Planning and Maintaining Wireless Networks with NetAlly

For years now, the ability to be productive has been changing.  In many cases, you do not need to be tethered to a desk working off of a computer that is wired into the network to get things done.  We have evolved from that practice, to leveraging laptops, tablets, and even smaller mobile devices such as phones to get work done and stay connected, not to mention the growing plethora of Wi-Fi connected IoT devices.  Supporting a mobile workforce is key, and how do we do that?  This is accomplished by building, maintaining, and enhancing robust wireless networks. Wireless networks and RF environments can be more difficult to plan, maintain, and troubleshoot in respect to their wired counterparts.  As an engineer, you need to understand many factors such as:

  • What kinds of devices and applications will the wireless network support (ex: voice, video, location services)?
  • What is the layout of the space that needs to be supported with wireless coverage?
    • Are there walled offices with cubicles?
    • Is it a large open space with a high ceiling?
    • Are there long, narrow hallways?
  • Understanding the physical environment helps determine what AP and antenna type will make the most sense.
  • How many access points will be needed to provide both RF coverage and capacity support? With having to support the Internet of Things, having just enough access points to provide sufficient wireless coverage is not good enough anymore.  We also have to be able to support large amounts of clients simultaneously, and that can mean that we need more APs due to capacity rather than RF coverage.

So, how do we plan out our wireless design?  Then, once deployed, how do we validate the design to make sure it is functioning as expected?  These common scenarios are exactly where NetAlly can help.  For wireless network planning, the AirMagnet SurveyPRO is the application to use.  For post-validation and troubleshooting, the AirMapper™ Site Survey application runs on both the AirCheck™ G2 and EtherScope® nXG to collect performance metrics and upload them to the Link-Live Cloud Service. This cloud service is included with the purchase of a device in the network tester portfolio.  Within Link-Live you can create and view visual heat maps to see how the design measures up.  If it is determined that the design needs to be modified; once the changes are implemented, you can run through the Air Mapper process again to check the results of your modifications. The goal of AirMapper™ Site Survey is to take the stress out of wireless site surveys by allowing you to gain meaningful data quickly and easily.  The primary features of AirMapper™ Site Survey include:

  • The ability to view SNR, noise, and interference measurements directly on the AirCheck™ G2 or EtherScope® nXG devices.
  • Comfort of completing full enterprise site surveys without balancing (potentially clumsily) a laptop and multiple external antennas.
  • Find rogue devices with automatic triangulation of wireless access points on a floor plan with the use of the Link-Live Cloud Service.
  • Even complete Bluetooth/BLE surveys with the EtherScope® nXG to gauge Bluetooth coverage areas.
  • Automatically find typical Wi-Fi issues with the new InSites™ feature in the Link-Live Cloud Service.

A versatile feature of the AirMapper™ integration with Link-Live is the ability to view different types of heat maps. Typically, when I think of a wireless heat map, it is just strictly the AP coverage, or essentially a visual representation of each access point’s signal strength.  Well, that is just one of the many pre-configured heat map visualizations that exist within Link-Live.  The pre-configured heat maps that you can choose from include:

  • Signal (dBm)
  • Noise (dBm), SNR (dB)
  • Co-Channel Interference
  • Adjacent Channel Interference
  • AP Coverage
  • Min Basic Rate (Mbps)
  • Beacon Overhead
  • Max Tx, Max Rx Rates (Mbps)
  • Max, Min MCS

In addition to the existing features, NetAlly recently released the InSites™ Intelligence feature into the AirMapper™ platform by directly integrating it into the Link-Live Cloud Service.  The InSites™ Intelligence feature allows customers to create custom pass/fail thresholds so that when survey data gets imported into Link-Live, users can quickly and easily see where potential issues reside in the Wi-Fi environment.  In addition, InSites™ will also automatically filter and show the problem areas right there on the floor plan.  A major goal of this feature is to provide actionable data to IT generalist teams so they can make intelligent wireless decisions without needing to be Wi-Fi experts.  This can be a simple, yet powerful way to get through root cause analysis.

The different customizable threshold categories include:

  • First AP Coverage
  • Secondary AP Coverage
  • SNR (dB)
  • Co-Channel Interference
  • Adjacent Channel Interference
  • Beacon Overhead
  • Max TX Rates (Mbps)

InSites™ Intelligence takes the data supplied to the Link-Live Cloud Service from the AirCheck™ G2 and EtherScope® nXG analyzers and provides an easy to digest view into the ‘goods and bads’ of the wireless infrastructure.  For each metric category, you can simply see if the environment test is a pass or fail, what the threshold limit is set at to determine a failure, and the value of the worst reading in the environment.

Let’s face it, gaining actionable insights into RF environments can be difficult without the right tools and applications to help.  It can force you to spend time inefficiently guessing and checking to try to get to the root of the problem and implement proper resolution.  In some cases, you just need a visual representation of the physical RF environment with metrics that can allow you to see problems and data to help point you in the correct direction to resolve those issues.  The combination of the NetAlly network testers, AirMagnet SurveyPRO, AirMapper™ Site Survey software, and the Link-Live Cloud Service can help you do just that.  For more information, check out this introduction video to NetAlly and their products.

For more information on NetAlly network testers and analysis solutions visit www.netally.com/products

Published by Tim Bertino

Network engineer passionate about solutions and design.

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