Tag Archives: WLAN Design

iBwave Turns Up the Wow Factor on WLAN Design and Survey with R9

ibwaveWireless network professionals involved with design and survey work are in a really good place right now.  The market leaders are innovating their way past the competition often (and impressively). Just a few weeks ago Ekahau unleashed their new Sidekick, and now iBwave has just announced their latest round of features with their new R9 software. 

Quick Review- Where iBwave Stands Out

Before going forward, let me walk you back to these two articles about iBwave that I wrote earlier in the year:

If you don’t want to check those out, it’s a-OK. The quick and dirty of what I really like about iBwave are these differentiators:

  • 3D Modeling of WLAN Environment
  • A mobile app that is really functional and that can interact with the full suite
  • The ability to properly model inclined surfaces
  • Cloud synchronization of survey projects (super handy)
  • A no-cost license-free viewer for customers to see what the design team sees without buying the iBwave software

Every competing tool has their strengths, but iBwave really has done well to combine accuracy of their tools with fresh approaches to process and usability.

And… the New Stuff

So what got added to the already-slick (and very effective) iBwave design suite with the R9 release? It’s a mix of catching up with the competition in spots, tweaking what already works to be better, and adding a couple of really cool features.

The user interface itself has gone through a couple of iterations since the Wi-Fi version was released a couple of years ago (recall that iBwave has deep roots designing cellular systems as well). I tested the January ’17 version, and was impressed then. I was invited to be a beta tester on what would become R9, but the timing was bad for me so I’ll have to give the new version a run-through in the days to come, but I have heard good things about the tweaks made along the way.

Added to overall UI enhancements are the ability to designate coverage exclusion zones (already in some competing tools) and to support software-definable radios (the latest dual-5 GHz “flex” radios). Also not an industry first, but iBwave’s customers will appreciate it as these radios gain in popularity.

Then there is the truly cool stuff. Now, once you have your floor-plans scaled and your walls and attenuation sources modeled properly, you can drag APs around and see what iBwave calls Smart Antenna Contouring. This is basically on-the-fly real-time views (or as real as time gets when working in WLAN design) of how the cells of individual access points and antennas will be affected by their surroundings. It’s really neat to see, and very empowering to the design process.

For those of us charged with also designing the underlying wiring system that our WLANs run on, iBwave’s R9 adds a fantastic utility in the form of Auto Cable Routing. Here, you place the cable tray and riser locations, and the software will make sure that added cables automatically take that path. When your working with lots of cable, this amounts to lots of time saved in the design and documentation processes.

The company web page is here, and you can see all sorts of videos on the new R9 magic here.

 

Ekahau’s Sidekick Changes the WLAN Site Survey Game

Some 15 years ago, I got my start in wireless networking. I had a year or two of pen and paper manually-recorded WLAN surveys, and then I discovered Ekahau Site Survey (ESS). It was a curiosity at first- but I’ll never forget the first time I used it for real and discovered how tremendously accurate it could be. This was Harry Potter stuff, long before there was Harry Potter, and it has become the absolute design and survey tool of choice for many a WLAN professional. Fast forward many years and versions of ESS, and the software (and company behind it) have only gotten better.

Now, we’re at a place where wireless professionals struggle to find the right adapters for survey and analysis work in an age where WLAN can run faster than USB adapters or even native built-into-the-laptop WLAN network radios. We also deal with inconsistencies across survey adapters, mismatched MIMO between survey adapters and WLAN hardware, and battery drain that comes with powering an adapter for long hours during survey and analysis projects. The time has come for a new  paradigm, and Ekahau is answering the call with their freshly announced Sidekick.

The prototype unit I’m testing is roughly the same size as a medium-ish access point. It’s comfortably wearable/carry-able in a variety of strap configurations, and connects to the ESS computer via a USB cable used to pass data from it’s own WLAN adapters (not the same as a USB-connected adapter, and the difference is important).  And it makes the already excellent ESS suite even sweeter.

Onboard the Sidekick is it’s own long-life rechargeable battery, and two enterprise-grade 2×2 802.11ac adapters. Compatible with ESS version 9.1 on both Windows and Mac (yes, that’s right), Sidekick makes the work you do with ESS faster, more precise, and enables a more test-instrument-like experience over the old USB dongle model paradigm. And forget about breaking Sidekick when you ding it against a doorway like with external adapters.

Sidekick shows like this in my Windows OS network adapters view:

Sidekick2

And like this in my ESS program:

sidekick1

Sidekick 5

The Ekahau Site Survey utility gains a new dual-band crispness that is uniform across any PC running it, and the entire package just feels like a major step forward in multi-adapter capability.

sidekick4

Whether a single Sidekick is shared among a couple of teams or several teams with a mix of Mac and Windows PCs all have Sidekicks, the new magic strips away all of the variability that came from a mixed bag of adapters at survey time while also providing long battery life (and a platform from which a slew of expected feature evolutions) which can only lead to better wireless when put in skilled hands.

And it looks darn pretty.

Sidekick-box-700x773

Sidekick is big news today for Ekahau. It was my pleasure to beta test it, and to also hear how the awesome technical minds behind the Sidekick plan on expanding its capabilities in the future. But that’s a blog you’ll have to wait for.

Pricing? I *think* under $3K, will update when I know for sure. More information, including full specifications, at http://ekahau.com/sidekick

Newsflash: All 5 GHz Clients Don’t Work on All 5 GHz Channels

OK- this really shouldn’t be a newsflash. But, if you’ve never had to deal with what I’m about to summarize, then it may well be a headline story. But first, a word from today’s musical guest- Genesis, fronted by the great Phil Collins:

Talk to me, you never talk to me.
Ooh, it seems that I can speak.
I can hear my voice shouting out.
But there’s no reply at all.

Look at me, you never look at me,
Ooh, I’ve been sitting, staring, seems so long.
But you’re looking through me
Like I wasn’t here at all.
No reply, there’s no reply at all.

Phil and the boys know well what happens when you assume that any 5 GHz client will work on any 5 GHz access point. Rumor has it that Genesis was troubleshooting a wireless installation at a mall in Duluth when they were inspired to write the super-hit “No Reply at All”, but that’s a story for another time.

I’m here to tell you of- and show you- an example of a 5 GHz client that just can’t (and therefore WON’T) talk to anything but a few 5 GHz channels. If it’s not obvious, there is high potential for the “the network sucks!”  factor here. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can foolishly add more APs, tweak every setting there is to tweak, RMA one client device after another, and end up with an over-radiating nonfunctional heap of squadoosh, baby.

Trouble in Po Po Land

Once upon a time, there was an awesome dual-band Wi-Fi network that few could match. The APs were pretty, the signals were clean, and the installation crew was a bunch of snappy gents. Thousands upon thousands of client devices used this high-performing WLAN daily- every kind of laptop under the sun, all sorts of common mobile devices, and smartphones aplenty.

Then the police cars came.

The Long Arm of the Law wanted in on that Wi-Fi goodness. The idea was simple: police cars would pull into their very wireless well-covered parking area at the end of shift, and dashcam video would automatically download to network servers via that sweet, sweet Fi. A vendor was hired to equip the cars, the police technical staff got the lowdown from the network folks on how to configure the client devices, and everything seemed good.

Except it didn’t work.

About That Police Car Wireless Client Device

The cruisers in question are equipped with the Ubiquiti Bullet M5 radio. These have a handy form factor, and can be had for less than $100 (then obscenely marked up and resold as something special).  And look- they are 802.11a and 11n-capable!

M5-2

Should be no issues on that robust dual-band network, as long as signal is coming out of the 5 GHz radios in theAPs and the 5 GHz radio in the M5- yes? I can stand next to the police car with my iPhone and connect on 5 GHz, so the car should work too! But… the cars weren’t working at first, despite their 5 GHz output being verified with a number of tools.

Curse you, fickle Fi! What dark magic is afoot?

5 GHz is a Big Range of Channels. You Gotta Understand Those Channels.

So, this big world-class WLAN uses a lot of 5 GHz channels (36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 149, 153, 157,  and 161). But take a look at that graphic again. The M5 operates in the range of 5170 to 5825 MHz, whatever that means. And did you catch the footnote?

DID YOU CATCH THE FOOTNOTE? (* Only 5725 – 5850 MHz is supported in the USA)

If you didn’t know any better, you might expect that the entire range of 802.11a and .11n is 5725-5850 MHz, and that all of the channels on the WLAN would fit in that range. This is American Wi-Fi, and that’s an American client device!

It just isn’t that simple. Looky here (5 GHz channels, Wikipedia):
5 chans

It turns out that the M5 only works in one small slice of the entire 5 GHz range that 802.11a/n/ac Wi-Fi can function in. So… those police cars were hitting lower frequency channels from the WLAN that they don’t support. A quick channel change for the parking lot APs to the few that the M5 does support, and the video was soon flowing from the cars as desired.

This Happens Often on Utility Devices- Be Aware!

I’ve seen this same scenario play out on ticket scanners in stadiums, retail scanners in warehouses, and wireless cameras that all operate in only a slice of 5 GHz. You absolutely MUST understand what radio capabilities are in play when it comes to non-mainstream devices.

These are the cases that often separate WLAN pros from those who don’t understand the important nuances that unfortunately pervade modern Wi-Fi. And that lack of understanding can lead to a lot of wasted time and money trying to fix a problem that is nothing more than poor configuration born of ignorance.

Just how complicated is the question of which individual devices can operate on what specific 5 GHz channels? Let’s ask a good guy named Mike Albano.

 

Learning to Use iBwave For Wi-Fi Design

ibwaveHaving been invited to try out iBwave’s suite of Wi-Fi design and survey tools, I couldn’t help but do what any WLAN pro does: immediately start judging it against my current tool of choice. For me, that’s been Ekahau for a lot of years. It didn’t take more than a couple of practice runs with iBwave to get the general feeling that it definitely competes with Ekahau, and I’m guessing that the AirMagnet designer/survey devotees would also reach the same conclusion. Each product will absolutely have advantages and subtle weaknesses when weighed against the competition, but in my mind that competition is legitimate and good for those in the market for quality wireless tools.

Back to iBwave and my journey through their Wi-Fi Suite.I had the pleasure of spending around a half-hour with iBwave’s marketing exec Kelly Burroughs in person (we were at the same conference), and she got me started with both the PC and mobile versions of the design and survey tools. Kelly is awesome, but after we parted ways and I dug in more on the tools, I found myself needing a bit more help. Part of the problem is that my mind is conditioned to use my current tools, and iBwave’s interface is different. It’s actually pretty well designed, having just been freshened up in January of 2017. But if you’re not used to something new that has some complexity, anybody might legitimately need some help. This is where iBwave’s tutorials are effective, and appreciated.

I already know HOW to design and survey. I just needed to learn how iBwave’s tools are leveraged to do that which is otherwise familiar to me. So… about those tutorials- once you start the PC software, you’re presented with very well-done walk-throughs on the major tasks if you need them (as shown below).

iBwave tutorials
These lessons are handy as heck, and did me up well as I got through my early projects.

As iBwave seeks to make a bigger noise in the WLAN design space, they are also coming out with certification training for their customers. iBwave Wi-Fi Mobile training is available now, with iBwave Wi-Fi (for PC) formal training coming in April.
I think we’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more from the company on numerous fronts in the days to come as they try to grow a following for their Wi-Fi tools and a name as not just a DAS design company.

Read my write-up on taking iBwave for a spin here.