Cisco partners with specialist to cut wi-fi interference

Removing blocks to wireless data flow is goal of venture

Cisco Systems is teaming up with Cognio on a project to reduce the radio frequency noise in wi-fi networks. Cognio sells wireless LAN spectrum-analysis gear.

Cisco plans to sell Cognio’s Spectrum Expert with its own Wireless Control System. Spectrum Expert runs on a laptop with an antenna connected to a laptop card.

“With wireless LANs more pervasive, RF interference becomes more important than ever,” says Ben Gibson, director of mobility solutions marketing at Cisco.

RF interference can come from a nearby wi-fi network, wireless telephones, Bluetooth wireless transmissions, microwave ovens and even flourescent lights, according to wi-fi users and analysts.

The Spectrum Expert gives IT managers a readout of radio waves in a sector of a wi-fi network and provides a fingerprint of an interfering device, says Jeffrey White, executive vice president of Cognio.

Kerry Kulp, a wireless systems consultant at Cumulus Consulting Group, has used Cognio’s product many times to help spot interference in business wi-fi networks that in some cases completely eliminated wi-fi capability.

In one example, a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Connecticut could not transmit over a wi-fi network with more than 30 access points, Kulp says. When Kulp consulted there a year ago, spectrum analysis revealed the outage was caused by three small ultraviolet lights used to dry an adhesive that was part of a drug-making process. The dryers used microwaves, which obliterated the wi-fi signal, he says.

In a more recent example, a warehouse in Chicago traced intermittent outages to an outside source from a nearby building, Kulp says. While the source of RF interference has not been eliminated, the wi-fi network was adjusted to prevent the interference from causing problems, he says.

“IT managers are surprised by what causes interference sometimes,” he says. “When we ask if their wi-fi is down outside break-rooms where they might be running old microwave ovens, they look at us funny. There’s more RF noise out there than people realise.”

Kulp says he has tried spectrum-analysis products from other vendors but found Cognio’s the easiest to use because it is contained within a standard laptop, whereas other products require a separate box. The partnership with Cisco gives Cognio’s product “instant credibility that Cognio would not have had otherwise”, he says.

Competitors to Cognio include Berkeley Varitronics Systems and Anritsu, according to Kulp and White.

Cisco’s partnership with Cognio comes as wi-fi is becoming more commonplace and IT shops strive to make wi-fi networks more efficient, says Philip Redman, an analyst at Gartner.

“Analysing coverage can reduce interference, increase capability for voice over wireless and reduce costs.

“Many wi-fi customers are finding they have overbuilt certain areas and haven’t put in an efficient network,” Redman says.

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