Category Archives: Mobility Field Day

Ventev Products Make the WLAN Better

As I watched the Ventev presentations being delivered as a delegate at Mobility Field Day 5, I couldn’t help but think of my own positive experiences with the company’s antennas, enclosures, and site survey power supply products.

A quick aside- if you didn’t realize: Ventev=Terrawave=Tessco. All same-same. It is what it is.

Problems Solved.

To me, Ventev has frequently been the answer to “We got a unique wireless network situation, we need a unique solution” scenarios. Sometimes i’s a mounting issue, other times its a question of pushing signal in a specific direction. One thing I LOVE about Ventev in this era of hyper-complicated WLAN systems, licensing, and code bugs is that their products play in the “No BS zone” of wireless networking. You need a thing, you need that thing to work right and for a very long time, you pay for it once, and you enjoy the fruits of making a good choice. 

That zone is getting smaller when it comes to enterprise WLAN, sadly… as the space ventures deeper into Marketing And Gratuitous Complexity That We Can License The Hell Out Of Above All for certain vendors. Thankfully Ventev  is outside of those games, and will be an important player in reliably putting the icing on any vendor’s wireless cake.

A Look Behind the Technical Curtain

I have made my share of antennas. Some have worked fantastically, and some were complete duds. I’ve been doing Wi-Fi since the early days, when making your own Pringles Can antenna for 2.4 GHz was a thing, and have been a licensed amateur radio operator (KI2K, Extra Class) for longer. Pieces of wire, coaxial cable, copper pipes,  threaded rods, and all sorts of bits and pieces have been fashioned into antennas by my my hands. When you make your own then test for performance, you get a different appreciation for antennas that do what you want and need them to.

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During the Mobility Field Day 5 presentations, Ventev gave us feel for how they approach antenna design, then iterate that design for whatever important criteria is in play. For example, sometimes an antenna is big, sometimes it is small with the same general coverage- this comes about by manipulating wavelength fractions and other parameters to end up with similar electrical characteristics despite antennas having different dimensions and shapes. Modeling the designs is imperative, and Ventev uses the very cool CST suite for that.

There is a lot more to Ventev’s presentation at Mobility Field Day 5, and I don’t want to give it all away. Suffice it to say that they are an important player with a lot to offer to any WLAN environment, and to be familiar with their offerings is to be equipped with what you need to make your wireless projects more successful.

Here are the links to Ventev’s sessions at MFD5:
Not All Antennas are Created Equal
Antenna Innovation With Dennis Burrell
Taking the Telecom Closet Outdoors

 

 

The “Not to Be a Jerk, But…” Mist #MDF5 Blog

I write this piece fresh on the heels of Day 1 of 2020’s Mobility Field Day 5. Mist (Now a Juniper company) talked for about six years yesterday, and it was fairly riveting, end to end. It was one of those marathon sessions that needs a little time to settle in your brain before you can resolve it, figuring out what you actually liked to hear and what maybe raised some red flags. Let’s talk about those red (well, maybe a pale red, sorta orangey-pink) flags that sprouted in my mind as I slumbered on the whole thing.jerk

Mist Systems has had a fantastic run as a late-comer to a competitive industry filled with incumbents. That’s not easy, and their AI-inspired story has served them well. Now, we see the company moving i’s own cheese, and I can’t help but think about maybe  a few areas of concern.

  • Mist is no longer its own little WLAN product line bubble. Mist started off as a wireless-only product line. That let it focus on one discreet area with all of its development and quest for excellence. Sure, AI has been a key ingredient. But AI is not a magic wand. Just because you use it, doesn’t mean you have the Golden Ticket forever. NOW, Mist is spreading its methodology into the Juniper LAN side of its new house… the bigger you go, the more places there are for things to go wrong. The more opportunities there are for code bugs…
  • Mist has finally introduced a respectable AP product line. Again, Mist has had the luxury of not offering many APs to date. Life has got to be easier on the development side when your product set is smaller, I’m guessing. We see it frequently from other vendors- certain model APs are prone to issues and bugs. Will Mist bump into the same sort of customer-facing shame now that they have some diversity of AP lineup? Or will their promised self-debugging whizz-banginess eliminate that as a potential? Time will tell.
  • The um… well… uncomfortable thing to mention. I have the utmost respect for Mist’s senior leadership. Their results to date with injecting the AI/higher reliability story into an industry often fraught with overpriced buggy code suck speak for themselves. However- some of Mist’s senior folks come from that world of buggy code suck. They helped to author the very realm they now take potshots at. I mention this only to make the point that nobody is  perfect with a perfect past, and that history sometimes repeats itself. In the buggy code suck world, complexity only exasperates the buggy stuff, and Mist, as an overall operational paradigm, is very much becoming more complex as it matures. Ergo… more opportunities to stumble? Hopefully, they can keep it on the rails and not fall victim to the past woes that some of their own Bigs have at least partial ownership of elsewhere in the industry.

That little burst of sunshine aside, it really was a thought-provoking session. See it for yourself here, and feel free to leave me a comment below.

 

Mobility Field Day 5: The “Morning of”

In just a couple of hours we’ll dive deep into Mobility Field Day 5. I’m a delegate- one of those blogger/analyst/whatever folks fortunate enough to be part of this unique experience that lets us interact directly with Industry companies. Normally, this would be a week of limos, conference rooms, deep discussion, good food, and lots of fun. Instead, we’re all home-bound because of a pandemic. Whatever…

So what am I- the World’s Most Interesting Delegate- thinking about as I sip my coffee and contemplate the hours and days to come during hashtag #MFD5? Take these for what you will.

  • Please No Politics. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear one CEO is running for public office based on their Tweet volumes related to political issues. I don’t want to hear it this week, personally. Not as a delegate, not as a customer. Move those communications to internal channels.
  • Sensitivity to Budgets During COVID. Somewhat related to that first bullet… you don’t have to look very deep into the news to find that individuals, businesses, colleges, and organizations of every type are struggling or folding because of COVID. Budgets have been decimated for many out there. Now is not the time for the companies doing Field Day to be “giving” millions away to political causes while turning the screws on customers with heavy licensing that gets ever more granular with each product or feature announcement. You’re already making us rent what we bought in many cases. Read the headlines and show mercy.
  • The Big Lie.  By my reckoning, we’re years-deep into what I call The Big Lie in the wireless industry. A new standard comes out, yet many of the more exciting and heavily-marketed features simply can’t be used “yet”. Sometimes “yet” turns into “never”, but the marketing machines convince customers that by not going to the new stuff they are missing out on something. That something, as we’re seeing with the so far absent sexy features in 802.11ax, may or may not  ever get here. Hopefully this week we hear some honesty and some hope in this regard.
  • Super Systems are Nice- BUT RELIABILITY TRUMPS ALL. Year in and year out vendors come to these industry events to show off their most exciting innovations- as determined by them. Generally architectures get ever more complicated, ever more closed to assure Vendor Lock, and maybe a little more functional for day to day operations if we’re lucky. In some spots, corporate cultures never really embraced that QUALITY COUNTS. Our end users simply want to use the networks without constant bugs biting, and we on the network support side have long grown tired of playing Code Roulette. Maybe somebody will acknowledge that stability and reliability are as important as new features this week. That would be refreshing.
  • APIs as a Copout? Let me start by saying that I understand and appreciate the general value of the API when it comes to wireless and networking systems in general. It’s a nice option. But… I also fear that certain vendors will skew the API paradigm in their own favors by giving us shitty Network Management Systems and touting that “oh that important feature is in the API” and then even worse charging us to be our own coders by requiring licenses to use the API to get at the features that should have been in the NMS to begin with. I hope I hear that I am wrong about that this week.

OK, so maybe I’m a little grumpy in the morning. At the same time, I’m guessing a lot of you reading this can relate. Agree? Don’t agree? Leave me a comment below.

Looking forward to an excellent remote Mobility Field Day.

NetAlly Adds WLAN Survey Capabilities to Etherscope nXG

Step right up and don’t be shy
Because you will not believe your eyes
It’s right here behind the glass
And you’re gonna like it
‘Cause it’s got class

(Apologies to the The Tubes for butchering up “She’s a Beauty”)

It’s not a stretch to say that the Etherscope nXG has class. It feels good in your hand. And it tells you A LOT. It tells you things that you may not have realized you even needed to know about your LAN and wireless networks. And with every firmware release, it gets more powerful. Like a magic network Jedi in a well-put together hand-held tester.

I watched the Etherscope nXG make it’s debut mid-last last year. And then I saw it get better before 2019 gave way to 2020. Now, we see yet another update to this uber-capable analysis platform, with one particular feature I want to focus on:
Etherscope1

This is such a handy add, as it brings an important and very useful graphical element to the gathering and reporting of Wi-Fi signals with the new AirMapper functionality. Here’s just a tiny taste from my own environment:
etherscope3

Remember- this tool also works the LAN like a boss (including mGig switching environments), does the same thorough WLAN support that we’ve all come to appreciate from predecessor tools like the AirCheck G2, and now is making it’s way into wireless survey duties-  expanding the synergies between the powerful Link-Live cloud repository and the Etherscope nXG.

A quick video on AirMapper is here, and longer overview on the full suit of features in the latest Etherscope nXG is here.

It’s probably obvious that I’m a fan of both NetAlly and Etherscope nXG. One thing I have come to appreciate with the vendor and the tools is that they only gets better, with improved functionality always on the horizon. To that point, the current AirMapper abilities are the first step for the feature, with more coming within a few months. For example, NetAlly expects  to release interference heatmaps at the end of May to show both co-channel and adjacent-channel interference. We’ll also see AirMapper for the AirCheck G2, and both AirCheck and EtherScope will become collectors for AirMagnet SurveyPro.

Given the impact that the current crisis is having on networking budgets, it’s really nice to see a tool like this truly become an investment as more features are added.

It’s Time for YOU to Get Wise About CBRS

CBRS search

It stands for Citizens Broadband Radio Service, and has nothing to do with CB radio despite the similarities in the acronym. It’s time for my fellow Wi-Fi types to start paying attention to CBRS for real, and I’ll explain why in a bit.

A Quick Look Back to 2105

The CBRS thing been simmering for at least a half-dozen years. Let me quickly take you back to 2015, where I sat in on a related session at Wireless Network Field Day 8, by Dave Wright. Back then, Dave worked for Ruckus Wireless, now he’s the Director of Regulatory Affairs & Network Standards at CommScope, and President of the CBRS Alliance. Dave’s a fantastic gent, if you ever get the chance to talk with him. But even though that 2015 presentation could not have been delivered by anyone better, it still felt kinda faraway and foreign to the ears of a room full of Wi-Fi folks.

Almost There- 2019

But 2015 gave way to the future, and Dave’s vision very much would come to fruition. Sticking with Field Day, I was fortunate enough to go to Mobility Field Day 4 in 2019. This time the presenting vendor on the topic was startup Celona (new company, but staffed with some deep wireless experience and familiar names to us in the WLAN industry). At the time Celona presented, CBRS had long since advanced from being a twinkle in the eye of folks like Dave Wright, but still wasn’t quite ready for market as a production option for Private LTE and other applications. (What other applications? There’s a good paragraph on that in this Network World article.)

Early 2020- The FCC Opens the Floodgates for CBRS

Just a few weeks ago (it’s mid-February as I write this), the FCC delivered the news that everyone with a stake in CBRS, Private LTE, and in-building cellular was waiting for: the 3.5 GHz spectrum was officially available for sharing for these applications. Here’s a good article on that, along with the FCC’s own reference pages on 3.5 GHz.

Now things are moving… and we get to why we as Wi-Fi folks need to start paying attention.

Our Turf is Soon to Be Trampled On

I find the marketing blather that has 5G making Wi-Fi extinct, or that has Wi-Fi 6 making cellular irrelevant, to be pretty asinine. But then again…marketers. Whatever. It’s pretty clear that several trains have left the station, and they all will impact our environments and possibly/hopefully our employment, skills, and project opportunities.

Wi-Fi 6 is a given- it’s what comes next for us WLAN doers. 5G has new relevance given that a small cell will need to bolted up to every street light, cactus, bus stop and homeless person to get the coverage and performance that the mobile industry is promising out of Millimeter-wave 5G systems. Bringing 5G (or even 4G) inside of modern RF-unfriendly buildings gets us back to discussions of CBRS and private LTE. And so does the notion of industrial settings where maybe LTE-style wireless makes more sense than Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity, for a number of reasons.

We need to not only understand the changing wireless landscape, but also to embrace it and try to stake our claims in it.

Get Educated

There are no shortage of general-information articles out there for CBRS, private-LTE, etc. here’s a great one from Corning (I just spoke with them on this topic, but that will be it’s own blog). And there is certainly a lot of marketing floofypoo to be stepped around.

But if you want more formalized learning, check out this offering from CommScope. I have not taken it yet, but have heard good things from esteemed colleagues who have. Coursera also has a CBRS offering, and I have every reason to believe that CBRS will eventually manifest itself through CWNP’s excellent training materials in some form or fashion.

So… why care about CBRS? It’s here, for real, for starters. It’s being deployed. Someone needs to design it’s coverage, and tools like iBwave are already being used by many of us to do Wi-Fi. Why not get a piece of the new pie? If we don’t, someone else will. People are gonna luuuuuuv their Wi-Fi 6, yet are still going to demand rock-sold in-building cellular after spending fat coin on those $1K+ mobile devices and as more devices become “wireless” in every possible definition of the word.

This is the new world, my friends. Digital transformation, blah blah blah. There’s no escaping it.

NetAlly Drops Major Update for EtherScope nXG

It’s curious how we get accustomed to change, and how that which has changed suddenly feels normal. Remember back to the beloved original yellow AirCheck from Fluke Networks? For awhile it was the handheld tester of choice for WLAN professionals, and it built on Fluke Networks’ strength in putting huge amounts of testing and characterization capabilities in palm-friendly devices. Pair that with the original yellow LinkRunner for wired networks and you were equipped for just about anything you needed to do for daily support of LAN/WLAN environments.

Ch-ch-changes…

But yellow became green, and that part of Fluke Networks became Netscout. The old favorites were superseded by G2 versions of both the LinkRunner and the AirCheck with updated capabilities, and we all also got used to that paradigm. Daily use, occasional system updates, lots of problems solved… life simply went on- for a while.

But more change is inevitable, and a few months ago it hit again for these handy hand-helds. This time the color survived the corporate metamorphosis, but a new logo would end up on our tools as NetAlly was born as a spin-off from NetScout. I trust you all remember the big news at Mobility Field Day 4… That was in August, and as I write this it’s December of 2019- only a few months into NetAlly’s existence. As I bang this blog out, I’m looking at the AirCheck and Link Runner G2s on my desk, along with the NetAlly flagship EtherScope nXG. (I wrote about the new tester here, and my fellow Field Day delegate Haydn Andrews provided some thoughts as well).

NetAlly- Already Feeling Less “New”

It’s only been around 100 days or so since NetAlly has been a company, and I’ve barely had the EtherScope nXG in hand for maybe 65 of those days. Yet that old insidious change effect has already settled in. NetAlly doesn’t feel so new to the tongue anymore, and the EtherScopenXG has already become a trusted friend… a go-to force multiplier for my initial wired and wireless network issues and questions. It’s still impressive, but no longer feels exotic.

Now, NetAlly has announced version 1.1 code for the EtherScope nXG.

And so the cycle we got used to with Fluke Networks and then NETSCOUT continues- where good products get better with frequent updates and nice adds/enhancements.

Grass has never grown under this family of testers, and now NetAlly brings us a bag o’ new capabilities in 1.1 as detailed here: EtherScope nXG v1.1 Release Notes – Final.

I have no doubt that the enhancements are only just beginning on NetAlly’s flagship tester.

 

NetAlly EtherScope nXG Pics

I introduced the EtherScope nXG from NetAlly in this recent blog. As I continue to test it out and learn it’s deeper capabilities, I find myself amassing a lot of screenshots of various features. If you already have an EtherScope nXG (or the G2 version of AirCheck or LinkRunner) these random shots may bore you. If you are new to NetAlly, they might you fired up to learn more. I’m just putting them out there…  watch for coming blogs that get into specific features, capabilities, and my impressions as I go.

Now, get an eyefull:
Screenshot_20191003-060334

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Screenshot_20191003-061542

 

LinkLive1

units

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EtherScopenXGScreenshot_20191003-061601

LinkLive2

Screenshot_20191003-130453

There is a lot to take in, and suffice it to say I’m just scratching the surface here… more to follow.

 

NetAlly Unleashes the Right Tester, at the Right Time: EtherScope nXG

 Change is both inevitible, and fickle. Vendors come, go, and buy each other. Some product lines that we love die on the vine, others thankfully go on to only get better with time. I sat in a room with the NetAlly folks at Mobility Field Day 4 and got an eyefull/earfull of teaser information on a slick new tester that would be released later in the year that would bear these notions out in spades.

I’m here to tell you- “later” is now, and the product line that we have grown to appreciate from its start at Fluke Networks, through it’s run as part of NETSCOUT, and now as the baby of spin-off NetAlly continues its tradition of excellence with the new Etherscope nXG.

Does this look vaguely familiar?
EtherScopenXG

If you own (or have Jonesed for) either the AirCheck G2 or the Link Runner G2, that color scheme will look familiar. But the EtherScope nXG’s overall feature set makes the very-capable G2 units suddenly feel a litlle less-than, despite each being a testing powerhouse in its own right. (And if you’ve been around a while, you might remember the old yellow EtherScope from the Fluke Networks

NetAlly brings the EtherScope to market right when it is needed. What do I mean by that?

  • With the 802.11ax tide starting to rise, troubleshooting tools need to keep up
  • On the wired side, NBASE-T and 10G are becoming facts of life
  • Bluetooth is penetrating the enterprise in interesting new ways
  • “Convergence” is one of those overplayed words in networking, but the reality is that both operations and support of those operations has very much seen a convergence and fewer of us do one or the other (not to mention work in data centers and server rooms)
  • Senior engineers can’t be everywhere, and it’s not uncommon to rely on others to gather data that we then analyze from some other location
  • Performance testing and detailed path analysis of different network segments can be daunting as topologies get more sophisticated.
  • Uploading of results to a cloud repository brings huge advantages in baselining, team-wide scrutiny, and reporting.

Networks are getting more complicated. Tolerance for time-to-problem-resolution is decreasing. The EtherScope nXG is marketed as a “Portable Network Expert”, and despite my frequent disdain for grandiose marketing plattitudes, I find this to be an apt description.

Rather than regurgitate the tester’s specs, let me point you to them here (scroll down).  The full data sheet from the product docs is here and shows the product’s impressive range nicely. And to get a feel for just what the EtherScope nXG can do, have a look at these videos that show several different testing scenarios.

I’m going to cap this one here. There is just sooooo much to talk about with this new tester. Yes, I know I sound borderline giddy and buzzed on the Kool-Aid- and I’m OK with that. I can tell you that the new tester feels good in the hand, and casual kicking of the tires is in itself impressive. I have an eval unit, and will be putting it through it’s paces for real in the near future. Watch for the next blog on the EtherScope nXG.

 

 

Forti-much to Appreciate at Mobility Field Day 4

Fortinet-logo-250x82About a month has gone by since I sat in a conference room at Fortinet HQ out in Sunnyvale during Mobility Field Day 4. As I review the presentations my fellow delagates and I saw first hand, I realize just how much information Fortinet’s Chris Hinsz put in front of us. Though the this was Mobility Field Day, it’s getting harder to cleanly slice off just the wireless parts from almost anyone’s product lines. With Fortinet, we not only saw the whole enchilada,  but were treated to the entire Big Hombre Combo Platter.

Fortinet is always an interesting visit, for me. The company’s networking product line and architecture always piques my interest, never having been a Fortinet customer. It’s not uncommon to sit at the competition’s offices and sometime just feel utterly smothered by market-speak, licensing paradigms, and gratuitous complexity.  I never get that vibe at Fortinet. At the same time, the Fortinet offerings feel complete, well thought-out, robust, and not lacking in anything- like they figured out a way to do what the other guys are doing without feeling the need to puff it up in all the wrong places. They must be doing something right as even though we didn’t talk much about it, Fortinet is growing and building a new HQ.

Back to the Mobility part of this Field Day event. We did get a look at Fortinet’s starting 802.11ax/Wi-Fi 6 wireless access points:

Fortinet1

And we learned of their radio flexibility:

Fortinet3

There’s a lot more here to consider as well as Fortinet looks towards the 802.11ax world that is coming soon. We got into new multi-gig FortiSwitches to connect those APs to, various management and control options, and a tiny taste of hundreds of features added to the latest FortiOS version. Then there is IoT Security, RF Management, SD WAN and sooooooo much more.

Fortinet is and always has been about security, so it wasn’t surprising to hear about a couple of innovative new tools in the mix to round out an alrady impressive solution set:

Fortinet2

And the story just gets bigger. There is way too much to capture in a single blog, and so I recommend watching the recorded presentations from MFD4.

On a personal note- if you ever get a chance to talk with Chris Hinsz, make sure you take the opportunity. He’s just a genuine, wonderful guy to spend a little time with. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking technology or life in general, you can’t not feel good after hanging with Chris. 

 

The Network is Code: Cisco at MFD4

It’s always a bit of a thrill to visit Cisco HQ, and to step within the walls of this global network powerhouse. I got to do that again at Mobility Field Day 4, and as usual the presentations and the visit just went too fast. Such is the way these events go… On this go round, Cisco offered us:

Each is interesting and informative, especially when combined with the delagates questions. You’ll be glad you watched them, if you haven’t yet.

But something else jumped out at me at this event, and it may seem silly to even mention. Have a look at this sticker:
Code Pic

The wording of it got my mind working. In a number of directions.

I’m just sharing what’s in my head as a long-time Cisco wireless customer as I ponder the message on that innocous sticker.

I’m glad to see that CODE is the network, because it hasn’t always been. CODE, as presented like this, implies “reliable code, as surely you don’t want an unreliable network”. To that I would add “especially at the costs charged for licensing the hell out of everything”.  The sticker mentions CODE + the 9000 Catalyst Series, and perhaps sends the message that it’s a new day for reliability? On that topic, the CODE in this case is IOS-XE, which displaces AireOS as what powers the Cisco line of wireless controllers. I do hear often that “IOS-XE has been out a long time so it has to be solid by now” kinda talk.

I’m not sure I buy into that, but am hopeful. If I’m a little skeptical, it’s because IOS-XE packaged as a wireless controller brain is a new paradigm, despite the maturity of the OS. And… despite many, many mea culpa  sessions in private with Cisco’s wireless business unit through the years over wireless code quality, I have yet to see any sort of public-facing commitment to not repeat the development sins of the past as the new magic seeks to gain traction. This bothers me, in that I don’t know that the background culture that allowed so many problems with the old stuff isn’t being carried over into the new. My problem, I know. But I’m guessing I’m not alone with this feeling.

The other thing thing that this sticker has me thinking about is this: if  the network is code, why do I need controller hardware? Yes, I know that the 9800 WLC can run in VM- but VM instances ultimately run on hardware. As a big Cisco customer with thousands of 802.11ac access points that run the latest AP operating system, I would love to be totally out of the controller business (and all the various management servers needed) WHILE KEEPING MY INSTALLED ACCESS POINTS. If the network is code, maybe let me point these things at my Meraki cloud and simplify life?

I’m just one man, with opinions. But that sticker did get me thinking…