Category Archives: WLAN

Its Time to Let the WAP Rage Go and Move On

It’s an often-repeated cycle: someone says WAP in reference to a wireless access point, while those of us who consider the device to be an AP (no W) recoil viscerally. Maybe a lecture ensues about the PROPER way to refer to an WLAN access point, and it’s not uncommon to get a lot of YEAH WHAT HE SAID! and maybe some DAMN RIGHT! thrown in as we all work ourselves up to a froth over this oddball, seemingly important topic.

I said “seemingly” important.

Except it’s not. It’s actually kind of snobby, and kind of foolish. Don’t we have bigger things to worry about?

Those we quibble with in the epic WAP vs AP Thousand Years’ War often come from different backgrounds, where they learned that WAP is correct, prudent, and A-OK. One example- I work with a really smart BICSI-certified RCDD (that’s Registered Communications Distribution Designer, kind of like the CWNE of the wiring world) and guess what? He learned that WAP is a standard term on his professional journey. BICSI’s ICT Terminology Handbook uses WAP no less than 14 times!

Then there’s the WLAN market leader- Cisco. “WAP” occurs in enough Cisco documentation to be considered a valid term, at least by me. An example:

Are you AP-Purists feeling silly yet? I fully realize that this is one of those religious debates that polarizes people. Some of us will NEVER stop clinging to AP is good and WAP is evil because the notion has become ingrained in the fabric of their WLAN professional beings.

Whatever.

Wikipedia says both are OK. If you Google <Wireless Access Point WAP> you’ll find well over a million results, many from vendors who call their stuff WAPs.

This shouldn’t be one of those triggers that make us drop what we’re doing to school our fellow men and women about what they SHOULD call a wireless access point, yet it is. It doesn’t make us look smart or superior. Au contraire, it makes us look kinda petty, closed-minded, and dare I say silly.

Just stop it already.

Dipping Toes in the Consumer Gear Pool- Netgear AC2300 Wireless Router

I don’t frequently kick tires on consumer grade gear, but occasionally it is good for us Enterprise folks to go that path. Certainly, this space continues to advance- as measured by features offered, complexity under the hood, and promises made that often can’t be kept.

This is an interesting router, and I’ll try to approach my narrative from the consumer-centric focus. That being said, even the consumer wireless space needs to be handled by vendors with common sense. That is lacking in spots with this router, but likely no more so than with it’s competitors who also fixate on grand performance claims over substance. Sigh… the data sheet for the AC2300 is ambitious, to say the least.

Why so Many Model Numbers?

I have NEVER understood this about Netgear (and others in this space). On the box, it’s the AC2300. On the vendor product page, it’s the R7000P, as well. Then when you access the admin pages on the router itself, it becomes the RS400. Just kick me in the groin.

Getting Started, Choices
I’m old and stodgy. I just want to connect to the router, and start poking around. But Netgear would prefer that you download the Nighthawk app, which I did. But to run said app, you need a Netgear account, and in my opinion they want too much personal information. Nyet says I despite the fact that the app might be somewhat handy. Negatory on that. Also, the same account is needed to activate NETGEAR Armor which is a subscription-based security suite (Netgear gives you three years free with the router purchase). Given that I don’t plan on making this eval unit my daily driver, I’m going to pass on Armor- but here’s some interesting chatter among IT folks about it.

I opted to simply connect to the device over Wi-Fi, using the password provided on the router, and head for good old 192.168.1.1 admin page. I also opted not to bite on another subscription- Disney’s Circle parental controls, which were offered one click in . If I was at a different place in life (my kids are grown and live elsewhere), I may welcome something like Circle but would need to evaluate.

Netgear touts the AC2300 as a CYBERSECURITY router, which is OK. Even without the app, Armor, or Circle there are some decent security-oriented features available, as you’ll see in the screenshots.

As a Switch/Router, Looks Decent Enough

See the screenshot dump at the end- you’ll get a sense of the usual offerings that come in better model routers. VLAN support, firewall functionality for device access, URL blocking, protocol controls, etc are handy, and the switchports are 10/100/1000. Also USB3 connectivity to storage or whatever floats your boat. Nothing earth-shaking, but a well-rounded feature set.

Wireless Performance Good- But the Approach is Maddening

It’s funny that the data sheet mentions “interference avoidance” in at least one spot, but your neighbors might not agree given that the AC2300 comes up blasting away on 80 MHz wide channels in 5 GHz (gotta be so to bring the jigabits!) and squatting on channel 9 in 2.4 GHz. How about the power level? Out of box it’s 100% on both channels. 100% of… well, something. but mere mortals aren’t privy to such details. I am not a mere mortal hover, and so I know where to find the power output levels for this router – if you know what the values mean, you’ll agree that this router is quite the flamethrower. Depending on where it’s used, you may not be able to get the power LOW enough.

For some reason, Netgear also decided to expose a couple of settings you can ruin your own day by manipulating wrongly…

Some things are better left hidden, says I. But it is nice that you can schedule the radios for on/off as desired.

I’d Buy It, and Then I’d Get Wise About Configuring It

If I was shopping for a normal consumer router, the AC2300 would be a good candidate based on booming radios and decent features, with or without the subscription stuff and Nighthawk app. It’s a nice enough looking router. The wireless defaults are ugly, though and  can do more harm than good. At the same time, consumer grade stuff is set up out of the box to THEORETICALLY meet the bold promises made in marketing (good luck getting 1625 Mbps in 5 GHz out of this or any 802.11ac 3×3 router) on the assumption that all consumers operate in their own little vacuums.  

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Intuitibits: New Name, Familiar Tools

wifi_explorer_pro_largeI’m guessing that if you gathered 100 wireless network engineers in a room, at least 50 of them would have the WiFi Explorer Pro application on a Macbook. And I’m also guessing that like 35 of those 50 would actually use it frequently in their WLAN support and troubleshooting duties. It’s a great tool, written by a talented fellow. And that’s where the story line of this blog begins.

Adrian Granados- THAT Adrian Granados

Let’s clear something up straightaway. THIS Adrian Granados will kick your ass:

boxer Adrian

While THE OTHER Adrian Granados is the genius behind some damn good wireless tools:
Do-You-Have-a-Mac-Adrian-Granados-WLPC-Phoenix-2018

I would recommend not confusing the two. I’d also encourage you to say hello to Wireless Adrian if you ever get the chance at an industry event because he’s just a nice gentleman.

And… he wrote WiFi Explorer Pro.
And… he continually improves it.
And… he wrote a bunch of other excellent tools. Like Airtool, Transfer, and WiFi Signal.

Introducing Intuitibits, Headed up by Adrian Granados

Intuitibits is a new company, with Granados at the helm. In their own words:

We create the most intuitive, easy-to-use Mac tools for home users and wireless professionals looking to monitor, validate and troubleshoot wireless networks.

I can vouch for that description, as I’ve used these tools in a number of settings. They tend to hit that the elusive sweet spot where you don’t have to be a WLAN expert to get value from them, but they go the distance for those of us who are experts. I recently sat through the Wireless Adjuster course, where Intuitibits’ WiFi Explorer Pro features prominently in the course materials. I was impressed with WiFI explorer before the course, and was even more so after having it’s deeper capabilities revealed during the training.

Possibly the Best Value Among WLAN Tools Out There

Intuitibits’ products are effective, for sure- but they are also priced for all. With affordability in mind, nothing is lost for support (the rare times you may need it), and it’s not uncommon to see WLAN pros using these tools before their more expensive ones in troubleshooting.

I wish all at Intuitibits good fortune as they begin their journey. And I can’t wait to see what’s next in the product line.

 

 

 

What I Took Away From the Wireless Adjuster Course

This course comes from Divergent Dynamics, taught by none other than Devin Akin. I have been following the story line of Wireless Adjuster since before it was unleashed, and here is some background if you have any interest:

Now that I have actually sat through the two-day course myself, let me share my impressions.

Wireless Adjuster Fills a Need

There is vendor training out there for wireless networking, and there is the excellent Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) program (reminder that I am CWNE #200 and current member of the CWNE advisory board). But I have yet to see a really good, practical, hands-on training course that looks to equip a broad cross-section of wireless troubleshooters with the mindset and experience to use tools that almost anyone can afford to find perhaps 90% of likely WLAN-side problems.

Wireless Adjuster Complements Other Courses

Regardless of your past training and proficiency with wireless analysis (like CWAP), survey tools (like Ekahau) and basic foundational knowledge (vendor training, CWNA), Wireless Adjuster re-enforces and introduces some pretty key best-practice (and exceptions to best practices) philosophy for a range of WLAN situations. Combine what you get out of Wireless Adjuster with what you already think you know, and you’ll be living larger as an analysis professional, I promise.

Wireless Adjuster Shows Just How Powerful WiFi Explorer Pro Really Is

WiFi Explorer Pro is already widely appreciated among WLAN professionals as an easy-to-use, huge-bang-for-the-buck WLAN analysis tool. It doesn’t NEED to be the main tool used in Wireless Adjuster to gain recognition, but the way it is used in the course will make you appreciate WiFi Explorer Pro even more. Devin does a nice job introducing aspects of the tool you may not be aware of, and uses it as a bona fide troubleshooting suite that competes with any tool out there. When you consider the integrations supported with MetaGeek’s dBx adapters, WLANPi, and other external devices, it’s fairly mind blowing that WiFi Explorer Pro can be had for under $100. To me, this is the best value out there among WLAN support tools.

Wireless Adjuster Exposes Just How Defective the WLAN Standards Are in Spots

I would love for anyone involved with developing 802.11 standards and the entire Wi-Fi Alliance staff to sit through Wireless Adjuster. Throughout the class, you’ll see example after example of how optional parts of the various standards cause a lot of performance problems in various WLAN settings. You see real-world examples of the cost of the IEEE 802.11 groups being hung up on backwards compatibility. You learn why many of the sexy, hyper-marketed aspects of 802.11, .ac. and .ax sound great in promotional material, but flat-out suck in the real world. Devin finds fault with none of it, and is far more of a gentleman about it than I am. He methodically and objectively guides you through this odd reality through real live examples that you analyze for yourself.

Having taken Wireless Adjuster, I’m now even more taken aback than I have ever been  about how out of sync with reality the IEEE 802.11 folks, the Wi-Fi Alliance, and many WLAN vendors are with real-world WLAN performance. It’s pretty freakin’ unreal, says I. Don’t agree? I’ll fight you, and I’ll fight dirty.

Wireless Adjuster Is Fairly Captivating

I will freely admit that I am a far better instructor than I am a student. I have a recognized track record of being good at teaching, dating back to my time in the US Air Force instructor school. But put me on the other side of the equation and I get bored easy as a student. I daydream. I doodle. I multitask, and do a fairly poor job of it. But for the almost twenty hours of Wireless Adjuster time, I was pretty much riveted. The discussion was fantastic, the examples are relatable, and even though I’m a certified “expert” I learned once again that I don’t know it all. Wireless Adjuster commanded my attention (despite taking the course remotely), and I finished the training with a todo list of things to go examine on my own networks.

Final Word: Time Well Spent

When it comes to technical training, I want VALUE. I don’t want to spend a day getting a half-hour’s worth of actionable information. Wireless Adjuster hits that sweet spot where newer wireless folks and vets like myself can both benefit greatly from the materials, the exercises, and especially the discussion throughout the course. I’m glad I took the class, and I highly recommend it.

 

 

Catching Up With Devin Akin- and the Wireless Adjuster Training Course

Late last year, I got wind of a new WLAN training option being developed. The course name was curious- Wireless Adjuster. It was the brainchild of long-time wireless pro Devin Akin, and it got a lot of people curious early on. I wrote about it then when it was still a twinkle in Devin’s eye. Now that the course has been running, several people who have attended it have spoken highly of their experiences with Wireless Adjuster.

Being gonzo, I wanted to find out how Devin himself thinks Wireless Adjuster has been going. After all, the last several months have rocked our collective world in a number of ways, and his baby was just getting started when the pandemic and all of it’s ripple effects hit.

Follow along for Devin’s answers to my questions.

 Hey brother, how’s the new course going? How’s the demand?

The interest is extremely high, but attendance is only modest. Many folks tell me that they want to attend but cannot due to lack of funds – whether personal funds or company funds. I can certainly understand that. Most employees rely on their employers for training funds, and when companies are furloughing and laying employees off, it’s hard to justify training funds. The monetary situation doesn’t make the training any less needed, but cuts have to be made somewhere, right? Most of the folks who take the class take the exam, and I’ve had unbelievably good feedback on the difficulty level and accuracy of the exam. Positive feedback on an exam is reassuring. It took many weeks to write the exam pools, so I’m glad to see that it’s being well-received.

It looks like you’ve really hit on something with Wireless Adjuster. Tell me, has COVID19 rocked your world too badly for the course?

Yes, without a doubt. I taught in-person classes until the middle of March, and within three days of the international travel restrictions, three months’ of classes had vanished. I quickly pivoted the courseware to online, and online classes have been a big hit. Every student (globally) who had paid for the in-person class has (or is about to) attend the online class. For those who paid for an in-person class, I am allowing them to sit both the online and in-person classes for the one payment. That has been extremely popular. Once we’re allowed to travel and host in-person classes again, I expect demand to be strong, and I look forward to seeing all of those who have taken online classes.

Let’s hope we all find some normalcy again soon. In general, what skill levels are you seeing across those taking Wireless Adjuster?

While the target audience is post-CWNA (whether holding the certification or not) level attendees, I’ve found that about 25% of my students are CWNEs. I have been very surprised by this. Additionally, the CWNE feedback shows that along the path to the CWNE certification, much best practice assessment, remediation, optimization, and troubleshooting knowledge has been missed. That proves that my understanding of knowledge gaps in the industry were not misguided, which I’m exceedingly happy about. About 50% of attendees are the target market of post-CWNA, and the feedback there is usually very similar: that the Wireless Adjuster training program is hitting it’s intended mark as a hands-on preparatory step toward CWAP and CWSP certifications. What I find quite amusing is that post-CWNA students often do better on the exam than CWNEs. I currently attribute this to post-CWNA’s not overthinking the exam questions. The remaining 25% are a hodgepodge consisting of folks who are certification-averse, mom-and-pop shop WiFi engineers who need to understand practical troubleshooting and optimization better, and folks who were simply curious as to what the program is all about.

That’s pretty interesting. How you found that your original vision for Wireless Adjuster has needed to be tweaked at all?

Original vision, no. Content delivery, yes. The two beta classes were extremely valuable in honing the course material to achieve its goals. The original (and current) vision for the Wireless Adjuster program is to teach and certify engineers on WiFi best practice assessment, remediation, optimization, and troubleshooting. It was designed to sit directly between CWNA and the professional levels CWSP and CWAP. The primary goal, as it relates to the CWNP Program is to assist post-CWNA students prepare for the depth of theory of professional level exams by giving them hands-on experience with inexpensive tools in modest complexity level WiFi environments. Student feedback tells me that it is achieving these goals.

It’s always nice to get that feedback. What do you think the biggest value is shaping up to be for those taking Wireless Adjuster?

I can only go by what I’m told by students who have completed the class, and so far, the biggest ROIs on taking the classes are: 1) Moving dysfunctional networks to functional (without the need for surveys or redesign), and 2) immediate optimization of modest-performance networks (given several dozen best practices). For administrators, it’s their own network, but for consultants (e.g. systems integrators) it may be many customer networks.

Let me put you on the spot. You’ve been in this business a long time, but I’m guessing that you’ve also learned a thing or two on the Wireless Adjuster journey. Tell me about that.

That’s an insightful question. There is one primary lesson that I have learned along the Wireless Adjuster journey, and everything else is a distance second place.

When I go to a customer site, and they tell me “my network sucks,” I don’t start with a site survey or a redesign. I start with a $100 WiFi scanner and assess best practice adherence via a standardized triage process. If the customer is using max output power, 80MHz channels everywhere, not using any DFS channels, have misconfigured Beacon Interval or DTIM periods, have QoS or security misconfigurations, have high channel utilization utilization all of the time, or any of 50+ other items, I don’t need a survey to tell me that their network sucks – I can already see that. A best practices assessment takes minutes, not days. Once best practices are dealt with, THEN the customer MAY need a survey or redesign, but in many cases they do not. Many of my customers simply want their terrible WiFi network to be functional at a modest level with minimal time and cost. You can achieve that in 95% of cases with just a scanner. The trick is knowing how to use the scanner really well. It like to say that a good scanner is like the world’s best WiFi Swiss Army knife. It has hundreds of blades, and you need to know what each does and how/when to use it. You can’t saw a tree down with a Swiss Army knife, but you can cut down the twigs that are in your way. You can’t build a house with a Swiss Army knife, but you could build a tent with it. It’s surprising how many networks can reach an acceptable level of optimization only using a WiFi scanner and knowledge of the 802.11 protocol.

WiFi scanners can assess algorithms like load balancing, band steering, DFS event response, Auto RF, protection ripple, and even Smart PoE. It’s not always about what the scanner can see, but also about what you can infer from what the scanner sees. It’s a learning process, and that’s what the class is all about. Starting with a $5,000 tool and taking 5 days to do what you can do with a $100 tool in 15 minutes seems silly to me. Certainly the WiFi design and survey tools on the market are very important and have their place, but they should not be the initial go-to tool for best practice assessment, remediation, optimization, and troubleshooting. The Wireless Adjuster course focuses on the 802.11 protocol and use of advanced WiFi scanners to achieve remarkable results quickly and inexpensively.

I agree with you on the “lesser” tools absolutely having their place. Let’s finish with this:  What do you want people in the market for wireless training to know first and foremost about Wireless Adjuster?

If you have a base level of WiFi knowledge, and you want to dig into the protocol and best practice assessment, remediation, optimization, and troubleshooting, you will get a concentrated dose of it over the two days of this class. The first day is understanding a large list of WiFi best practices and deep familiarization with a leading WiFi scanner through a half day of lab time. The second day is 100% lab time, where ten real-world labs of increasing complexity and differing types are presented to the student. After each lab, there is a group discussion of findings and solutions, e.g. what misconfiguration may have resulted in which symptoms. By the end of the second day, students are diagnosing layers of misconfigurations and explaining why the symptoms exist. The Wireless Adjuster course is the most real-world best practices assessment and WiFi network optimization class on the market today.


A big thank you to Devin for his time and thoughts. I gotta see for myself, now. I’ll be doing Wireless Adjuster soon myself, and will do a follow-up blog afterwards.

Have you attended Wireless Adjuster training? Please share your thoughts here, and thanks for reading.

It’s Time for YOU to Get Wise About CBRS

CBRS search

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

A Quick Look Back to 2105

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

Almost There- 2019

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

Early 2020- The FCC Opens the Floodgates for CBRS

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

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

Our Turf is Soon to Be Trampled On

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

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

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

Get Educated

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

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

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

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

Some Advice for Ubiquiti Forum Posters

Having just migrated Wirednot HQ to Ubiquiti (LAN, WLAN, CCTV, and a P-P link), I find myself in the Ubiquiti forums more than I have been in the past. The community discussions are the main means of support on this ever-evolving (and expanding) product set, and you’ll find both fellow Ubiquiti customers and company employees engaged in discussions. It’s an interesting framework, and like any discussion forum where lots of people participate, you get good advice, odd advice, and exposure to a lot of different personalities (we’ll come back to this point).

I have noticed a few trends that I want to call out for the benefit of both those in the Ubiquiti forums, but also for anyone dealing with general networking issues that may benefit from some basic network troubleshooting advice.

  • The Physical Layer matters- bigtime. I notice a lot of “my network performance isn’t what I expect- something has to be wrong with my Ubiquiti gear” kind of laments in the forum. And the discussions that follow often NEVER get into the physical layer. Chances are, many of the same folks that use UniFi gear are also buying offshore-sourced (which is polite-talk for cheap) cable products, or terminating it themselves without having a certification tester to prove wiring and performance are up to snuff. So be it, remember that the physical layer is where troubleshooting should start. Do SOMETHING to verify your cable is not the problem, if nothing else than swapping out to another cable to see if the problem follows. And when you engage in the forums looking for help, tell us how you’ve verified the cabling is OK as part of your troubleshooting so far.
  • Network switches have stories to tell, but you have to listen. Just like we can’t assume that cabling is good when trouble hits, we also can’t assume that network connections between devices are behaving as they should. Check for speed and duplex status for the ports in the path of your trouble– like so:
    ubntspeedduplex
    and check for RX and TX errors (receive and transmit) that could indicate bad cable, bad jack, bad NIC, or misbehaving SFP module:
    ubnterrors
    If you find errors, I suggest you clear the counters and then watch to see if the errors continue to increment. If they do, you have at least part of your problem figured out.
  • What Access Point is your client device connecting to? I see plenty of “my Wi-Fi is slow” postings, and many of these are in environments where multiple access points are in use. Not only do you need to know what the output power of the access points are and what channels are in use so interference is minimized, you also need to know what access point your “slow” client is connecting to, and how good that connection is. Client devices do not always connect to the nearest or strongest AP, or to the radio (5 GHz or 2.4 GHz) you might assume they should.
    ubntclient
    There are other views that will tell you more, but “slowness” may be normal, based on the connection properties in play. Often the “fix” is to update the client device drivers or firmware.
  • Speedtest to the Internet isn’t the end-all. Understand what is actually being tested. To state the obvious, your Internet speedtest results can’t exceed your ISP connection capacity. If you have a 25 Mbps down/5 Mbps up connection, you won’t see any more than those numbers on Internet speedtests. And… if other devices are using the Internet while you are speedtesting, your results will be less because you are sharing “the pipe”.
    When you run the Internet speedtest, you are exercising one discreet path- the connectivity between your specific device and the server out on the Internet. If it feels slow and you are on WIRELESS, you need to verify that your wireless connection is healthy as described above.
    If speedtest feels slow and you are on WIRED, check the specific port behavior for your connected device, also as described above. If speedtesting from multiple devices feels slow, try to move as close to the edge router as you can and retest. If it suddenly perks up, you may have to “divide and conquer” to find what part of the network is slow versus what is behaving normally.
    Also know that some Internet speedtest sites can be fairly erratic, based on a number of factors. Try a couple of different ones, and never come to conclusions based on a single test.
  • Consider learning iPerf, possibly getting an internal testing device. Just like Internet speedtests can be fairly ambiguous, there are tools that can be pretty damn accurate in characterizing exactly how a network is behaving between Point A and Point B. Consider iPerf as an excellent freebie, or something like WLAN Pi that can be built for well under $100 (WLAN Pi also gives a slew more functionality than just throughput testing). However you get there, it’s empowering to be able to test between different points on the local network as you try to isolate perceived problems. This is where you make sure that switch to switch connections are actually delivering Gigabit, for example.

There are more basics to talk about (like being on the right FW versions), but these are a good start. I encourage using these tips every time BEFORE you reach out for help, as they will lead to better resolution faster, and you will also become more self-sufficient in solving your own problems (or in helping others to overcome as you better your basic troubleshooting skills.)

Now… back to the personalities thing I mentioned up front in this blog. For whatever reason, any forum you join from restoring classic campers to Ram pickup trucks to networking, you’ll find people that simply want to help, and others that see the world through blinders, and it’s their way or no way. That being said… don’t be GodComplex5.

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

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

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

Does this look vaguely familiar?
EtherScopenXG

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Network is Code: Cisco at MFD4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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