WildPackets has entered the WLAN monitoring market with a network troubleshooting appliance, called Omni Sensors. The company claimed that the product differs from existing WLAN sensors (including WildPackets' own RFGrabber) in that it does not report back to a server somewhere else - it contains an embedded version of WildPackets' Omni software, and simply connects to the administrator's console.

"The box runs fully automatically and monitors the network without human involvement," said Brant Cooper, the WildPackets corporate strategy VP. "You define what to generate alarms on and then bring the analysis back to a console. It's a full version of our software, so for example it can detect 802.1X authentication problems or track conversations."

The £1000 wireless AP-sized sensor is configured by default to cover specific security and network configuration issues, and can be reconfigured to add others such as rogue AP detection. A single console can configure several sensors at once.

Cooper said that, unlike WLAN sensors from the likes of AirDefense and AirMagnet, Omni Sensors is a network analyser, not a security device. Also, it is passive, with no beaconing or other transmissions, so it has no effect on the RF environment.

"The real value is the seven-layer analysis - application analysis as well as protocol and network analysis, plus the ability to tie together wired and wireless data and feed it back to the network management system," he said. "There a growing interest in forensics, but traditional alarming systems don't have that link back to the packets - the ability to re-create the payload and identify its source is important."

He claimed that although it requires a second overlay on top of the WLAN infrastructure, and thus additional cost, non-intrusive monitoring has an increasing role to play in network management.

"The biggest challenge is wireless bandwidth doesn't come anywhere near wired bandwidth, so we are seeing more and more performance problems on wireless," he said. "Nine time out of ten it's a mismatch - stuff that runs fine on wired Ethernet but doesn't take wireless into account."

And he said that Omni Sensors is the first of a family of wireless network management appliances: "We will have an advanced sensor with real RF analysis this fall, able to pick up interferers and so on - that might make overlays important again, as voice on WLAN and QoS become important. I think the security issues will be solved by then and people won't need to deploy overlays just for security."

Cooper added that Omni Sensors would make its debut at this week's WLAN Event exhibition at London's Olympia.