Category Archives: 802.11ac

Dipping Toes in the Consumer Gear Pool- Netgear AC2300 Wireless Router

I don’t frequently kick tires on consumer grade gear, but occasionally it is good for us Enterprise folks to go that path. Certainly, this space continues to advance- as measured by features offered, complexity under the hood, and promises made that often can’t be kept.

This is an interesting router, and I’ll try to approach my narrative from the consumer-centric focus. That being said, even the consumer wireless space needs to be handled by vendors with common sense. That is lacking in spots with this router, but likely no more so than with it’s competitors who also fixate on grand performance claims over substance. Sigh… the data sheet for the AC2300 is ambitious, to say the least.

Why so Many Model Numbers?

I have NEVER understood this about Netgear (and others in this space). On the box, it’s the AC2300. On the vendor product page, it’s the R7000P, as well. Then when you access the admin pages on the router itself, it becomes the RS400. Just kick me in the groin.

Getting Started, Choices
I’m old and stodgy. I just want to connect to the router, and start poking around. But Netgear would prefer that you download the Nighthawk app, which I did. But to run said app, you need a Netgear account, and in my opinion they want too much personal information. Nyet says I despite the fact that the app might be somewhat handy. Negatory on that. Also, the same account is needed to activate NETGEAR Armor which is a subscription-based security suite (Netgear gives you three years free with the router purchase). Given that I don’t plan on making this eval unit my daily driver, I’m going to pass on Armor- but here’s some interesting chatter among IT folks about it.

I opted to simply connect to the device over Wi-Fi, using the password provided on the router, and head for good old 192.168.1.1 admin page. I also opted not to bite on another subscription- Disney’s Circle parental controls, which were offered one click in . If I was at a different place in life (my kids are grown and live elsewhere), I may welcome something like Circle but would need to evaluate.

Netgear touts the AC2300 as a CYBERSECURITY router, which is OK. Even without the app, Armor, or Circle there are some decent security-oriented features available, as you’ll see in the screenshots.

As a Switch/Router, Looks Decent Enough

See the screenshot dump at the end- you’ll get a sense of the usual offerings that come in better model routers. VLAN support, firewall functionality for device access, URL blocking, protocol controls, etc are handy, and the switchports are 10/100/1000. Also USB3 connectivity to storage or whatever floats your boat. Nothing earth-shaking, but a well-rounded feature set.

Wireless Performance Good- But the Approach is Maddening

It’s funny that the data sheet mentions “interference avoidance” in at least one spot, but your neighbors might not agree given that the AC2300 comes up blasting away on 80 MHz wide channels in 5 GHz (gotta be so to bring the jigabits!) and squatting on channel 9 in 2.4 GHz. How about the power level? Out of box it’s 100% on both channels. 100% of… well, something. but mere mortals aren’t privy to such details. I am not a mere mortal hover, and so I know where to find the power output levels for this router – if you know what the values mean, you’ll agree that this router is quite the flamethrower. Depending on where it’s used, you may not be able to get the power LOW enough.

For some reason, Netgear also decided to expose a couple of settings you can ruin your own day by manipulating wrongly…

Some things are better left hidden, says I. But it is nice that you can schedule the radios for on/off as desired.

I’d Buy It, and Then I’d Get Wise About Configuring It

If I was shopping for a normal consumer router, the AC2300 would be a good candidate based on booming radios and decent features, with or without the subscription stuff and Nighthawk app. It’s a nice enough looking router. The wireless defaults are ugly, though and  can do more harm than good. At the same time, consumer grade stuff is set up out of the box to THEORETICALLY meet the bold promises made in marketing (good luck getting 1625 Mbps in 5 GHz out of this or any 802.11ac 3×3 router) on the assumption that all consumers operate in their own little vacuums.  

 

 

 

Another Example of How Important Wire is to Wireless

A house built on a shaky foundation cannot endure. And a WLAN built on a shaky wiring foundation likewise cannot endure, I tellya. My friends, is your foundation shaky? Is it? CHECK YOUR FOUNDATION NOW. (I happen to sell foundation-strengthening herbal supplements on the side, if you need that sort of thing…)

I’ve long been a proponent of recognizing installed UTP as a vital component in the networking ecosystem. Too many people take Layer 1 for granted, and forgivable sins of of our 10 Mbps and Fast Ethernet pasts won’t fly in a Gig world. Toolmakers like Fluke Networks sell cable certification testers that take the guesswork out of whether a given cable run can be relied on to perform as expected. Don’t use one of these testers at time of cable installation, and you are only assuming you have a good station cable.

I just had an interesting situation come up that I helped a very skilled field tech with. He was working in several different small buildings, each serviced by a Cisco Catalyst Switch and a handful of 3802 802.11ac access points. The switches and cable had been in place for years, and the APs for many months, all with no issues whatsoever.

Then, we changed out the old 3560X switches for shiny new 3650s (curse you Cisco for your bizarre fascination with part numbers so close together), and suddenly some APs weren’t working any more. Between us, we checked all switch settings, POST reports, CDP tables, logs, etc- everything you can dream up on the switch. We put the APs that weren’t working back on the old switches, and they came right up. Hmmm… thoughts turned to PoE/code bugs, but then I went a-Googlin’ before consulting TAC.

I found this document that put me on the path to righteousness. Though we weren’t having “PoE Imax Errors”, a couple of nuggets jumped out at me about our new switches.

PoE Imax

Holy guacamole- We got us a situation! But wait… THERE’S MORE!

PoE Imax2

Shazam! Which, of course, translates in Esperanto to “maybe your cable is actually kind of iffy, and all the CDP stuff that happens at the milliwatt level before PoE gets delivered worked OK with your old switch but not with the new one that has the enhanced PoE controller”.

If you don’t know that the newer switch does PoE differently, you might wrongly assume that your cabling is “good” because the APs worked on it when those APs used the old switches connected to that wiring. By now, you can probably guess where I’m headed…

Our tech tested the cabling on the new-switch-problem APs and in each case found that they needed help to work with the new switch. He re-terminated and tested each, with the APs then coming up with no issues. I have no doubt that this cable was certified 10-12 years ago, but in that time a lot can happen to either end of those cables depending on the environments where they are used.

Live and learn!

 

 

Ubiquiti Updates- Cool Camera and a Big WLAN Offering

There is sooooo much to the Ubiquiti story. It’s just a different company, and you never know what’s around the corner for them- but whatever “Ubnt” comes up with is usually profoundly interesting. I’ve gotten quite the education over the last couple of years on many things Ubiquiti, and written about my experiences in this blog (and others). Though I don’t always agree with the company’s messaging on certain products, they are obviously doing something right as they sell a lot of product and their user community tends to speak loudly and favorably. In this blog, I have two updates regarding Ubiquiti.

Suh-weet Little Camera.

I’ve been kicking the tires on Ubiquiti’s G3 Micro camera, and it’s an impressive add to the company’s current line of video products. It’s one of those products that you take out of the box, handle a bit, and fast feel appreciation for whoever developed it’s physical construct (I get the same warm fuzzy when I handle some of Ubiquiti’s outdoor bridges). From really creative use of magnets to more mounting options than you might think possible, the G3 Micro is just a neat little wireless (dual-band) 1080p HD camera.

It fits in very well with Ubiquiti’s NVR hardware appliance or the build-your-own NVR option, and is as easy to use as the cameras in the series. Just remember- Ubiquiti NVR only works with Ubiquiti cameras and visa versa.

Some real-world screen grabs:

Jumbo Wi-Fi Is Spelled “XG”

Maybe XG stands for extremely gigantic (?) …hmmm. Have a look at this introduction to the Ubiquiti’s latest add to it’s networking portfolio.  You can mill around looking at the non-wireless stuff, as the XG switch, router, and app server are pretty interesting as well. But I want to focus on the Wi-Fi side of XG here. Check out these monsters, and their specs:

G3 Micro 5

There is a reason why Ubiquiti’s XG product page features a stadium in the background- XG is aimed at big honkin’ environments. WLAN professionals will cringe at the “1,500 Clients” spec, even if somehow that’s actually possible, and I hope Ubiquiti tones down the value it seems to see in huge counts like this. Their stuff actually tends to work pretty well, but this messaging can cast good gear in a questionable light for those who do wireless.

It is interesting to see my first ever 10 Gbps port on an AP, as shown on my beta copy of the UniFi XG access point:

 

G3 Micro 6

Like I said in the beginning, Ubiquiti is always working on something really interesting. At this point, the UniFi XG UFO-looking AP is only available in the Ubiquiti beta store (and at a pretty compelling price versus the specs, I might add), but that will change quickly as XG gains traction on it’s way to the larger market.

I’ll have more to talk about when I start hands-on eval of the XG.

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More wirednot blogs on Ubiquiti

Catching Up With Netscout on Their Flagship WLAN Support Tool

linklive_solutions_smIt’s not often that most of us get to spend time with product managers at big-name Silicon Valley network companies. I’ve been extremely fortunate in this regard through my participation in the Tech Field Day franchise, and recently had the opportunity to once again hang out for a bit with Netscout, in their own offices. The topic of this visit was the company’s super popular AirCheck G2, and our host was the awesome Chris Hinsz. (Chris makes the rounds at a lot of conferences and industry events, and is passionate about helping to make the WLAN world a better place. If you ever get the opportunity to talk with him, I guarantee it’ll be time well spent.)

If you are not familiar with the AirCheck G2 yet, let’s get you squared away.

The G2 is Generation 2, given that THIS AirCheck is the follow on to the original Fluke Networks AirCheck. The division of Fluke Networks that developed the AirCheck was bought by Netscout, hence the vendor name change along the way. If you’re interested in a unique way the original AirCheck was put into service for law enforcement, have a look at another Network Computing article I did back in the day. But alas, I digress…

Back to Mobility Field Day and the G2.

Hinsz did two sessions for MFD. In the first, he provided an intro to the tester and the handy Link-Live cloud service for those who may not be familiar with it. The video is here. He also provided insight into advanced tips and shortcuts on the G2, which you can review in this video. Even if you own and use a an AirCheck G2, you just might find something new to try via these videos.

Aside from the two sessions referenced here, it was a pleasure talking with Hinsz and his team about what else is going on with the AirCheck G2. This awesome unit is truly one of the favorite tools used by many a WLAN pro given it’s versatility and portability. It’s a safe bet that we’ll be hearing more about the AirCheck story as Netscout continues to listen to what it’s customers need, given that we’re only a couple of years into the life-cycle of this tester.

 

Extreme Networks Makes the Case for 802.11ac Wave 2

With Wi-Fi technology constantly improving, it’s easy to stop paying attention to what incredible things are really happening for WLAN users. And incredible things are happening. With the arrival of 802.11ac’s Wave 2, we see new wheels put into motion for wireless users, and paths that the wireless industry had started down being turned into legitimate highways. 802.11ac Wave 2 is big news, and businesses are benefiting from its transformative nature, as over-viewed in a new eBook published by Extreme Networks.

As a wireless architect who builds WLAN environments of all sizes, I see first-hand how modern Wi-Fi enables new workflows and allows businesses to re-invent their processes as wired Ethernet gets pushed increasingly to the margins. Wireless connectivity has become the access method of choice for a huge swath of the business world, and Wave 2 is very persuasive to those who haven’t cut the cord yet. As highlighted by Extreme, it’s not just about signal coverage- or even speed- any more with enterprise Wi-Fi. Wave 2 also brings impressive capacity that further makes the case that businesses truly can run their operations over well-designed wireless networks, while enjoying the benefits of portability and mobility. With data rates topping 1.7 Gbps in ideal conditions, wireless traffic is forwarded with great efficiency in Wave 2 environments.

Extreme’s eBook makes the point that Wave 2 delivers a number of new or improved technologies, and these get even legacy client devices on and off the network quicker. Wi-Fi is still a shared medium, but that notion is getting blurred a bit with Wave 2, for everyone’s benefit. Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) is rightfully getting its share of media coverage, as for the first time we have the capability for a single access point to service multiple clients simultaneously. Like with Wave 2’s impressive top-end for data rates, there are many factors that have to line up for MU-MIMO to live up to its capabilities at any given instant. But even though it may not be leveraged for every client and every transmitted frame given the variability of wireless, there’s no disputing the aggregate performance gains to be had by MU-MIMO. It really is exciting stuff, even to those of us who have seen it all when it comes to WI-Fi.

As businesses of all types consider whether Wave 2 is worth upgrading to, Extreme makes some good points. With more delivered network performance per AP, even for older non-802.11ac client devices, properly designed Wave 2 environments can significantly up the return on investment for the same spend as 11ac Wave 1 or 11n, if you negotiate your discounts right. If you’re sitting on an 11a/g or even early 11n network, making the jump to Wave 2 may be easy if your cabling plant and switches are up to date. Even if they’re not, it’s not uncommon to find that when planning for a new high-end wireless network, you can decrease your wired Ethernet expenditures as you make the jump. Everyone has their own OpEx/CapEx/TCO paradigm to define and muddle through, but Extreme gives pretty good food for thought in their eBook as you wrestle with your own situation.

Yes, Wave 2 has a business story to tell. Efficiency, performance, more-for-the-money, and so on- yes, those are all valid and noteworthy. But the Wave 2 story is also exciting at the user level. BYOD is an established fact of life, and in reality it’s more like Bring Your Own Many Devices for most of us. Our users have a slew of devices of various types and purpose, and 11ac Wave 2 helps with the overall Quality of Experience. Better cells are a tremendous asset to the end user, especially when those cells can self-leverage their best qualities for different device types.

Just remember that Wave 2 isn’t a design, or a deployment scenario. It’s a really awesome technology to be used to solve business problems and to facilitate business operations. As Extreme points out, Wave 2 is part of a bigger technology evolution story that features not just better Wi-Fi, but also switching developed just for 11ac, new analytics capabilities, improved security options, the Internet of Things, and (depending on your needs) impressive SDN and cloud tie-ins. Nothing under the network sun evolves in a vacuum, and Wave 2 fits very well with other advanced enterprise developments. Whether it makes sense for you to consider the move to Wave 2 is ultimately your call (and you’ll like get there at some point anyway). Extreme’s eBook on 802.11ac Wave 2 is an easy read, and does a pretty good job of telling the story of Wave 2 from a few different important angles.


 

FTC-required disclosure: I was compensated to review and comment on the 802.11ac Wave 2 eBook referenced in this blog, by PR company Racepoint Global. I have no direct business relationship with Extreme Networks, and in no way claim to be an Extreme Networks customer or representative of Extreme Networks.