Category Archives: Wireless Networking

Cisco’s Latest AP is Mind-Blowing (and a quick history lesson)

Aironet 4800 Access PointFeast your eyes on that little Chiclet-looking thing… No image can do justice to Cisco’s latest powerhouse AP. That innocuous looking image represents a full 5.6 pounds (2.5 kg) of all kinds of Cisco’s latest technology in the company’s new 4800-series access point. You got 4×4 802.11ac Wave 2 radio wizardry,  a built-in hyperlocation antenna array, and BLE beacon capability. And… regardless of whether you buy into Cisco’s DNA Center story, the new 4800 has a lot of DNA-oriented functionality. It’s big in size, functionality, and at least for a while- price.

You don’t need me regurgitating the entire data sheet- that can be viewed here. You’ll also want to hear the full story of the 4800 and DNA Center when you get a chance, because it’s nothing less than fascinating. (My own take: DNA-C might be revolutionary- but I’d rather see new controllers with a new WLC operating system rather than bolting DNA-C’s future-looking promise onto yesterday’s fairly buggy wireless parts and pieces. That’s just me speaking from experience- take it or leave it).

I’ve seen the 4800 with the outside cover removed, and even that is profoundly thought-provoking when your eyes take in how much is really going on with the various antennas- get a look at that if you can (I’m not comfortable sharing the images I’ve seen, not sure where NDA starts and stops on that).

So a huge access point story is afoot, and I applaud Cisco on that bad-lookin’ mammajamma. But I also got sparkley-eyed by something else fairly nerdy while looking through 4800 materials and links to other links.

Here’s a screen grab of the 4800 power specs:

4800 power

Nothing real exciting there, right? New APs generally need the latest PoE+, and we’re a few years into that story. But I somehow stumbled across this document, that shows this picture:

and it took me way back to my own early days of wireless. My WLAN career started with a 4-AP deployment of those 350s, which ran the VxWorks for an operating system and had only 802.11b radios… (cue the flashback music here).

Also included in that doc is this brief history of PoE:

PoE Hist

As I read that over, my mind goes back to all of the Cisco APs that have come and gone in my own environment- 350, 1130, 1200, 2600, 3500, 3600, 3700, and our latest in production, the 3800. In this list, there have been multiple models from the different series of AP leading to the thousands of APs that are now deployed in my world.

On the operating system side, VxWorks became IOS, and in turn AireOS. Now we have AP-COS on the latest Wave 2 APs (don’t Google “AP-COS”, most of what comes back is bug-related, sadly).

It’s interesting to reflect back, on operating systems, PoE, radio technologies, and feature sets. As Wi-Fi has gotten more pervasive, it has also gotten more complicated on every level. Seldom is the latest access point THE story any more, now it’s about all of the features that come with the whole ecosystem that the vendor wants that access point to operate in- if we as customers buy into the bigger story.  I’m not passing judgement on anything with that statement, or intentionally waxing nostalgic (well, maybe a little bit).

It’s pretty neat how one image or a certain document can suddenly flash your your entire wireless history before your eyes.

Good stuff.

Open Mesh Brings Major Disruption to SMB Space, Goes Full-Stack

Another router coming to the SMB market generally isn’t that exciting, but this one is different for a number of reasons.

OM1

For one thing, it comes from Open Mesh. Those ports are part of the G200, which is the first router ever released by Open Mesh. It has a list price of $249 dollars, and it also brings the Open Mesh product line into the proverbial “full stack” domain.

OM2

Now customers can use access points, switches, and the G200 all from Open Mesh, and all cloud-managed in the excellent CloudTrax dashboard with no license costs.

Yes, you heard me right… I said “with no license costs”. If you are not familiar with Open Mesh, the operational paradigm is easy- you buy your components (routers, switches, and access points), you register them in the CloudTrax dashboard, and off you go with configuration and operation. CloudTrax is a pretty decent network management system in and of itself, and it is the only way you manage Open Mesh components. It’s simple, it’s feature rich, and given what Open Mesh hardware costs, the entire paradigm is an absolute steal compared to pricing and complexity of enterprise solutions that masquerade as SMB-friendly.

The G200 is a significant milestone to not only the Open Mesh product line, but also to the SMB market in that it seriously drops upfront costs and TCO while providing what may be the easiest to use interface among any of it’s competitors.

But what do you get for under $250 for features with the G200? A lot, actually. From a resource perspective, Open Mesh promises gigabit throughput compliments of a quad-core processor and dedicated crypto engine. The G200 has two passive PoE ports for Open Mesh APs to connect directly, and also has an SFP port for fiber uplink to an Open Mesh switch or 3rd party vendor switch. All the typical “router stuff” is onboard, from VLAN support, DHCP server and firewall to decent traffic classification, QoS, NAT functionality, user VPN, and even usage statistics. Not bad for an initial edge-router at this price point, that won’t hit you up in 12 months for a fat license fee to keep using it. Mine has been reliable as I could ask for in the couple of weeks that I’ve been testing it. One gripe- no site-to-site VPN, although that is coming.

g200

I can’t stress how important price is for the SMB space, and I know some of my own customers are dealing with sticker shock that comes from other cloud-managed solutions that charge big and small environments the same way when it comes to licensing (or worse, they penalize the small networks for not having volume purchasing leading to better pricing). If Open Mesh continues to evolve their edge functionality and hardware offerings, this vendor could deliver a sales smack-down to the bigger players who have become license-happy to the point of ridiculousness over the last few years.

A New Access Point and Switch, Too!

I’m a huge fan of the Open Mesh A60 dual-band indoor/outdoor 802.11ac access point. It has been the top-dog of the Open Mesh access point line for several months, with a list price of $225 (again, no licensing and free CloudTrax support). Now, as part of the same product announcement that features the G200 router, Open Mesh is also bringing out it’s new A62 access point. It’s still dual-band and indoor/outdoor, but this Wave 2 AP also sports two 5 GHz radios, support for up to an estimated 150 streaming clients, and the same $225 price tag as the A60.

The latest S24 switch also breaks new ground for Open Mesh with 10 Gbps SFP+ uplink ports and a higher PoE power budget than it’s predecessor.

Let’s Do Some Math

Open Mesh has over 100,000 network customers around the world. When I think of one of my own small sites that’s up for renewal with another cloud vendor, I’m looking at trying to explain to my customer why a 3-year renewal license on old AP costs almost as much as purchasing the latest license-free AP from Open Mesh, and why a 3-year renewal license on an older security appliance costs almost twice the price of a new Open Mesh G200 router that would never need another license. These are real dollars for small businesses, and you pay the big price for the other guys whether you ever use actual support or not.

It’s time for a shake-up at this end of the market, and I think Open Mesh is the vendor to do it.

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Related posts:

One Example of the Just How Clueless and Misleading Wireless Device Makers Can Be

Sigh… Stop me if you’ve heard this one- A wireless device maker sells something to an unwitting customer on, shall we say, some stretched truth. The pitch that led to the sale isn’t quite the proverbial pack of lies, but certainly left out key information that may have doomed the deal if the customer had a clue about what questions to ask (or had involved their IT staff before writing the check). A fairly limited-capability WLAN client shows up, and suddenly the network has to flex itself in unsound ways to accommodate devices that arguably shouldn’t have been purchased. Can anyone relate?

Security “Lite”… or is it Security “None”?

Here’s my current problem child.

54512AA0-8B15-4C5F-A874-FA66062FFAD6

That’s a time and attendance clock. It’s networked, and it talks to a server out in the cloud. It can use a wired Ethernet connection, or dual-band wireless (we’ll talk about that in a moment). Yay! Cloud! Yay! Wireless! Perfect for just throwing several dozen in and and off they go, because you have a wireless network- it’s a slam dunk, baby!

But it’s not a slam dunk. Because the network it’s likely to land on very well might just be an Enterprise-secure WLAN. That means it doesn’t use living room grade pre-share-based wireless security. Yet the best you will get out of this particular time clock IS living room grade security. It doesn’t support 802.1X authentication or WPA2-Enterprise CCKM encryption.

What happens if you don’t have, and don’t want, a PSK-only Wi-Fi network in a large secure enterprise environment just because someone made a questionable purchase of a WLAN feature-constrained time clock? You don’t have a lot of choices, and the couple that you do have smell and taste bad. Ah well- at least it’s DUAL-BAND WIRELESS.

Yeah… sure it is.

Radios in a Lil’ Faraday Cagey Kinda Thing

I was pleased to hear that the clock was at least an 802.11ac device. Because the environment it will work in does NOT have a PSK network and the clock can’t do enterprise security, it will go on an open guest network with MAC exception so it can bypass the guest gateway (relying on application-layer security to encrypt the data involved). So, I needed the wireless MAC address to set up the exception on the test unit. It was not printed on the clock or packaging, so I opened the device to see if I could find it inside.

I did locate the WLAN adapter’s MAC address, but had to remove the adapter to read it. The clock uses a StarTech USB433WACDB which is in fact dual-band .11ac in spec. But the environment needs to be right for wireless thingies to work to their max performance spec, and things are far from environmentally right in this clock enclosure. The little USB adapter has no external antenna that might help the situation, and sits behind a circuit board and a metal plate inside the clock, with the back of the enclosure and ultimately the wall that the clock will mount on behind it.

Given the RF-unfreiendly location of the adapter inside the clock, I was curious if it would connect at 5 GHz. Here’s where I will admit that my testing was not exactly methodical, but I’ll tell you what I saw and did.

This clock came to life about five feet away from a dual-band access point in the same room, with a couple more dual-band APs beyond other walls but still within range. It first connected on 2.4 GHz. I moved it right next to the AP, and it again connected at 2.4 GHz. I disabled the 2.4 GHz radio on that closest AP, and the clock connected to a farther away AP, using 2.4 GHz. So… it doesn’t look good for “dual band” here. I did not sniff packets to see if the clock is trying in 5 GHz, so I can’t say that maybe it’s not a driver or dodgy band-steering issue. But I can say that in initial testing the clock certainly doesn’t appear to be realistically dual-band despite the adapter spec.

And so it goes…

At the end of the day, this is far from my biggest problem. I’ll hold my nose and get the clocks to work, but it is work calling out the reality that not only are not all wireless clients ready for the business WLAN, sometimes they aren’t even what they claim to be at all in spec because of the way they have been built.

We are collectively in the 5th generation of major Wi-Fi technology with .11ac, with .11ax around the corner. Our WLAN infrastructure systems are advancing with rediculously rich feature sets beefed up with every code release, yet the client device makers seemingly operate on another planet where getting in sync with business WLAN requirements doesn’t seem all that important, given that these clocks are just one very typical example.

Ah well. I realize that nothing told in this narrative is news, but at the same time it needs to be talked about once in a while. Part of that discussion is hoping for better days on the client device front. And part of it is channeling a rant into a story that you can share with others so that they know they are not alone in their own frustrations.

I Don’t Fly Drones, I’m an Unmanned Aircraft System Remote Pilot

Drone

Today, I sat for the Federal Aviation Agency’s “Part 107” exam. I passed by a comfortable margin, but it was no walk in the park. I studied hard, probably a total of 25-35 hours (I’ll tell you how I studied in a bit). I made an appointment for the exam at a flying school that also tests for every level of pilot skill. I paid $150, filled out FAA paperwork, and had an awesome test proctor named Mario. (He flew on EC-47s in Vietnam doing electronic warfare, which was my own career field under the USAF’s Tactical Air Command a dozen and a half years later. It’s really a small world sometimes.) I had butterflies, as it was a formal test setting… I struggled with maybe 10 of the 60 questions, but ultimately found that my studying had paid off when I saw my final score.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are a real deal in the aviation world these days. You can read elsewhere about just how big of a force they are becoming, but if you are going to use drones ANYWHERE in a business setting then you should be licensed as a remote pilot. For one thing, it’s the law. For another, you will learn a lot along the way as you study for the exam that will help you to not get in trouble as you use your drone for business.

Get Your Mind Right

Drones are playthings. Toys. Model flying machines that you race and take videos with on the hobby side of life. There’s no negativity here, and I use my own drone in this way as well sometimes. But when you cross that line and put your small unmanned aircraft to practical, revenue-generating operational use, EVERYONE benefits from you reshaping your attitude. That UAS is a legitimate aircraft (you’ll put a tail number on it) and you are a licensed pilot. You and your craft can achieve great things, but you also have to understand where you fit in the overall framework of the aviation system. Skip it all and be a rogue operator, and you can easily put lives and property at risk- and I’m not being dramatic. The journey to getting that license will teach you incredible things about the aeronautical world that you’ll be a part of.

How to Approach the Study Process

If you are an accomplished self-study kinda person, then read on. If you don’t do so good teaching yourself new and complicated material- and this is absolutely a complicated body of knowledge- then you probably ought to invest in one of the many available online ground schools. If you’re serious about going down this road, it will be time and money well spent.

I happen to be very good at self-study, with more years than I care to admit spent perfecting techniques that work for me. There are a a lot of blogs and videos out there about “How I passed the Part 107 exam”, and each is a personal testimony that may or may not bring value to you. What comes next here is my own methodology- I make no promises that it will work for you. But what may be different about my approach is that I also happen to be an educator, researcher, writer, and analyst. I think critically, and I generally don’t cut corners.

What Worked For Me

Here we go.

You are after achievement of competency/mastery in a working knowledge of these areas:

  1. Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation
  2. Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation
  3. Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
  4. Small unmanned aircraft loading and performance
  5. Emergency procedures
  6. Crew resource management
  7. Radio communication procedures
  8. Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
  9. Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
  10. Aeronautical decision-making and judgment
  11. Airport operations
  12. Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures

This is the prize that your eyes need to stay on. Now get to it- and have a notebook at the ready.

  • Visit this FAA page– bookmark it and refer to it often (some exam answers are on the page). Download the PDF version of each of the Suggested Study Materials and give each at least one read-through. Don’t get hung up on memorizing stuff yet, but try to remember what is in each resource. You’ll be coming back to them.
  • Watch this video by Tony Northrup. I love his delivery, his style, and that he gave of his time and perspective freely for the rest of us. I do NOT agree with his assessment that the Part 107 exam was a cake-walk. I know that mine certainly was not. Refer back to parts about sectional charts, METARS, and TAFs as often as you need to. You need to be as comfortable with all these as he is.
  • Take yourself to the free Part 107 exam site at the King Flight School. Note that you can test on each individual knowledge area, and I recommend that you do. Then take the practice test with 60 questions from all the areas at least a couple of times. GET THAT NOTEBOOK OUT. Through the King Practice tests, you’ll start to find specific areas that stump you. Write those questions down in your notebook. Don’t get hung up on them. Take a break from King… but you’re not done here.
  • Take yourself to the 3DR Part 107 practice test pages. You’ll find great overlap with King, but the look and feel is different enough to help you to not fall under the spell of simple memorization of any one test site. The same guidance on stumpers applies here- write them in your notebook. But don’t get down on yourself for anything that isn’t clicking- this is some pretty arcane stuff in spots. You’re not done here either…
  • If you have an Android device, get this app. Like the King site, you can test on individual areas or the whole mix, and there is also a handy Study Mode with decent explanations. Here too, use that notebook when something stumps you.
  • Run through ALL THREE OF THESE PRACTICE TEST FRAMEWORKS a couple of times. By now, you’ll feel your confidence growing in spots and frustrations mounting in others.
  • Hopefully, you have several pages in your notebook of individual questions- that represent discreet topics- to work on. And you’ll work on them via the FCC docs that you downloaded back in the beginning. The PHAK will be your main go-to here. Don’t just clarify the question that confused you- remember that the question represents an entire topic, and you have to explore all facets of that topic. I can’t stress this enough, especially for the Sectional Charts and Airspace Classes. Gotta know them cold, I tellya.
  • NOW SCHEDULE YOUR EXAM FOR 1-2 WEEKS OUT
  • In the remaining time, rotate through your notes/areas that challenge you, and each of the practice tests. By now you’ll be somewhat in the trap of having memorized many of the questions and answers. Discipline yourself to slow it down, not be a robot, and actually read the words while thinking about the bigger topic.

notebook

How Did This End Up Working For Me?

Pretty good, actually. I felt that I had gone far past brute memorization of practice tests, and actually learned A LOT. (I also want to build on that knowledge through real life experiences as a commercial UAS pilot). There were questions that threw me for a loop on the real exam, but I learned enough in studying to make decent guesses and to rule out bad answers.

As a Part 107 pilot, I have to recertify every 24 months. I’m comfortable that my initial studying was done with sufficient depth of retention (and sparking of the desire to keep learning along the way) that I’ll be in pretty good shape when I do this again in 2020.

Good luck to you on your own quest to get licensed.

 

RELATED: So, I’m a Drone Guy Now

Ubiquiti Gets Serious About Hospitality (?) Wi-Fi Market

I’ve written about Ubiquiti a fair amount over the last year or so. The company is simply fascinating to watch evolve. They are on a trajectory that sees them shaking their perception by mainstream networkers as “that company that sells A LOT  of cheap gear with no real tech support”, and becoming more of a legitimate contender in many, many markets where bigger pedigrees tend to dominate. Competition is a good thing for customers, and it’s nice to see Ubiquiti and other “down-market” solutions provide some balance to the high-end stuff that is getting ever pricier, hyper-complex in spots, and way buggy if you land on the wrong code.

Now, word has made it’s way to me that something else big is afoot in the Ubiquiverse.

Take a look here:
ted Watson

I generally don’t care so much about who went where, and am not a fan of ego-stroking the C-levels just because the PR folks think I should. But Mr. Watson above (and some talented co-workers) have jumped from the Ruckus ship to Ubiquiti in a move that further tells the market that Ubiquiti is serious about growing up. I’m told from insiders (I run in those circles) that Ruckus’ deep penetration into the hospitality WLAN space has a lot to do with Watson and Crew.

And now they wear Ubiquiti polo shirts when they drive to work. THEY. A team that worked at Company A who now works at Company B, and who will no doubt be trying to duplicate their successes in at least the hospitality vertical for Ubiquiti. (Who knows- maybe other verticals as well?)

Stay tuned-  I have no doubt that Ubiquiti has other things brewing as they continue their metamorphosis to the big leagues.
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Related:

Past Wirednot blogs about Ubiquiti 
One in Network Computing about early Ubiquiti 802.11ac
Ubiquiti Elite (paid support) Testimonial at IT Toolbox

About That Free Fortinet Access Point From WLPC… DON’T THROW THAT CARD OUT

FortiruwoowooI’ll get right to the point- I did something silly, but explainable- and hope to head off anyone else from doing the same. I THREW OUT MY CARD FOR A FREE FORTINET (Meru) ACCESS POINT.

Don’t you do the same!

Why did I trash the opportunity to get a free access point? The answer is simple, but flawed.

I’ve known Meru through the years as a competitor to Cisco, Aruba, etc. when it comes to wireless. Meru was bought by Fortinet back in 2015, and generally fell off of my own radar. Fast forward to WLPC 2018…

Fortiru graciously offered a free cloud-managed FAP-S313C AP to all WLPC attendees, all you need to do is send in the card that was in your swag bag. But in my mind I thought this:

I don’t want to register yet another free AP, license the thing for a year for free, then either renew the license at my cost (ain’t happening) or throw it on the pile with all of the others that have come before it… Meru competes with everyone else that all license the hell out of everything and therefor Fortiru must be license-happy as well.

Did any other conference attendees think this as well?

To my chagrin- and this is something that Fortinet ought to market the absolute hell out of- there are no licenses needed for APs in the Fortiverse. Start the cloud account for free, register the AP for free, and enjoy the goodness into perpetuity. That’s not only generous to WLPC attendees, it’s also a huge differentiator for marketing and TCO.

I had the pleasure of talking recently with long-time industry friend Chris Hinsz, now the Director of Product Marketing for Wireless at Fortinet, who set me straight on the no-license thing.

Now you know!