Category Archives: Wireless Networking

Enhance Your Wi-Fi Mojo With Old-School Radio Hobbies

I have this odd love of some really arcane signals. With a modest but decent receiver from Tecsun (the PL-880), I take advantage of the winter months in the northeast (less atmospheric electricity and no thunderstorms) to “hear” these quirky Longwave signal churn out slow Morse Code identifications. It’s utterly addicting to the right-minded radio geek, and also draws large parallels to what goes on with Wi-Fi that help reinforce my WLAN foundational knowledge.

For wireless networks , we know that output power, antenna choices, the environment where we’re operating, and the capabilities of the client devices all contribute to whether Wi-Fi is “good” or “bad”. If the signals can’t get through, then the microprocessors involved can’t turn those signals into data. Let’s talk about what it feels like to listen to NDBs for a bit, then how that relates to Wi-Fi.

I live about an hour south of Lake Ontario in the middle of New York state. With my beloved Tecsun PL880, I recently received an NDB signal from Pickle Lake’s little airport in Ontario Canada. This location happens to be several hundreds of miles away. The beacon transmitter (considered a “navigation aid”) at the airport generates a fairly low-power cone of  signal into the sky, more or less straight up (that’s the non-directional part of “NDB”). The intelligence in the signal is simply slow Morse Code continuously looping the letters Y-P-L. See this link for  information on the airport.

Pickle Lake

Given that any beacon is typically low powered and pointed straight up, finding them on the air from afar is a sport unto itself. Longwave spectrum sits below the AM broadcast band, way down where frequencies are measured in kilohertz.  It’s absolutely cluttered with man-made signals, and is at the mercy of natural electrical interference, like lightning strikes (called “static crashes” int the radio world). Yet I was able to discern that slow Y-P-L signaling from across a huge Canadian province and a Great Lake, making it an accomplishment as a signal-chasing radio hobbyist.

If you’re not familiar with Morse Code, that Y-P-L formats like – . – – / . – – . / . – . . (dash-dot-dash-dash/dot-dash-dash-dot/dot-dash-dot-dot).

In 802.11 WLAN, specialized modulation helps to ensure that the important signals prevail despite RF conditions being crappy enough to kill narrow-band signals. I see Morse Code is somewhat akin to spread spectrum when I’m chasing NDBs as the dots and dashes can often be heard through really bad conditions that would utterly destroy voice signals. (This is actually why Morse Code was created and used as a mainstream long-distance radio communications mode for so long.)

When Wi-Fi signal quality is degraded, data rates will decrease. When I hunt down NDBs like Y-P-L signal, I might have to listen to each for several minutes and manipulate the filters on my receiver before I know what I’m actually hearing- and sometimes I just can’t quite clarity.  For this and other radio activities, my own ears and mind are the actual microprocessor. Call me silly,  but each beacon identified is like catching a nice fish and brings it’s own little flicker of excitement. Here’s a great list of Longwave NDBs out there to chase, and there are many other lists to be found online.

For improved reception, I could connect my PL880 at to a better antenna, just like in Wi-Fi. I could improve my “data rates” (or words-per-minute copying) by using better filters and practicing my Morse Code more. This would make me a better “microprocessor” in this activity.

Really geeky stuff, eh? I have no problem wearing that label. I also know that there are other radio nerds out there in the WLAN community, as well as those who want to learn more about radio “stuff” beyond Wi-Fi. For those folks, I’ll be teaming up with Scott Lester to present “Radio Hobbies for the WLAN Professional at the 2019 WLAN Professionals Conference. Sign-ups start mid-December, and I hope to see many of you there!

WLPC2019DD.jpg

Dear Dubai Accountants, I’m Not Hiring

What do Mohasin, Afsal, Jinshad, Tibin, Alex, and Ajo all have in common? Each happens to be just one of the many, many more accountants from Dubai who wants to come work for me. The thing is, I already have an accountant. His name is Dan, and he’s in Baldwinsville. I see him once a year for my taxes… always ridiculously early in the morning, and we have coffee and great banter while we slog through the tax preparation process.

Sorry, Mohasin- I’m not about to rock that boat. Dan’s the man.

And that’s really the sum total of my accounting needs. I wish I could help the throngs of accountants from Dubai that somehow got my name… Evidently there is some misinformation afoot about the Badman & Badman financial dynasty that keeps these good folks interested in potential employment with me, but I’m here to tell you- I got nothing for you. I have no opportunities.

Hmmm. Let’s rethink this. I have nothing in accounting  available. But there are a couple of odd gigs I might need someone for if they have an open mind. All you Dubai folks, give these some thought- if you’re willing to stretch your comfort zone (or discomfort zone, as it were), I might be able to help a couple of you out with some short-term resume-building work.

  • Body Double For Upcoming Conference. I have a conference coming up in February, and there is this one guy who I don’t trust to stay the hell away from me. I’m considering using a decoy stunt double to better my odds of avoiding contact with Bender. The conference is in Scottsdale, Arizona, which can be problematic for me as well. When I was a child, a fortune teller once predicted I would someday be shot in the groin at a Jack-in-the-Box in Scottsdale. You can see where having a decoy might come in handy on numerous fronts. I would require you to fund any cosmetic surgery required to fool Bender and whoever is waiting to pop a cap in my ass, but the life skills gained on this venture will absolutely make you more marketable.
  • Squirrel Finder at Camp. For years I’ve been trying to get what I assume is a squirrel out of our camp attic. I’ve sealed up like six holes in the eaves, and probably have a metric ton of poison sprinkled around the attic. (I’m starting to wonder if maybe a woodpecker is collaborating on the squirrel’s project, because the entry holes are impressive- like if a beaver was in a bucket truck to get up that high.) Yet there is evidence in the ceiling in the bathroom that something is still running around up there. It’s driving me absolutely nuts. Take care of my problem once and for all and there is $100 in it for you.

Beyond these openings, I really, really don’t have any accounting work. Maybe you guys could spread the word there in the Dubai accounting circles?

Coleman and Westcott Have Lost Their Freakin Minds

Cover art

Evidently it’s not enough to just put out a book any more. It’s not enough that the CWNA fifth edition study guide (for the CWNA version 107 exam) is 20 chapters deep of up-to-date foundational knowledge that will serve anyone even remotely involved with Wi-Fi as an indispensable reference. And it’s not enough that buying this thing gets you access to flash cards and practice tests and real-world perspective from WLAN vets and such…

Oh no. None of that is sufficient. The authors of this book had to take it further. Much further. What is delivered in quality general wireless and specific 802.11-related knowledge has been paired with what can only be summed up as… girth.

I ordered mine earlier in the week from Amazon. I’m a CWNE, sure, but I don’t know it all. I rely on a number of resources to keep my own body of knowledge fresh, hence the purchase of the fifth and latest edition.

But this acquisition was different. It was strange. And I’m still trying to process the whole ordeal.

I placed my order, and like a happy idiot went about my business expecting to see an Amazon box on my front stoop in a couple of days. Instead, I got a call. A really odd call… a Major Hamilton from the New York Army Reserve rang me up and said he needed to talk about a delivery his unit was contracted to do. He voiced concerns that my half acre of yard at home may not be sufficient for the book delivery. Um… OK- I have a couple of acres at camp. Will that work? And so… it was on.CWNA Heavy

As the book was set down, an excited crew member jumped out so I could sign for it. He had his own opinions on the size of the book…

“That’s a bigass book, sir” Yeah, I see that.

“Something that big ought to have it’s own zip code” That’s funny. Ha ha.

“Be careful falling asleep with that thing, it could fall off both sides of the bed” Nice. OK.

“Put a sheet over that book and it could go out on Halloween as Antarctica” Cute. Are we done? Don’t you have someplace else to go with your stupid Chinook helicopter?

Now that I have this book (in a rented aircraft hangar), I’m starting to dig on the particulars. It turns out that this version of the study guide weighs in at 9,300 lbs (4,200 kg), and has over six billion pages.

Where it talks about “noise floor”, the authors had to use heavy duty jacks just to support the weight of the text. It has antenna patterns bigger than the entire state of Maine, and NOAA actually flies C-130s into the chapter about Cloud services. This isn’t a book, it’s a way of life.

I read in the forward that this fifth edition is not sold within 50 miles of the coast because it can legitimately influence the tides. There is a warning about keeping metal objects at least three feet away, because this book has it’s own gravity. One copy rolled off a cargo ship in rough seas in the South Pacific, and China promptly built an airstrip on it.

Coleman and Westcott have no idea the havoc they have created with this CWNA study guide.

https://youtu.be/BuFisX1og_Q

Stop the Little White Wi-Fi Lies- Data Sheet Specs Matter

There I sat in a pleasant regional users meeting for a large networking company.  It was a decent presentation that provided me with some food for thought, and so I was glad I went. But there was one statement made while talking about pending 802.11ax access points that raised my dander.

I’m paraphrasing here…

The data sheet will say the AP can do over 1,000 clients, but you know how that is…”

Hmmm. There was some discussion in the room after that statement- I asked how we as Wireless Doers are supposed to reconcile these grand claims that WE all know are bullshit with the expectations of CUSTOMERS who DO NOT recognize the same info for the operational untruth that it is.

“It’s theoretical”

“Everybody does it”

Again… hmmm. Lee’s not buying it. A lie that we all choose to live with is a still a lie. This isn’t even the biggest whopper out there… Another vendor right now is touting an AP that can do FIFTEEN HUNDRED CLIENTS!

So all I need is a dozen per stadium and I’m the most efficient LPV wireless guy in the land, no? I can design my networks for 1 AP for every 1000 (or 1500) Client devices and reduce my AP spend significantly! All right! Except it doesn’t work this way.

Why do I care, really? What about this one little falsehood got me perturbed? Because we spend money based on what data sheets tell us. It’s insanity to SEE one number, but then have to go ask someone else what that one number REALLY means. Let me tell you a couple of stories of data sheet burn that I still carry scars from.

When 10 Gig Is Not


8510a

This  screen grab comes from a leading vendor’s now EOL wireless controller. 10 Gbps is clearly stated as what the controller will “do”, at least by my interpretation. Nowhere in the spec sheet does it say “…unless you run a highly desirable feature called Application Visibility and Control, which then knocks the unit’s throughput capabilities to well under 3 Gbps“. That little gem you have to discover for yourself and suffer through… while 20K wireless clients get pissed off as the WLAN core melts down. No “if this, then that” qualifiers to explain that a popular feature would neuter your throughput by an order of magnitude- just “10 Gbps”. I fell for it, and got burned bad.

Is 3,000 APs + 802.1X Significant, or No?

Same vendor, beefier controller.
8540a
In the midst of another support case that impacted multiple users, the TAC person said something like “I see you have over 3,000 APs and are doing 802.1X…” with great concern in his voice. I asked- “So? Is this a problem on a controller that supports 6K APs?” The fellow put me on hold for several minutes to talk with somebody else about the point. Meanwhile, a colleague in another part of the world sent an email raising the same flag on one of his own support cases- there seemed to be a common TAC-side fixation with 3K APs and 802.1X on a controller that is rated for 60K clients. My TAC guy eventually came back and said “um, no, that should be OK” in a voice that didn’t exactly inspire confidence, and it immediately hearkened me back to the the great meltdown on the other controller. The point was raised yet again by another support person as the case played out, who also avoided explaining why this seemed to be of concern when I asked.

I still have no idea whether 3K APs and 802.1X are the ingredients for an eventual meltdown on this controller, or whether perhaps inexperienced support engineers talked out of school. Given my past experiences on this product line (I’ve only mentioned the tip of the iceberg here), my confidence was very much shaken by the thought of some sort of undeclared 3,000 AP “wall” that I had hit. (A code upgrade, or rather multiple code upgrades, eventually got me past whatever the original problem was in this case.)

To me, the data sheet is gospel as presented – if there are exceptions, caveats, qualifiers, or whatever- the vendor needs to get it out there ON THE DATA SHEET. My end result- I have little confidence in ANYTHING to do with spec from this vendor on this product set.

Speaking of exceptions, caveats, qualifiers, or or whatever…

The Enterprise WLAN vensors can actually learn from the “little guys” when it comes to technical honesty. Have a look at what Amped Wireless includes on their data sheets: 


Specifications are subject to change without notice.

1 Range specifications are based on performance test results. Actual performance may vary due to differences in operating environments, building materials and wireless obstructions. Performance may increase or decrease over the stated specification. Wireless coverage claims are used only as a reference and are not guaranteed as each wireless network is uniquely different. Maximum wireless signal rate derived from IEEE 802.11 standard specifications. Actual data throughput may vary as a result of network conditions and environmental factors. Output power specifications are based on the maximum possible radio output power plus antenna gain. May not work with non-standard Wi-Fi devices such as those with proprietary software or drivers. Supports all Wi-Fi standards that are compatible or backwards compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi standards.

2 All transmission rates listed, for example 800Mbps for 2.4GHz and 1733Mbps for 5GHz, are the physical data rates. Actual data throughput will be lower and may depend on external factors as well as the combination of devices connected to the router. AC2600 wireless speeds are achieved when connecting to other AC2600 capable devices.

3 May not work with non-standard Wi-Fi routers or routers with altered firmware or proprietary firmware, such as those from third party sources or some Internet service providers. May not work with routers that do not comply with IEEE or Wi-Fi standards.

4 For MU-MIMO to work, additional MU-MIMO capable devices must be connected to the network.


You can argue that no one reads the fine print, but I would disagree. As is, deception and partial truths are problematic and confusing. What else on the data sheet can’t be trusted? And why do it, at all? Seriously- why say an AP will do 1000+ clients? Where is the “win” for anybody other than the Chief Embellishment Officer?

What Wi-Fi Tools are MetaGeek and Oscium Cooking Up Together?

As I write this, the 2018 Wi-Fi Tek Conference is going on in San Diego. I’m not attending (mostly because Boardman is there) but I am listening to various comments being made about the event goings on though the many channels that all of us WLAN types keep each other updated on. There’s a lot of good chatter, and I wish my CWNP family the best of luck with conference (I am on the CWNE Advisory Board you know… I run in those circles.) One little nugget from Twitter caught my attention, in particular.

metageek-oscium

I happen to have products from each company, and both are among my favorite tools when it comes to WLAN support. After the tweet, I went and found MetaGeek’s own announcement on the new partnership, which you can read about here.

Oscium Logo

metageek_logo-250x51

Now, betwixt you and I- neither company has been especially active of late as far as getting new tools (or even updates to existing tools) out in front of us loyal customers, and I’m glad to see hope of that changing.

I’ve written about Oscium in the past and still think their WiPry 5x is one of the slicker spectrum analyzers out there for those of us that have familiarity with real lab-grade spec ans. I’ve also covered MetaGeek through the years, and was fortunate enough to see their presentations at multiple Tech Field Day events. You won’t find nicer folks than MetaGeek’s current and past employees… must be a Boise thing.

Now back to that announcement of a partnership between MetaGeek and Oscium. We still don’t know a lot, but this is pivotal from the MetaGeek blog:

MetaGeek plans to partner with Oscium for additional hardware offerings moving forward as part of the company’s shift to focus on the software side of their industry-leading Wi-Fi analytics solutions.

Just as Ekahau has realized, you can only take legacy USB adapters so far in the world of 802.11ac (and soon .11ax) wireless support tools. MetaGeek has had profound impact on the WLAN industry with their USB-based stuff, but it also became stunted despite having really effective software pairings (like Channelyzer, InSSIDer, and the fantastic Eye P.A.). Oscium has figured out how to leverage well a range of mobile devices (both Android and Apple) and their latest connectors for use as Wi-Fi support specialty tools.

I smell synergy, baby…

I have seen nothing in beta as for as this story line goes. I’ve had no conversations of late with either MetaGeek or Oscium, so I really can’t give you anything beyond speculation and hope that good things are coming, but I also have a lot of faith in both companies.

I’m looking forward to the end of the year, and whatever announcements these two toolmakers are working on.

Mojo (Arista) Answers The Layer 2 Situation for WLAN Migration To Cloud

I recently wrote about the challenges, as I see them, with the Layer 2 aspects of moving from an established controller-based WLAN solution to one like Aerohive, Meraki, Mist, or Ubiquiti that is managed in the cloud. That article is here, at IT Toolbox.

Want the short version of The Layer 2 Situation? Being all about value, I can help you out… Let’s start with the simple view of VLANs that underpin a controller-based WLAN environment:

L2-1

Betwixt the switch and the AP you have a single VLAN. It’s simple, it’s clean. It’s not a spanning tree asspain. But cut into that single VLAN with your magic network knife, and you’ll find a CAPWAP tunnel with as many VLANs as you need. In large environments, that may be dozens o’ VLANs for various SSIDs scattered across thousands of APs.

Contrast that with the typical fat AP/cloud AP VLAN underlay:
L2-2

Ugh- see the difference? In those large WLAN environments- where thousands of APs equals hundreds of switches- you might have to configure thousands and thousands of switch interfaces to convert the simple CAPWAP-oriented LAN to the VLAN-heavy LAN needed by fatty-fat APs- AND most cloud APs.

Ugh.

Mojo evidently agrees with that ugh and offers an option that preserves the goodness of the cloud approach (No NMS to keep up, easier code upgrades, no buggy controllers to babysit, etc) while providing an easy way to NOT go down VLAN rabbit holes when converting from controller to cloud. This magical hybrid approach features the Multiservice Platform:

multiservice_platform_3

Tres sexy, no? I had heard about Mojo’s Multiservice Platform last year at Mobility Field Day 2, but will admit I lost some of the messaging in the din of all the “Cognitive blah blah blah”. But when I recently wrote about The Layer 2 Situation, two good citizens from WLAN land came forward and reminded me that this nut has indeed been cracked, and by Mojo.

Recall if you will- Mojo has been acquired by Arista Networks since Mobility Field Day 2. I also happened to be present at the Mojorista MFD3 presentation, which I wrote about here.

So… will Arista continue with the Multiservice Platform? I have to say that I really hope so. I hope they promote the heck out of it, and that other cloud Wi-Fi vendors follow suite. I don’t know whether I’ll ever run a massive cloud AP WLAN (I do currently run a massive controller-based Wi-Fi network and a lot of cloud-based branches), but if I do it’s nice to know that there is at least hope for The Layer 2 Situation.

Say Hello to Ooklahau

ooklahau 3 If you’ve been in the business of professional wireless networking for any amount of time, you no doubt have at least a familiarization with Ekahau. For many of us, our networks would not be what they are today if it weren’t for the long-running design and survey reliability and excellence baked into Ekahau’s magic. I’ve been a customer for somewhere around 15 years, and the Ekahau experience with both predictive designs and active surveys has only gotten better with each release. The addition of Sidekick to the ESS suite was a game-changer, and the future looks bright for this Finnish company who also happens to be well-connected to their end users, open to ideas for product improvements, and… well, downright fun to work with.

ooklahau 1Then there’s Ookla- the Seattle-based speedtest.net people that pretty much anybody and everybody on the planet with a connected to device has likely used at some point. They have a huge end-user facing presence with their speedtest apps, but also an impressive global presence that services enterprise customers as well. Ookla started in 2006, and has been growing their cloud-based service offerings and brand -recognition ever since.

Let’s not be coy… you know where this is going. Despite my cheesy logo play, a name change IS NOT imminent to either company. But Ekahau has been acquired by Ookla, as you can read about here on Ekahau’s own blog. I did get a chance to talk with my pal Jussi Kiviniemi (Senior VP for Solution Strategy and Customer Experience) at Ekahau about the news just moments before writing this.

Customers can expect Ekahau to stay largely the same operationally for the foreseeable future, but behind the scenes the global human and technical resources of Ookla are going to mean good things over time. Jussi was practically beaming, even over the phone. This is going to make for really interesting days ahead for wireless and network performance testing for sure, and could enable some pretty fascinating things on the design side when the cloud aspect is figured in.

Congrats, Ekahau! Well done, and well-deserved.