How do I get hands-on experience with WLANs?

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  • Updated 3 years ago
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Tom Carpenter

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Posted 4 years ago

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David Coleman, Official Rep

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I cannot emphasize how important it is to get hands-on experience. The first thing you should do is get your hands on some enterprise Wi-Fi hardware.  When I first got started, I purchased used Cisco APs and a ton of PCMCIA Wi-Fi client radios on EBay.  Then I just started banging on the CLI and GUI of these devices and started configuring the equipment.  It was invaluable.
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Martin Ericson

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Same here. still running those 1231 in bridging mode across the house to distribute Internet. 
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Raymond Hendrix

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-build your own and experiment...
-try to get 802.11x working
-see the influence of a microwave on a spectrum analyzer
- get a signal generator on dealextreme.com ;)
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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Everyone will have to learn 802.1X.   Most people use Microsoft NPS for a RADIUS server, but there are other commercial RADIUS servers that you can download trial versions.
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Manoah Coenraad, Champ

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You can also use the 'free' radius: Freeradius
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Anders Nilsson

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Don't forget Radiator  Radius server which is so easy that even I can configure it. :)
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Matthew Gast

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Radiator is awesome. It's so easy even I can customize it.  (Check out the hooks directory; I've contributed a couple of workarounds for dumb APs.)
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Nick Lowe, Official Rep

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I mentioned TLS 1.2 support was missing in Radiator for EAP types and they patched it to call OpenSSL appropriately a day later with support going in to 4.14
(Edited)
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Rasika Nayanajith

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If your job is WLAN related, then that is the best way to get hands-on experience.

If you are new to the field & want to get that experience, setting up a home lab is the most important. Home lab is essential if you want to keep learning

HTH
Rasika
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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If you cannot afford to purchase some enterprise WLAN gear or do not have access to the gear via your employer, at a minimum purchase some cheap SOHO equipment such as DLink or Linksys. 
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Thomas Bach

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I have heard that it should be possible to download a trial licnesof Cisco WLC, to test if you buy a used AP on Ebay, like David says
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Martin Ericson

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is'nt WLC still running on Cisco dedicated hardware?. The smalles 2106 WLCs can be found on eBay.
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Jukka Kettunen

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There is also virtual version of Cisco WLC, but there are certain limitations when using this. http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/products/wireless/virtual-wireless-controller/index.html
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Nick Lowe, Official Rep

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So, for me, I cut my teeth on a 3Com (Trapeze OEM) 802.11g controller based solution back in 2004.
I played and tested! You have to be interested enough to invest the time to get the knowledge and experience.
(Edited)
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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Hi Nick...  I still have an old Trapeze Controller in my home lab.   It must be 12 years old or more.  It weighs about 45 pounds and the fans are as loud as a jet engine.
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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This is a picture of the world famous 802.11b Orinoco Gold Card that many of used in the early days:
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Matthew Gast

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Don't forget: the difference between silver and gold was the key length for WEP.  That's why you needed to get gold cards.  They were "more secure."
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Alan Klein

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And don't forget Bronze, no WEP for you
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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Bottom line is that you need to get your hands on equipment and learn to use it.   Maybe your employer has lab gear you can experiment with.  Maybe older gear that is being replaced.   EBay is always an option as well :0
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Manoah Coenraad, Champ

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The best way is to make an own lab at home :)
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Thomas Bach

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For testing RF I can recommend MetaGeek WiSpy and Chanalyser 5
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Nick Lowe, Official Rep

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Yes! I also recommend one of Fluke's AirCheck tools.
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Hasso Tepper

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While it's excellent tool, it is quite expensive for home lab IMHO.
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Hans Matthé

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Agree with Hasso, the WiSpy and Chanalyser costs about 1000$.
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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Spending $1000 for WiSpy and Channelyzer will pay for itself real fast
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Tom Carpenter

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Here's a webinar we did last year on building a home lab: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNCIlNsDq88&list=UU4_fdLXjHf_Kd_PXKD3MxHw

And here is one on 802.11ac protocol analysis that references some low cost gear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXD_qg5dddM&list=UU4_fdLXjHf_Kd_PXKD3MxHw

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David Coleman, Official Rep

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Great stuff Tom
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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Question to the forum.... what was the first Wi-Fi access point you ever configured?
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Martin Ericson

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Cisco 1231 and Cisco 2000 WLC with Airspaces/cisco 1000, even before setting up anything at home.
(Edited)
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Keith Miller

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Linksys WRT54GL. This is where I learned about the different firmware flavors like DD-WRT and Tomato, and openWRT
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Andrew Garcia, Official Rep

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Aironet PC4800 11b AP. Had a couple in my house in 1999... blew everybody's mind at the time.
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Crowdie, Champ

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A 2 Mbps Proxim but I can't remember the model.
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Matthew Gast

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Nokia A020.  Back then, it was "advanced" because it supported the optional 2 Mbps "high speed" rate.
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Thomas Bach

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Linksys :-)
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Raymond Hendrix

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802.11b draytek router combi iirc
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Nicolas Maton

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You can buy cheap Mikrotik hw or an old Linksys which you can flash with any WRT flavor. 
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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Here is some quick Wi-Fi hardware trivia:    Intel used to make 802.11b access points for the enterprise.  they gave up and stuck to making 802.11 client radios.  Even Microsoft had an 802.11b access point called "Home" that they used to sell... it flopped.
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Tom Carpenter

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David, the hardware is one thing, but many kinds of software are also used. What would you recommend there when it comes to getting hands-on experience?
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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Getting hands-on experience with WLAN software is also paramount.  The way I taught myself about layer 2 frame exchanges many moons ago, was that I purchased the first version of AirMagnet  WIFi Analyzer. One of the best things I ever did for my career.
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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I have since used numerous other WLAN packet sniffers including WildPackets OmniPeek and Tamosoft CommView for WiFi. Most these vendors offer trial versions of these analysis products. Of course you can always get WireShark and it is free. Learning 802.11 frame analysis is imperative.
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Tom Carpenter

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You can use WireShark on Kali Linux to easily capture 802.11n and earlier traffic. For now, we are still waiting on drivers for good 802.11ac adapters in Linux.

Also, it's much harder to get WireShark to work on Windows for packet capture without purchasing specifically designed hardware. That's why I recommend people use WireShark on Linux in a VM so that they can use any of dozens of adapters. Kali Linux comes preloaded with WireShark and other Wi-Fi testing and analysis software.

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David Coleman, Official Rep

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What other WLAN software should you learn how to use? Everyone should also learn how to use site survey software, both predictive and real-time.  Some of the better packages include



Ekahau Site Survey

AirMagnet Survey
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Anthony Zotti

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I know it's been said but, home lab, home lab, home lab.
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Tom Carpenter

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Yes, and you can build a really good one for less than $1000 these days - plus you'll have some great hardware to use in your home afterwards. This assumes you don't attend a conference and get a free AP from some vendor :)
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Christopher Twombley

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Ebay has been my friend here. Used equipment has been invaluable.
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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A quick reminder that everyone that posts a question, comment or reply will receive a free copy of this booklet:
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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Various vendors such as Aerohive, also offer free predictive modeling solutions for their own WLAN products. Learning how to perform predictive and real-time WLAN site surveys is imperative for proper WLAN design.
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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What other tools does everyone else here in the forum use for site surveys?
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Manoah Coenraad, Champ

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Airmagnet spectrum analyzer, wifi analyzer and site survey tool
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Hans Matthé

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wispy + channelyzer, site survey tool
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Remon Braamse

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At the moment i'm testing with SteelCentral Packet Analyzer with een AirPCAP dongle to understand what is going trough the air.

And I use Ekahau Site Survey for planning and site surveys and WiSpy dBx with chanalyzer for spectrum analysis.

(Edited)
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Crowdie, Champ

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I use Ekahau Site Survey Pro and AirMagnet Survey Pro.  My other favourite wireless tools are Eye P.A., Kali Linux and AirMagnet WiFi Analyzer Pro.  For spectrum analysis I use AirMagnet Spectrum XT as it integrates into AirMagnet's Survey Pro and WiFi Analyzer Pro products.
(Edited)
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Tom Carpenter

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David, how would you go about getting spectrum analysis software or what solutions do you recommend?
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Raymond Hendrix

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thats why i like tamograph, it combines site survey and spectrum analysis.
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David Coleman, Official Rep

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I also recommended that everyone purchase a spectrum analyzer and learn RF spectrum analysis.  RF spectrum analysis is an important part of any site survey to identify potential sources of RF interference.  (The 2.4 GHz band is an RF disaster).  If possible the source if the interference can be identified and removed.  If not, the WLAN needs to be designed around the interference.

My personal favorite is MetaGeek WiSpy.  MetaGeek also has some great free training videos about spectrum analysis.