Competition is heating up amongst the new products designed to manage and monitor enterprise wireless LANs. Specialist company AirMagnet has a new tool, and its rivals are set to respond, while WLAN system vendors want to hang onto the revenue by convincing IT managers that they can get all the network management they need right inside WLAN switch products.

This week AirMagnet introduced its Mobile 4.0, a mobile wireless sniffer, which runs on laptops and handhelds. The new version supports Cisco's EAP-FAST authentication protocol. Without such support, the product could not connect to or analyse traffic on an EAP-FAST network, so IT managers with that protocol would have to drop all security while they tested. (EAP-FAST is a more secure follow-on to Cisco's LEAP; read this feature for the low-down on EAP-related protocols).

The product also adds diagnostic tools for the currently fashionable voice-over-IP on WLAN over wireless. A roaming tool reports on how long it takes to handoff from one access point (AP) to another (measuring this kind of thing is going to be a major issue in the coming year). It also has a jitter tool that watches the signal levels and tells a manager whether the signal is consistent and smooth.

Other new features include security alarms, including one for the Queensland denial-of-service attack reviewed here. AirMagnet last month launched version 4 of its distributed product, which uses permanent wireless probes to monitor the status of a wireless LAN and prevent intrusions. That product is reviewed here.

The company's chief rival, AirDefense, is not standing still. The company opened a UK office last month, and plans to launch a new version of its own product, AirDefense Enterprise, before the end of the year. AirDefense is a probe-based system which is not available as a portable sniffer.

The new version will include more wireless LAN protocols and more predictive ability. In May, AirDefense introduced one of the first tools designed to monitor Bluetooth security, and regulary warns the Wi-Fi industry by finding security lapses at major shows.

Among the newcomers about to enter the field is an eight-year-old network management company, Dartware, which has a wireless monitoring tool aimed at wireless ISPs, called WISPerMapper. The product will map wireless network performance, identify bottlenecks, and can find and shut down rogue access points.

Meanwhile, wireless switch system vendor, Airespace is soon to deliver the Wireless Location Services package it announced in May. The package interfaces to RF tags from Bluesoft, recently renamed AeroScout, and includes applications such as RF fingerprinting, location software that the company claims can locate rogue devices within a few meters.

Stephen Elliot, a senior analyst with IDC, said that management solutions from companies such as AirMagnet, AirDefense, AireSpace, and Dartware represent a response to a cultural change taking place within IT. "Up until now, wireless management has been an afterthought. IT needs to put management at the forefront of a wireless decision," he said. According to Eliot, both AirMagnet and AirDefense are somewhat similar in their various capabilities. "It is the level of granularity that the user will look for on each product that makes the difference."

AirMagnet Laptop Trio starts at $3,495 and AirMagnet Handheld 4.0 is priced at $2,995. The WISPerMapper Starter Pack from Dartware starts at $350 for software and includes support for 10 wireless and 10 wired devices. Pricing on other products from other companies were not available at press time.