Category Archives: WLAN

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…

 

Code, Heal Thyself: Mist Systems Brings Something Badly Needed to WLAN Market

If you do any profession long enough, you’ll experience all sorts off good and bad along the way. For me, “good” has been the honor of providing reliable Wi-Fi to hundreds of thousands of client devices through the years, and “bad” has been fending off downtime and damage to organizational reputation when code bugs hit. Why focus on code bugs? To me, they are the one huge factor in WLAN system operation that we as wireless professionals can’t control. We can get everything else right from RF environmental design to RADIUS server capacity to onboarding clients, but we can’t defend against what evil lurks in the lines of code that runs the system hardware. Nor should we have to- that’s where we expect vendors to hold up their end of the deal on hardware and software that ain’t getting any cheaper.

Oh, how I have bitched and whined and complained about code bugs through the years. There was “The Horrible Bags We Hold For WLAN Vendors“. And “Code Suck Regulation: Should We Sue Vendors For Major Code Bugs?” I got a bunch of them… and it’s not just me. One of my favorite people, Jake Snyder, laid down a really good video lament on the topic. No one can forget my own video from the Wireless LAN Professional Conference in 2017 where I detailed real-world impact of code bugs. It’s a real thing, ya’ll.

I titled one post on the topic “Will Reliability Be Prioritized Before Wi-Fi’s Whiz-bang Future Gets Here?” (a house built on suck cannot stand).  This one jumped to mind yesterday as I sat in a Juniper Networks conference room in San Jose and heard Mist Systems talk about reliability. What I heard was refreshing.

Mist CTO Bob Friday and his crew presenting at Mobility Field Day 4 detailed how the company’s AI does all kinds of things- but among the most important is finding it’s own system anomalies. The gravity of the point is fairly significant, as one vendor after another wants to put a dashboard in front of you that calls out anything and everything as a wireless problem for you to chase after, but none that I know of will raise their hand and admit “OK- I’m actually the problem here… me, the system. I screwed up… I’ll fix me so we can all move on. Beg your pardon…” But now Mist is promising that, and it’s huge.

CTO Friday not only called out this capability, but was kind enough to give me a shout out for my years of crying like a school girl about code bugs, which was thoughtful.

IMG_3558.jpg

Well done, Mist Systems! There was a hell of a lot more to the presentation- and in the couple of hours I listened, I was impressed that Mist has managed to boil the hype off the concept of AI and actually did a decent job of explaining real-world, practical applications and benefits. There are several videos from the session, and they are worth watching.

More about Mobility Field Day 4 here.

 

Ekahau Retools For The Future

As a long-time Ekahau user (pretty sure I was one of the first few American customers way back when), I’ve gotten used to continuous improvement and evolution from Ekahau Site Survey (ESS) suite of tools. There have always been new features right around the corner, and the company has been perhaps the best I’ve ever seen at gathering and acting on user feedback. It’s been a great run. In the recent past, the hot-selling Sidekick provided a unique new dimension to the survey and spectrum analysis processes, and the Ekahau company was purchased by Ookla/Ziff-Davis. Both of those developments are pivotal to what comes next for Ekahau.

And what comes next is called Ekahau Connect.

Ekahau Connect

There’s  A LOT here to talk about, starting with ESS getting rebadged as Ekahau Pro, now compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems. (If you are new to the world of WLAN support, trust me that Mac is a far-better tool platform than Windows- and I am unabashedly NOT an Apple lover.)

Then there is Sidekick’s expanded capabilities- including wireless packet capture leveraging Sidekick’s dual radios (yay!) and the ability to interface with the iPad as a survey platform. This is a pretty big deal, and the light physical weight of the iPad makes for easier, more comfortable surveys.

Ekahau iPad

And… Ekahau does a little catch-up with it’s introduction of Ekahau Cloud. This is one extremely valuable capability that competitor iBwave has had for some time, as I wrote about here. Having used iBwave’s cloud tools, I can assure you that Ekahau’s customers who work in teams are going to love it and there is no doubt that the cloud expertise behind Ookla has some impact here.

And is if this all wasn’t enough for Ekahau Nation, feast your eyes on another new benefit- Ekahau Connect components working together to identify, classify, and locate interferers:

interferers

I have been fortunate in that I have been a beta tester for Ekahau’s latest. At the same time, a couple of serious “life happens” events have kept me from being a good beta tester. So for real-world first-hand perspective, I’ll hand you to two two of my favorite people on the No Strings Attached podcast.You’ll be in good hands with Sam and Blake.

 

 

Announcing #WIFIQ 2.0

I’ve heard the cries of anguish. I know the many lives that have been ruined and rendered meaningless since I announced the end of #WIFIQ on Twitter at the end of last year. I too have lived in silent agony since the daily discussion exercise went dark, even though that darkness was of my own making.

I’m well aware of the value that others have found in #WIFIQ, and I again thank all of the individuals and organizations like iBwave who have said kind things about #WIFIQ.

And now… I’m happy to announce that #WIFIQ is back, baby!

But going forward, the NEW version of #WIFIQ will not flow from my muscular, impressive fingertips. Ah, the stories those fingertips could tell…  *Ahem* It’s time for fresh minds to take up the cause, and I’m tickled to announce that the Wireless LAN Association (WLA) has expressed the desire to bring back the good thing that is #WIFIQ.

I’m not sure exactly how the WLA will originate their questions, or if they will take input like old guy who did #WIFQ did. But I do know the men and women of the WLA are good folks with great minds, and I haven’t a worry in the world that they will do justice to the #WIFIQ concept.

If you don’t yet follow the Wireless LAN Association on Twitter, get yourself hooked up with @WLANAssociation handle and standby for #WIFIQ and related news as they re-prime the pump of wireless knowledge, fellowship, and goodness.

I salute you, WLA.

wlan-association-logo-gold