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Check your Spectrum!

October 3, 2011 at 10:28 am PST

Lately I had been spending a lot of time in the office rather than on the road.  Which isn’t all bad, as it gives me some semblance of a routine rather than living out of a suitcase.   It has also has given me some spare time to come up with another blog topic, which actually stems from some of the work I have been doing for customers lately.

Typically when a site survey is being done, we will do spectrum analysis work as well, part of my job entails creating and reviewing documents from this work, prior to delivering them to customers, which means I have been watching a lot of  spectrum analysis lately.   Most of the customers I have worked with recently have been with CleanAir APs, so they will be able to monitor their environment in real time, once the WLAN is up and running.  However it’s always a good idea to perform some spectral analysis while you are walking around doing a site survey.  And really why not?  If you are there and you have a few minutes, fire up the old spectrum card and get a capture of whats going on with your RF.   This helps make sure there aren’t any major layer 1 surprises when you go to install the new WLAN.  It doesn’t mean things won’t change, and they often will, due to the dynamic nature of RF.  It’s an ever changing environment, so what wasn’t there on Monday, might show up on Tuesday and be gone again by Wednesday.

Before jumping into particular types of interferes let’s talk about some of the data that Cisco Spectrum Expert can show you.  Two of the things I like to look at when looking at the RF in Cisco Spectrum Expert, are Real Time FFT and Duty Cycle plots, as pictured below.

The Real Time FFT is showing you is the RF energy in real time measured in dBm, so how loud or quiet the device is.  The next is the FFT Duty Cycle, which simply put it’s how utilized the RF is. Let’s say you have a device that is being captured as having a 1% duty cycle.  This means it’s using a very small amount of the available ‘air time’ to transmit its data.  Conversly if there is a device that is showing a 100% duty cycle it is using up all the ‘air time’ and not allowing other devices to use the RF medium to transmit.

Two other views I find helpful are the Spectrogram views.  These display the same info as the plots above, but are plotted out over time.  I use them in a few of the examples below.

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A Customer Story: Hospital uses Cisco CleanAir technology to rapidly isolate radio interference in “noisy” environment

We all see a growing trend of using wireless technologies in hospitals due to its benefits in cutting healthcare costs and increasing accessibility for patients and healthcare providers. Wireless applications have the potential to improve care by providing real-time access to a patient’s medical history including treatments, medications, laboratory tests, insurance information and more.

Our customer, Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics – one of the leading children’s hospitals in the U.S.—works tirelessly to help ensure healthcare providers, administrators, and patients have access to leading technologies. So when it came to managing the hospitals’ wireless network, IT managers knew they needed a best-in-class solution.  Deploying the right wireless technologies is not only a matter of adopting reliable solutions – it’s also about putting the systems in place to identify and mitigate wireless interference, which can be a major challenge at a busy hospital.

To combat this, the hospital deployed the Cisco Aironet 3500 Series access points throughout the campus to enable high-performance 802.11n wireless services and Cisco CleanAir technology to both troubleshoot problem areas and optimize the wireless environment. The IT team quickly identified and addressed many areas of interference, including pinpointing that some interference was coming from public buses changing traffic lights at a nearby bus stop.  With the powerful Cisco environment, Children’s Mercy Hospitals is moving to a “self-healing” wireless network that will automatically fix itself when interference is encountered.

Listen to what the customer has to say about their deployment and Cisco CleanAir: Watch now. You can also read and download the PDF version.

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5 Configuration Changes to Fortify Your WLAN Security

You can protect your small business wireless network from intruders with a few simple tweaks

A wireless network makes sense for small businesses.  It enables you to connect wired and wireless devices, allowing you to expand your network operations and keep employees productive.  Also, a wireless LAN (WLAN) is easier and less expensive to set up than a wired network, and gives employees and guest users quick, convenient access to the Internet from anywhere in your office.

Deploying a wireless network is easy in part because the networking equipment, including wireless routers and wireless access points, ships with important configuration settings preconfigured. However, these preset passwords, along with other improperly set configurations, can lead to catastrophic breaches in network security. To ensure your wireless network is secure, the devices must be configured to block intruders and protect users.

Here are five changes you can make to your WLAN configuration settings to lock down your wireless network and provide business-class security:

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It’s Not the Wireless! BYOD and Cisco Live! Customer Guest Blog

This week I’m happy to continue our customer guest-blog series with Blake Krone, CCNA Wireless, CCNP Wireless, and CCIE Wireless candidate. You can read more from Blake on his blog, Digital Lifestyle or connect with him via Twitter @blakekrone. Read on for a Cisco Live perspective from a true wireless professional.

Recently 14,000+ technology geeks invaded Las Vegas for Cisco Live! 2011 at Mandalay Bay Convention Center. For me this was my 4th year in a row attending Cisco Live! and the 2nd in a row at Vegas. If you have never attended a Cisco Live! event in person I strongly suggest that you try to budget for it next time around. Not only is this the best week to jump head first into all areas of Cisco’s product portfolio but it is also an opportunity to see how the products can come together to provide connectivity for devices and people.

For every Cisco Live! event that is held Cisco builds their own network to support the conference attendees, sponsors, and speakers. This gives Cisco the opportunity to get a large set of data points regarding their products performance in abusive conditions. Lately we have seen or heard about the BYOD (bring your own device) phenomenon that is sweeping across the enterprise network and there is no better place to see that than a large IT conference.

One can safely assume that for all the 14,000+ in attendance each person will have at least 1 Wi-Fi connected device. Now let’s assume that a large chunk of those in attendance are like me and also have their laptop and a tablet with them, that’s a lot of connected devices to support! Whenever I talk with customers about wireless deployments the first thing I will say when we get to the point of turning on a network is that the client will cause the best wireless network to fail. We always push to make sure that the latest drivers are applied to the devices going to be used to ensure proper roaming and performance. But how do you manage that when you have no control over the devices being used? In the future we’ll use tools like Cisco NCS and ISE, for now we just hope it works!

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