Category Archives: Wireless Networking

Another Example of How Important Wire is to Wireless

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

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

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

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

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

PoE Imax

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

PoE Imax2

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

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

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

Live and learn!



WLAN Security- Attack Yourself to Stay Sharp

Back in February of this year, I ran a “Deep Dive” session at the WLAN Professional’s Conference. The session description:
WLPC18sessionThis session was well-attended, and we had a lot of fun getting through a number of attacks. Since then, I’ve had a few occasions to break out the Pineapple again. Just the other day I was monkeying with something…


Which inspired me to put together a blog at my OTHER site, IT Toolbox. Have a look here and see if you agree that hacking yourself once in a while is a prudent thing to do.


A Brief But Deep Glimpse Into the Drone Industry Proper

When opportunity knocks, you answer the door. Have a look at this invite:

Yup. I can do that… he said with his ‘lil heart all a-flutter. I’ve been following the evolution of commercial drone use (and generally all things under the drone sun) for a while now. I’ve written about drones as productivity tools, drones as network security threats, and even drones as a defense against the poaching of elephants. I have my own drones, and am an FAA-licensed Part 107 Remote Pilot.

You could kinda say that I’m into it- like all of it- when it comes to drones. I just find the entire paradigm incredibly fascinating, from benefits to concerns, and from politics to the tech side of it. So when a company like PrecisionHawk wants to talk, I definitely make the time.

Pat Lohman is one of the VPs at PrecisionHawk, and was an absolute gentleman in fielding my questions and lending his insider perspective, and we covered a lot of ground. As a company, PrecisionHawk will certainly sell you drones and high-end sensors. But Lohman educated me on the company’s role as an integrator who provides really powerful analysis for a number of verticals, including agriculture, construction, energy, insurance, and government.


We talked about the specific cases that come with tower sites. It’s easy to sum it all up with “aerial inspection”, but that completely does a disservice to what’s really in play with PrecisionHawk’s services. Before tower construction, highly accurate land surveying is done from the air. Through tower construction, periodic inspections help ensure that the tower is being built right (and after-the-fact inspections for already-built towers reveal construction mistakes that can be dangerous or that work against the structure’s purpose). Once the tower is built, a range of services become relevant.

Picture 3D-mapping of a tower, and everything on it displayed with precise 3D point clouds (see this video primer on 3D point clouds from Vectorworks.) Now lets add in some of that analysis that is PrecisionHawk’s bread-and-butter: a given antenna on the tower is supposed to have a specific orientation to deliver the coverage it was installed to provide. That orientation is determined to be off a couple of degrees, and through various integrations with end customers’ support systems, an alert is generated and a truck gets rolled to adjust the antenna. “Value” takes on a lot of dimensions here, and Lohman stresses that PrecisionHawk is in the business of creating value. That doesn’t just happen because drones are in the air gathering data, but rather as a result of the sophisticated science that happens with that data. The real magic comes after the data collection and mapping is done, and the analytics kick in.

The most value comes from sound, streamlined processes that get the drones up and back down, crunch the data, and provide actionable intel. That’s what PrecisionHawk specializes in.

We spoke of different use cases and where the majority of time gets spent on each. For example, photo and video work is mostly all flying time, while sensor-based work is far more intensive in post processing, after the drones are back on the ground.

Lohman was most accommodating as I jumped around topics. We spoke of how the high and low ends of the drone device space are blurring, and how DJI pretty much owns the space at this point. I asked what impact the “no Chinese drones allowed” regulations have on PrecionHawk’s work with government agencies, and Lohman explained how the company will integrate any platform’s data, but the cost to do one-offs is more because of the added work involved when you get away from the mainstream DJI-type inputs. he was also clear in stressing that the drone itself is secondary in importance to the data it brings home.

I asked if fixed-wing drones have advantages over rotary crafts in different situations, and Lohman patiently gave me a quick history of fixed-wings having their start in agriculture because they could stay up longer when covering huge swaths of land, and how cell sites and structure inspection require the agility of the copters. Lohman also expects more hybrids- drones that can fly with fixed wings but vertically take off and land- to gain mass adoption.

We talked about what sensors see the most action. Here it’s still *mostly* visual missions flown, but thermal inspections are growing, and multi-spectral sensors are a key part of agricultural drone ops. LIDAR is the at the high end of expense when it comes to sensors, and you may pay upwards of $200K for LIDAR. That’s a big pricetag, but this is technology that not so long ago cost in the millions and was reserved for military use.

Finally, we bantered a little about the current fragmented nature of airspace regulation relating to drones (the current mismash of rules between the FAA and local governmental agencies is unsustainable), educational opportunities around unmanned aerial systems at schools like Embry-Riddle and Kansas State, and up-and-coming advocacy groups that seek to improve the commercial drone industry’s standing in a number of fronts. These include the Small UAV Coalition and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), and even which is owned by PrecisionHawk and is a framework that gets a growing number of independent licensed drone pilots (like me) work- with common training, ground rules, approach, and respectable pay.




A New Way of Measuring Network Uptime

So, I think the whole “five nines” thing has run it’s course. I’m trying to figure out how to write a dashboard that measures network uptime in “Ordinary World” video by Duran Duran.

We know that the video runs 4:40, or 280 seconds. We also know that in an hour, with no ads, we can watch it almost 13 times (12.86 times to be exact). Which means we lose .14 x 4:40, or 39.2 seconds off the end of the video. That puts you about here when the hour is up:ordinary1

Which happens to be where Simon breaks out an awesome falsetto

Every wooooooorld is my wooooorld
I will learn to survive

Epic. Man, that guy could sing the DHCP RFC and I’d get weak in the knees. But back to the important stuff.

Given that we get 12.86 OWU (Ordinary World Units) in an hour, we can extrapolate the following baseline metrics:

– 308.56 OWU in a day
– 2,160.48 OWU/week
– 112,344 OWU/year

That’s going to be pretty pivotal information when the other network monitoring tools switch over to Ordinary World Units, I’m pretty sure. Granted, I’m struggling with how this will all play out, but it will be along the lines of:

Check your uptime at some interval. Let’s say you were in “Day View” at 8:30 AM. For 100% uptime, that would be as many Ordinary World loops as fit in 30,600 seconds (8.5 hours starting at midnight. The data science behind it would be:

30,600/280(1) squared, then take the square root. That gives you 109.29 OWU, and puts you right about here in the video:


Sure- this one doesn’t look like much. But neither does some stupid line chart with time hacks on it’s cold X and Y axises. In this screen grab, we actually see a pivotal visual transition that combines with a fleeting music-only audio period that leads into

What has happened to it all?
Crazy someone say

BUT- that would be with 100% uptime! Let’s say we lost thirty seconds to an inadvertent jiggle of a fiber uplink. Now, we’d be actually be back here, at 109.18 OWU:


So you can see we’re 1000 ms into the video, where the mystery lady *maybe* is marrying the dorky guy? Or is he just a friend or maybe a family member? And is she even getting married, or just strolling around the gardens showing off her shoulders and jaunty hat while the band members lurk around looking both fashionable and slightly creepy? IT DOESN’T MATTER- YOU HAD 30 SECONDS OF DOWNTIME AND THIS CONFIRMS IT.

(There are no lyrics here at this point in the video, only the infectious interplay between John’s guitar and Roger’s, with a hint of Nick’s keyboards to tickle the back corner of your mind.)

Hopefully you can see the methodology here and how it’s extensible nature makes it scalable for any network. Again, I’m not quite dialed in on the details of the entire framework, but can already see where maybe this could port over to Billy Idol HIC (Hot in the City) Units, as an alternative protocol offering

As I finish working through the AI (and hyper complex licensing) behind this disruptive technology in network metrics, I’m also developing training materials as I expect a fairly high demand early after it goes public.

One snippet from the certification exam:ordinary4


And with this bit of stupidity in the can, I’m off to vacation, baby!

We Need Substance Over Slogans From the WLAN Industry, Now More Than Ever

WLAN vendors have the right to promote their products. Actually, they have a duty to- that’s just business. And it stands to reason that they need to evolve their products to stay competitive and to meet the changing demands of the greater network world that they operate in. But these vendors also need to stay on the right side of certain lines, and to remember that we buy their stuff to build reliable networks. R-e-l-i-a-b-l-e. That truth can’t get lost in the quest for ever more features to market. On that point, these are exciting times to be in marketing when it comes to wireless and networking because the sky is the limit for the latest round of buzzwords to sling. But when buzzwords become what is actually being sold, then one of those lines that shouldn’t be crossed most certainly has been.

Why It Matters NOW

For those of us that have been in the wireless game for a long time, unfulfilled promises and poor output from certain industry groups are a way of life. That’s not to say that Wi-Fi isn’t an utterly amazing, transformative technology. It most certainly is. But just like politicians can make promises that no one blinks at when they stay unfulfilled, many WLAN-related organizations and entities have become known as much for what they don’t deliver as for what they do. Examples:

  • The IEEE’s insistence on backwards-compatibility with dark-ages standards has gotten to the point where it’s self-defeating.
  • Seldom does any 802.11 standard live up to its promise or most-touted differentiating functionality.
  • The Wi-Fi Alliance continues to excel in talking up its certifications, while its device-maker members have created a bewilderingly fragmented client space that is only getting worse.
  • Many “analyst reports” are simply paid results, where guess who wins? (Hint- there is some money changing hands.)
  • Over a decade ago, WLAN vendors promised central management would be soooo much better than autonomous access point paradigms. But in the case of one market-leader, the gains are frequently negatively balanced out by embarrassing code quality, perversely expensive licensing paradigms, and a focus on glitzy corporate image over simply providing highly reliable solutions.

This is our reality as enterprise WLAN professionals. But good WLAN engineers understand the weird of it all, manage it, and still deliver networks that serve their customers well. That is, until that last bullet point rears its head- because we have little control over the code quality that flows out of San Jose’s sewers at times.

Hype Shouldn’t Be What You Lead With

Now that we’re in a time where artificial intelligence, SDN, machine learning, and data-driven everything is all around us, there’s a lot to be excited about. But the words themselves don’t make a solution good. Self-driving automobiles responsibly developed by experienced data scientists? That’s exciting. Long-in-the-tooth quirky network hardware with new APIs hooked into it and painted up as New Magic? Nope- not exciting. Worrisome even.

We OUGHT to be excited about AI, machine learning, and all of the other now-hyped buzzwords flying around out there. But we’re seeing too much of the cart being put before the horse from certain vendors. The same crappy building blocks unfortunately ARE in play in fancily-named new strategies that are being heavily marketed by one market leader as if they were already proven to be worth all the noise and paychecks to celebrity marketers (Peter Dinklage, intuitive).

Other vendors are saying “look- AI! Now pay up with giant costs and endless licenses!” But some of us have been down this road when it was paved with different slogans and marketing campaigns, and cautious skepticism is in order. Maybe the vendors can (and should) prove that they have fixed the cultures that have resulted in their sins of the past before asking us to embrace the latest flavor of the month and the fat fees that come with it.

Now comes 802.11ax

Catch any webinar on 802.11ax and you’ll realize that a truly new day is coming to the WLAN world. It’ll be complicated, fraught with ridiculous promises, but like other standards before it- it will be better. We just don’t know how much better yet. Part of that “better” will depend on how vendors stitch together their AI/intuition/psychic-like-Madame Cleo/tastes-great/less filling stuff and the new .11ax technology.  It could be fantastic, or it may turn out to be utterly maddening.

Which way it all goes will depend on the vendors putting as much energy and budget into tightening up their shit as they are into hyping what doesn’t yet really work well (by CUSTOMER standards, not those of perpetually clueless developers). Things are getting way too complicated to continue to crowd-source quality assurance to customers’ production networks and not expect significant blow-back when things flake out. And in the case of one vendor- I’m predicting utter folly if the old problematic code and hardware is carried forward as part of the “new” solution. That’s what my intuition tells me.

Innovation Primer For Changing Times

There was a day when network equipment vendors would sell you a solid product that you could combine with human networking skill to create highly reliable networks. You paid a fair price for those products, your network clients benefited from your skills and the investment in good components, and when the occasional problem popped up things were fairly easily solved.

There was also a day when postage stamps cost five cents and it was OK to smoke out by the dumpster.

Things are changing. It might feel a little weird, but you have to embrace the new spirit of innovation. Rather than building solid networks on good hardware that actually work so well that you don’t need magic to solve problems, why not shake it up a bit? Wouldn’t it be better to deploy occasionally erratic hardware, play Code Roulette frequently, and then pay a shite-ton o’ dough to let AI and machine learning identify the problems that never should have been there to begin with?


It all makes sense provided that you don’t think about it: you can actually replace your engineering staff with programmers. Rather than build high-reliability networks and fix the corporate cultures that let defective products out the door and into production networks, Innovation is stitching together a slew of components that each have their own problems to begin with and then letting mystical, intuitive, highly licensed and expensive data scientific forces show you alerts for problems that could have been avoided to begin with back in the day with a little quality control. It’s a glorious era, but it may be a little hard to wrap your head around.

To help you find your footing in a changing world, I’ve asked my best (meaning least intoxicated) graphic artists to gen up a simple infographic that captures the essence of contemporary innovation in the enterprise network setting.  Hopefully this simple analysis flow helps your learning curve as we all go down this road together.



Drone Law Soup

Since I famously became a drone guy, I’ve been getting a wide-ranging education on many aspects of The Droniverse. I’ve been gathering little pieces of content and knowledge that I care about here on this page of this blog, and getting a lot of perspective from more experienced flyers through various user groups and forums. It gets more fascinating every day.

One aspect of dronery (I made that word up) that is truly astounding is just how royally dicked up the regulatory climate far and wide has become when it comes to flying our beloved unmanned aircraft systems. It doesn’t matter whether you are a hobbyist or an FAA-certificated Remote Pilot like myself, the legality of flying drones could not be in a worse state of disarray.

Looking at the FAA’s guidance, you wouldn’t think it could be that bad.

drone rules1

But it is THAT BAD. It seems like every state and many cities, universities, towns, villages, hamlets, and church choirs are making their own rules regarding drone flight. Forget that the FAA is federal and that many/most of these additional regs wouldn’t stand up in court- fighting City Hall ain’t cheap and few individuals are going to have the expendable coin to lawyer up on the issue (and there is no central lobbying force that I know of that could stand up against the growing regulatory morass).

But don’t take my word for it… let’s look at some real world examples.

Santa Clara University says “more no than yes” while Nebraska says “sure”, conditionally.

The State of Connecticut has rightfully recognized the FAA as the sole authority in this space, and it’s Public Act No. 17-52 “Prohibits cities and municipalities in the state from enacting their own drone-related regulations or ordinances.”

But then you have Delaware- despite also “preventing” municipalities from doing their own thing, one town did exactly that (from

Hmmm. It just goes on and on. Here in my corner of the world, each of these has their own legislation/regulations on drone use (most flat-out prohibit drones, or make getting permission so impracticable as to equal prohibition:

And it gets worse… their are dozens of pending/proposed laws on the books in the Democratic People’s Republic of New York alone, not to mention all the legislative activity in other states aimed at drones. See many of them here– although I think this site is unaware of as many as it knows about.

As with any technology, drones can be used for good and by people who make a living from them doing really innovative things. And they can also be used for pure stupidity by peeping toms, beach pervies, village idiots and others in the “we need laws because of THESE morons” category. The problem is that our fine civil servants (I use to be one myself, so I know first-hand of what I speak) are too quick to group all drone operators into the same bucket, or have no clue on existing laws or where their own regulatory reach legally ends before passing new ordinances.

And… it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

If you are new to drones or thinking about getting into it, I have no doubt that you’ll find “flying legal” to be challenging in many, many locations. You may also be tempted to ignore the ugly patchwork of federal, state, and local laws and take your chances flying illegally. If you do, more power to you… but please remember that when you do the truly stupid stuff that becomes a nuisance, you set in motion a Butterfly Effect that ultimately makes life tough for those of us who strive to be legal.

Thanks for reading.