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Setting up Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi discovery and connection tools have existed since the early days of 802.11. But while many of these tools have their roots in hacker tools like AirCrack, WEPCrack, AirSnort, CoWPatty, and AirSnarf, which were all originally developed to exploit the fundamental weakness in Wired Equivalent Privacy, these tools now legitimately embody the client-side user interface elements that help establish essentially every wireless LAN link. <p>Today's commercial and open source discovery and connection tools -- as shown in this Clear Choice test of nine software packages, the second in our series of tests homing in on the various layers of WLAN management wares -- range in function from the very basic (take Microsoft's Zero Configuration approach) to robust enough to enable diagnostic use in throughout the enterprise (such as PassMark's WirelessMon and Sandy Road's Wi-Fi Hopper, our Clear Choice winner and runner-up, respectively, in this test). <p>A good connection manager can complement the functionality of a centralized WLAN management console, providing a view of clients' radio and network parameters not readily available from most enterprise-class WLAN management products today. A network operations person would actually tap into the client (possibly over a remote-control or similar connection) to apply the data gathered by the connection manager. A smaller organization lacking a centralized management console could use one of the more feature-rich tools in place of that console for many troubleshooting activities. (Compare WLAN management products in our Buyer's Guide as well.) <p>The simple case <p>While many (if not most) Wi-Fi users rely on the Microsoft's Wireless Zero Configuration (WZC) connection tool, along with the Wireless Auto-Configuration service in Microsoft's servers and WLAN AutoConfig in Vista, these are inadequate for all but the most basic discovery and connection functions. (Read a related story about tools to find Wi-Fi hot spots.) <p>WZC, unfortunately, provides only very basic functionality, little more than a list of potential connections for a user to choose from, and the ability to enter and save security-key data. Because this capability is so limited, we usually suggest that most users at least opt for the connection manager included with the Wi-Fi adapter/driver combination shipped with their mobile computer. These tools (often touted as competitive differentiators by WLAN adapter vendors) provide both quicker connect times and often report more detailed information on available networks (often including connection performance statistics) than is available in WZC. <p>A good example of this class of product is the Intel ProSet/Wireless connection manager that comes with the Intel Pro/Wireless 2915ABG wireless adapter built into the Dell 710m notebook running XP SP2 we used for most of our testing (see How we did it). In addition to its simple user interface and its ability to list and enable client connections for networks within range, this tool reports a wealth of connection information, including detailed 802.11 protocol data and statistics (including bytes transferred by individual 802.11 connection rates), Received Signal Strength Indication (RSSI), roaming events, and even such low-level 802.11 protocol details as beacon frames seen, which are used to advertise the availability of a given WLAN. <p>Getting deeper <p>But if you're looking for more detail than typically supplied by a wireless adapter vendor, there are a number of third-party discovery and connection-manager products on the market that can help. For this report, we selected eight additional products beyond the Microsoft and Intel options already discussed, all of which are readily available on the Web, and put them through their paces, rating each on ease of installation, ease of use, range of function and documentation. <p>Note that, over the years, there have quite literally been dozens of Wi-Fi discovery tools developed and posted on the Web. Most of these were designed to work with a limited range of client cards (with many being stuck at 802.11b), and are thus obsolete today. For purposes of our testing, then, we reviewed the status of products that we've examined over the years and ruled out those that have not been updated within the past year. Except for two (not surprisingly, the leaders) all of the tools we tested are free, and a few were even open source. <p>A good example of this class of product is the Intel ProSet/Wireless connection manager that comes with the Intel Pro/Wireless 2915ABG wireless adapter built into the Dell 710m notebook running XP SP2 we used for most of our testing (see How we did it). In addition to its simple user interface and its ability to list and enable client connections for networks within range, this tool reports a wealth of connection information, including detailed 802.11 protocol data and statistics (including bytes transferred by individual 802.11 connection rates), Received Signal Strength Indication (RSSI), roaming events, and even such low-level 802.11 protocol details as beacon frames seen, which are used to advertise the availability of a given WLAN. <p>Third-party discovery tools <p>At the top of our list of products tested is PassMark's WirelessMon, which while not free - is inexpensive and a great value regardless. The standard version we tested is $24 (a 30-day evaluation copy is free), and the Professional version, which includes GPS tracking (obtained via an external third-party adapter) and the ability to create a signal-strength map that uses these, is $49. <p>WirelessMon is loaded. A summary tab provides information typical of other connection managers with respect to available SSIDs. But also included are a detailed statistical analysis by frame type, real-time signal-strength and throughput graphs, IP statistics, and everything that might be required for performance analysis and troubleshooting. Overall, the standard version should provide most of what enterprise users need, and it's worth the small investment for those seeking detailed status and diagnostic information. This tool might be overkill for users who can get by with a simpler connection manager, but those chartered with support functions will want to take a look at this excellent product. <p>Also near the top of our list is Wi-Fi Hopper from a Canadian firm called Sandy Road. This is a robust application that actively scans for Wi-Fi networks. It allows filtering of networks by type of 802.11PHY, operational mode (infrastructure or ad-hoc), security mode, and channel. It has a useful signal-strength graph that shows a snapshot over time, and a very complete list of device details, IP information, traffic counters, and support for an external GPS adapter, although only on a serial port. A broad range of configuration and customization options is included, as is a useful manual in HTML format. The product requires registration and payment beyond ($35 per user, dropped down to $18 for academic users) an initial 15-day trial period. <p>For a comprehensive reading on this, please check: http://www.networkworld.com/reviews/2008/111708-wlan-management-test.html?ts0hb&story=ts_cctwlan <p>Copyright 2008 IDG Middle East. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Network World Middle East
Date:Nov 17, 2008
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