New Versions of Survey Tools from AirMagnet

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AirMagnet Inc. has been in the business of making site survey tools for wireless LANs for about as long as IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) wireless LANs have been around—about a decade, as far as we’re aware.

Until fairly recently—say, the last year or so—voice over wireless LAN, or VoFi as it’s often known, has been limited to a few vertical markets, most notably healthcare. Now, with solutions to a number of fundamental technical problems in place, Wi-Fi-enabled phones are proliferating and VoFi is taking hold in a much wider spectrum of businesses

“We are also seeing an increase, not only in the enterprise sector, but also in the retail, manufacturing, and hospitality sectors,” said AirMagnet Survey product manager Dilip Advani. For example, Advani mentioned that hotel personnel are increasingly talking to each other in the course of their duties, but moving away from two-way radios, which make a lot of noise that can annoy guests, toward less obtrusive Wi-Fi phones.

Voice, of course, presents much more stringent requirements than data for the network infrastructure, whether wired or wireless. Latency especially spells big trouble for voice applications, whereas a bit of latency in a data application, such as e-mail, generally goes un-noticed.

Meeting these increased, more stringent requirements is relatively easy in a wired network, being largely an issue of available bandwidth and setting QoS priorities. With VoFi-enabled networks, the requirements are trickier to meet, since RF issues are at the core, and factors such as access point (AP) density and placement, interference, capacity—both overall and phone-specific—come into play, along with that key to VoFi, roaming.

So, the release, last December, of AirMagnet’s VoFi Analyzer was a significant boon to IT personnel tasked with designing, deploying, and maintaining WLANs to support voice as well as data.

Last week, the company announced the latest versions of both VoFi Analyzer PRO and AirMagnet’s long-time mainstay, Survey PRO. AirMagnet Survey looks at the network and how it is configured; VoFi Analyzer looks at phones and voice traffic on the network, and gives the IT manager direct insight into actual call quality—even on a fully encrypted network.

According to Advani, the two products have become more closely integrated, and boast new features specifically targeting VoFi deployment and troubleshooting scenarios.

“With this new release, you actually perform a site survey, monitoring a phone call, and we will tell you how is this particular phone behaving at this location on the floor,” Advant said. “We leverage the AirMagnet Survey product, as well as the VoFi Analyzer. In this new release, both these products actually integrate with each other.”

First of all, the voice readiness verification system, which was added to AirMagnet Survey last year (a one-click feature that tells the surveyor where VoFi will work and where it will not—for specific phone models), is now expanded to cover three Cisco phones—the 7920, 7921, and Cisco’s latest, the 7925—along with Vocera Inc.’s “voice badges.” (The Vocera system is a VoFi mainstay in the healthcare industry.)

“There is a real need in the market for tools that allow organizations to monitor voice traffic performance and perform voice-grade site surveys instantly,” said Vocera manager of systems engineering, Steve Newson. “Not only does this new AirMagnet integration allow a wireless professional to immediately troubleshoot, it also helps validate and map call quality and other criteria to help ensure the highest standards are being met from the beginning of the deployment to the end.”

The new version of VoFi Analyzer supports the latest version of Cisco’s CallManager PBX, version 7.0, so IT personnel can correlate diagnostic information collected from the air or phone with the wire-side information—such as latency, packet loss, and call termination cause—from the CallManager.

Survey PRO, which maps survey data onto special floorplan images, now includes a greatly expanded number of such maps directly and specifically directed to voice performance. An RF Coverage map indicates VoFi signal strength, while Call Performance maps track such issues as call quality (which AirMagnet has dubbed ‘WiMOS’), PHY data rates, retry rates, and channel utilization.

An entire set of new maps devoted to roaming issues provides extensive roaming analysis capability, including intensive scrutiny of heavy roaming areas and simple tracking of individual roaming events.

Again, the insights provided by the AirMagnet toolset are invaluable in designing, validating, and optimizing Wi-Fi networks—especially for voice—as well as in conducting periodic site surveys over the entire WLAN. “Even though you have your network deployed correctly, wireless is so dynamic—you have things changing all the time,” said Advani.

“Suppose your neighbor deploys a new access point and it creates interference on your network and that would change the overall performance of your VoIP call,” he said. Accordingly, it becomes important to do periodic surveys to tweak the system. Survey lets you compare current results with past results so you can see precisely how dynamic changes are affecting network performance.

The new versions of AirMagnet Survey PRO and AirMagnet VoFi Analyzer PRO are available immediately. The U.S. list price for AirMagnet Survey PRO is $3,695 and for AirMagnet VoFi Analyzer PRO is $4,995. The new features are available and free to existing AirMagnet Survey PRO and AirMagnet VoFi Analyzer PRO customers who have a current support agreement.

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