The second presenter at Wireless Tech Field Day day 2 was AirMagnet. I’ve heard of them before in reference to their spectrum analysis products, and based on what I’d seen the day before from MetaGeek, I was interested to see how the Airmagnet product compared to them. I knew that the list price for the AirMagnet products was higher than that of MetaGeek, but I was sure that the differences in the two justify the price difference.
The presentation was kicked off by Bruce Hubbert, the Principle Systems Engineer for AirMagnet. He gave us a great overview of the AirMagnet product line. I never realized that AirMagnet had such a plethora of products dedicated to wireless scanning and design. These include AirMagnet Survey Pro, which is a very good tool used to design wireless networks quickly and easily. The tool looked quite detailed, with the ability to lay out your particular building or site maps and define what types of material it was constructed from, then tell the program to automatically lay out the access points based on frequency and coverage patterns. This would be a great tool for those that spend a great deal of time designing wireless networks for large sites. While it can’t replace a good old fashioned site survey, it can give the wireless engineer a great starting point for placement patterns.
Another program that AirMagnet is known for is AirMagnet WiFi Analyzer Pro. This tool allows an engineer to walk around with a PC Card adapter and perform in-depth site surveys. The tool can generate packets and measure the data rates on APs. The idea is that the engineer mounts the AP in a particular location or has it attached to a mobile cart and then generates packets and measures what kind of radiation pattern and data rates result. This is probably one of the most important tools to have for a wireless engineer to have in their toolbox for performing a thorough site survey.
The tool that we got the most interaction with was AirMagnet Spectrum XT. This is a full-featured spectrum analyzer designed to detect sources of wireless interference and and classify them to aid in troubleshooting wireless issues. It is quite similar to the MetaGeek Wi-Spy and Chanalyzer that we looked at the previous day, and the Spectrum XT software appears to have a similar feature set. What makes the difference in Spectrum XT is the integration that you get with the rest of the suite of AirMagnet tools above. You can use the spectrum analysis from XT to feed into the survey and design tools and give you a good picture of how to design your network to avoid interference sources such as microwaves, cordless phones, and unshielded audio systems. The delegates were provided with a copy of Spectrum XT along with a USB spectrum scanner to evaluate. Once curiosity that I asked Bruce about was the fact that all the spectrum analyzers I had seen required Windows as the operating system. Given that most of the delegates were packing MacBooks, I found it curious that more development wasn’t done for OSX. Bruce explained that this was due to the need for deep interaction with the wireless network card drivers to perform packet captures and analysis. He did say that many were working toward finding ways to integrate with OSX that didn’t involve the use of virtual machines inside Boot Camp/Parallels or VMware Fusion.
The final part of the AirMagnet presentation focused on their wireless intrusion prevention system (WIPS) products. The AirMagnet solution is designed to integrate with an existing deployment of APs and deliver independent intrustion protection as well as spectrum analysis from a dedicated platform. As the threats to wireless networks grow and their critical nature becomes more and more integrated into areas such as healthcare, the need to have a WIPS solution is very real. By augmenting your existing infrastructure with the AirMagnet solution, you can increase the coverage of any existing setups as well as providing a different detection vector to avoid being blinded by targeted exploits designed to eliminate a specific vendor’s equipment. The security mantra of “defense in depth” applies equally to both wired and wireless networks. I didn’t get a chance to really test the AirMagnet solution in great detail, but I will be sure to keep it in mind in the future in the event that a dedicated WIPS solution is called for.
I think AirMagnet has earned their reputation by making some great tools that provide wireless engineers and architects with the ability to design and troubleshoot wireless networks at a very high level. Some might argue that the pricing of their solutions is on the high side, but the counter to that is proved by the amount of detail that you get from their integration. The suite of AirMagnet tools isn’t for everyone, and may indeed be overkill for smaller deployments, but if you are beginning to design and deploy enterprise-grade networks, you can’t go wrong by looking at their products. The returns you gain with the expertise put in by years of research and development at AirMagnet will easily pay for the investment in short order.
AirMagent was a sponsor for Wireless Tech Field Day, and as such they were responsible for paying a portion of my travel expenses and hotel accommodations. In addition, they provided the delegates a package including an AirMagnet polo shirt and a copy of Spectrum XT with USB adapter for evaluation. At no time did they ask for nor were they promised any kind of consideration in this review. The analysis and opinions here are mine and mine alone. They are given freely and without reservation.