Category Archives: Wi-Fi

That Which Pisses Us Wireless Folk Off- Vendor Edition

Now there’s a title. And since you’re reading this, you bit on it… Sucka. Now that you’re here, let’s share some observations from the WLAN community over the last few weeks. This is not (totally) a “Lee’s complaining again” blog; it’s more a collection of sentiments from dozens of friends and colleagues from across the Wi-Fi Fruited Plain that stuck with me for one reason or another.

Most of these observations are aimed squarely at our vendors- those who we do business with “above” as we shape their offerings into the systems and services we offer to clients “below”, with us in the middle.

You may not agree with all of these. Perhaps some of your own beefs didn’t make my list. Either way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Now, in no specific order:

  • Marketing claims. OK, we’re starting out with the obvious. Wi-Fi marketing has always been about hype, far-fetchedness, and creative blather. Nothing new under the sun here. I truly hope that your 10x better Wi-Fi is serving up 500 APs per client that are all streaming 62 Netflix movies each simultaneously from a range of 37 miles away from the AP.
  • “Enterprise” switches that don’t stack. Stacking is neither new, nor special. Do your bigger switches stack? Is it not even an option? If not, maybe tone down calling them “enterprise”.
  • Big Bucks for power cords. You got major balls as a vendor if you’re pricing garden variety power cables at $20 per.  Shame on you. Same same for PoE injectors, nothing-special antennas, rack mounts and assorted other parts/pieces that can be gotten for pennies on YOUR dollar elsewhere. C’mon…
  • No version numbers. By now, we all get “cloud”. And most cloud infrastructure vendors ARE using OS version numbers as a point of reference for their customers. The absence of version numbers becomes more onerous as ever more features get added. Give us the damn version number. Do it. Doooooo it.
  •  No CPU/Memory/Interface stats. It doesn’t matter what the “thing” is, or whether it’s cloud-managed or not. EVERY interface needs to show statistics and errors, and every thingy needs to show CPU and memory information. Whatever your argument to the contrary may be, I promise that you are wrong.
  • Frequent product name changes. Just stop already.
  • The same stinking model numbers used for everything. Why? Maybe someone has a 3 and 5 fetish out in Silly Valley. It’s confusing, it’s weird, and it’s weirdly confusing in it’s weirdness, which leaves me confused.
  • The notion that EVERYTHING to do with wireless must be monetized. After a while, we start to feel like pimps as opposed to WLAN admins. I get that vendors need to be creative with new revenue streams, but it can be carried to extremes when applied to the WLAN ecosystem.
  • Too many models. It seems like some vendors must be awarding bonuses to HW developers based on how many different versions of stuff they can turn out, but customers are left confused about what to use when and where and why versus the other thing down the page a bit. Variety is good, but massive variety is not.
  • Complexity. This might be news to some vendors: the ultimate goals in deploying your systems for both us and the end user are STABILITY and WELL-PERFORMING ACCESS. Somewhere, vendors have lost track of that, and they are delivering BLOATED and HYPER-COMPLICATED FRAMEWORKS that place a cornucopia of buggy features higher on the priority list than wireless that simply works as users expect it to.
  • Slow quote/support ticket turnaround. Most times when we ask for pricing or open a case with technical support, it’s because there is a need. As in, we need something. And our assumptions are that our needs will be fielded with some degree of urgency, as we’re all in the business of service at the end of the day. No one likes slow service. No one likes asking over, and over, and over, and over, and over if there are any updates to our need possibly getting addressed.
  • Escalation builds/engineering code bugs. At the WLAN professional level, most of us work off the assumption that if we don’t typically do our jobs right the first time, we may not get follow up work and ultimately may be unemployed. That’s kind of how we see the world. I’m guessing that WLAN code developers play by different rules. ‘Nough said.
  • Bad, deceitful specs. Integrity is what keeps many of us in the game as professionals. Our word is our bond, as they say. Can you imagine telling someone that you can deliver X, but then when they need X, you can actually only provide a fraction of X- and then expecting that person to not be pissed off? Why are networking specs any different? Enough truth-stretching and hyper-qualified performance claims that you have to call a product manager and sign an NDA to get the truth about.
  • Mixed messages. OK, we ALL own this one- not just the vendors. The examples are many- grand platitudes and declarations that might sound elegant and world-changing in our own minds, but then they often fizzle in the light of day. Things like…
    • We need mGig switches for 802.11ac! 
    • We’ll never need more than a Gig uplink for 802.11ac!
    • 2.4 GHz is dead!
    • Boy, there’s a lot of 2.4 GHz-only clients out there!
    • We’re Vendor X, and we’re enterprise-grade!
    • Why do I see Vendor X gear everywhere, mounted wrong and in nonsensical quantities for the situation?
    • That one agency is awesome at interoperability!
    • Why does so much of this stuff NOT interoperate?
    • You must be highly-skilled with $50K worth of licensed WLAN tools or your Wi-Fi will suck!
    • Vendor X sells more Wi-Fi than anyone, most people putting it in are obviously untrained, yet there are lots of happy clients on those networks!
    • Pfft- just put in one AP per classroom. Done!
    • Cloud Wi-Fi is a ripoff!
    • Cloud Wi-Fi saves me soooo much money and headaches!
    • Here’s MY version of “cloud!”
    • Here’s MY version of “cloud!”
    • I freakin hate how buggy this expensive gear is!
    • At least those bugs are numbered on a pretty table!

It goes on and on and on. Always has, always will. Behind the electronics that we bring to life and build systems from are We the People. The humanity involved pervades pretty much everything written here, from all sides and all angles. And I have no doubt that every vendor could write their own blog called “That Which Pisses Us Vendor Folk Off- WLAN Pro Edition”.  Touche on that.

Ah well- there’s still nothing I’d rather be doing for a living.

Quick Hits: Xirrus, Ruckus, Cambium, Mojo Networks, Nyansa, CWNP

I don’t typically do aggregation blogs, as I prefer to explore a topic or product first-hand and write it up with my own learned perspective. At the same time, I’ve been full-out busy of late and don’t want to not give these topics at least some minor attention in case you have an interest in any. So many cool things happening in the world of wireless…

Xirrus- New HD AP, With Flavor Crystals! OK, no flavor crystals. That was just to keep you hooked. But Xirrus has announced the new .11ac Wave 2 XA4 access point that does support external antennas (really unique for Xirrus) and claims to replace four traditional APs from the competition. Check it out, and if you’re a Xirrus fan or pundit, please leave a comment at the end of this blog.


Ruckus- What Comes Next? In case you missed it, Ruckus Wireless may be facing an uncertain future. The Big Dog was bought by Brocode not too long ago, and now Broadcom is buying Brocade. And… Broadcom doesn’t want Ruckus or the rest of the Ethernet portfolio from Brocade. Did you get all that? Here’s hoping that our Ruckus brothers and sisters all land on their feet. Ruckus has a loyal following, so many of us are watching this one closely.


Cambium Partners With Disaster Tech Labs to help Refugees- There is a tech side to the unfortunate human drama playing out daily on the Island of Lesvos, as countless refugees flea the horrors of Syria and other garden spots for Europe. Disaster Tech Lab goes  where it’s needed when trouble hits, and the need is strong right now on Lesvos. The organization has teamed up with Cambium Networks to provide a range of services for the refugees and those who are directly assisting them.


Mojo Networks Leads the White Box Movement. Mojo Networks is a WLAN vendor, yes- but they also have some fascinating folks on staff that are involved with the Open Compute Project (OCP) and efforts to evolve “white-box WiFi” into a viable option. If you’ve felt like you’re on the losing end of “vendor lock” you’ll probably find the entire notion fascinating. Here’s an interesting presentation from Mojo on the idea of open access points.


Nyansa Adds Application Analysis to Voyance. I’ve been following Nyansa since before they were public, with early NDA briefs on the very powerful Voyance analytics platform. It’s taking WiFi analytics to really interesting cloud-enabled places, and recently got yet another feature boost by adding application analysis to Voyance’s powerful network key performance indicators.


CWNP Awards 200th CWNE Certification. The best source for wireless training in the world has just hit an incredible milestone, and the honor and privilege are mine.

Now you know! Thoughts? Comments? Let ’em rip. 

Aruba Networks Needs YOU!

There are a number of awesome events for WLAN professionals to attend these days, which is great for those of us in the business. One of the longer-running events is Aruba Network’s annual Atmosphere conference, which has come to rival the likes of Cisco Live! in a number of ways. These events are fun, informative, and provide unique opportunities to spend time with vendor reps and fellow customers. The next Atmosphere will run Feb 26- Mar 3, 2017 in Nashville (awesome choice of location, says I).

While you’ll certainly find much to take away from Atmosphere, Aruba needs something from YOU right now.

By January 9, Aruba networks needs submissions for presenters. I personally know many awesome Aruba VAR folks and customers, and can think of several that I’d love to see convey their real world experiences and technical knowledge.

Are YOU what Aruba needs? Do you have something to share with the uber-vibrant Airheads community? Check out the Call for Papers, and don’t be bashful. If you’re thinking of a topic you’d like to present, chances are really good that a lot of people are hoping that someone discusses exactly what you’ve got in mind. Don’t deny ’em your wisdom- sign up to present!

 

 

Open Mesh Adds Switches To CloudTrax

I wrote about Open Mesh right here back in 2014. Though I run a number of “brand-name” networks that range in size from small to humongous, I also have a real appreciation for non-mainstream vendors that bring a compelling story. Open Mesh is at the top of my list in that regard, for a number of reasons:

  • I believe in the effectiveness of cloud-managed networking
  • I get tired of huge licensing fees
  • I don’t believe that every environment needs a feature list longer than my arm, and the pricing and code bugs that go with it
  • I like a company that empathizes with the customer when it comes to TCO, versus ramming contrived performance tests down our collective throats to justify stratospheric pricing
  • I like rooting for “the little guy” as long as that little guy is legit

Now, back to Open Mesh.. Let’s play a quick game.

Riddle me this: what model AP is in the following picture?

ap

Is it-

a. Bluesocket (Adtran) 1920 AP
b. AirTight (Mojo Networks) C-55 AP
c. Open Mesh MR1750 AP
d. Any one of several other APs that look like this

The answer? It’s ALL of them. I currently have two of the Open Mesh MR 1750 3×3 11ac APs in test at Wirednot HQ. As you can hopefully see, Open Mesh has opted to use a fairly popular “industry standard” AP form factor (though the other APs listed are actually 11n). This decent-quality AP lists for $225 and requires NO LICENSE to use with the excellent CloudTrax dashboard (shown here).

cloudtrax1

CloudTrax is peppy, well laid-out, and suffers none of the browser wonkiness of certain NMS systems. Open Mesh has done a great job with providing cost-effective cloud-enabled Wi-Fi, and they have a loyal following despite not being heavy on advertising. That’s a good thing… which just got even better.

Now, Open Mesh has switches.

Like Open Mesh’s APs, the new switches are priced to sell and are also managed WITHOUT LICENSES in CloudTrax. Here’s my own S24.

cloudtrax2

Between the APs and switches, Open Mesh provides a lot of value. Though the product set is arguably lacking a router/gateway component, it still has to be experienced to be believed. It’s that good, for that cheap.

Caveats: I should mention that I’m not huge on the use of mesh in any WLAN setting. This is where one AP uses radio for backhaul to another AP to eventually find it’s way to the wired network. It cuts throughput way down, and can be wonky depending on the vendor. Open Mesh has a strong history in using mesh connectivity. While I’m a fan of Open Mesh, I tend to run every AP home-run with it’s own UTP except for the absolute rare case where that’s not possible.

In my simple testing, Open Mesh is standing up well to Meraki, Ubiquiti, Ruckus, and Aruba APs in what approximates an SMB environment. I’m not in an HD setting, nor am I attempting to do any sort of conclusion-seeking performance bake-off. At the same time, there’s been nothing I’ve thrown at the MR1750s on the S24 switch that they can’t handle as well as any of the other APs I run. I’m not advocating ripping out your enterprise network for Open Mesh, but I can say that it’s absolutely worth looking at and judging for yourself.

 

 

 

Wardriving With the Netscout AirCheck G2- Just For Fun

Ah, wardriving. Those of us with a long history in wireless networking know well what it is, and to me the very word conjures up memories of a different time… when Wi-Fi was new, kinda edgy, and not everybody really understood it very well. There are different motivations behind the act of wardriving, and I’m going to purposefully leave that side of the discussion out.

Wardriving used to be cool…

If you’d like to learn more or re-familiarize yourself with wardriving, look at these:

Back in the day, Netstumbler was the go-to wardriving tool for Windows, while Kismet was popular with the Linux community. There have been a slew of other suitable tools, but few have stood the test of time for name recognition like Netstumbler and Kismet.

Today, all you need to wardrive is a smartphone, and it’s really not all that glamorous anymore. We’re so used to looking at that list of SSIDs that more of them is hardly exciting, and it’s actually a pain at times. But through the right lens, wardriving is still kinda fun.

Netscout’s AirCheck G2 is a big gun

As I continue to evaluate the latest model AirCheck tester from Netscout, I decided to have a little fun with it on my way to work. My wife and I carpool, and I usually ride shotgun. So, one morning I opted to let the AirCheck G2 listen as we rolled through a couple of rural Upstate NY villages. The last time I did this exercise in these sleepy hamlets, I’d be lucky if I could see two-dozen networks. But times have changed, and in a stretch of about five miles in two villages with a combine population of under 4,000 people, The G2 shows that Wi-Fi live is a-thumping even out in the country.wardrive

As you can see in the snippet above, some of these networks are obviously printers and such, but there’s still a lot going on. The AirCheck was in the car (sub-optimal reception), the vehicle was moving at 30, 45, and 55 MPH, and we have long stretches where there are no buildings. This is hardly scientific, but it is interesting and the AirCheck makes gathering and extracting the info a breeze with it’s reporting capabilities..

Here’s some of what I saw:

  • Around 2 dozen truly open networks
  • Around a dozen WEP
  • 17 WPA-PSK networks
  • Balance (around 80) WPA2-PSK
  • No 802.1X WPA
  • Lots of channel buffoonery from “CableWiFi” and “TWCWiFi”
    • 17 on channel 3
    • 8 on channel 4
    • 6 on channel 5
    • 3 on channel 7
    • 1 on Channel 8
  • At least half of all networks name NetGear-xxx or other default SSIDs

The point?

There really isn’t one, except sometimes it is fun to simply gather SSIDs along the way and see what you can characterize about them as a data set. Of course, a good tool helps- and the AirCheck G2 is a very good tool.


Related:

My review on AirCheck G2 for Network Computing

How Does Ekahau ESS Stay Current For APs and Antennas?

EkahauSo I’m sitting on a bench at the mall, and this guy plops down on the other end. I can hear him sobbing a little. I’m thinking “poor bastard, must be a death in the family, or his wife split…” But then I hear his kid about 10 feet away say to a pal “my dad is a complete loser- he doesn’t even know how the world’s best Wi-Fi survey and planning tool gets updated for new APs and antennas!”

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I really don’t know how it happens, either. I’m a loser too!

But there’s a big difference between me and Sobby Bench Guy. He’s not a gonzo bloggist with a license to ask the tough questions. That’s my turf, and that’s just what I did to get my mind right on the topic. I put on my Interrogator Fez and went gunning for everyone’s favorite European guy, Jussi Kiviniemi. Sure, he’s Ekahau’s VP of Wi-Fi Tools, but I don’t mind running in those circles now and then. I grilled Dr. J pretty good, and he gave me what I was looking for. Read on.

Q. How long does it take to get a new WLAN AP or antenna added to ESS, once Ekahau
has the technical information?
Jussi: Depending on load & urgency, it takes 1 day to 3 weeks to get it done. It’ll be published in next sw release (sw updates about every 2 months).

Q. Does Ekahau have a strategy for retiring old APs or antennas from the software
Jussi: Good question. Not really. Happens organically through Wi-Fi vendor acquisitions. We actually should probably take out the 802.11b stuff if we haven’t already 😉

Q.  How does Ekahau find out about new APs/antennas from the major vendors?
Jussi: It varies. Today, they often send the new or upcoming stuff proactively. That’s good for their business too. If not, we ask. Often customers ask us, then we ask the vendor. 

Q.  Why is it advantageous for vendors to get their stuff into ESS?
Jussi: A lot of their partners use our tool (we are tool of choice for Cisco, Aruba, Aerohive,…). And they often want to design using the actual stuff as it is more accurate. 

Q.  What’s the oddest antenna you’ve seen in ESS?
Jussi: At first, the Xirrus arrays were different. I wish we had the planner already back in the Vivato days, that would have been interesting. Also, the Ventev floor mount stuff is refreshing. 

Q.  Any other thoughts on the topic of adding products to ESS?
Jussi: I highly encourage the public and vendors to contact us to tell us which APs or antennas they are missing. It’s a free service to add them. Twitter, web site form or wifidesign@ekahau.com all work. 

We also add things like multi-SSID MAC combining as one radio, and multiple radios into one physical AP.  This requires specs from vendors too. 

And there you have it. Just a little behind-the-scenes information on how a great tool stays fresh. I’ll echo Jussi’s last point: if you see something missing, give Ekahau a shout to get the program updated. ESS is huge tool in the WLAN industry’s toolbox, so keeping it current is a win for everyone.

Additional Resources:

 

Why No Wi-Fi Alliance at Wireless LAN Professionals Conference?

As I wake on the last day of the excellent WLAN Professionals Conference in Phoenix, I’m reviewing tIMG_5988he many pages of notes I’ve taken. There’s a good chance that I’m not the only one that will be leaving this event with a whole lot of food for thought. From learning about what’s coming next with 802.11ax  to getting exposure to a range of new support tools to having how each of us approaches Wi-Fi design challenged (and/or affirmed), this conference has absolutely been time well spent.

At the same time, somewhere in Day 2, I had a strong feeling that something is missing here. Despite hearing from industry and technology experts, getting a glimpse of the Wi-Fi future as toolmakers and tech leaders see it, and just filling sheet after sheet with “yeah, I better look deeper in to THAT” kinds of notes, I realized that there was a palpable void in the schedule.

There is no session by the Wi-Fi Alliance at the WLAN Professionals Conference.

With HaLow just announced, developments in the IoT and unlicensed LTE space, and oddball initiatives like TLPS hanging in the air, it would just make sense to hear a solid 60 minutes on the State of Wi-Fi from the organization self-charged with being one of our brightest advocacy lights. There’s no doubt the room would be filled to capacity, and if the session lasted all day there still wouldn’t be enough time for all the Q & A likely to happen.

Don’t get me wrong- I won’t leave this event feeling slighted in any way.This is my third WLPC, and each one has been better than the last (which was excellent, too). But you can feel the energy and interest in the crowd, and attendees are thirsty to know three things:

  • How did we get here, as an industry?
  • What is going on that I may be missing?
  • What comes next that I need to be thinking about?

The Wi-Fi Alliance owns a major stake in each of those topics and quite frankly should have been here to participate in the discussions, in my opinion. The Alliance would do well to hear what the real “doers” of wireless are thinking and feeling, and would likely walk away with equal parts praise and criticism on a variety of salient points. This feedback *could* be valuable to the Alliance- if they made good use of it.

Many of my colleagues feel that the members of Wi-Fi Alliance has taken a strong turn towards simply getting more of their gadgetry sold at the expense of true interoperability and a responsible, sensible, forward-looking evolution of the WLAN space. I tend to agree.

It would be great if we could have had the chance to find out first-hand at WLPC, but that didn’t happen.