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!

Ventev Knows- What a Difference That Antenna Makes

Have you ever designed a WLAN for a stadium? Ever taken a tour a of a top-tier professional stadium that has just had a a new wireless network installed throughout? I’ve done both, and the challenges of stadium WLAN have to be experienced before you can fully appreciate them. Regardless of what WLAN vendor you use on the radio side, you have to get the signals to where they need to be and to manage their fidelity in an environment that has great potential to devolve into an RF cesspool during events. Antennas- and their placement- are the keys to success, Daddy-o.

There are only so many places you can stick access points and antennas in a stadium environment’s fan seating areas. Depending on the venue, you might get great bleed-out/in between the bowl area and the concourses and office areas where different WLANs are likely to be found. Then there is the sheer volume of client devices, the other RF systems on and around the field, and whatever hotspot noisemakers fans and media show up with. Precision placement, alignment, and antenna patterns are the stuff of stadium wireless networks, and it’s all gotta be done in a way that protects the WLAN gear and rowdy fans from each other.

Lately, I’ve been fortunate to spend a little time on multiple occasions with Dennis Burrell of Ventev talking about antennas and his work designing them for challenging environments. Let’s have a look at one of Ventev’s specialty solutions, straight from Soldier Field (home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears):

enclosure

And now a cutaway of that “handrail enclosure”:

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If it’s not obvious, the advantage here is that the antennas are not below the seats or at some far-away overhead mounting location, but rather at waist-height with more clear lines of sight into the adjacent seating rows, shooting in two directions out of one enclosure. You can read more about the 275 of these units at Soldier Field here.

It’s fascinating to see the stadium challenges get answered by people like Burrell who have the talent, know-how, and empowerment to do what needs to be done. I also wrote this recently, which will lead you to many more of Ventev’s stadium projects.

Finally- let’s see what you might now about the stadium Wi-Fi market. Any idea how many large venues are “out there”? My past blog “What’s the Big Deal With Stadium Wi-Fi?” will help you to appreciate this fascinating space. And in this space, you can bet that the WLAN designers and owners appreciate Ventev’s contributions.

 

Today’s WLAN Vocabulary Word: Dichotomy

I just got back from the excellent 2018 Wireless LAN Professionals Conference (WLPC), and feel compelled to share one of the most impactful notions that I left the event with. Though what was said on the stage and in the training sessions has voluminous merit, there was something else afoot that is worth mentioning as well. Something of concern, curiosity, and headaches.

As with the greater WLAN industry, DICHOTOMY was a powerful elephant in the rooms at WLPC.

dichotomy

Merriam-Webster defines dichotomy as “something with seemingly contradictory qualities”, and I can’t think of a better word for the state of wireless networking today. Except it’s not a single dichotomy unto itself, but more of an industry/technology/mindset fraught with DICHOTOMY.

To be clear, “fraught” in this case means we are oozing dichotomy out of every orifice we collectively have that is capable of oozing. And when I say we are “oozing dichotomy”, I actually mean that we as a wireless industry can’t get our collective acts together on sooooo many fronts. We do counterproductive things… I blame everyone involved, from the IEEE to the Wi-Fi Alliance to Cisco and Aruba to every marketer in the mix and many individuals. But “blame” is too strong, maybe. Somehow, we all just kinda lost our way.

If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking “all right, get to the point already… show us examples of this dichotomy stuff so we can all get on with it.” OK- let’s do that. Following is a bulletized list of seemingly contradictory qualities. I’m also throwing in some bummers and head-scratchers for good measure.

  • Access Points are shipping with 80 MHz channels enabled in 5 GHz, while many a WLAN expert is saying that 20 MHz is plenty for most environments
  • The quest for WLAN design and survey hyper-precision marches on with awesome refinements to suites like Ekahau and iBwave, yet many people doing WLAN can’t afford these Caddilac-grade tools, so they do what they can with the “lesser” tools they have available- and frequently do just fine
  • For those of us who do put a lot of time into our designs and surveys (to both provide needed services and to generate revenue) we tend to factor out that wireless is also fairly forgiving to imperfect conditions and that Very Good may be the better fit than highly-tuned Perfection over time
  • Network manufacturers are pushing mGig switching for 802.llac Wave 2 APs while a huge percentage of the WLAN pro population leads with “It’s overkill and we’ll never need mGig” when asked about it – why the disconnect?
  • As the higher end of the standards are aggressively marketed by WLAN vendors, the very factors that need to line up to achieve the max performance is being undermined by client device makers who never got the memo that the 90s are over and yesterday’s shitshow doesn’t play well in today’s WLAN opera house
  • Security is the running headline du jour day in and out, yet client device makers are missing the boat here as well, so for decades we’ll be stuck with PSK networks and having to provide layers of network defenses for devices that are too hastily thrown together to be able to defend themselves for decades
  • Standards are evidently only standards to a point. When you need to design separate networks  for Apple devices, something is wrong with the bigger wireless world
  • We’re collapsing WLAN controllers into ever larger-capacity units to reduce uplink port counts, rackspace, etc- but the old saying about all the eggs in one basket applies here when too-frequent code issues impact thousands of APs and the clients using them
  • Our wireless boats at the enterprise level are drifting into the Automation Sea, where new magic promises to take the human touch of configuration and tuning out of the equation. Yet to get to the new “see- isn’t that simple?” paradigm, crazy complexity and cost have to be gotten past
  • While market leaders develop super-complicated WLAN systems that prioritize feature bloat over stability (evidently having both is not an option), “lesser” vendors are doing the REAL innovation as they prioritize serving ever larger numbers of clients without the system imploding under it’s own weight every few months

The list certainly goes on, but I’m sure you get the point. Before we close this out, give a little thought to Ethernet… Ever seen this weapons-grade lunacy on the wired network? I’m sure at least a couple of you are thinking that I’m not appreciating that WLAN is “flexible” which forgives everything that the WLAN Crazy Train might be hauling. To you I say: It ain’t innovation if it sucks.

So… what do we do as WLAN professionals, with all this DICHOTOMY afoot? I’d recommend recognizing it all for what it is. Skepticism is healthy, and enterprise WLAN work (and spending of enterprise WLAN dollars) deserves large doses of said skepticism. Part of our jobs as WLAN professionals (in my opinion) is to boil off hype, find warts, and make the best out of situations that are rarely as good as vendors would have you believe- as opposed to being Kool Aid drinkers and vendor fanboys. Dichotomy isn’t going  anywhere, so get used to it.

It’s also one of the parts of being in the WLAN field that I actually enjoy contending with, which in itself might be considered a dichotomy.

2018 #WLPC Person of the Year

OK- Scott got me laughing here. Thanks for the kind words, your own awesome blog, and for helping to make my WLPC experience a blast.

The it Rebel

As we near the close of the 2018 US version of #WLPC, Keith Parsons took to the stage to announce the person of the year. This award was previously held by Adrain Granados, well known maker of the WifiExplorer (and other Mac WiFi tools) within the wireless community. Definitely a hard act to follow.

With so much angst for members of the community, this year the awardee was Lee Badman.

DWp1m-UU0AIi65p.jpg-large 2018 WLPC Person of the Year – Lee Badman

Now, most would agree that Lee has been very influential this past year with his #WIFIQ tweets daily that have sparked some great discussions within the community. But let’s get to know the REAL Lee.

  1. This is no surprise to many, but Lee loves pugs. That’s right pugs. Possibly the least beautiful animal in the genus Canis. I mean, what real man wants a pug? It’s like the animal just ran…

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Wanna Blog? Then Blog Already

This post was created for a ten-minute talk for the Wireless LAN Professionals Conference (2018). Want help getting started in blogging? Hopefully this blog lights a little fire for you, and I’m always happy to answer questions if you reach out.

Want to blog about Wi-Fi?

1. Take the first step. Writing, like public speaking, puts you “out there” for praise and criticism. If you’re gonna do it, do it.

2. Be yourself. Your words, your thoughts, your style. It’s OK to be inspired by others, but the world needs YOU, not you copying someone else. Write from YOUR experiences and discoveries.

3. Have something to say, but don’t force it. When the time is right to get your shareable thoughts out, you’ll feel it.

4. Put a fresh angle on the topic, whatever it is. Find something else to lead with that others aren’t discussing, some under-told feature or use case, etc. It’s OK to write about what others are writing about, but find some way to make it fresh, even if just subtly so.

5. Write often enough to stay relevant. If you last wrote back in 2015, chances are you’ve fallen off of most people’s radar. Every few weeks is OK, every few months is acceptable. Beyond that, don’t expect a lot of readers. Bonus- the more you write, the better you will get at writing.

6. Blogs aren’t novels- people have limited reading time. Don’t write more than you need to on a topic.

7. Promote, and be promoted. Get proofreading help early on if you need it; your blogging “advisor” will likely promote your blog.

8. Don’t be thin-skinned, and keep your ego in check. BTW- none of us know everything. And “experts” aren’t omnipotent- know the difference when interacting with people.

9. Any comments/feedback are worth responding to (almost). Stay respectful, and try to foster healthy dialogue. But it’s better to delete hyper-caustic comments than to reply with rancor.

10. Money can be made writing for the right outlet (or company) but generally it takes a while to build up to that- and you might have to know someone to get in the game. Unless you’re truly gifted, you won’t get rich with blogging. But you might develop a nice side income, and get other writing gigs.

Bender- Stay This Far Away From Me at WLPC

I take my conferences seriously. My travel opportunities are not unlimited, so I want real value out of the one or two events a year I get to go to. The first aspect of ensuring a quality experience is focusing on excellent content- I could give a rat’s arse about having some blowhard Hollywood type as a keynote speaker, and I don’t need to be “treated” to a concert or amusement park (that I’m actually paying for) at the end. My better events are also thin on vendor sales pitches, and beefier in real content. That’s why I’m excited to once again be going to WLPC, aka the Wireless LAN Professionals Conference, in Phoenix in a few days. It’s the one conference that’s BY wireless networkers FOR wireless networkers, and it just gets better every year.

But there is more to WLPC success than just signing up. I’ll be presenting a couple of sessions, I know what sessions are of particular interest to me, and I have a list of people I’m looking forward to catching up with.

Then there’s Bender. Shaun Bender.

This blog serves as notice to Bender about the Rules of Engagement- or rather the rules of Non-Engagement- for he and I during this event. I will spare you the details of the generations-deep blood feud between the Badmans and the Benders, but I can assure you that Shaun’s people are and always have been at fault. To keep the peace at WLPC, I’ve developed a few simple rules to help Lil Shauny stay out of trouble with me.

The 20-Foot Rule

Below is the schematic for the Ballroom at the Doubletree Hotel in Phoenix.

Simple math using the formula Area = Length x Width yields 3,510 square feet in this venue. This gives plenty of room for Shaun to stay at least 20′ feet away from me. Now let’s look at a couple of examples. The next image shows a typical conference room layout. What we’re after here is the seating pattern, and what Shaun needs to keep in mind when I’m in the room. We’re going to call each per-person seating area a 30-inch width, and the gap between tables 42 inches. I’ll talk about Positions 1, 2, and 3 in a minute.

Remember, Shaun needs to stay the hell away from me by minimally 20 feet, which equals 240 inches. Simple references that may be helpful:

  • 8 chair spaces = 240 inches/20 feet
  • 6 “table gaps” will ensure the 240 inch/20 foot separation as well
  • You’re thinking “yeah, but the aisle should count too”. Well, it doesn’t, so shut up.

Now, about those red position indicators. These are the three places I am likely to be while participating in the event. #1 is me at the podium, #2 is my favorite seat, and #3 is the Special Aisle Case. So how does Bender stay in compliance in each of these? I’ve made it as simple as I can- and I am NOT open to trigonometric formulas that may work the hypotenuse in Bender’s favor to get him closer to me, so we can rule that right out.

#1 Position: This is simple. When I am presenting, Bender needs to stay at least 6 rows back from the stage, AND 8 seats over from the shortest imaginary line formed between the podium and the back of the room.

#2 Position: Again, easy-peasy. When I am in my favorite chair, Bender needs to be no less than 8 full chair-spaces away from me in either direction (remember, the aisle does not count in this measurement). Preferably, at least one or two large people would be in the between-area so I don’t incidentally have to see him in my periphery. If this can’t be achieved for lack of seating, then Bender needs to follow the 6 row rule AND the 8 chair-space rule for minimum required separation.

#3 Position: This is somewhat complicated, and requires Bender to be paying attention. If I’m simply getting up to pee or to grab coffee and I transit the aisle without pause, Bender can stand fast wherever he is (as long as that location is otherwise in compliance). But, should I run into someone interesting in the aisle and end up talking for more than 60 seconds then Bender needs to adjust for proper separation between my aisle location AND my seat that I will return to after my business is finished.

Meals

It’s quite probable that Bender and I will no doubt be eating meals at the same time, and in many cases, in the same general area. This can’t be helped, and I would expect that we can both be mature about this. As long as no eye contact is made and no words are spoken (including muttering), the serving line can accommodate both of us. But I don’t want him handing me a plate or silverware, and any attempts by Bender to put dressing on my salad will result in immediate fisticuffs, and/or a call to hotel security. Once through the serving line, I need at least a two-table buffer between Bender and I, predicated on the tables being minimum 12′ round.

Hotel Lobby/Common Areas

This gets a little complicated, as the common areas are finite resources, and Bender can only get so far away. Here, the formula changes a little bit out of necessity. For every 5-foot increment that Bender needs to encroach on the 20′ buffer, the penalty is an adult beverage of my choice, to be awarded within 4 hours of the offense. The hotel bar serves as a neutral zone, and is the ONLY place where the buffer distance is suspended for the purpose of settling penalties.

Hopefully this simple overview can be of tremendous assistance in keeping the conference experience satisfactory for both Bender and I, and should the bottom fall out it will be his fault.

Here’s wishing everyone a great WLPC. If it wasn’t obvious, this was satire! Me and Lil Shauny are pals. There is no generations’ running blood feud, but if there was it would be the House of Bender’s fault.

Jake Talks Wireless Code Quality- and It’s Worth Hearing

Jake Snyder is a smart guy. He’s got experience, credentials, and is just a well-rounded networking gent no matter what other descriptors you assign him. In this video, Jake spends about a dozen minutes contemplating the current state of code cranked out by WLAN vendors. Give a listen, and see what YOU think.

My own opinion: the more complexity that vendors cram into their code, the more we’re going to deal with bugs. That’s a pretty simple equation. And… the basic notions of reliability and providing access for clients are getting deprioritized for more exciting features that read well in marketing materials.

So- we’re doomed.

Nah- I’m kidding! It’s not that bad.

Except maybe I’m not kidding.