We recently exhibited at CiscoLive! in San Diego. We gave a few hundred demonstrations to eager wireless LAN professionals looking for ways to increase operational efficiency and improve the Wi-Fi experience for their organizational customers. The event was remarkable and I commend Cisco for putting on an event so energizing and well organized. Most exciting, however, was that the demos and resulting conversations we had with attendees confirmed a few important pieces of our value proposition.
A familiar refrain from our demo watchers and booth visitors was, “This is different than what I get from Prime!” Prime can tell you if an access point is impaired and having trouble joining the network. Prime also offers useful bandwidth statistics and data regarding high usage clients. However, the missing piece is the quality of the Wi-Fi experience from the client perspective. How fast does throughput performance degrade when more clients enter a service area? How do multiple SSIDs affect airtime utilization? How do patches and updates to controllers and devices impact performance? Without a Wi-Fi performance management system continuously monitoring and measuring performance 24 hours a day and reporting back to you, there is no proactive way to know. The continuous Wi-Fi experience feedback loop from the client’s perspective provided by 7signal truly complements the information from Cisco Prime to provide a complete picture.
When describing and explaining our solution, booth visitors at CiscoLive! were quick to draw comparisons to troubleshooting tools from AirMagnet and IXIA, which is fine because it takes the conversation to the next step. Yes, there is some overlapping functionality in terms of measuring Wi-Fi performance. However, our visitors understood the key difference in how 7signal brings these data points to you. No time-wasting excursions necessary. This is particularly important on campuses or where a centralized IT staff manages multiple geographic locations. 7signal uses client devices stationed out in the field to take Wi-Fi performance measurements from strategic locations. Wi-Fi analytics and trending data is provided via a website you may access from anywhere. The people we visited with at CiscoLive! were on board… continuous, comprehensive measurements are better than chasing down issues.
Cisco CleanAir is a popular and useful product used to identify interference and we are often asked if spectrum analysis is “good enough” for Wi-Fi performance management. While it is useful to detect non-Wi-Fi interference, oftentimes interference cannot be removed, hence it’s where your performance management begins and ends. Many of the CiscoLive! attendees we spoke with acknowledged that after finding and removing interference, they did not have any additional wireless assurance system in place. They wanted a way to keep tabs on the service area over time and determine whether their efforts had made a true difference for Wi-Fi clients in the area or not.
Intruders in the form of mobile hotspots indeed have an impact on overall Wi-Fi performance. They use overlapping channels and hog up valuable airtime and bandwidth. Finding and removing them is important. However, this is just one small piece of an overall WLAN performance management puzzle. Just like in the case of spectrum analysis, conference attendees we talked to confirmed that identifying and removing rogue access points as part of their WIPS solution was not the end of Wi-Fi performance issues, nor did it provide much proactive wireless network quality assurance moving forward.
To summarize, at CiscoLive! we confirmed a few key items regarding our value proposition. First, it’s clear that Wi-Fi is a mission critical asset in most organizations and that people are starting to treat it as such. Second, people would like to move from troubleshooting their Wi-Fi networks towards managing them proactively like other strategic infrastructure assets. This helps operational efficiency and productivity. Third, we confirmed that a comprehensive and centralized system that monitors the quality of all aspects of the Wi-Fi network from the client’s point of view is a preferred solution because it saves a lot of time and expense chasing down “invisible” issues. And finally, the CiscoLive! attendees we spoke with confirmed that 7signal appears to have the only purpose-built solution they’ve seen that covers all of these Wi-Fi performance management bases. We appreciate the insights our visitors gave us.
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