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Cisco Systems is partnering with Cognio to bring new RF monitoring capabilities to Cisco’s Wireless Control System.

Cognio will integrate its Spectrum Expert with WCS so that administrators can see information about their RF environment as a part of their management screens. The result will be an enhanced capability that will allow administrators to spot rogue devices as well as devices such as cordless phones and microwave ovens that can produce interference for Wi-Fi devices.

According to Cognio, of Germantown, Md., Spectrum Expert goes beyond the capabilities Cisco has. “It’s for rogue things that are not access points,” said Jeff White, Cognio’s executive vice president for strategy. “The systems that Cisco has in place do a sufficient job of finding what’s out there in terms of access points.”

“Anything that’s Wi-Fi Cisco is going to have a great handle on,” White said, “but they also see energy that’s non-Wi-Fi. We actually tell you what the energy is. We go in and do signature analysis. We look at the DNA and say what it is.

“We can see cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, wireless cameras, motion detectors,” White said, listing some of the devices his company’s product can detect and identify. “We tell you that you have a certain type of device and where the device is. That’s the real thing that we think is different and adds value on top of the Wi-Fi infrastructure.”

White said that the Spectrum Expert software has databases of devices at two levels. In some cases it can identify the specific devices, while in others it can only tell the type of device, such as whether interference is coming from a microwave oven. Spectrum Expert includes a hardware component that’s delivered on a mini-PCI device or on a PC Card. Both devices provide information on the type of interference and the strength. “The range is about 150 feet,” he said.

“This was more about the ability to find spectrum interference and find out why things aren’t working,” said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president of enterprise research for the Yankee Group. “The more dependent companies get on wireless, the more important this becomes. It should be a priority for more companies.”

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The partnership is a good move for both companies, according to Kerravala. “It’s obviously great for Cognio,” he said. “For Cisco it’s important as well. The more wireless there is, the harder it is to manage. It’s a natural progression of things.

“It’s good to see Cisco focusing on that aspect instead of only the speeds and feeds,” he said.

Kerravala said that some companies will see the need for WCS integrated with Spectrum Expert immediately. “It helps companies that rely more heavily on wireless infrastructure,” he said. “They will understand its value.”

Organizations that have a big need for mobility such as hospitals and schools will get the most out of it, according to Kerravala.

The partnership is a welcome change for Cisco, Kerravala said, although he wondered why Cisco just didn’t buy Cognio. “Cisco as a company has not focused on manageability as much as they should, and this time they’re out in front,” he said.

White said that an important early use will be with mesh networking. “Mesh environments are notorious for interference,” he said, adding that Cisco sees a lot of use in mesh environments. “Knowing what the interference is and whether you can get rid of it is important,” he said.

White did note, however, that his company’s success with Spectrum Expert has taken an unexpected turn. “Every time we go to someplace, they love to bring their microwaves,” he said. “We end up identifying lots of microwaves.”

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