Xirrus Loses One, Wins One

One of the more curious WLAN players in the market, Xirrus is always interesting. The wireless array company certainly doesn’t sit still from a development perspective, and is usually among the first WLAN vendors to get major popular new features announced. I’ve met with Xirrus at Wireless Field Day 5 (their presentations here) and WFD 6, and followed their evolution through the years with a number of articles written about them..

Of late, Xirrus has a bit of a bad news/good news story to tell.

The bad news- they’ve been dropped from Gartner’s 2015 Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure Magic Quadrant. Many of us in the WLAN industry have fairly low regard for Gartner’s current methodology in this space, but at the same time those in the market for business Wi-Fi frequently refer to the report for information on the pros and cons of industry players. I don’t agree with Xirrus’ exclusion, but it is what it is.

On the sunnier side, Xirrus has just announced a potential game-changing feature for customers struggling to do secure guest Wi-Fi. Called “EasyPass Personal”, it’s easy to mistakenly equate the new offering to the likes of Aerohive’s Private PSK. Xirrus differs significantly from just PPSK in that EasyPass Personal allows the guest/visitor to set up their own SSID and private pre-shared key. Yeah, read that again because it’s pretty wild.


See more on Xirrus’ web site here.

My thoughts on EasyPass Personal: I’ve not tried it, so can’t speak to the feature first-hand. My only real concern is whether the generation of personal guest networks in the air creates a lot of management overhead traffic (seems like it could, at first thought). But beyond that, I applaud Xirrus for bringing an innovative new option to the ridiculously challenging paradigm of secure guest access. Hotspot 2.0 is the promised “official” answer to secure guest Wi-Fi, but it’s both complicated and going nowhere. EasyPass Personal *seems* like a nice methodology, so I’d love to hear from Xirrus users who try it.

My Wireless Field Day 8 Posts

Just aggregating my writings after the event.

IT Toolbox

  1.  There’s Wi-Fi, Then There’s Aruba Networks’ Wi-Fi at Levi’s Stadium
  2. Wireless Controllers Are Dead, They Just Don’t Know It
  3. Cradlepoint Shows Out at Wireless Field Day


  1. Wireless Field Day 8 Takes “Wireless” Up a Notch
  2. Traveling in Cardboard Class
  3. Cambium Networks Bridging- Reviewed By Chris Lyttle
  4. Doing a Tech Presentation? Cover the Basics!
  5. A Voice of Clarity in the Fog of LTE-U

One More Pending- 10/4/2015




A Voice of Clarity in the Fog of LTE-U

Open your web browser. Type in “LTE-U” news. Note the 19 million or so results that are returned.

Now scroll a bit through the first dozen, and you’ll pretty quickly see a mish-mash of opinions both pro and con. You’ll also get lost real quick in a sea of acronyms, political posturing, and turfy claims by all sides right before your brain starts to numb up. But let’s back up a bit…

For those who don’t know, LTE-U is the twinkle in the eye of the mobile carriers that expands the use of their services out of licensed frequencies and into the same unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum that the WLAN community has come to hold sacred. It could be devastating to Wi-Fi, or it may be non-disruptive. It all depends on what rhetoric you believe, and how it will be implemented. Notice that I didn’t say “how it MAY be implemented”, because it will absolutely become a reality in some form despite those of us on the WLAN side that don’t want it to. And the meanderings of the issue can be really, really hard to follow because tech + politics + emotion = confusion.

But I found my light in the fog, at Wireless Field Day 8. He works for Ruckus Wireless, and his name is Dave Wright.

I knew Dave just a bit before hearing his excellent presentation on LTE-U. I knew that he’s a straight-up guy, a gentleman with a good sense of humor, and just a pleasure to talk with about technology and things in common. But after Dave’s presentation at Field Day, I also realized that I finally found someone who not only gets the big picture of the LTE-U situation, but is also actively trying to guide it to a reasonable conclusion for both Ruckus’ product aspirations and the WLAN industry.

Dave’s presentation is a must-see. My friend and WLAN biggie Keith Parsons was also at Wireless Field Day, and did a nice job with his own treatment of both the topic, and Dave’s session.

I won’t say that I agree with every opinion Dave might have on LTE-U, but I will say that when he explains the various groups involved and potential technical outcomes of the LTE-U battle, you can actually understand them.

Given the complexity of the issues, that’s saying a lot.

Doing a Tech Presentation? Cover the Basics!

I just flew home from San Jose, and boy are my arms tired. Ah, that corny old joke… Having wrapped up my stay at the Wireless Field Day 8 event, I found that I had made a list of things through the week that were decidedly NOT funny during the presentations. By offering where I’m about to go with this blog, I promise there is no meanness intended. I spend a fair amount of time doing presentations, and things can and do go wrong. At the same time, when a high-stakes presentation is on the line (like those at WFD), I constructively offer the following feedback and advice to anyone that finds themselves in front of a group– especially one that you want to impress with your content, as opposed to being remembered for the little things that went wrong.

Be On Time. I learned way back when in my military days that it’s good protocol to be at any and every appointment 15 minutes early. Even if you are simply the speaker and setup duties are left to others, it’s important to be where you’re supposed to be with at least a few minutes to spare. Chances are, the people you are presenting to also have a busy schedule and your lateness will be noticed, and talked about after.

If You Can’t Read the Screen, Neither Can We. Live demos are always risky, and seasoned IT folks get that. It’s easy to sympathize when Murphy’s Law hits and some part of the demo doesn’t quite respond right. What’s harder to forgive is teenie-tiny font on a faraway screen that’s integral to your message and that you assume the audience can read. Do a run-through first, get a variety of people to comment on whether they can actually read what’s being shown from where the audience will sit, and find some way to correct it if it’s not crystal clear even for weak eyes. Remote monitors are good investment in these situations. And if it’s a super-important presentation, have a backup room ready in case the display mechanism in your first room craps out- better to take a few minutes to relocate than to take the same amount of time to pop up a substandard replacement display in the same room.

Show Some Enthusiasm Already. Not all subject matter experts are great presenters. The truly gifted ones manage to convey not only “the message”, but also their own enthusiasm for what’s being discussed. When you know that the presenter believes in what he or she is presenting and is excited about it, that vibe is infectious. But even the best narrative  becomes snoozy when delivered in a monotone voice that lacks any obvious sense of belief in what’s being talked about. If your SME is boring, get a co-speaker to help balance the blah with some buzz.

Accent Overload. One of the great things about being in IT is the diversity of people involved. The accents alone are often one of the highlights of a presentation to me, and I love to hear from individuals who are obviously from other countries. This can be overdone though- too many speakers in a row with thick foreign accents can be tiring to keep up with from the audience, especially when the content is a bit dry or when a lack of real enthusiasm is also in play. Again, I suggest getting a co-speaker to provide balance and variety.

Stay Out of the Weeds, While Being Prepared to Go There. Unless you’re doing actual training, it’s risky to spend too long in any one user interface or deep technical topic. Keep it high-enough level to allow for covering the several topics you want the audience to hear in the time allotted, while expecting the occasional “how does your system do ______?”  that will give you a chance to dig deeper. But if you start deep, and stay there over a couple of hours, expect to see some nodding off. It’s all about striking a balance.

Wireless Field Day 8 was a pretty awesome event, and each vendor generally did well to get their messages out. This blog is not a critique of any single vendor, but just food for thought for anyone who might present at similar events.

Cambium Networks Bridging- Reviewed By Chris Lyttle

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Cambium Networks and hearing what they have going on with Point to Point and Point to Multipoint Wireless bridging. This technology is an absolute game changer for linking your sites and providing services to customers (think Wireless ISP), and in my opinion, very few vendors in this space are as polished as Cambium these days. Of course, Cambium has deep roots in the industry- but you can read more on that in a minute.

At the Cambium session (At Wireless Field Day 8), I was lucky enough to spend time with one of my favorite wireless colleagues, Chris Lyttle. Chris did an excellent review on Cambium’s presentation and offerings, and rather than duplicate his efforts It would be more productive to steer my readers to his write-up, which can be found here. It’s amazing how these products have evolved, and Chris did great with his treatment of Cambium.

Do you do PTP or PMP bridging? Are you a WISP? Have you used Cambium products yet? If so, how have you found them to perform? I’d love to hear from you- and thanks for reading.

Traveling in Cardboard Class

I was recently reminded of how little value I really have in the grand scheme of things. Forget if you will that I served my country (with distinction) for over a decade, that I have been a Deputy Mayor and little league coach, and that I work hard and pay taxes. Those things mean little when you belong to the Cardboard Class.

As I returned from an IT conference recently, my lowly status was brought home to me yet again once I set foot in the airport I was flying out of. You see, I’m not one of those fancy TSA Pre-Check people. I only fly on occasion, and don’t know all of the angles. But as I waited in line to go through the Common Folk Harassment Portal, I could see the royalty that do get Pre-Check, and it was a sight to behold. As those better than me sauntered through the Pre-Check line, TSA agents in smoking jackets showered them with “sir” and “ma’am”, as they hugged each passenger and gave them a smooch on the forehead. There were shoe-shines, massages, and bags of money handed out to each passenger. The sequence was capped with the distribution of the most elegant take-out containers full of Mongolian BBQ and bottles of French champagne to each traveler. High times in that line, I assure you.

As I was lost in all that, the closest TSA agent to me put an electric cattle prod to my buttocks to snap me out of it. She looked all of 18 years old, and lectured me repeatedly in loud voice that I had goddam well better not have any water in my pockets (what does that even mean?).  Next I was ordered to half-strip while other agents laughed at my shoes and made fun of the size printed on the back of my belt as I was herded towards The Humiliator.  As I stepped into the empty chamber, a deranged John Candy look-alike agent bellowed at me “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING? I HAVE NOT YET ORDERED YOU TO STEP FORWARD INTO THE SACRED CHAMBER! GET OOOOOOUT! NOW COME BACK IN BECAUSE I AM TELLING YOU TO!” After getting all of my belongings back, I proceeded to my gate with my fellow unwashed lemmings.

This is where those of the Cardboard Class really get reminded of their lowly place on the airline travel food chain. For the fifty minutes I had before boarding, I was reminded at least two-hundred times that only special passengers are allowed overhead bin space so I should probably throw my belongings in the nearest waste receptacle, and that people as ugly and unaccomplished as myself at no time were to come near the Special Red Rug.

Then came the actual boarding process. Starting with Shiny Golden Gods, the airline staff worked their way through getting the elite among us seated. I listened as they called out Diamond Members, Platinum Blondes, Snappy Dressers, Chess Champions, Men Named Sterling and Women Named Tatiana, and so on. Oh these dukes and duchesses walked that red carpet with pluck and swagger, and I was privileged just to watch it. Then the grand process made its way closer to me (YOU GET YOUR ASS AWAY FROM THAT RED CARPET YOU ZONE 2 LOSER).

As they worked through Tin Members, The Sawdust Club, and People With an Extra Toe or Finger, it finally came my turn- they called all of the human refuse with no other traveler’s pedigree, and we made our way across the soiled blue carpet with holes in it. The check-in lady used hand-sanitizer every time she so much as made eye-contact with us, and when I said “thank you”, she muttered something that sounded like “just get on the plane before I punch you in the throat”.

But I did make it on and eventually home, and once on board it only cost me $340 dollars for eight minutes of Internet and a Slim Jim. Thankfully, the airlines care enough about even Cardboard Class to provide such amenities.

Code Suck Regulation: Should We Fine Vendors For Major Code Bugs?

Tell me if this sounds familiar- you spend top dollar on brand-name networking gear, only to put in into service to have some major future bork out and cause your organization significant embarrassment. You’ve researched the product, have been cajoled into buying from a vendor that swears you’re getting a great piece of gear, and yet something catastrophic makes your deployment go sideways. You engage tech support, verify that your topology and configurations are OK, yet the suck storm still pummels the networked landscape. You’ve found yourself in The Bug Zone.

Ever been here? It gives a bloke or blokette a powerful lonely feelin’. With users in pain, managers who may or may not be sympathetic, and the little voice in the back of your head asking “what could I have done differently?” that ultimately answers itself with “maybe I shoulda cut this vendor off after the last dozen major code issues. But like a victim of domestic abuse, I keep going back for more, hoping it’ll get better.” 

Does this ring familiar with anyone?

I’ve heard from a lot of individuals in the greater IT community of late about all of the many bugs they have hit, and 75% of the time the lament is accompanied by something like “the rush to get ever more features under the hood is making the whole damn thing a time bomb of suck, and it feels like QA is being short-cutted in the name of getting it to market faster”.

What if, in our support contracts, we added a section that gave us a weapon against major code bugs? Perhaps we need to become our own CSRs (Code Suck Regulators) and have it in our agreements that any major code bug that is verified to cause network downtime or significant user impact when a half-baked feature sends the network into a tailspin results in a fine of $1,000 a day until the bug is resolved by the vendor?  Would code development maybe slow down a bit and QA labs be better funded, staffed, and used? Would major bugs drag out for weeks and months if the meter was running at each affected customer site? I’d also suggest making vendors keep all of their verified major bugs in plain view of the world on a vendor-neutral website that requires no login to see bug details and impact, with posting a mandatory requirement enforced by somebody or other- or again, fines are levied.

OK- I get that the networking industry and all of it’s various niches doesn’t, and won’t, ever work this way. At the same time, it’s mildly fun to think about not being victimized anymore by companies that don’t feel like they really care about their code quality after you’ve used their stuff long enough to see definite trends in significant bugs. And I am talking about SIGNIFICANT bugs- the ones that are devastating to network performance, and your organizational and personal reputations, and not just horrible misspellings or cryptic broken-English error messages on a webpage.  Maybe fines aren’t the answer, but if you’ve got a better idea on how to change trend of Free-Flowing Suck when it comes to code, I’d love to hear it.

(This is where some of you are thinking- bah, just do better testing before you deploy the code that you say sucks. My reaction: yeah, good luck with that. There’s only so much you can test, and only so far you should have to go to be the vendor’s QA department.).