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Tag Archives: Wi-Fi Alliance

The Challenges that Arise in Monitoring 802.11ac Equipment

In our last blog post, we wrote on the Wi-Fi Alliance’s 802.11ac certification program and how it helps both the consumer of wireless equipment as well as the distributor of wireless equipment.

This week, we want to focus on the process of monitoring your new 802.11ac equipment once it’s installed. Before you can monitor 802.11ac traffic, you need to be able to capture the traffic. This is true regardless of the monitoring solution used, and capturing 11ac traffic remains one of the biggest challenges with this new technology.

Let’s take just a moment and step back to see how this has been done with 802.11a/b/g/n. Wireless LAN monitoring did not come without its struggles in these bands either, but over time the industry settled into a comfortable solution using laptops with 802.11 USB WLAN adapters. This solution is highly portable, making on-site WLAN analysis easy, regardless of the location. Most solutions work with only a subset of available USB WLAN adapters, and some require a custom adapter. In either case, the key requirement is that the WLAN adapter be able to be put into “promiscuous mode,” sometimes called sniffing mode. If this capability is not exposed in the device, then it has no chance of being used as part of a WLAN network monitoring and analysis solution. This combination remains as the “go-to” solution for most WLAN analysts, both in the field and in corporate WLAN environments.

So, what’s changed in 802.11ac? Let’s take a look at a few key differences between 11ac and previous technologies that are making WLAN monitoring and analysis more difficult.

Timing/Availability
Let’s face it, 802.11ac is brand new, and with that comes all the issues of timing and availability that may not always coincide with a perfect and logical order. Hardware vendors need software to test the new devices. Software vendors need hardware to test their software before they can provide it to hardware manufacturers. It is a classic “chicken and egg” scenario. As we described earlier, WLAN analysis software needs supported WLAN USB adapters to collect data for analysis. Without supported adapters, the software cannot be developed and tested, at least not fully. This is starting to ease, as more adapters from more vendors are starting to hit the market, some of which are compatible with promiscuous mode and can be used for wireless packet capture. As with previous 802.11 specifications, the situation will improve, but it’s always a painful process at the beginning.

Breaking the “Gigabit Barrier’
802.11ac is the first wireless standard to break the “gigabit barrier,” delivering wireless connectivity at data rates in excess of 1Gbps (in some modes). If you recall, it wasn’t all that long ago (OK, at least for us old guys) that we were talking about 1Gbps wired speeds. Breaking through this barrier requires some adjustments in the way we capture and analyze wireless data. First, back to our USB WLAN adapters. The key word here is “USB.” The laptops most of us have probably support USB v2.0. That means a maximum theoretical throughput of 480Mbps, with a practical limit less than 300Mbps. The slowest typical 802.11ac connection will be at 433Mbps (1-stream and 80MHz bandwidth). So it’s pretty clear that USB v2.0 is not up to the task. USB 3.0 will do in most cases, but you need to make sure that both your laptop and your 802.11ac WLAN USB adapter (that is compatible with your analysis software) are USB v3.0 compliant. It’s looking like some hardware upgrades may be required soon…

And it’s not just about the devices. Network analysis at greater than 1Gbps can be very demanding in terms of CPU and memory, and the software itself must be up to the task. Many are not; we already know this. Fortunately our OmniPeek network analyzer is up to the task since it’s been doing multi-gigabit wired analysis for many years now.

There are alternatives to USB WLAN adapters for capturing data, and we highly recommend that users begin thinking in this direction. The best approach is to use an AP to capture wireless data. APs are typically more capable than USB adapters (think more streams and better optional feature support) so they are best suited to the task. If you use the same brand for capture that you plan to use to send data, then the feature set compatibility will be guaranteed. Again, just as with USB adapters, you need to ensure that the AP can be put into promiscuous mode. Most enterprise APs can (but not all), and most consumer-grade APs cannot. Remote Pcap support is the best bet for using an AP as a packet capture device. We know, this makes portability a bit more of an issue. You may need to find a plug and be a bit more stationary when capturing data, so you can plug in your AP “sniffer.”

Staggered Feature Roll-outs
The 802.11ac specification is still in draft form, and the biggest risk at this point is equipment that doesn’t yet support the feature set you expect, even if the feature is “required” by the spec. The Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) has just started interoperability testing against the draft spec so this should help a great deal in eliminating the uncertainty, but until the specification is ratified any equipment you plan to buy to be used specifically as part of a WLAN analysis set-up should be carefully researched to be sure that it will meet both your immediate needs as well as those down the road after ratification.

802.11ac shows major promise in the industry, but getting yourself ready to be able to monitor and analyze the new equipment is a bit of a challenge. Patience is essential in this process, as is ensuring that the solutions and equipment you buy will be compatible with a long future of 802.11ac wireless analysis.

Wi-Fi Alliance Creates 802.11ac Certification Program: What does this Mean for You?

Most of our readers may already know this, but for those who do not, the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) is an organization that promotes Wi-Fi technology and also helps certify Wi-Fi products to ensure interoperability. It was formed around 1999 when the wireless industry was experiencing major interoperability problems because the IEEE itself does not have compliance or interoperability standards for products based on its specifications.*

Today, many believe the wireless industry is one of the most innovative sectors in tech because of the WFA and the standards and certifications it provides. Products that use 802.11 technologies are almost always stamped with the Wi-Fi Alliance logo, so consumers know that their wireless equipment will interoperate with other 802.11-capable devices.

On June 19th, the WFA launched its Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ ac certification program, which will ensure that all devices with 802.11ac capabilities are interoperable. This certification is based on the draft standard of 802.11ac, as the IEEE is still working on final ratification of the protocol. This is essentially the same path the WFA followed with 802.11n, which was highly successful and stimulated migration to 802.11n even before the specification was ratified.

There are several vendors that have already gone through the process – Dong Ngo of CNET lists a few here.

So, how does 802.11ac certification help you, the consumer, and the wireless vendor? Certification is really quite important for everyone. From the consumer point of view, it allows you to find the products that best suit your needs, regardless of brand, and gives you the peace of mind that all of your purchases, regardless of brand, will work together. From the manufacturers point of view, it drives confidence overall in the market, allowing all manufacturers to benefit from a strong marketplace. This has certainly been the case with Wi-Fi technology, and I think we can safely say that the WFA has played a very key role in the overall success of Wi-Fi.

So, as a consumer myself, you can bet that when I’m buying Wi-Fi equipment, whether for home or for the office, I only buy equipment with the Wi-Fi logo!

*Sourced from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi_Alliance

The Marriage Between the Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig: What Does it All Mean?

The ring has been given, the proposal accepted, and the date set. At long last, the relationship between the Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig will take the big step: the WiGig Alliance is going to be folded into the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA).

It’s certainly not like the industry didn’t see this coming. These organizations have been dating for awhile now, and the seriousness of the relationship was clearly demonstrated when the IEEE accepted the WiGig Alliance spec as the draft 802.11ad specification. Since then both WiGig and WFA have been working together very closely, and given the similarities in their charters, the marriage of the two will benefit everyone, from equipment manufacturers to consumers.

How? Below is the full wrap-up of what this merger entails, from a technology and end user perspective.

Certification to Benefit All
With initial specifications developed and only modifications and ratification left, the focus of WiGig is turning to certification. Though that may seem straightforward, building out a network of qualified, endorsed test labs worldwide is actually a daunting task. Add to that marketing yourself so that people understand and respect your organization as a certification and interoperability expert whose logo should be on any equipment purchased, and you’re looking at something that can only be established over years of hard work and flawless execution. That’s what the WFA has already accomplished, and brings to the table, so with this merger WiGig immediately benefits from the many years of WFA success. Now, the 802.11 technologies of both WiGig and WFA will be under the same world-class industry association/interoperability certification. This will speed up the process of specification development, ensure high-quality interoperability test definition, and help to move products from chipmakers, to wireless OEM vendors, to the market much faster, benefiting everyone along the way, especially consumers.

Big Picture of What 802.11ad Will do for You
802.11ad, or WiGig, is a very interesting technology. Though it is firmly based on the same underlying principles as other 802.11 technologies, including a/b/g/n/ac, at the same time it is significantly different from any of the other 802.11 enhancements that have been developed so far. It operates in an entirely different frequency band (60GHz), opening up new possibilities, and new challenges. Whereas all 802.11 technology to date has mainly been used as an underlying network technology, replacing wired TCP/IP networks over specified areas before making the final connection to the wired backbone, 802.11ad is designed to replace wired computer connectivity, like HDMI video connections and USB/PCI-e, with ultra high-speed wireless connections. This will make 802.11ad and “additional” technology rather than an “upgrade” technology, and 11ad and 11a/b/g/n/ac will need to co-exist, with 11ad providing the “local” connectivity (a personal area network if we can revisit that term) and 11a/b/g/n/ac providing the TCP/IP connectivity between local devices and to the wired backbone.

We’ve written about 802.11ad before, and ultimately this new technology will make “the wireless office” a reality. Equipment using 802.11ad will be able to facilitate simultaneous streaming of HD video, provide seamless peer-to-peer syncing, and deliver on the promise of cordless computing.

Interoperability of 802.11ad and Other 802.11 Technologies
It’s because of the coexistence of 802.11ad and other 802.11 technologies that the merger of WiGig and WFA makes so much sense. Not only will 802.11ad equipment need to interoperate, but 802.11ad and other 802.11 networking technology also need to interoperate, so having all of this interoperability certified under a single, respected, and highly-successful organization like the WFA just makes so much sense. This will accelerate the delivery of 802.11ad technology to market, and give it the very best chance for success under a banner that is recognized world-wide, and simply assumed to be a part of all wireless equipment purchases, whether by consumers or by enterprises.

Only time will tell if this move will benefit the wireless industry as a whole, but as you can tell, we have high hopes that it will. Not every marriage hits its diamond, gold, or even silver anniversary, but if the history of the Wi-Fi Alliance is any indicator, we look to a match made in heaven.