Simplified WLAN Analysis: The AirMagnet Attraction

By Lisa Phifer

March 11, 2003

In the first part of our three part analysis, we describe the interface of this nifty tool that allows you to use a laptop or PDA to analyze a WLAN.

Installing a tiny residential wireless LAN is easy--buy an access point at Circuit City, plug it in, and hope for the best. Building and maintaining a large, production-grade wireless network requires so much more.

University, hospital, retail, enterprise, and hotspot wireless LANs serve different constituencies, but all face a chronic shortage of network experts and pressure to minimize operational costs.

As Wi-Fi popularity grows, new tools are emerging to help WLAN administrators plan, install, debug, and monitor 802.11 networks.

AirMagnet is one such tool. This portable wireless LAN analyzer for Pocket PCs and Win32 laptops bridges the gap between simplicity and functionality. On-site personnel with little WLAN expertise can use AirMagnet to conduct site surveys, capturing results for later analysis.

Back at the NOC, Wi-Fi gurus can use AirMagnet to understand performance issues, identify security policy violations, spot rogue systems, and troubleshoot connection problems.

AirMagnet Duo ($3,495)
AirMagnet Handheld ($2,495)

AirMagnet, Inc.
Mountain View, Calif.
http://www.airmagnet.com

Click to view larger image

An analyzer in your pocket
AirMagnet released their first WLAN analyzer for Pocket PC last April. The latest version, AirMagnet Handheld 2.5, is available with one of three adapters: a Proxim Harmony compact flash (CF) card, Cisco PCM-352 PC card (integrated antenna), or LMC-352 PC card (detachable 2.2. dBi diversity antenna, MMCX external antenna connectors).

Unlike some handheld analyzers, AirMagnet does not require a dedicated PDA. Software can be installed on your own PDA or purchased in a "PAK" that includes an HP iPAQ 3850, PC card expansion sleeve, and PCM-352 card. To run AirMagnet, the PDA must be equipped with Pocket PC 2000 or 2002, a StrongARM or Xscale CPU, 32 MB RAM (8 MB free), a Type II CF or PCMCIA slot, and the supplied 802.11b card.

As with most Pocket PC applications, you can quickly jump in and out of AirMagnet. For example, an installer could use the same PDA to view work orders, get driving directions, and perform a site survey upon arrival. Anyone who needs a handy, portable analyzer will appreciate having AirMagnet Handheld on their PDA -- there when you need it, out of the way when you don't.

The caveat is the WLAN card. The card supplied by AirMagnet must be present to launch the application -- even if all you want is to replay a capture file. To use the Cisco PC card, you'll need to carry the PCMCIA expansion sleeve with you. If your customer or company uses another card (for example, Agere's 802.11b or any vendor's 802.11g), you'll need to carry another card for AirMagnet. We found that swapping cards can require a PDA soft reset, depending on the cards being used.

Reprinted from ISP-Planet.

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