Tag Archives: personal hotspot

Interfering Personal Hotspots- Beyond Simply a Technical Issue

After 20-some odd years in the Wi-Fi business, I can safely say that I both love and hate personal wireless hotspots. Before I get into all that, let’s go back in time. If you want some zesty background, here are a few easy, compelling reads written by me from the way back machine:

If you don’t want to review the above links, here’s the poor man’s executive summary:

FCC: Don’t use de-auth frames- that equals jamming (depending on which one of our own definitions you stumble across). Selling jammers is illegal. We let Wi-Fi vendors sell illegal jammers because they provide tools that do de-auth. But that is illegal. You can’t sell jammers except when you can sell jammers. Confused? Shut up, or maybe we’ll fine your ass for our lack of clarity. Our annual fund-raiser is coming up- how’d you like to “donate” several thousand dollars?

Hotspot Makers: We use only the highest power and some really cocked up channel selection algorithms to ensure your device delivers the absolute finest in RF interference to the Wi-Fi environment you are sitting in the middle of.

Wi-Fi Alliance: BUY MORE WI-FI GEAR! FAT CHANNELS! GO TEAM! CRANK UP THAT POWER! WORK IT, YOU SWEET THANG! WE ARE AWESOME, JUST ASK US! IGNORE ALL THE STUFF WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING FOR THE LAST 20 YEARS.

Network Customers, WLAN Admins: WTF?

It all makes perfect sense if you don’t think about it.

The Technical Frustrations

Anyone else in the biz knows that hotspots can be annoying, or they can be WLAN-killers. It all depends on the day, the device, the location, and the density of the WLAN where those hotspots are fired up. You can only play so many frequency-stomping games with spectrum, then physics shows through and Wi-Fi sucks for everyone until the contention is eliminated. This is the technical side of hotspot frustration.

And nobody of title has done a shittin’ thing to improve the situation- not the FCC, not the WI-Fi Alliance whose members make all of the devices that step on each other, not anybody. Everyone is in it for themselves… (Soapbox moment brought to you by the good folks at Shamwowsers & McKracken, LLC).

Ah well.

The Cultural Component to the Whole Mess

Cell phones and Mi-Fi devices have come soooo far since WLAN administrators first played whack-a-mole with hotspot-induced network issues. Data plans have also evolved, to the point where many of us are walking around with dual-band, unlimited data hotspots in our pockets ready to put into service at the slightest notion.

Let’s turn to rocker Ted Nugent for his take on the situation, as written about in his mega-hit “Free For All”:

Well looky here, you sweet young thing: the magic’s in my hands
When in doubt, I’ll whip it out. I got me a hotspot- dual-band
It’s a free for all

Or something like that… It ABSOLUTELY IS a free for all. That’s the culture right now. If I can’t get on the business network because I don’t know how to configure meself for 802.1X, I’m gonna WHIP IT OUT, Nugent-style, and get myself off to the Internet. The business Wi-Fi can suck it, and how dare you expect me to open a trouble ticket to get help with your 802.1X noise? THE MAGIC IS IN MY HANDS. Any collateral damage is NOT MY PROBLEM.

So what if your stupid police cars can’t transfer dashcam video because of interference? Why do I give two figs if your expensive Wi-Fi locks and clocks are acting up because of my RF pride and joy? Spare me the lecture on how your wireless VoIP handsets are getting walked on… Maybe YOU shouldn’t be using Wi-Fi-equipped medical devices. IT’S A FREE FOR ALL, DID YOU NOT GET THAT MEMO FROM TED NUGENT?

Hate ’em, Love ’em

Yeah, hotspots are a big fat PITA. They really do create problems. Some are dual-band, high power beasts that insist on obliterating your WLAN, while others seem to have a little more common sense and lower power built in, but in dense WLAN environments it still gets ugly.

But I’m here to confess that I too hear their siren song.

I get WHY people fire up their hotspots. At hotels, at camp, while troubleshooting systems that have potential ISP issues and so on. My phone’s hotspot gets it’s share of exercise, and I can’t imagine not having it available in a number of situations. But as a WLAN professional, I have the knowledge and (usually) the discipline to not hose up someone else’s WLAN with my hotspot when I’m at their place of business. Most people- not so much.

We’re way past the opportunity for THE INDUSTRY PLAYERS to responsibly to educate end users on why hotspots shouldn’t just be whipped out Ted Nugent-style. So we’re stuck with the problem.

Suck it up, Buttercup

What really sucks about all of this is that WLAN components are only getting ever more expensive. The tools that are used to design and support WLANs are only getting more expensive. Collectively, the security stakes in almost all WLAN environments are only getting higher. We can pump endless dollars and man-hours into delivering really good Wi-Fi, yet hotspots can lay waste to parts of our infrastructures, and there isn’t much anyone can do except to ask the offender to put them away, if we can pinpoint them and get them to listen to our appeal that they think of their fellow man…

Strange times, says I.

Mi-Fi Not Kind to Wi-Fi

Are you “that guy”? Do you take your Mi-Fi hotspot with you everywhere you go and light it up as if it were your constitutional right, regardless of your location? Do you treat your hotspot like an extension of your very being?

If so, I say to you…. “Grrrrrr.”

We live in an exciting New Age of Connectivity. The Internet- nay, entire worlds– are at our command from the palms of our hands. We are sailing the Good Ship Mobility on The BYOD Sea, and we have friendly wind. For those who need connectivity for work or play, life is good.

But isn’t everything in IT a study in paradox? Is there ever a free lunch?

BYOD and the consumerization of IT is not without collateral damage. One of the most irritating aspects of affordable, high-bandwidth portable devices is the wonderful, maddening Mi-Fi Hotspot. To rip off Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love:

It ought to be easy ought to be simple enough
User meets Mi-Fi and they fall in love
But the spectrum’s haunted and the ride gets rough
And you’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above

The problem is that Mi-Fi devices are an addiction. Where we have no easy access to our own or decent public Wi-Fi, they are great. But users can’t keep ’em put away when they visit places where the Mi-Fi is not welcome. Worse, they leave them on (especially when your smartphone is the hotspot) and never disable them. And yes- they are rogue access points that violate most corporate wireless and network policies.

One popular Mi-Fi Hotpsot is the Novatel 2200. With a stated range of 30 feet, this little darling has the potential to be felt in multiple cells in a dense WLAN environment. As an added bonus, I frequently see Hotspot devices come up on channel 2 in the 2.4 GHz spectrum- which means your own channel 1 is toast, and your channel 6 is degraded if the environment is open enough to allow the Hotspot to share physical space with the business wireless network (you know, the same that is already fighting off the effects of microwave ovens, Bluetooth devices, poorly-chosen cordless phones, wireless cameras,and a range of other devices).

Here’s a great review on another Hotspot, where the author found the range and wall-penetrating abilities of the Novatel 4510L to be surprisingly beefy. Again, great when you have no other network nearby, bad news for your wireless neighbors when you fire it up in the conference room of the company that you’re visiting rather than use their guest wireless service.

After watching the impact of these devices when a couple dozen of them pop up in a stadium packed with fans trying to use my state-of-the-art wireless system, I understand why the London Olympics tried (and why other venues continue to try) to police the use of personal Hotspots. Where a significant investment has been made to provide a carefully engineered WLAN for thousands of fans, a few personal hotspots can ruin wireless life for hundreds of fans and for venue operations that require wireless.

These popular devices certainly aren’t going away, but it would be wonderful if there were some etiquette training provided with their purchase.

And for Corn’s sake, why channel 2?

Again, grrrrr.