Tag Archives: WLAN tools

Why You Should Care About MetaGeek’s MetaCare

metageek logoTo the WLAN support community, there are just a few tools that are truly revered. Among these are the various offerings by MetaGeek. I still have my original Wi-Spy USB-based Wi-Fi spectrum analyzer dongle that I used a million years ago when 2.4 GHz was the only band in town, but have also added almost every other tool that MetaGeek offers. Go to any WLAN conference or watch the typical wireless professional at work, and you’ll see lots of MetaGeek products in play. So… is this blog a MetaGeek commercial? I guess you could say so to a certain degree. I decided to write it after my latest renewal of MetaCare to help other MetaGeek customers (and potential customers) understand what MetaCare is all about.

I queried MetaGeek technical trainer Joel Crane to make sure I had my story straight, as MetaCare is one of those things you refresh periodically so it’s easy to lose sight of the value proposition. Straight from Crane:

MetaCare is our way of funding the continued development and support of our products. It’s also a great pun (in my opinion), but people outside of the United States don’t get it. When you buy a new product, you basically get a “free” year of MetaCare. When MetaCare runs out, you can keep on using the software, you just can’t download versions that were released after your MetaCare expired.

On this point, I have let my own MetaCare lapse in the past, then lamented greatly when an update to Chanalyzer or Eye P.A. came available. You have to stay active with your MetaCare to get those updates! Which brings me to Crane’s next point.

When you renew MetaCare, it begins on the the date that MetaCare expired (not the current date). Basically, this keeps users from gaming the system by letting it lapse for a year, and then picking up another year and getting a year’s worth of updates (although I try to not point fingers like that, generally our customers are cool and don’t try to do that stuff). MetaCare keys are one-time use. They just tack more MetaCare onto your “base” key, which is always used to activate new machines.
Like any other decent WLAN support tool, you gotta pay to play when it comes to upgrades. At the same time, I do know of fellow WLAN support folks who have opted to not keep up their MetaCare, and therefor have opted out of updates. Maybe their budget dollars ran out, or perhaps they don’t feel that MetaGeek updates their tool code frequently enough to warrant the expenditure on MetaCare. As with other tools with similar support paradigms, whether you use to pay for ongoing support is up to you. But I give MetaGeek a lot of credit for not rendering their tools “expired” if you forego MetaCare.
Crane also pointed out one more aspect of the MetaGeek licensing model that is actually quite generous (other WLAN toolmakers could learn something here!):
 Speaking of base keys, they can be activated on up to 5 machines that belong to one user. Each user will need their own key, but if you have a desktop, laptop, survey laptop, a couple of VM’s… go nuts and activate your base key all over the place. 

And now you know. As for me, my MetaCare costs are a business expense that I don’t mind paying- and I’m really looking forward to new developments from MetaGeek.


But wait- there’s more! Thanks to Blake Krone for the reminder. MetaGeek has a nice license portal for viewing and managing your own license keys, so you don’t have to wonder where you stand for available device counts, license expiration, etc.

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Related:

Getting to Know Cape Networks

I recently attended the 2017 edition of the Wireless LAN Professionals conference in Phoenix. As usual, it was awesome. Catching up with old friends who are scattered far and wide, hearing information-rich presentations, and meeting new people with their own wireless story made it a very enriching week for me. But part of my learning actually came after the conference. I was saying my goodbyes when a gent named David Wilson asked for a few minutes of my time, and that’s how I would come to know of Cape Networks.

It turns out that Wilson and his travel partner Michael Champanis are two of the co-founders of Cape Networks. These guys were awesome to talk with at the end of a long week, and the conversation flowed easily. I learned that Cape Networks is based in both South Africa and San Francisco, and is trying to raise their brand awareness here in the US. The company is in the business of Wi-Fi performance monitoring and testing through deployed sensors and a deceptively simple cloud dashboard.

I was given a demo of the Cape dashboard and got to handle the low-profile sensors. We talked of how the system finds issues and helps with resolution, and what customers are already using it.None of us was in a particular hurry since our travel arrangements were all later in the evening, so they patiently handled every one of the many questions that came to me during the demo.

I’m hoping to get a couple of sensors in the near future, and to be able to do a proper review. Until then, I can share that the solution looks interesting and of decent quality with the potential to reveal information that other systems I’ve looked at or used don’t really do very well. At the same time, I’m not endorsing Cape Networks here as I haven’t used the solution yet.

But I did find them interesting, with enough potential differentiators that I felt it worth sharing what little I know of Cape so far. Once I do a review on their hardware and dashboard, I’ll be sure to follow up.

Meanwhile, I encourage anyone running business WLAN systems to have a look at Cape Networks’ web site and to learn about a company that you may not have been aware of yet.

AirMagnet Enterprise Doesn’t Miss Much in WLAN and Cell Analysis

What separates good, secure wireless from under-performing wireless or an RF space that actually works against the organization’s best interests? Frequently, the differences lie in murky corners where network managers can’t see reality, for a number of reasons. Keeping a busy WLAN both healthy and in compliance with policy can be a daunting task, and one that certain environments simply can’t afford to get wrong. Sure, native tools built into enterprise WI-Fi gear have some ability to characterize the RF goings on where they provide client access but these feature sets are usually limited in scope and are of varying degrees of  quality. I recently had the chance to play with AirMagnet Enterprise from Fluke Networks, and I can say I was pretty impressed with what this purpose-built solution can do.

During my trial of AirMagnet Enterprise (AME), I was able to quickly bring a robust monitoring and reporting framework to life across multiple sites thanks to the cloud-hosted AME server. I can’t stress how much I value not having yet another server to feed and care for. The response times of the interactions between the cloud server and my local sensors was generally good enough that I eventually just stopped thinking about the distributed architecture.

I had a mix of sensor types at my disposal, and though my primary scope of responsibility tends to be WLAN, I was impressed by the ability to monitor cellular activity in my areas with AME.

base station

I spoke with Fluke Networks about scenarios where cell monitoring is important (calls being made where none should be, jamming, signal quality, etc), and they identified prison environments and DAS performance verification as among the main use cases.

On the Wi-Fi side, there is just an absolute slew of information gathered, displayed, and reported on with AME. I contrived a number of security and interference exercises as I got more familiar with the WIPS tools– like this one:

wireless camera

The official list of WIPS capabilities reads like this:

Powerful WIPS Protection and Architecture

  • Continuously scans every Wi-Fi channel, including all 200 in 5 GHz band to detect every rogue device
  • Detection, monitoring, and remediation of spectrum activity in a broad frequency range that includes 3G, 4G LTE, and CDMA. Activity by cellular devices like cell phones and jammers is tracked and reported on.
  • Alerts when rogue APs are on wired network or inside premise for quickest focus on most dangerous cases while blocking unwanted connections and devices
  • Protects against latest vulnerabilities automatically via DTU
  • Detects over 120 security threats, including Karmetasploit, AirPWN, 802.11 fuzzing and WPS brute force attacks
  • Compliance reports for PCI, HIPAA, FISMA, DoD 8100.2, Basel II and others
  • Scales to over 1000 sensors with a single server cluster in a data center
  • Powerful local processing to enforce security policy even if connection is lost to server
  • Automated forensic capture simplifies deep analysis

The AME reporting module feels a bit dated in appearance, but the details provided are simply incredible. There are dozens of reports that can be drilled into for hundreds of key metrics, and all can be scheduled, exported, etc.

AME reports

Veteran Air Magnet customers will recognize the very effective Infrastructure View for each sensor in play:

top sensor


This consistency with other AirMagnet tools speeds the AME learning curve, and information gathered from multiple sensors can be combined in reports simply by having multiple sensors highlighted when invoking the report. Each sensor can also be tapped for live packet capture and decode, remote monitoring of spectrum and specific channel activity, and all the functionality of  both AirMagnet Laptop and Spectrum XT programs per sensor :

channel

spectrum

The capabilities of AME are comprehensive, and moving between sensors and interacting with the cloud server was pretty smooth for me. Aside from the impressive wealth of information provided by the sensors, you also have the option of leveraging performance testing (Automatic Health Checking) from each sensor to gather metrics on general network feel:

AHC

When you put it all together, AME is certainly far-ranging in capability and impressive in what it can quantify. The centralized control and monitoring of distributed sensors is very empowering, and allows for a small team to cover a lot of analysis ground without leaving the office. I’m a longtime fan and user of a number of AirMagnet products (note that I hardly consider myself a fanboy here, there are certain AirMagnet tools that I really like, others not so much), and AME does impress me very much.

My trial was an absolute blast in that it was easy to stand up test sensors and just dig in playing at harvesting the important RF and WLAN data that AME was built for . A real AME deployment would take a lot more work, and interaction with Fluke Networks, to determine the right number and placement of sensors. The sensors themselves are very much like WLAN APs in that they need cabling and power. And even with the advantage of the cloud-hosted server, AME is still another system to keep up, use, and to stay proficient on. That being said, it’s pretty easy to envision the AME payoff in environments that simply must have secure, high-performing Wi-Fi and automated threat reporting. Where regulatory compliance is critical, AME is a force multiplier. The entire suite is well-executed, and when used properly leaves very little to the imagination when it comes to what’s really going on in your WLAN (and cellular) environments.

Are WLAN Vendors Selling Illegal Jammers?

This won’t take long. Jammers are illegal in the US.jammer1Go here for full page.


Marriott got busted for using jamming, as cited on both pages 1 and 2 of the FCC’s Commission Document.


Marriott’s “jamming” used tools like this, which are part of the WLAN system in use by Marriott (and countless other customers with similar systems by multiple WLAN vendors):

mitigate


Can the average, reasonable person then conclude that what the WLAN industry calls “mitigation” is actually “jamming” as per the FCC?

If so, can the average person also conclude that illegal jamming tools are being being sold by the WLAN industry as part of today’s typical business WLAN system?

I’m not sure what other conclusions can be reached, but I’m no lawyer.

And the latest- from 1/27/15 which seems to confirm. Of course, now we need “commercial” defined.

WLAN Book/Access Agility: Some Cool Wi-Fi Tools You May Not Know About

Always on the prowl for new WLAN tools, my spider sense recently went all tingly when I saw this come across the Twitter feed:

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The full link for the scanning utility is  http://wlanbook.com/free-wifi-scanner-for-windows/ and is worth checking out (bearing in mind that it’s still very much a beta tool and that your feedback is appreciated). But interesting beta code isn’t quite the point of this post; let’s have a quick look at an interesting (and accomplished) Wi-Fi guy, a company, and a website that are all tightly coupled. If you’ve not heard of Zaib Kaleem, Access Agility, or WLAN Book yet, you may not quite realize that they are all (essentially) one and the same, and are worth getting to know if you’re in the business of wireless networking.

Getting Acquainted

Zaib Kaleem is the brains behind the WLAN Book suite of wireless tools and website/blog. He’s also the vice president of DC-area Access Agility. Though Access Agility is about more than wireless tools as you can tell by the services listed on their site, for the purposes of this blog and getting familiar with the offerings we’ll say that Zaib Kaleem = WLAN Book = Access Agility and leave it at that for now. It also helps to consider the utilities sold by Access Agility to be perhaps a bit more “Enterprise Grade” than those offered through WLAN Book, but even this distinction isn’t quite accurate as many of the tools are compatible and complimentary.

My first brush with Zaib’s utilities came in March 2013, when I was putting together a blog for Network Computing on free or low-cost tools for wireless troubleshooting. “WiFiMedic” from WLAN Book made my list, and I became aware of Kaleem’s other tools back then as well. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Zaib in person and talking on the phone with him about a tool he had in development. A true gentleman, you can tell that Zaib not only knows wireless, he lives and breathes it.

The Lineup

Between the WLAN Book and Access Agility web sites, there is an interesting range of Wi-Fi survey and troubleshooting tools to consider:

  • Online tools that include Virtual Access Point software and a Rogue AP Scanner
  • Downloadable Apps for Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows
  • An interesting group of survey and analysis tools and utilities (I wish all operating systems came with the functionality of Access Agility’s BridgeChecker built in)

Zaib doesn’t strike me as the kind of gent that lets grass grow under him, so check back now and then for additions to his offerings.

Taking the Message To The Wi-Fi People

The WLAN Book blog is particularity excellent for a few reasons. First, Zaib includes LOTS of pictures of whatever he is blogging about. Also, he gets around, and is a real-world practitioner (and not just a developer) as evidenced by his posts. To round it out, Zaib is one of those treasured people that gets the value of the greater Wi-Fi community. He mixes it up at conferences and via Twitter, he’s quick to respond to email and such, and is as active as anyone today trying to make our wireless world run smoother.

I was fortunate to catch Zaib speak about his Cloud WiFi Scanning tool at this year’s excellent WLAN Pros Summit, and the video on the session is here.

Though WLAN Book and Access Agility may not have the name recognition of Metageek or Fluke Networks, there are several fresh, innovative tools to be explored here. Having done so myself, I encourage you to kick the tires on Zaib’s tools that interest you as well as bookmarking the WLAN Book blog and following Zaib on Twitter. There’s a lot here to appreciate, and it’s obvious that there is more to come.

 

Please note: I have no relationship with Zaib, and there was nothing more to writing this blog than my own desire to let others in the WLAN community know about a sharp dude with some cool tools. if you got a problem with that, I'll fight ya.

 

 

MetaGeek Does the Inevitable With It’s Beloved InSSIDer

Metageek has a simple mission:

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And the company very much enables you to “visualize your wireless landscape”, in the most effective ways. It’s what they do- boil the many complex parts of Wi-Fi down to visual portrayals that are easy to comprehend, across their various products. One of their offerings, InSSIDer, has become massively popular because it shows WLAN RF in both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, supports through 802.11n, and you can get a decent version of it for Windows and Android for FREE. MetaGeek estimates that there have been millions of downloads of InSSIDer. Curiously, this popular program was meant to be one of those niceties that get provided to introduce you to the company while providing basic WLAN support functionality, yet is has become much more than that.

And that brings us to the inevitable: InSSIDer now supports 802.11ac, and also comes with a price tag for the first time. Oh yeah- it’s also sporting new colors:

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Feature-wise, version 4 will show you 11ac channels if detected EVEN IF YOU ONLY HAVE AN 11n ADAPTER (of course it needs to be 5 GHz 11n). You can also group signals by ESSID/radio- very handy in multi-SSID environments. But on to the other part of the version 4 story…

My take on MetaGeek’s change of price paradigm: it’s a good thing. 

It’s hard to build a business case on “free”, and the raging popularity of InSSIDer signals that this is a gem that should be further developed. Though the MetaGeekers are dedicated to wireless excellence (if you ever have a chance to meet anyone from MetaGeek, their enthusiasm for Wi-Fi and developing good tools is palpable), no one can expect them to make a good product better without asking for a little in return (in this case, $19.99). 

802.11ac will further push Wi-Fi into the main for client access, and the importance of solid WLAN tools will only become more important. Along with MetaGeek’s other offerings (each has it’s role, learn about them here), I’m looking forward to seeing what future versions of InSSIDer bring us- both for the laptop and in mobile form. (Please note- the current free version will still be around, but no more development will go into it.) 

Now if you’ll excuse me. I got some fat channels to go look at…

 

MetaGeek Updates Chanalyzer

There are tools that WLAN support types tend to gravitate to en masse. When it comes to design work, the discussion gets more individualized as architects have their favorites among pricey tools; but put a bunch of WLAN folks who work in different capacities in a room together and you’ll find that most (if not all) of them have tools from MetaGeek in their everyday bag of tricks.

My own appreciation for MetaGeek’s USB-based tools goes back to the original 2.4 GHz Wi-Spy I purchased to see the effects of different classroom transmitting devices on our fledgling campus WLAN. Since then, I’ve marveled at where MetaGeek has been able to go for those of us shopping for decent, affordable, easy-to-use Wi-Fi support tools. I’ve bought a number of MetaGeek tools, and have also been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of giveaways, like when MetaGeek presented at Wireless Field Day 5.

I like that MetaGeek keeps their fairly-priced tools fresh, both in response to changes in WLAN standards or just when there is room for improvement to make good even better. Like with Chanalyzer- which just got updated. Here’s my favorite new feature- the high-contrast Outdoor View color scheme:

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This is a pretty drastic change from the traditional black background, and yes- it is easier to see outside in the daylight.

I also found the latest version (5.0.124) to have a much easier-to-use report building module, which is my second favorite thing about it. You can also have both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz waterfalls active at the same time (if you have two suitable adapters), but I found this to crowd my little netbook display (though it would be handy on bigger screen).

Here’s the summary of what’s new, in MetaGeek’s own words:

NEW FEATURES

  • Improved Report Builder (specific list below)

  • Dual-band visibility. If multiple Wi-Spy DBx or 2.4x are plugged in, both waterfalls are displayed.

  • Optional outdoor color scheme with white backgrounds for better visibility in bright light.

  • Cisco CleanAir accessory (additional license required). Provides connectivity to view spectrum data collected from Cisco CleanAir access points.

  • Automatic update of OUI file to identify access point vendor by MAC address.

REPORT BUILDER IMPROVEMENTS

  • Created Report Builder menu item

  • Report Builder has merged with the Preview Pane

  • Simplified menus

  • Ability to add all blocks to a report with one click.

OTHER CHANGES

  • Improved licensing system

  • Improved color scheme

  • Moving the Unified Timeframe will now cause the timespan to pause in place.

  • Clicking on a table row highlights the entire row for ease of use.

  • Improved Filter usability

  • Improved fit and finish

Finally, for anyone keeping score, MetaGeek is part of the line-up for the upcoming most excellent WLAN Pro Summit 2014. (I hope to see many of you there.)