Fluke Networks Enables Drone-Centric Tower Operations

The drone thing keeps coming back to this blog like a bad penny… Well, not really a bad penny as in “that sucks” bad. In this case it’s more like baaaad. As in dope, tight, righteous, Michael-Jackson-shamone bad. And again Fluke Networks is front and center on this drone-related discussion, like they were a few months ago.

Some background: those radio station and cell towers that dot the American landscape are marvelous pieces of communications infrastructure. But they also have a way of ruining lives when gravity meets carelessness or equipment failure. Despite the dangers, every tower is an ecosystem unto itself that needs upkeep, inspection, hardware and frequency inventory, and the occasional changing of mounted equipment. Though human beings will always be needed at tower sites, Fluke Networks sees a better way to take care of many of the tasks that climbers would otherwise need to do.

Enter the drone.

No, Fluke Networks is not coming out with a drone (if they did, it would no doubt be kick-ass). But everyone’s favorite wireless toolmaker is taking their Wireless Work Advisor to the air with a coming-soon drone version as mentioned at the OSP Expo earlier this month. Think lightweight Windows tablet doing frequency verification with AirMagnet Spectrum ES as payload on a decent-quality drone that loiters around a tower, taking high resolution photos and video (inspection, inventory).

Rather than sending a tech up the tower for every little task, Wireless Work Advisor Drone promises to do handle a variety of chores. I don’t do a lot of tower work except on the occasional ham radio project, but I’ve been high enough off the ground on tall metal sticks to know that less time spent “up there” is better. Drones can’t mount antennas or hook up cables, but there’s potentially an awful lot they can do if the use of Wireless Work Advisor and Spectrum ES of incorporated properly. This is one of those good ideas that military mission planners call a “force multiplier”.

And sure, this has little to do with Wi-Fi and this is a mostly Wi-Fi blog. At the same time, some of us do point-to-point bridging, and/or host carrier cells on our properties. I like that Fluke Networks is taking a seemingly holistic look at the drone paradigm and seeing it for what it is in the IT/communications space- everything from a potential security threat to a handy tool that should reduce tower-related incident statistics by keeping more technicians on the ground.

I still don’t see an official release on Wireless Work Advisor Drone yet, but have been given the all-clear to mention it so it should be out soon.

 

 

 

 

A Different Kind of Wireless Bridge, From AOptix

Just as the world of wireless client access has evolved over the last decade, so has the point-to-point bridging space. Though I don’t do a tremendous amount of bridging, I have done a couple of dozen production links using a variety of licensed and unlicensed technologies. And through the last several of years, I’ve absolutely marveled at the advances in point-to-point bridge hardware as pricing in this interesting space have come way down versus what you get for your dollar.

For me, bridging is really fun in that it reminds me a lot of amateur radio- with the rooftop/tower work, the need to select the right band for the application, and the importance of proper installation if you want communications with a far-off station to work right.

Before I get into the real point of the blog (a new bridge product), let’s take a quick detour. At both of this year’s Interop sessions in the US (Vegas and NYC), Kieth Parsons did an awesome presentation on extending the LAN with point to point bridging. If you missed it, you can find Keith’s slides, and almost all of the Interop NYC sessions, here. Don’t feel lonely if you don’t have point to point bridging experience; a recent survey I did of well over 300 WLAN professionals showed than more than half don’t do anything with bridging.

Q

If you want to start learning about bridging, Kieth’s slides will likely kindle an interest and provide value.

Warning: Cool Technology Ahead

Back to why we’re here: the AOptix Intellimax product set, and in particular the MB2000. There are a number of impressive points related to this bridge:

  • 2 Gbps of throughput to 8 km (just about 5 miles) even in the worst weather. There is NO autorating, you always get 2 Gbps
  • Need more than 8 km? Daisy-chain ‘em
  • Free-space optics are coupled with RF for dual-tech signalling that AOptix calls Composite Optical RF (COR)
  • When conditions are bad for one technology, the other picks up the slack automatically. AOptix calls this Advanced Wavelength Diversity, or AWD
  • The units are made to mount easily, and align in around 20 minutes, compliments of a feature called PAT (Point, Acquire, Track)
  • Beam-steering allows for up to 6 degrees total of tower/mast twist and flex (+/- 3 degrees)

There’s a lot to digest here, and it’s impressive. The free-space optics side of the MB2000 has a 120 mW license-free (worldwide) transceiver, while the RF side’s 80 mW works in 71-76 and 81-88 GHz spectrum. This means in countries like the US and UK, it’s “lightly licensed” in that you fill out paperwork, pay the fee, and you’re good for 10 years.

I was approached by AOptix’ PR folks wanting me to cover a deployment done in Mexico where the Intellimax supposedly did very well. I’m not a huge fan of case studies unless I can write about something I’ve been involved with first-hand, yet I find the AOptix story to be compelling enough to share here. I wasn’t provided with pricing information, but given that we’re talking “carrier grade” gear, expect it not to be priced like lower-capability bridges.

You can picture this sort of bridge being suitable in 4GE backhaul, military and public safety networks, large campuses, and a range of other applications.

Please have a listen to a quick podcast I put together on the topic as well.

I’d love to hear from any readers on whether they have experience with AOptix, or have found any other bridging solutions (low or high-end) that they like- or hate.

Results of the Wirednot Blog WLAN Pro Survey

As promised to those following, the survey of WLAN professionals work experiences, preferences, etc. has ended and it’s time to share the results. An up-front thank you to those who participated.

About the Survey, getting participation

In the WLAN industry, there tends to be a lot of chatter about products and trends, but not so much about We the Wireless People. The survey was meant to let us view ourselves against our colleagues in the wireless space, on an eclectic mix of topics. Though there were only 33 questions, they did yield at least a couple of hundred data points when said and done. The point? Well, the point is yours to define, seize, and take away.

I used my favorite free survey tool, from Toluna Quick Surveys. It took about 25 minutes to craft this, and “distribution” took the form of:

  • 12 Tweets by me, lots of retweets by others (again, thank you)
  • 3 postings of the survey link on LinkedIn
  • 2 postings on the Educause higher ed listserv
  • 1 mention during my Interop session on cloud-managed networking in NYC

It ran for 6 days, and we ended up with 342 respondents from over 35 countries. (My own informal goal was at least 200 replies, and I’m thrilled we hit over 300.) It should be noted, very little prevented the same user from responding more than once, so there is an element of “honor system” in play.

What does the data tell us?

I won’t give too much away, as the results make for a nice combined data set. At the same time, here are a number of points that I found interesting:

  • 17% of all respondents do only wireless
  • 47% have no wireless training certs
  • Over half have no involvement with Point-to-Point bridging
  • 3 unfortunates feel like they are living a lie when it comes to their skillsets
  •  26% have experience with Single Channel Architectures
  • 30% see no value in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for wired/wireless
  • 35% say Apple products are not worth the price tag
  • 84% DO NOT (or rarely do) wireless side work
  • 31% use Google Voice
  • 58% expect 1-2 current WLAN vendors to fold in the next 24 months

Now that you’ve had a taste, take a look at the entire survey here

And again, much gratitude to those who took the survey, and propagated it’s distribution. We might have got even more response, but 27% who replied don’t use Twitter!

 

 

Wi-Fi As We Know It Is Doomed

Wi-Fi had a good run, but the end is in sight. It’s terminally ill, and those of us that should be administering aid are instead pouring salt in the wounds. Stick a fork in it, brother. Wi-Fi is almost done.

I realize that the opener for this blog is a bit confusing. After all, we’re just getting into the heyday of 802.11ac. We now have Wi-Fi calling over smartphones, and can stream 100 channels of eye-popping entertainia over low-end tablets. We got the IoT knocking on the door, ISPs trying to make every home a public hotspot, and F-150s with their own WLANs. It would certainly seem that Wi-Fi is not only alive, but is the kick-assiest dude in the technology dojo. Ah, but things aren’t always what they seem.

If you go back and review the lesser known predictions of Nostradamus’ cousin Benny, you’ll find this verse:

Though airwaves of connectyness seem robust
The unpure of radio will do goofy stuff
And what should be good will turn crappy
And clients will all whisper “what the shit happened here?”

Benny knew of the evils of trying to do much without some sort of structured, guided evolution. Benny knew that if you throw the door wide open and turn your back on it, both unicorns and wharf rats are likely to walk in. And both have- which brings us to the pending demise of Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi

Can’t Have It Both Ways

When Wi-Fi came to be mainstream, we all tended to nurture it carefully. We were meticulous in our designs, we passed policy that balanced the needs of the users and the security and health of the WLAN, and basically cherished the good thing  that we found. But then Wi-Fi got big, went all Hollywood on us, and we turned into irresponsible parents. We started letting Wi-Fi have bad habits, and those habits are going to lead to a messy demise that will leave us as Wi-Fi admins feeling guilty for our parts in it.

You can’t have non-Enterprise WLAN gear showing up on business WLAN environments and accommodate it without a cost. Because consumer-grade gear can’t be made to play by Enterprise Rules, we either turn it away (fat chance in many cases) or we dumb-down our meticulously crafted enterprise Wi-Fi networks. We watch companies like Google put out Glass and Chromecast, get giddy over them, and then all sign onto the lie that people won’t demand to use these on business networks despite their very un-enterprisey capabilities. We watch wireless printer and projector makers continue to live in 1999 for WLAN capabilities, and do little as an industry to fix it. We sit by while mobile titans like Verizon and AT&T pepper the landscape with Mi-Fi devices, and get steamed when students bring classroom Wi-Fi to it’s knees with iPhone personal hotspots all on channel 2 at power well beyond what our own APs put out. We see client makers still put out 2.4 GHz-only WLAN adapters, and then act surprised when we get trouble tickets for those devices in RF-dirty spaces.

Wi-Fi frag

We’ve gone from relying on the “Wi-Fi Certified” program to provide baseline interoperability to putting up with the current “anything goes” mindset of wireless clients. If left untreated, the condition will only get worse and worse. Business Wi-Fi simply can’t continue to fend off the attacks of consumer-grade gear and tech-ignorant mindsets that go with that gear. When companies as big as Apple, Google, Canon, Novatel, and Ricoh see it as perfectly fine to ignore the generally accepted parameters that constitute business Wi-Fi and put out whatever suits them without regard for impact on “real” WLAN environments, those environments will eventually wither in quality and morph into something ugly. And it would seem that no industry group or voice is really interested in stopping the bleeding despite one corporate data breach after another , the commoditization of wireless attack tools, and the move of ever more business network clients to the WLAN.

Wi-Fi doomed

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it should be obvious that there’s not much delineation left between “consumer” and “enterprise” in the minds of many clients. We as admins won’t be able to perpetuate the age-old defensive tactic of “you can’t use that thing on this network” for much longer as whatever “that thing” is gets ever more popular.

Because “we” in WLAN (clients, admins, vendors, Wi-Fi Alliance, FCC, IEEE, etc) all seem willing to turn a blind eye to the continued effect of consumerization on wireless infrastructure, it stands to reason that business Wi-Fi as we know it can’t survive very much longer. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

Taking the Pulse of Those In the Business of Wireless

If you are in the business of wireless networking in any way, shape, or form, please consider taking a 30ish question survey. The goal is to get a read on an eclectic mix of topics as those in the wireless world see them.

The survey is my own, is anonymous, and will be shared after a week or so of input. Examples of questions-

  • Do you trust cloud-manged Wi-Fi?
  • Have you ever been involved with Single Channel Architecture?
  • how do you feel about AP “bake-offs”, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, and SDN?
  • What’s the biggest single-site WLAN you’ve ever been involved with?

The survey really has no goal other than to get hundreds of respondents and then share the findings back with the wireless community, so please take 5 minutes and fill it out!

Update- we have 300 respondents so far! Closing it out Friday, 10/3/14!

Thanks,

Lee Badman

@wirednot

Getting to Know the Very Cool Open-Mesh Wi-Fi System

As I root around at the more inexpensive end of the Suitable-For-Business WLAN space, one product set keeps jumping out at me. Open-Mesh is a big story in a little package, with a pretty crazy feature:cost ratio (as in crazy impressive). It’s just a really neat, innovative framework that offers cloud-managed APs for under $100, with a cloud dashboard that couldn’t be easier to use.

To boot, there is a free Android and iOS app for CloudTrax, and it looks real nice.

This Ain’t Market-Leading Wi-Fi, Nor Does It Try It To Be

One trap that many wireless professionals fall into (in my opinion) is not being agile enough of mind to set aside their loyalties to top-end product sets and simply appreciate what’s out there in the interesting edges of the wireless market. Sure, many of us have million-dollar WLAN environments and appreciate what we get in exchange for Large Costs, but there is life beyond Cisco and Aruba just like there are cars beyond Cadillac and Lexus. If you can open your mind and get over yourself, Open-Mesh fills a cool, low-cost niche for clients that GOTTA have Wi-Fi but DON’T have the dollars or know-how to pull off a pricier install.

Open-Mesh doesn’t really advertise, it sells itself word-of-mouth by satisfied users. It’s roots are largely the same as the early days of Meraki, where “roofnet” low-cost nodes were meant to provide connectivity to the underserved. If you are familiar with Meraki, and look in on Open-Mesh’s CloudTrax dashboard, you’ll see a lot of similarities.

OpenMesh3

It’s almost like “Meraki in Miniature”! The cloud management account in it’s current form is 100% free, there are NO licensing or account fees, and an overview of features is here. Though I’m not at liberty to say what other features and options are coming, I can say that Open-Mesh has some very cool evolutions on the short horizon.

What About the APs?

There are a number of interesting aspects about the Open-Mesh AP product set. (Again, these are not meant to compete with product like Cisco 3700s, so fight the natural urge to compare and trash the “lesser” product.) The APs are modular in that just a few radios are swappable into different enclosures, letting you “build” the APs that you need. There is no labeling on the APs- if you are in the WI-Fi networking business, your own logo can go on the APs (and in the cloud dashboard, for that matter). And for sparing, you don’t even need an enclosure.

The Open-Mesh APs are detailed here, and make sure you click “Show More Specs” for the full picture. Though you won’t see any dual-band or 11ac APs in the line-up now, take another look at the prices. You’re still getting pretty decent value, and you can expect more impressive hardware spec’d APs to come along soon from Open-Mesh.

So… Who Uses Open-Mesh?

If you get interested enough to learn more, Open-Mesh does have business reference accounts happy to talk about about their success with this unique system. Aimed mostly (but certainly not limited to) housing/hospitality/SMB customers, Open-Mesh has single sites with just a couple of APs all the way to  sites with APs measured in the hundreds.

I personally am working on a potential public WLAN project for my own very small village, and Open-Mesh is at the top of my “to consider” list given the available features, low cost, and decent reputation of the solution. More to follow if I end up pulling it off…

There are a lot- LIKE A WHOLE LOT- of low-end WLAN solutions out there. I’ll be writing up this market niche for Network Computing soon, and will be talking about pros and cons of not spending the big bucks when it comes to WLANs. Meanwhile, take a look at Open-Mesh and see if you don’t find it as intriguing as I do.

Aerohive and AirTight Announce IoT “Firsts”

There aren’t too many opportunities in life to claim “we’re the first to _____!”  There’s a bit of a glow that comes with being first to market, even if the first whatever isn’t really monumental or exactly disruptive.  In the last couple of weeks, both Aerohive and Airtight (cloud-managed WLAN vendors for those of you late to the party) made a “We’re first!” announcement, each with Internet of Things (IOT) implications. Let’s take a look at both.

Aerohive- First Integration of WLAN and iBeacons

Here’s the official news from Aerohive. The nuts of it is that Aerohive and beacon-maker Radius Networks are pals, and Aerohive APs can directly host ibeacons via USB port on the access point. The notion of ibeacons (and altbeacons) is really just getting started, so this could become big and will likely ripple out far beyond it’s infancy in retail spaces. Though the companies are partners on the initiative, there’s really no changes per se to Hive Mananager that goes with having RadBeacons attached to APs.

Here’s my own coverage of the story at Network Computing. If you’d like to further the iBeacon discussion, please post comments over there.

Then there’s this:

AirTight- First Access Point with ‘IoT-ready’ WiPS

I’ll admit to being underwhelmed when I saw the press for Airtight’s new C-65 access point. Sure, any new 11ac AP is worth noting, but the up-play of it’s “IoT readiness” seemed to be a stretch. So, I asked- what makes this one so special versus the competition?

Here’s what AirTight says about the C-65 in their own words:

Two key things in IoT readiness for WIPS are system scalability andoperation scalability because of increasing device volume and diversity and growing attack variants.

 
1.     System scalability
o    AirTight increased the ability to monitor active wireless devices from 500 to 2000 per AP/sensor
o    On the cloud side, we increased the ability to scale to hundreds of thousands of devices being monitored across multiple geographies and customers
 
Scalability bottleneck in IoT will be coming from neighborhood devices that you need to track for threat detection, compliance reporting, etc, rather than your own APs that you manage in the cloud.
 
AirTight’s tests and customer POCs have shown that because the competition does not have this scalability today, device history is not maintained long enough; alerts are quickly purged to maintain scalability; reporting and forensics are thin; and threat detection is slow.
 
This happens today; what will happen tomorrow with hundreds of IoT devices in your wireless neighborhood?
 
2.     Operation scalability
o    The detection is behavioral based rather than signature-, rules or MAC heuristics- based
o    “Zero day protection”: no learning or adding of signatures is required
o    Minimal human intervention required
o    False alarm free
o    Reliable automated prevention without neighbor disruption
 
Our detection algorithm has matured over the years because of our focus on WIPS and is able to handle nuanced protocol implementations. So AirTightWIPS is better suited to handle device diversity. Other vendors are mostly doing MAC heuristics to detect rogues and have not invested in detecting all variants of threats and attacks.
 
Again, we have seen the impact of this in POCs and internal tests. We have seen competition raising false alarms (false positives and false negatives), along with creating large number of alerts for the administrator to sort through. Some products even discourage users from turning on automated prevention via product messages and technical documentation.
And there you have it.  Neither of these announcements is mind-blowing yet at the same time they serve as examples of where WLAN vendors’ heads are regarding IoT at this stage.
In case it isn’t obvious, we’re likely to hear a lot more about how the Internet of Things will shape wireless solutions, and how vendors think we should be preparing for the IoT onslaught. It’s gonna continue to come at us in little chunks as the seeds of IoT take root, so keep your eyes open or you’re going miss something.