us that survey using AirMagnet products, this is a must have for Spectrum integration during surveys.

There is a short list of conspicuously missing features that reveal the somewhat young state of the application – especially if you know and love the CardBus products. Those are exporting your interference devices list and the ability to modify your views to the n-th degree. Expect a slight learning curve for those new to the product. The XT product appears to only allow a max of four displays whereas the legacy product would allow for as many as could fit your screen (I typically used 6 depending on the environment). These outstanding seemingly cosmetic issues I expect will be fixed eventually, but do make sure your support contracts are up to date – AirMagnet can be especially finicky about version releases and they appear to have moved to the traditional AirMagnet licensing scheme (a la Survey Pro and WiFi Analyzer) and away from ‘the card is the license’ that the last product used. Those of us that travel with every tool installer handy (for those sans-Internet times), make sure you download an extra copy of your .lic file and keep it with the app!

AirMagnet Spectrum XT product page

Gestalt IT (Tech Field Day organizers)

In all, the Spectrum XT is a great spectrum analyzer with a slightly different application from the previous model. This means that it’s not going to be a drop-in replacement for those of you looking to move off of the CardBus model – especially if you export identified devices for inclusion into your site-survey report. I’m hoping that these features come soon (I’ve provided this feedback to AirMagnet) and when these and a few of the other last few software tatters get cleaned up, I expect this to become the defacto enterprise-grade survey product.

Editors note: After contact with AirMagnet, the ‘device export’ function is apparently being addressed and should be available in an upcoming patch.

Full disclosure: I was a delegate for the first ever Wireless Tech Field Day event organized by Stephen Foskett and GestaltIT This event was sponsored by Meta-Geek as well as other presenters including payment of accommodations for all delegates. Evaluation product was distributed to delegates for hands-on exposure for this review without promise or commitment to provide any feedback, positive or negative. Professionally, I work for a VAR which provides services for industry leading technology manufacturers. The views expressed on this blog are my personal opinion and do not necessarily reflect opinions my employer.

Hands on with the Metageek Wi-Spy DBx

MetaGeek’s Wi-Spy DBx is a small form factor spectrum analyzer which gives you visibility into the 2.4 and 5GHz spectrums allowing you to readily identify sources of interference that may be present. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Ryan Woodings and Trent Cutler from MetaGeek while at the Wireless Tech Field day recently and they gave us the grand tour of their product lineup – hardware and software! Those of you familiar with WiFi technologies (802.11a/b/g/n) know that the frequencies they run in are unlicensed by regulatory bodies (here in the US, that means the FCC). This means that anyone can do anything there and they commonly do! People running non-WiFi devices in the 2.4 and 5GHz spaces can often cause interference for wireless networks causing poor performance, intermittent connectivity, or outright failures of wireless networks – especially in the very crowded 2.4Ghz range. Moving beyond the insight provided by such tools as inSSIDer which can only tell you about WiFi specific data, the Wi-Spy DBx allows you to visualize and identify non-wifi signals such as bluetooth devices, microwave ovens, analog video cameras, and other such obnoxious or potentially damaging signals.
MetaGeek offers a few devices and knowing what you’re looking for in what frequencies is important to selecting the right one. The Wi-Spy 900 is targeted at those looking for devices in the 900MHz range which is not useful to those of us living in the WiFi space (2.4 and 5GHz). Most readers won’t be interested in this but it’s included for completeness. The other three devices that are relevant to our WiFi space are the WiSpy 2.4i, WiSpy 2.4x and the WiSpy DBx. The two 2.4 units are fixed frequency (2.4GHz only). The 2.4i model comes with integrated antennas and the 2.4x comes with a detachable antenna (more on this feature shortly). Both of these units are appropriate for people looking at devices that only support 802.11b/g/n(2.4). The WiSpy DBx allows us to look into the same 2.4GHz spectrum as the i/x models, but also includes visibility into the 5GHz range for those of us looking at 802.11a/b/g/n across the board. With the prevalence of 802.11a devices in many ‘business grade’ laptops and with many 802.11n deices supporting the cleaner 5Ghz frequency, the DBx allows us much greater flexibility and insight into those spaces. Being a very small USB-connected device, it’s about the size of 2 AA batteries, includes an external RP-SMA connector, and a dipole antenna for instant ‘out of the box’ usability. The RP-SMA connector and antenna configuration allows you to remove the included antenna and attach an optional directional ‘device finder’ antenna. The intention here is that if you’re trying to track down an obnoxious source of interference, you can use the external panel antenna to sweep back and forth in an area to see where the signal gets stronger or weaker. Using this method, you can get much closer to ferreting out anything that avails you! 
MetaGeek offers 4 main applications for using their WiSpy devices, the main Chanalyzer application, and Lite, Pro, and Lab versions allowing for a diverse lineup for most any need. The Lite application is for the 2.4i hardware and is otherwise not a part of this review. The main Chanalyzer application is currently at version 4 and is included with the 2.4x and DBx hardware. The bundled application gives you a jumping off point for getting started with spectrum analysis and gives you the familiar ‘squiggly line’ interface as well as some pretty nice approaches to displaying data. The Max/Min and Current display views give you a one-stop glance and utilization in your spectrum for easy to digest and understand information. Chanalyzer also gives you the ability to record data for future review (or submittal back to MetaGeek!) is a feature that allows you to take a snapshot of where you’re at and review it later offline or take it to a friend that may be more fluent in spectrum analysis. With a database of silhouettes to overlay ontop of your view, you basically mix and match patterns of what is live in your environment against known or common interferes. This gives you a pretty straightforward way to identify the type of devices you’re looking for so you can narrow down if you should be hunting high for video cameras or low for microwaves.
The Chanalyzer Pro application gives you richer insight into your environment with the addition of a waterfall view along the left pane of the application. You use this to navigate through time as a running tally over the length of a capture. The addition of the new duty cycle view gives you a straightforward view of ‘consumed airspace’ and several other features such as device finding (recommend using the device finder antenna attachment for this!) as well as a very flexible report builder round out this application for those looking to ‘step up’ from the default Chanalyzer application. At $499, those looking to start offering ‘commercial grade’ reports and services to customers, this is right up your alley. As an additional incentive, MetaGeek offers a $99 savings when purchased with the DBx hardware so if you’re thinking this is where you’re going to end up, and you can stomach the extra $300, keep that in mind.
Those of you looking for the geek-out application will be interested to know that MetaGeek is also offering Chanalyzer Lab which allows you to fidget with the hardware knobs inside the analyzer hardware. This application isn’t for everyone but is indispensable for those looking for much more granularity into frequency and amplitude data. MetaGeek has made this application quite affordable at $99 so those of you looking for an environment rich in tweaking and tuning, or if you’re simply more interested in how RF works and want to dig deeper into frequency analysis, this application is compatible with the 900x, 2.4x and DBx hardware.
All three applications I tested (Chanalyzer, Pro, and Lab) required no obnoxious considerations and were very straightforward to install. There were no special drivers required on my Windows 7 VM running in Fusion on a MacBook Pro. In this configuration, the Windows OS has no direct access to the wireless card in my MacBook so I was unable to retrieve local WiFi data while using the product. Those using BootCamp to natively run Windows on your MacBook shouldn’t run into this problem but us Fusion/Parallels users are out of luck on this particular featureset until we get an OS X native version of the Chanalyzer applications. Those familiar with auto-device classification found in higher end PC based spectrum analyzers will find this particular feature missing from the Chanalyzer lineup. This ability to ‘set it and forget it’ to gather a running tally of interferes is one of the most significant features missing from an otherwise fairly complete product lineup. Given that these other analyzers typically range into the $2-3k+ range, it’s entirely plausible to find compromise for users looking for spectrum analyzers and can be flexible with their requirements.
In all, the DBx is an excellent product for the vast majority of those people looking to get data about their 2.4 and 5GHz spectrums. The flexible application approach give users the ability to make a minor investment upfront in the hardware and grow as they can justify it. While the Wi-Spy may not be appropriate for those few outstanding enterprise environments that require additional integration or those looking to automatically classify sources of interference, it is a perfect tool for those environments that don’t have newer infrastructure devices that can give them insight into their spectrum but don’t want to break the bank on some of the ‘big-boy’ analyzers. The folks at MetaGeek have done a graceful job of putting some very powerful tools well within the reach of those that are looking to jump into the wireless game or are looking to augment their personal toolkit with gear that does something that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
Full disclosure: I was a delegate for the first ever Wireless Tech Field Day event organized by Stephen Foskett and GestaltIT This event was sponsored by Meta-Geek as well as other presenters including payment of accommodations for all delegates. Evaluation product was distributed to delegates for hands-on exposure for this review. Professionally, I work for a VAR which provides services for industry leading technology manufacturers. The views expressed on this blog are my personal opinion and do not necessarily reflect opinions my employer.

Who said 5GHz was ‘clean’? :)

Here I am at home today being a good survey engineer and making sure all of my tools are in proper working order prior to going out and having to rely on them for the week when all of a sudden, I’m presented with the following anomaly when I’m exercising my trusty Spectrum Analyzer:

Those of you that are familiar with Spectrum Analysis in general usually expect to see something this bad (high duty cycle) in the 2.4GHz spectrum but not the mid-5GHz spectrum! Having just reloaded my laptop with Windows 7 and installed Service Pack 1, I was in the ‘let’s test it all’ mode to make sure nothing unexpected happens. At this point, I was pretty blindsided by the obnoxious noise happening and the ‘Generic – Fixed Frequency’ tag wasn’t helping me any. At a loss for what this could be since I live an acre away from my nearest neighbor and several miles from the nearest airport, I pinged a few of my friends. They suggested the usual suspects – MRI machine, TDWR, neighbors, etc all of which I explained away by location. Being that TDWR is in the 5470-5725 frequency, I changed my card over to 5.725 – 5.850 and after some time got this equally disturbing read:

At this point, I started to suspect my Spectrum Analyzer since I was using a non-Cisco branded Spectrum Analyzer card with the Cisco Spectrum Expert software (the card I was using had the Cognio components that Cisco purchased and re-branded as their own). So I grabbed a copy of the card manufacturers software to rule out in compatibility and I got the same results.

At the end of the day, I was able to swap in a Cisco branded SA card and my results normalized. Clearly I have a flakey (old) SA card that was giving me improper readings. Lessons learned:

  • Always test your tools and keep them in good working order
  • Don’t assume that your tools are telling you the truth. If you see something suspect, dig into it and validate against another source
Now I’m sure that I have a good card in hand I can go confidently into my week and knock this survey out of the park!
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