Integrated Spectrum Analysis: State of the Market

Integrated Spectrum Analysis: State of the Market

By CWNP On 02/22/2011 - 33 Comments

I wrote a while back about Cisco CleanAir and the strong lead they took in the integrated spectrum analysis trend by incorporating logic gates from the Cognio chip. Aruba met CleanAir with a barrage of press touting their own integrated spectrum analysis, and Aruba is clearly the strongest competitor to Cisco in this arena. Meraki is the third vendor to announce the same feature, though theirs reflects the development of a smaller company playing largely in the mid-market where Cisco and Aruba are the heavy hitters out for the enterprise. CleanAir struck a chord in the industry and there is plenty of information out there about their products. Regarding Cisco’s current, and future, competitors, here are a few things to know.

We all know that almost everyone else in the market uses Atheros chipsets. So, let’s focus there.
Atheros 9300 (3x3) chips are used in most of today’s high-end enterprise APs. However, these APs are reportedly not recommended by Atheros for spectrum analysis due to bugs (or development shortcomings) in low-level code. They would rather push forward on development efforts with 3x3:3 chips, which are coming soon, than fix problems in current 3x3:2 products. In the meantime, you’re out of luck if you bought 9300-based APs and expected full support of spectrum analysis. For example, Aruba’s 124 and 125 APs use this chipset and don’t support the full spectrum analysis feature set. Most painfully, the missing features (as implemented by Aruba) include real-time FFT, duty cycle, and swept spectrogram charts.

This is important because one of Aruba’s initial marketing tactics was to downplay Cisco CleanAir based on the fact that it required a forklift upgrade, while claiming that Aruba’s features are software additions to existing hardware. It is definitely true that Cisco CleanAir requires CleanAir APs and a hardware replacement strategy is necessary (unless you want to provide an overlay), but it is important to differentiate that if you have already deployed Aruba 124s or 125s, you don’t get as much from the software upgrade. I don’t say that to knock Aruba (well, I guess a little, given their marketing). It’s really meant as a fair forewarning to users to read the fine print.

Atheros 9200 (2x2) chips are more common in competitively priced enterprise and SMB APs. These chips reportedly do not have same spectrum analysis limitations as the 9300 chips, making a unique situation for vendors who only use/sell 2x2 chips in their APs (that is, Meraki). Customers who’ve purchased and deployed this type of AP (from Meraki or Aruba) should be happy to know that the full feature set is supported by the hardware. The vendor-provided software is still needed to tease out the feature set, but the support is there today.

I read an opinion recently that integrated spectrum analysis will become commonplace in 2011. I’m having a hard time seeing it. Better software support from Atheros in 2011 (in next-gen 3x3:3 chips) will lead to a lot of good vendor software development this year, but with only one fully developed (sorry Meraki) example of Atheros-based spectrum analysis (and that only for 2x2 APs) to-date, I will bet on real proliferation and mass adoption sometime in 2012 and later.

Motorola probably has a jump on software development after buying AirDefense, who had some limited spectrum data from older 11a/b/g hardware; but, they’ve been heavily focused on architecture lately—though still no v5.x code to show. I predict they’ll be next to join the likes of Cisco and Aruba, especially given Motorola’s classic RF-laden industrial-environment stomping grounds.
Disagreements, agreements, input, complaints, additional data? Please do share!

Tagged with: aruba, Cisco, CleanAir, spectrum analysis, Meraki, Atheros

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