Author: simonmackay

Feature Article – Understanding and Managing your HomePlug network

If you want to have your HomePlug network segment working properly for you and your needs, you will need to be able to manage it properly. This article talks about how to connect the HomePlug devices for best results and how to organise the devices in your HomePlug segment for privacy or improved network performance.

Understanding the typical AC supply

A mains “phase” typically describes a single standard-voltage AC circuit from the street transformer through to your premises. In a typical residential power service, where the general-tariff power passes through one electricity meter, all the power outlets are on the one phase. Most US residential installations have two phases due to the low standard voltage but HomePlug has been designed to work around these installations.

The electricity meter for a typical household AC supply is considered a “firewall” for the HomePlug network segment that operates on that supply because of the way it works. This may be a problem for a multi-building home network where there is another building like a bungalow that is metered separately.

Electrical accessories and the HomePlug network

For best performance, you should have the HomePlug devices plugged directly in to the power outlets. But this is not always feasible due to distance from the outlets or the number of outlets available near the device.

An extension cord can be used for a HomePlug setup as long as it is of the right type. For short runs up to 10 metres, you can use the regular domestic extension cord that is typically used for the vacuum cleaner or portable radio. You will need to use “tradesmen-grade” or “caravan” extension cords for longer runs. As well, daisy-chained extension cords may not be beneficial to the HomePlug signal.

As far as powerboards / power strips and “double adaptors” are concerned, make sure that the HomePlug device is connected to one without surge-suppression or line-conditioning technology. On the other hand, you could use one equipped with surge-suppression or line-conditioning technology if it has an outlet that is marked “HomePlug” and you plug the HomePlug device in to that outlet. You can also get around this problem by plugging your HomePlug device in to one of the outlets on a regular powerboard and plug a surge-suppressor powerboard which has your computer equipment in to another of the outlets of the regular powerboard. A recent-issue HomePlug-Ethernet bridge that has a built-in power outlet or one of the surge-suppressor powerboards which have integrated HomePlug-Ethernet bridge functionality can solve the problem very easily.

Managing your HomePlug network

The network is typically managed with software that is supplied with your HomePlug hardware. This is usually in the form of a configuration tool, typically a version of “PowerPacket” for most operating systems. In some cases, you may have to download the software from the device manufacturer’s Website. Infact, the Solwise website has most of the software available for nearly all of the operating systems.

On the other hand, some devices, typically HomePlug wireless access points and routers can be managed by logging in to a particular Internet address, similar to managing an Internet router.

A recent trend that has emerged is for HomePlug AV devices to implement “SimpleConnect” which uses push-button control to enrol devices to a HomePlug network segment.

HomePlug Device Identifier

This value is unique to each device and is known as a Device Password in a HomePlug 1.0 network. This information is typically printed on a label that is attached to the HomePlug device itself, alongside the MAC address for that device. It may also be attached to the device’s packaging.

HomePlug Network Segment Identifier

This identifier, usually set to “HomePlug” but can be set by the user to a different value, is known to the devices that are part of a HomePlug network segment. It is typically known as a “Network Password” for both the HomePlug 1.0 or “Private Network Name” for some HomePlug AV networks and can allow multiple HomePlug network segments to exist on the one mains phase.

Configuring a Network Segment To A Particular Identifier

You will have to obtain the Device Identifiers from each of the HomePlug devices that are to be part of the Network Segment that is having that identifier. Then, make sure that they are plugged in to the AC supply and can be seen by the HomePlug device you are doing the configuring from. This can be checked using your configuration software that has come with that HomePlug device.

Add all the devices to your network by entering their Device Passwords in to the configuration software. Then go to the “Privacy” or similar option and set the Network Password for all devices that are on your network to make the segment

If the devices use HomePlug AV SimpleConnect, you just need to press the button on the device which is a member of the segment you want to enrol your other device in, then press the button on the device that is to be enrolled.

What you can do

“Pushing out” a HomePlug installation

As I have mentioned before in my feature article on multi-building home networks, you may have to “extend” your HomePlug network if you can’t get proper network operation on some of the mains circuits such as in remote buildings.

This involves creating two different HomePlug segments, with each segment having at least one HomePlug-Ethernet bridge on the same mains service. Then the Ethernet connection from a bridge associated with one HomePlug segment is connected to the Ethernet port on the bridge associated with the other HomePlug segment. These can be connected directly or via an Ethernet switch so one can run network devices from the Ethernet link.

The above setup would then have to be deployed halfway between the HomePlug devices that are trying to communicate such as in an outbuilding nearest the main house like a garage.

HomePlug AV and 1.0 in the same premises

HomePlug 1.0 and AV can exist on the same mains service but will work as separate network segments in a manner which doesn’t compromise their bandwidth. The separate network segment issue can be mitigated with a Ethernet bridge device from each technology connected to each other or to the LAN ports of a router or Ethernet switch.

Conclusion

Once you know how to understand and manage the HomePlug powerline network, you can gain a lot more out of this technology and make it work well in your building.

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Network Management Hierarchy Terms

Term Description Example

Network Areas

   
Subnet or Logical Network The network that exists behind a router and has a particular IP addressing scheme. This is independent of the media that the devices connect to the router with. All of the computers and network devices that connect to the Internet through the router – the typical home or small business network.
Network Segment A group of devices that connect through a particular network medium or identified part thereof. An Ethernet LAN, HomePlug network with the same Network Password or WiFi Extended Service Set (WiFi AP(s) with a common ESSID and security parameters; and communicating with each other)

Devices

   
Edge or Gateway A device that is between two or more logical networks The broadband router
Bridge A device that is between two or more network segments but part of the same logical network Ethernet switch, HomePlug-Ethernet bridge, WiFi access point
Device; Node, Endpoint Any computer, games console or other device that benefits from the network A PC or laptop computer, the XBox 360
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South East Australia bushfires – Important Links

I have set up a list of important and useful links for blog readers who are affected or know of relatives and friends who are affected by the bushfire activity in the South East of Australia, especially Victoria.

This is not a complete listing of all of the Websites that are of benefit but most of these sites will have further links to other government and organization Web sites that are of benefit.

ABC Local Radio Melbourne (774 AM / MW)

Main Web Site: http://www.abc.net.au/melbourne/radio/ 

Live Audio Streams – available around the world

Windows Media Player: http://abc.net.au/melbourne/onair/774stream.asx

RealAudio: http://abc.net.au/melbourne/onair/774stream.ram

vTuner, Reciva and similar Internet-radio directories, including the station directories integrated in to Internet radios, will have this station listed as ABC 774 Melbourne or similar terms.

Useful Web Information

Assistance Web pages:

http://blogs.abc.net.au/victoria/2009/02/offer-help—or.html 

http://blogs.abc.net.au/victoria/2009/02/bushfire-help.html

Country Fire Authority (Victoria)

Main Web Site:http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/

Incident Summary (Status of Fires):

Web Page: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/incidents/incident_summary.htm

RSS Feed: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/incidents/incident_summary_rss.xml

Alerts And Updates:

Web Page: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/incidents/incident_updates.htm

RSS Feed: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/incidents/incident_updates_rss.xml

Community Meetings

Web Page: http://cfaonline.cfa.vic.gov.au/mycfa/Show?pageId=publicMeetings

Red Cross

Web Page: http://www.redcross.org.au

Online Donation to all Red Cross appealss: https://www.redcross.org.au/Donations/onlineDonations.asp (Secure Web site)

Salvation Army

Web Page: http://www.salvos.org.au

Online Donation to Bushfire Appeal: https://salvos.org.au/donate/secure-online-donations/?appeal=drvicfires (Secure Web Site)

Councils

Find your local council: http://www.dvc.vic.gov.au/web20/dvclgv.nsf/headingpagesdisplay/find+your+local+council

Telstra

Telephone Assistance Package Information: http://www.telstra.com.au/abouttelstra/media/announcements_article.cfm?ObjectID=44405 

Phone: 132203

Animal Needs

Triple R Equine Network (Agistment for Horses, Ponies, Donkeys): http://triplerequinewelfare.org/_mgxroot/page_resources_crisis_network.html

Animal Aid: http://www.animalaid.com.au

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HomePlug in the commercial or institutional environment

Often HomePlug powerline networks are, by the name of the technology, pitched at residential networks, typically single-dwelling homes. But can a HomePlug powerline network, whether a v1.0 Turbo or an AV network exist in a block of flats, a shop or a small office?

There are many applications for the use of a HomePlug in the commercial or institutional environment. One would be to set up a network printer or other network-enabled device in a manner that allows the location to be changed at a moment’s notice. This would be of importance for equipment likely to be on the shop floor for example.

Another application would be to set up a multiple-access-point wireless network to extend the coverage of the wireless hotspot in your café or bar. One of the HomePlug wireless access points can easily do this job especially on a temporary setup or setups where you need to remove the access point at night as a security measure.

You may also want to use HomePlug for establishing a temporary network as part of an event that you host at a town hall, school assembly hall or other community facility, thus avoiding extra cables or unreliable wireless networks. Then there is the ability to try out computer-equipment locations for a certain amount of time before you have the electricians pull the Ethernet cabling to the final location.

An example of this kind of setup

At the moment, Devolo, a German company who manufactures HomePlug network devices, have “taken the bull by the horns” in its home market. They have run a German-language Web portal, about using HomePlug as a solution for establishing computer networks in schools. On this page, there are examples of three schools who have established HomePlug network segments that are known to be in full service.

AC power issues

The main issue is that AC power supplies which supply most of these locations aren’t similar to the typical residential AC power supply. These supplies typically involve a “multi-phase” wiring plan that is typically set up for larger motors or other large loads. This shouldn’t be really of concern for setups covering a flat, small shop or office because most of the power wiring is similar to that of a regular house. In the case of shops and other premises that have special equipment like large commercial refrigeration setups, the special equipment is typically wired to its own group of phases while the ordinary power outlets are wired to a single phase, in a manner similar to a domestic setup.

Similarly the large motors like those that typically drive commercial refrigeration / air-conditioning or lifts and escalators can yield interference as they are used. Similarly, arc welding and similar work equipment can increase the amount of interference in the power line. Another issue to remember is that there is very little chance of a HomePlug segment working if you plug any of the HomePlug devices in to one of those three-phase – single-phase powerboards used primarily to run large clusters of standard lighting or cooking equipment from a three-phase outlet. This is usually due to the use of transformers and different phases in these installations.

Testing a HomePlug network segment

When you set up a HomePlug powerline network segment in any of these premises that you haven’t dealt with before or where significant work has been done, you may have to do a test run at the locations you intend to set up your installation at before you run the installation full-time.

You could run the “PowerPacket” utility that comes with most HomePlug-Ethernet bridges to observe the link quality of your HomePlug segment and the existence of the other HomePlug devices that you have plugged in at the locations you want to use. The latter observation can be useful if some of the ordinary power outlets in the premises are wired to different phases. You can also observe changes in link quality when any of the heavy motors are in operation such as whenever someone is using the lift or the refrigeration compressor that serves the commercial refrigeration installation comes on.

Another test would be to do a simple network-based file-copy between computers connected to the HomePlug devices and time that copy process for actual throughput measurement.  At this time, it may be worth looking for changes in network behaviour when any of the heavy motors are in operation as in the situations described above.

But before you do these tests, make sure that the HomePlug equipment you intend to deploy in the commercial environment works properly at your home or at a location where you know from experience this kind of equipment has worked. Also, make sure that you can return the HomePlug equipment to whoever you bought it from if it doesn’t work or be able to buy the equipment “on approval”.

Other setup issues

Another good practice with deploying HomePlug in these locations is to set up an installation-unique Network Password for the installation. This can be easily done with HomePlug AV devices that have “Simple Connect” push-button setup because the HomePlug AV devices work out a unique code for that installation. On the other hand, you would have to use the setup software like PowerPacket to align all the devices (which have the Device Passwords physically on them) to the same Network Password. This allows your HomePlug network segment to work in a secure fashion.

Once you have used HomePlug in these kind of setups, you can be able to know what it can and cannot do in a particular location and defeat the common limitation of HomePlug being just for the home.

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Adding Optical Drives to Non-Computer Devices Using USB – What Can Be Done?

The typical network-attached storage, electronic picture frame or printer is now equipped with a USB host port, typically for connecting USB flash drives and other similar devices. Even a lot of boomboxes and clock radios which have a dock for an iPod have a USB host port so they can play MP3 files held on a USB flash drive. But what about connecting a USB-attached CD or DVD drive.

This could allow, for example, a typical network-attached storage to work like the RipFactory RipServer and “rip” audio CDs to the hard disk so they can be shared to DLNA-compliant media clients. Similarly, those CDs that we “burn” photos on to for sending to other people or viewing on our JPEG-compatible DVD player can be viewed on an electronic picture frame or select pictures can be printed from these discs using an “all-in-one” printer or the pictures that are on these CDs can be copied on to a network-attached storage so they are available on the home network. Approved DVD-playback software could be installed in an electronic picture frame so that one can turn it in to a personal DVD player by adding an optional DVD-ROM drive. Similarly, an MP3 player that doesn’t have a built-in optical drive could become a CD player once a CD-ROM drive is connected to it. The same holds true for such players that have a built-in optical drive but the optical drive has failed, thus extending the useful lifespan of these devices.

The main problems about this is the ability for these devices to support optical drives as part of the USB Mass-Storage device-class specification. Then there is the issue of providing enough power at the USB socket to support a “single-cord” USB optical drive of the kind sold as an accessory for portable computers like laptops or netbooks. This is because the USB cord in these drives is required to supply power as well as data. The power-supply problem can become more intense with devices such as electronic picture frames that are built to a limited size budget and have to work from internal batteries or an external power supply.

If this is implemented, the idea of an “add-on” optical disk drive for the likes of network-attached storage units, electronic picture frames and “all-in-one” printers that the user can buy at a later date can extend the value of these devices through their working life.

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thinkbroadband :: 2Meg broadband to become universal

thinkbroadband :: 2Meg broadband to become universal

My Comments about Britain’s universal broadband Internet step

Britain is taking a positive step in placing broadband Internet on the same standard as the telephone service – accessible for all no matter where they live.

I have always raised a particular issue regarding rural ADSL and wireless broadband in that the bandwidth needs to be measured from the customer’s doorstep rather than the base or a location closer to the base. This is because ADSL throughput is dependent on the length and condition of the telephone line to the customer’s door and wireless throughput is dependent on the quality of the signal received at the customer’s door.

Then any universal-service funding should be used to renovate telephone infrastructure that will impede ADSL throughput. This could include implementing DSLAMs installed in exchanges located in villages and hamlets, use of range-improvement ADSL codecs and identifying and working on any old and decaying telephone infrastructure.

Any inconsistencies in the way ADSL service is provisioned should be addressed. They typically can manifest in situations where some households, particularly those who have had their telephone lines renewed, may be able to receive ADSL whereas their neighbours may not be able to receive ADSL. This usually is caused by a street or block being serviced primarily by decaying telephone infrastructure.

Once these issues are looked at, then we can be trusting about broadband Internet as a universal service.

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PlugPlayer – A UPnP / DLNA media controller for your iPhone or iPod Touch

All of you who are using an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch have access to another DLNA media controller for these devices. The program, PlugPlayer, is able to play content that is compatible with these Apple devices from a UPnP Media Server or act as a control point for other UPnP / DLNA media players that support external control.

One feature that it will miss compared to the CyberMediaGate iMediaSuite program is for the iPod to be a MediaServer and use DLNA technologies to serve its media across the network. This may be something you may not need if what is on your iPod is a subset of the media library that is on your network. You can have an iPod running this program managed by another media controller like TwonkyMedia Manager or an iPod running iMediaSuite or this program.

This program is leading the Apple portable-device platform towards the DLNA-compliant media platform. Wake up, Apple and realise that the DLNA home media network is the way to go.

Links:

PlugPlayer – software information

PlugPlayer download link at iTunes App Store

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A step in the right direction towards unified messaging for personal and residential telecommunications

 Neufbox de SFR : la messagerie vocale évolue – DegroupNews.com (Language: French)

I have read this French-language article about improvements to SFR’s voice-mail service for their NeufBox residential triple-play customers and one feature that stood out was interfacing the voice-mail with the customer’s home computer.

Typically the voice mail service that is available with most personal / residential landline and mobile telephone services can only be managed through the user pressing buttons on the phone keypad in response to voice prompts. Business-grade setups typically have a “unified messaging” setup where their voice mail and e-mail messages are managed through the same interface, typically their computer workstation or their smartphone. Some PC-based answering-machine setups could achieve this through a “voice modem”, essentially a data modem with built-in sound-card functionality that can work with the phone line, answering all of the voice calls and communications software that can work with the “voice modem” capturing all of the messages.

This setup allows the user to receive their voice-mail messages as an e-mail message through their regular computer interface and/or an MMS message through their mobile phone. This kind of service will typically pack the message the caller leaves as an e-mail attachment or MMS multimedia attachment, which can be of use for replaying (through other devices) or archiving. SFR are extending the functionality to cover 5 different e-mail or mobile-phone destinations. This would typically allow for reception of the messages at work or for a couple to receive their home landline messages on both their mobile phones.

This kind of “unified messaging” service can be of benefit to telecommunications providers who want to encourage their customers to “have all their eggs in one basket” and subscribe to their personal / residential / SOHO telephone and Internet services through them. It is also future-proof when it comes to handling wideband VoIP telephony or videophone services because messages from these services can be distributed in the same manner as regular e-mails or MMS messages.

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iMediaSuite for Apple iPod Touch and iPhone – new version

The CyberGarage iMediaSuite program that I have mentioned earlier on in my blog has been revised and is now at 1.0.1 . Some of the improvements have brought about improved stability by fixing a memory leak; and there has been some improved functionality like a “clean screen” for the media player. It would still be available at the same URL at the iTunes App Store.( http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=293809842&mt=8 )

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Apple – the next of the big personal-computing companies to change leadership

 

Steve Jobs steps down, Tim Cook runnin’ the ship until June : Boy Genius Report

Apple boss Steve Jobs to take extended leave | Technology | guardian.co.uk

My Comments

Last year, Bill Gates stepped down from the chair at Microsoft because it was his time to retire. Now, this year, Steve Jobs had just stepped down from the chair at Apple due to ill health. Now that the two biggest personal-computing ships who started up in the late 70s and set the direction for ubiquitous desktop-based computing are changing leaders, what could become of the world of personal and small-business computing?

There are possibilities of newer leadership causing a change in how the companies operate as far as their product portfolio and consumer relationships go. On the other hand, the companies could just work as they have been going. They could lose their mantle in this class of computing as newer startups get themselves going and improve on the technology.

Other things to watch for is how the workforce in the companies reacts to the changes that are taking place and whether established companies in the same industry are likely to change leadership, thus causing a different wave to sweep across this class of computing.

These next few years will be very interesting to watch as far as the small-form computing scene is concerned.

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