Chipmaker Engim and WLAN monitoring firm AirMagnet partner for powerful three-radio-in-one solution: Engim's chipsets can provide the equivalent of several radios within a single design. The chips process all of the signals in the 802.11a, b/g, or a and b/g bands (depending on configuration) and then dole out the details to on-board media access controllers. This lets them coordinate and analyze frequency use in a way that multiple physical radios cannot.
The neat part of this is that the silicon gives access to the spectral picture in a way that can be broken off and used separately. Airespace was the first firm to combine spectrum analysis with WLAN access points in a single device, and they accomplish this by licensing the code from Atheros that gives them access to the baseband; Trapeze now offers the same. However, a partnership between Engim and AirMagnet on Engim's reference design will allow the two companies to offer three radios in a single box in which two can be set to be access points and a third can be a dedicated AirMagnet monitor.
AirMagnet's system can track performance problems on a network, identify rogue access points (unauthorized Wi-Fi), and detect intrusion. Like most monitoring software, it can even disable rogues through a denial of service attack focused on the "illegal" access point.
Rich Mironov, vice president of marketing at AirMagnet, explained in an interview that the company has never wanted to be in the hardware business, but that until now they have needed to create and sell their own overlay of sensors for a WLAN. This partnership will allow them to transition gradually to a pure software business. Mironov said, "We've taken all of our sensor software and we're putting it inside the Engim device."
"Today, you might be buying three separate devices, two access points and one of our sensors, and here we have the chance to roll that into one physical device at much lower cost and much lower deployment cost," Mironov said. The Engim reference design has not yet been sold to any OEMs, or companies that will integrate the design into their own product needs, but announcements are expected in the near future from WLAN switch makers.
All WLAN systems outside of Airespace and Trapeze that offer monitoring using access points have to drop the AP's clients, switch to monitoring mode, gather information, and switch back to AP mode. This disrupts low-latency connections, such as voice over WLAN (VoWLAN), and isn't elegant. Even switchmakers agree, but it's necessary that they offer such an option to companies that didn't want to deploy a separate AirMagnet or other monitoring network. Mironov pointed out that such an approach misses critical data, too. "If you don't maintain a sort of stateful constant watchful view of what's going on, you miss all the interesting attacks," he said.
AirMagnet is in the remarkable position right now of having their prototype version of the software that will be embedded in Engim's design ready to go--they're just waiting for the deals to be inked and the production lines to run to finalize specific featuresets for each vendor.
The Engim design can be used either as a two AP/one sensor configuration or as three APs. Mironov said that companies might install one or two Engim-based units with three APs enabled for every one configured with two APs and one sensor. (Trapeze Networks offers dual-radio APs in which one radio can be turned into a sensor in the same fashion.)