Azimuth Systems is launching a system for testing Wi-Fi networks today, which it claims "could change the rules of Wi-Fi"., by unlocking IT managers' reluctance to adopt the technology.

"A vacuum exists for a test platform that can validate real world performance of wireless networks," said Azimuth VP of Marketing Graham Celine. " Right now, wireless networks are tested poorly, or not tested at all." This means that network managers are buying products whose performance they cannot guarantee, or compare effectively with rival products.

The problem with Wi-Fi testing is that environmental changes affect Wi-Fi performance, but it is not practical or realistic to isolate an entire Wi-Fi network in a box, said Celine.

Azimuth's W-series of test rigs places each component of the Wi-Fi network (access points, NICs and so on) into its own isolation cage, and connect those together in a network, through attenuators that create a known signal fall-off, and mimic effects of interference.

So a whole wireless network can be put into one chassis. Each component will behave as if it is in a real-world network, and each component can be swapped out to compare performance and interoperability issues, without any changes to the environment which might otherwise invalidate the results. Traffic can be simulated, as on wired network test rigs.

The ability to test Wi-Fi properly will be a boost to many Wi-fi performance issues, said Celine: "Our focus is on QoS, where the situation is so screwed up." The system will include a battery of scripts and benchmarks,. Including a "rate versus range" test which determines how rapidly the throughput of a network link tails off with increasing separation.

A basic system to test a hotspot network with two clients will cost $44,200. A "mall network" rig which can handle two access points and four clients, costs $113,300. At these prices the first customers will be the silicon and system vendors, said Celine, claiming that he already has systems out with three Wi-fi vendors "who between them make up 96 percent of the Wi-Fi market."

Another test system is at the University of New Hampshire, which manages interoperability tests for Wi-fi systems.