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Category Archives: 802.11ac

WildPackets Demos 802.11ac Traffic Capture at Cisco Live Milan

We came back from Cisco Live Milan last week energized by the great conversations and excitement about the future of networking and communications. For those of you who couldn’t make it this year, we thought we’d provide a quick wrap-up of the major themes discussed during the show as well as the sessions we found most interesting and helpful.

With presentations from a range of companies, including EMC and NetApp, the show primarily focused on current networking trends and the challenges enterprises face with virtualization, automation and switching to 802.11ac.

At the WildPackets booth, we demonstrated the capabilities of our OmniPeek network analyzer, the first and only solution on the market offering a fully functioning, 3-stream, 802.11ac wireless LAN analysis system. This means that as enterprise-class 802.11ac access points become more readily available, WildPackets’ OmniPeek is capable of capturing the network traffic at these higher speeds.

If you weren’t there for our live demo, you can watch this short video demonstrating the use of a Cisco AP3700 to capture 3-stream 802.11ac traffic

Other sessions worth checking out include:

802.11ac – New Standard, New Methodologies for WLAN Analysis

The 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard has the ability to revolutionize how enterprises support the large quantity of devices connected to corporate networks. Yet, most organizations do not understand that monitoring and analyzing 802.11ac traffic requires significant changes in the way wireless data is captured.

As we get closer to 802.11ac ratification (still scheduled for Q1 2014) we’re seeing the same pattern we saw with 802.11n. Early equipment in the market, developed against an early draft standard, was targeted mainly at the home market. Head into any electronics store (brick and mortar or online) and you’ll already find a wide selection of 802.11ac APs for the home. But it was only a few months ago that we began seeing devices from the major enterprise AP players hitting the market that are truly enterprise-grade. And it’s these new enterprise-grade APs that are going to force a change in WLAN troubleshooting and analysis.

As a provider of WLAN analysis solutions, the most common question we are hearing today is “what 802.11ac USB devices can I use to monitor the network?” The question seems innocent enough, but the answer is far from simple.

In the “good old days of a/b/g” finding a USB device for monitoring and analyzing was pretty simple. The APs and the USB adapters pretty much had the same capabilities regarding encoding, data transmission, and data rates, and these are some of the key elements when looking for compatible WLAN adapters to use for wireless packet capture. And the list of optional features was very short. But with 802.11n, and even more so with 802.11ac, APs often have much greater capabilities than stations, and this is especially true when comparing APs with 802.11ac USB WLAN adapters.

Most of the 802.11ac APs hitting the market are capable of at least 3-stream operation, and 4-stream APs will not be far behind. Most 802.11ac USB WLAN adapters are 1-stream, with a small selection at 2-stream. There are no 3-stream or 4-stream 802.11ac USB WLAN adapters, and it’s quite likely there won’t be any. The market for USB WLAN adapters is shrinking, as most devices have 802.11 built in, including products ranging from TVs and DVRs to washing machines and refrigerators.

So, if you have an 802.11ac network based on 4-stream APs, how can you ensure that you capture ALL of the traffic from these APs if the best USB-based capture device you can find is only 1- or 2-stream?

Well, I know everyone wants a different answer, but the answer is you can’t, at least not with a 1- or 2-stream USB WLAN adapter. If you have a 4-stream AP, and at least one 4-stream client (let’s say a dedicated video conferencing device that needs the maximum bandwidth it can achieve), you need a capture solution that is also 4-stream, and also supports any other optional features the AP/client combination may support.

And guess what, you already have such a device – it’s the AP itself! With 802.11ac, your best packet capture solution is another AP, preferably one of the same model being used in your network. There are 3 main approaches that can be employed.

  1. You can take an AP that’s adjacent to the AP whose communications you want to monitor, and turn it into “promiscuous” mode, a mode where the AP is in a “listen only” mode and can pick up all 802.11 communications in its vicinity. In most cases (meaning for most vendors APs) this requires taking the listening AP offline, but if you have sufficient overlap designed into your WLAN this is typically not a problem.
  2. If you don’t want to take an AP offline, simply add some strategically placed AP’s into your network that can be dedicated to packet capture and analysis.
    This creates a flexible, distributed monitoring network that allows you to monitor the WLAN remotely whenever it’s needed, or even 24×7. (We’ll cover the topic of 24×7 WLAN analysis in an upcoming blog.) And another benefit of this approach is that if you change your mind and decide you don’t need one or more of the monitoring points you designed in, you can simply work the AP into your overall WLAN, as opposed to a dedicated sensor which has no other purpose.
  3. If you still want to be portable, you can always bring your laptop and an AP to the area you wish to monitor, directly connect the AP to your laptop, and use it in promiscuous mode to capture all of the traffic. Though not as portable as USB devices attached to your laptop, this configuration will ensure that you can capture all of the 802.11ac traffic being generated by your WLAN.

This is not to say that 802.11ac USB WLAN adapters are useless for packet capture, or that portable analysis is dead. A significant percentage of the WLAN traffic on your 802.11ac WLAN will likely be 2-stream or less. Just about all laptops and handheld devices will be 2-stream or less to conserve battery power, and that’s likely to be what generates the bulk of your traffic. So you can still use a laptop with one or more 2-stream 802.11ac USB WLAN adapters (as soon as one that can be used for packet capture is commercially available) and you will be able to analyze your 1-and 2-stream 802.11ac traffic. But keep in mind that you won’t be seeing ALL of the traffic. Any traffic at 3-stream and above will simply not show up in the analyzer – you won’t know what you’re missing.

802.11ac will deliver on the promise of gigabit wireless, but it will also complicate your ability to monitor and analyze your network. The best approach is to plan ahead and design overlap into your 802.11ac network design. Whether you intend to simply troubleshoot from time to time, or you’re planning on a 24×7 monitoring and analysis capability, using APs as packet capture devices will provide complete visibility into your 802.11ac network, and it will provide a highly distributed analysis solution that you can access from anywhere, saving time and money when problems occur.

Wireless Field Day 5: What You Did and Didn’t See…

Last week, we participated in our second Wireless Field Day event and hosted 11 of the industry’s top wireless professionals at our headquarters to dive into demos of our Omni Distributed Analysis Platform 7.5. For those of you who missed the live stream of our presentation, we thought a quick wrap-up of what happened when cameras were rolling – and even when they weren’t – would help you feel like you were in the room with our delegates!

Want to know what went down? Read on, as we give you the inside scoop and what the cameras did and didn’t capture at Wireless Field Day 5.

Capturing 802.11ac Packets in Real Time
Demonstrating a live 11ac capture was one of our favorite parts of the day, as it’s something we’ve been working hard on, and we’re the first to deliver a solution. Although we weren’t using 802.11ac as the primary wireless network, we had a separate laptop connecting to a Linksys 11ac AP and sending traffic over an 11ac network.

We used a 1-steam 11ac WLAN adapter, the Cisco AE6000, to capture 11ac traffic for analysis in OmniPeek. We showed summary-level views of the 11ac traffic in OmniPeek’s Compass dashboard, and drilled into detailed views of the 11ac packets themselves. With OmniPeek’s new support for MCS and spatial stream reporting, all key metrics of any WLAN, including 11ac, are at your fingertips. And with support for 11ac USB WLAN adapters for capturing, you can continue to use OmniPeek as your go-to portable WLAN network analyzer and capture 11ac anywhere, at any time.

Here’s the video of us capturing 802.11ac traffic.

VoFi (Voice over Wi-Fi) Capture
In addition to capturing single-stream 11ac traffic, we also demonstrated packet analysis of a VoFi call, which you can watch us do below. With OmniPeek, we showed how users could capture an entire VoFi call, store it, and play it back to see where problems may have occurred.

By highlighting the specific call in our “calls view” interface, you can easily drill in to see detailed analysis of the call as a whole, including details like the number of control packets, control flows, signaling flows, and signaling packets. And in our “media” view we provide even more details regarding the call, including key metrics like MOS, R-Factor, jitter, and packet loss so you can determine exactly how each and every call on you WLAN is performing.

What you didn’t see…
Well, if you’ve checked out any of the videos, one thing you’ll notice is that there are a lot of Macs among the WFD delegates, and we’re demonstrating from a PC – clearly a technology mismatch. But before the delegates left our offices, many were already running OmniPeek on their Macs (either using Boot Camp or the VM of their choice) AND capturing 802.11ac packets with the very same Cisco AE6000 we used in our demonstration. Needless to say they left a very happy bunch.

In case you missed Stephen Foskett’s original stream of the event, you can catch the remaining videos here. As always, if you have any questions or just want to get some conversation going, leave us a comment on this blog.