I had an interesting phone discussion a couple days ago with Veriwave’s CTO, Tom Alexander and VP of Marketing, Eran Karoly. We were talking about field tools for testing the quality of installed wireless LANs. At a high level, we all agreed that much of the field testing and verification for WLANs today have centered around data related to site surveys, such as signal strength, RF interference, and the coverage “footprint”.
There are many existing tools for testing wireless coverage ranging from embedded supplicant software & Netstumbler to more complex commercial tools such AirMagnet Site Surveyor or Motorola’s LANPlanner. Check out my blog for more information about site surveys, including the difference between active and passive site surveys. More sophisticated wireless engineers might also gather data regarding RF interference with a spectrum analyzer, such as the WiSpy DBx, or AirMagnet Spectrum Analyzer.
However, our conversation highlighted the need to expand WLAN installation and verification tools beyond the focus on complete WiFi coverage with low interference. How do wireless vendors and/or VARs ensure that an organization’s business and technical requirements have been met? A focus on signal strength neglects other critical areas such as roaming, quality of service, and security. Additionally, there is often no verification of the proper configuration of the *wired* network.
We discussed how many of the testing tools available today focus on the wireless infrastructure (the APs, arrays, WLAN controllers) and lacked visibility into the client side of the equation. Most testing seems to concentrate on laptops – but what about wireless VOIP phones, hand-held scanners, printers, and RFID?
The three of us on the phone, as well as everyone I have discussed this with since, seems to understand the inherent value of a more robust way to validate WLAN installations. However, what are the costs? Personally, I don’t see a good cost model for a product of this nature. It seems that a system that tests both the infrastructure and clients across many functional boundaries would be extremely expensive, especially for a field testing unit (where vendors or VARs might need more than one kit as they are running multiple projects).
Many wireless LAN vendors can justify the capital expenditure of Veriwave’s existing test beds, because they are involved with testing new product lines, etc. However, many vendors seem to have a bare bones professional services group and turn over that work to VARs. I also can’t see many VARs purchase uber expensive field testing tools – many are too small to afford tools like the AirMagnet suite, let alone something more costly. If VARs do purchase, they will inevitably have to pass along the cost to their customers. Is this viable either? Why would a customer pay a higher cost to insure themselves against a WLAN that wasn’t properly field verified? Customers should be able to do this by properly scoping their projects and enforcing the terms of their contract.
What do you think? Do you see the value of such a tool? Do you see an appropriate cost model? Sound off in the comments below!
- WiFi Jedi