Category: Feature Article

Feature Article – Having the online life in that private space

Introduction

Most of us have one or more private spaces in the home that aren’t really where we sleep in but want to retreat to when we want to spend time alone or with a few chosen people. This may, for men, be the classic “men’s shed” or “office-den” but is becoming the so-called “man-cave”. For women, it may be a private lounge area or study with some people purposing these spaces for personal religious activity amongst other activities.

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook at Intercontinental Melbourne On Rialto

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook – an example of a touch-enabled Ultrabook that can be moved around very easily

Some of these spaces may also be used as a reception space for one’s own group of friends such as a man’s “mates” or a woman’s own “lady friends”, as well as serving as the own space. This is more so if they want to meet with these people away from the rest of the crowd in the house.

In most of these areas, it may be appropriate to be able to engage in online life using the home network. It encompasses access to the resources available via the home network whether it be music and video content held on the NAS or the ability to print out documents on a network-capable printer. The activities may range from personal entertainment in these areas through researching information from the Internet to creating documents and Web content.

What can you use here?

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer

Sony VAIO Tap 20 – an example of an “Adaptive All-In-One” computer

You may want to use a portable computer device whether it be a laptop / notebook or tablet computer so you can take it between your private space and other spaces. For a fixed setup, you may go for an all-in-one or low-profile desktop computer. Some systems like the Sony VAIO Tap 20 may be able to bridge the gap between a large-screen desktop and a laptop computer and some of the regular all-in-one computers may be light enough to be transported from room to room.

The portable computer or easy-to-transport “all-in-one” computer would be more important if you are dealing with a space that is accessible directly from outside and doesn’t do well for security. This is because you can easily take the computer in to your home so it doesn’t tempt thieves when you have finished in that space.

Sony SA-NS510 Portable Wireless speaker

Sony SA-NS510 Portable Wireless Speaker

If you are thinking of online-capable audio or video equipment that can fit well in this space, there is a lot of the equipment that can suit your particular needs. For example, a small Internet radio could be the answer for a shed or garage like as I have seen with the Kogan Internet radio that I reviewed in this site’s early days. Here, a person who was living with me had this radio in the garage playing some content from BBC Radio 4’s Internet feed while he was doing a few repairs at the workbench. A small Blu-Ray-equipped home-theatre system of the same ilk as a Sony BDV-E2100 or Yamaha MCR-755 or a small hi-fi of the ilk of the Sony CMT-MX750Ni or Denon CEOL Series could play its part as an entertainment system for a den.

You can even use the home-theatre systems with an LCD computer monitor as the display device if the monitor has an HDMI input socket or DVI socket that is compliant with HDCP. This can mean that you don’t need to use a TV set with these devices especially if you use a DLNA-compliant broadcast-LAN tuner or just enjoy media held on optical disc or the home network.

Denon CEOL Piccolo music systemOn the other hand, you could use a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi wireless speaker system along with your smartphone, tablet or notebook to play audio content from more than the speaker built in to the computer device. Similarly, you could connect a Bluetooth audio adaptor or AirPlay/DLNA-compliant network media receiver to a pair of computer speakers or a small boombox that has a line input to achieve the same goal.

What needs to be done

Network connectivity

Here, I would make sure that you have reliable access to the home network from this space. If the space is located in another building, I would suggest that you pay attention to my article on multiple-building home networks.

Western Digital LiveWire HomePlug AV Ethernet switch connected

The WD LiveWire HomePlug AV switch that fills in the network gap

In some cases, I would make sure there is an Ethernet connection in that area if your place is being wired for Ethernet and you can afford it. On the other hand, you could use a HomePlug AV powerline connection to that space. This is important for detached buildings or rooms with direct outdoor access where they may not be secure because you can take the HomePlug adaptor in to your home. It is also important if you don’t get good Wi-Fi wireless-network reception from your router in that area and this situation can be remedied using an access point connected to the wired backbone.

Access to live TV content

As for access to TV content, if your space doesn’t have a connection for a TV aerial (antenna) or cable / satellite TV, you could use the home network to gain access to TV content. This is facilitated with a broadcast-LAN tuner like HDHomeRun or Devolo dLAN Sat which is connected to the TV aerial, cable or satellite TV depending on the device and transmits your chosen broadcast signal down the home network. Then you use software on the computer or tablet to “tune in” to the broadcasts. For that matter, the HDHomeRun Prime offers access to antenna or US cable TV you subscribe to via DLNA-capable video devices and software.

On the other hand, if you have pay TV, you could benefit from the provider’s “TV Everywhere” solution which works with regular or mobile computer devices to show live or on-demand pay-TV on these devices using your home network.

Access to your network-hosted content library

For audio, photo and video content, you can use DLNA-capable software media players like Windows Media Player 12, or TwonkyMedia to play the content on your portable computer or mobile device. If you use any of the Apple platforms, you could set your NAS up as an iTunes server for the audio content and have the iTunes music player software on your device pull up this content.

As I have mentioned before, devices with network-media-playback functionality would have to work to DLNA and/or AirPlay standards if you want to use these as your media player for your small space.

Printing from your private space

You may not need to worry about having a printer installed in that “man cave” or similar space if you are using a network-accessible printer. This means that you don’t have to worry about factoring in space for the printer. The only exception to the rule is if you see this space as a home office and you may want to have a heavy-duty machine for turning out work related to your business or similar effort.

Conclusion

Here, you can set up a reliable personal computing and entertainment environment that you can use in your small personal space, with the equipment being more suited to that space.

Send to Kindle

Understanding Power-Over-Ethernet

A technology that is being forgotten about when it comes to home and small-business networking is Power-Over-Ethernet. This is where a Category-5 twisted-pair Ethernet cable is used to supply power to a device as well as sending the data to it according to the Ethernet standards.

Typically this technology is used in larger businesses for providing power to devices that are to be installed in difficult places and/or where a reliable centrally-managed power supply is desired for these devices. Examples of these include IP-based video-surveillance cameras, wireless access points as well as VoIP desk telephones.

There are a few cabling technologies that are analogous to Power-Over-Ethernet in the form of most USB setups, TV aerial systems that implement a masthead amplifier, the traditional desk telephone that is powered from the exchange as well as microphones that implement “phantom power”.

But this technology can be considered relevant to home users and small businesses such as with wireless access points, VoIP telephones or small-time consumer AV applications.

Standards

Power Over Ethernet concept

Power Over Ethenrt concept

The two main standards are the IEEE802.3af PoE standard which was ratified in 2003 and the IEEE802.3af  PoE Plus standard which was ratified in 2009 and used for higher-power applications. The former standard yields 48 volts 350mA of DC power providing 15.4 watts of useable power whereas the latter standard yields 57V 600mA of DC power providing 25.5W of useable power.

There have been other proprietary standards for this application including some “passive” setups that pass 12V or 5V along a pair of wires in the Ethernet cable to a splitter. But these only work with matching equipment and it is better to stick with the industry standards for this application i.e. 802.3af Power Over Ethernet and 802.3at Power Over Ethernet Plus.

Device Roles

There are two key device roles: Power Sourcing Equipment which is what provides the power, and Powered Device which is what benefits from the power.

Power Sourcing Equipment

Ethernet Switch with PoE powering Access Point with PoE

Ethernet Switch with PoE powering Access Point with PoE

This device can be a function of an Ethernet-capable network device like a switch, router or HomePlug AV bridge. Here, this simplifies the installation by having one box perform both these functions and, in the case of an Ethernet switch, such switches may be described as being “powered switches” or having Power-Over-Ethernet. Some of the cheaper small-business switches that have this feature may have the Power-Over-Ethernet power available to some of the ports rather than all of them.

Power Over Ethernet Midspan Adaptor powering Access Point with PoE

Power Over Ethernet Midspan Adaptor powering Access Point with PoE

On the other hand, there are “midspan” power hubs which go between a regular Ethernet switch and the device that is to be powered using Power-Over-Ethernet. Such devices may be known as “midspan adaptors” or “power injectors” with the latter name used more for a “wall-wart” or “power-brick” device that provides power to one device.

These devices only supply the power when a Power-Over-Ethernet device conforming to the standard is connected to them. In the case of 802.3at Power-Sourcing-Equipment devices, they would also be able to provide the “juice” to the 802.3af-compliant PoE Powered Devices.

Powered Device

This would typically describe the devices that benefit from the power provided by the Power-Sourcing-Equipment devices, whether it be an Ethernet switch with Power-Over-Ethernet or a midspan device like a “wall-wart” power injector.

This can range from the devices that make use of the network such as the IP camera to network infrastructure devices like the access points or Ethernet switches. For that matter, most well-bred VoIP office telephones with Power Over Ethernet have an integrated two-port switch so a user can plug a desktop computer in to the phone to link it to the network.

Power Over Ethernet splitter powering an ordinary access point

Power Over Ethernet splitter powering an ordinary access point

But there are also the “Active Power Splitters”, sometimes known as Power Splitters or PoE Power Adaptors. These connect to an Ethernet connection that has Power-Over-Ethernet and “tap” this power to provide power to a device that can’t be powered using Power-Over-Ethernet.

They pass through the Ethernet data while providing the power to the device at a known voltage, typically 12 volts or 5 volts DC using the typical DC connector that most computer and network devices have. They may have the voltage fixed by the manufacturer, typically to serve the manufacturer’s devices or the so-called “universal” devices may allow the customer to determine the voltage.

Similarly, some Ethernet switches that are powered using this technique may have a “Power-Forward” feature where they can pass through power from the Power-Sourcing-Equipment to one or two of the ports while using the PoE power for their own switching function.

Why is this standard of value?

No need for a power outlet near the network device

The fact that the Ethernet cable is used for supplying the power to the network device means that you don’t need to have a power outlet near that device. This leads to flexible installation arrangements such as having the device in the ceiling or high up on the wall. As well, you don’t need to hire an electrician who is skilled in mains-voltage wiring to install that outlet.

Another benefit is that you don’t have the risk of a device like an access point or IP camera being accidentally disconnected by someone who wants to plug in a phone charger or, more commonly, cleaning or maintenance staff disconnecting the device so they can run that vacuum cleaner or power drill.

It also has benefits for outdoor installations where you don’t have to install a weatherproof power outlet near the device. It could then allow for you to install a power injector indoors, usually close to the “network hub”, then just run the Ethernet cable to the access point or IP camera. For small installations that are on a budget, the money saved on a weatherproof power outlet could go towards you preferring the device that is in a housing appropriate for the job i.e. a weatherproof housing.

Centrally-managed power

It also allows for the power supply to the network devices to come from a central source where there is a single point of control. This can allow for situations like the central power source to have an uninterruptable power supply this allowing the network devices, especially VoIP telephones and IP cameras, to function through power outages.

Similarly, a Power Sourcing Equipment device could be managed from the network thus allowing for remote control of a PoE device’s power. This could avoid things like car trips to the office to turn a balky access point off then on in an attempt to reset that device. Similarly, it may be feasible to have some devices turned off when the building is empty for security or energy-conservation purposes.

One cable for power and network data

The Power-Over-Ethernet technology also allows for one Ethernet cable as a data-bearing and power-supplying cable between the Power Sourcing Equipment and the Powered Device.

This is a real boon when it comes to installing the device because you don’t have to factor in another cable to allow that device to work as intended. This cuts down on the installation time especially where time is money; as well as allowing one cord to be shoehorned in to place providing for an aesthetically-pleasing installation. In the case of the VoIP desk telephone, the absence of a power cord to that device makes the installation similar to a traditional desk telephone and you don’t add extra cables to the Spaghetti Junction of cables that exists under most desks.

Relevance to the home network

When we see devices like the Asoka PlugLink PL-9660PoE “homeplug” which is also a Power-Over-Ethernet power source, it shows that this technology is increasingly becoming more relevant to the home network.

Multiple-box Internet-edge setups

If you subscribe to an Internet service that implements a separate modem like most cable-modem services, you will end up having to connect the separate modem to your broadband router via an Ethernet connection. The Power-Over-Ethernet technology can work well here by alleviating the need to provide separate power to that modem, which means one wall-wart less to deal with and a cable less to add to the rat’s nest.

This can similarly apply to setups where you have a wired modem router and a Wi-Fi access point or even those setups where you implement a wired broadband router that is linked to a modem and an access point.

The secondary access point

Not all homes can be covered easily by the access point integrated in a wireless router and a preferred method of extending coverage for the Wi-Fi segment in these locations is to implement an extra access point connected to a wired LAN backbone.

The Power-Over-Ethernet technology can provide for various improvements in how these access points are set up because of the need for only one cable to that access point. This would lead to an aesthetically-pleasing installation that can provide optimum performance for that area. For example, you could place the access point on top of the credenza or dresser or even on that pelmet above the window yet have the cable tucked away neatly yet the Google Nexus 7 tablet shows a strong Wi-Fi signal when used in the area.

To the same extent, wireless-client-bridge devices can also benefit from this same technology if the network device that they are connected to supports it. For example, a home-theatre receiver that has network capability via the Ethernet port  for DLNA media, the “new shortwave” (Internet radio) or Spotify could power an nVoy-compliant wireless-client-bridge that links it to a Wi-Fi segment. Here this device is configured using the receiver’s control surface or remote control but you only have one cable to that wireless-client bridge which sits on top of the wall unit that the receiver is installed in.

Ability to have more network devices be powered this way

Typically, when we mention Power-Over-Ethernet, we think of the VoIP telephone, the access point or the IP camera. But this could extend to more classes of device like small consumer AV equipment such as electronic picture frames or Internet radios. Network-capable set-top boxes including network media adaptors could be powered this way especially if used with a “homeplug” that is a Power-Over-Ethernet power source like the Asoka

To the same extent, a tablet, small notebook or “adaptive all-in-one” computer could benefit from a “clothespeg-style” Ethernet connection not just for reliable network connectivity but as an alternative external-power connection. Here, you could avoid compromising battery runtime while you have these computers plugged in to the Ethernet socket.

Conclusion

This article highlights what the Power-Over-Ethernet technology based on the IEEE 802.3af and 802.3at standards is all about and the fact that it isn’t just relevant to big business. This technology, like most communications and computing technologies is one of many that trickle down from the big end of town to the small office and to the home.

Send to Kindle

Feature Article–Wiring a house for Ethernet (Update)

Originally Posted on HomeNetworking01.info: 17 July 2010

Introduction

There may be a question that may come up when you build your new home or do renovations on an existing home. This question is whether to wire you premises for Ethernet or not and how to go about it?

What is involved when you wire for Ethernet

When you wire a house for Ethernet, you are providing a high-speed data backbone for your premises. This is achieved by laying Category 5 or Category 6 wiring from most rooms to a central location where there is a “switch” that moves data around the network at the appropriate speeds for the network devices.

The reason that it makes sense to consider the home-network issue, especially wired-in Ethernet, is because an increasing number of households are using two or more computers. Infact, there is an increasing trend for households to have more computers than TV sets. As well, computers can and have now become entertainment centres for bedrooms and other small areas thanks to optical-disc drives, sound-card setups and radio and TV-tuner kits that install in or connect to PCs. There is also an increasing common practice to copy CDs to the computer’s hard drive so that these computers double as personal jukeboxes, which is an asset with small areas. This means that there is a desire to have access to resources like the Internet and printers from all the computers that are in the house.

Similarly, there is an increasing number of consumer entertainment devices that can connect to the home network, primarily for access to online content or content that is held somewhere on that network. Most of these devices, such as Blu-Ray players and smart TVs, are using Ethernet as a baseline connection method with Wi-Fi, whether integrated or as an add-on module, as an alternative connection method. As well, a games console is now considered “well-bred” if it has a network connectivity option, with the two most-desireable consoles – the Sony PlayStation 3 and the Microsoft XBox 360 – having Ethernet connectivity at least. This means that these consoles can be integrated in online gaming scenarios as well as having access to online or network-hosted entertainment material.

Using “no-new-wires” methods as baseline networks

If you have networked your computer equipment by using a “no-new-wires” method like wireless or HomePlug powerline; you may be dealing with a network that isn’t working at its best. This is because the “no-new-wires” technologies work on having the “no-new-wires” segment’s bandwidth shared by all the devices that connect to the segment. It is exemplified by poor response time during a network multiplayer game hosted across the “no-new-wires” segment or slow transfer speed whenever a file is being transferred between two nodes on the same segment.

Typically, when you implement a “no-new-wires” network, you would use a broadband router that connects to an Ethernet segment and the “no-new-wires” segment on the LAN side, like one of the many wireless Internet gateway devices. Also, if you decide to add on extra network devices that don’t have integrated connectivity for the “no-new-wires” technology, you would have to buy extra network bridges so these devices can work as part of the network.The possibility of high-speed Ethernet being available for home-computer users is made real through high-performance Ethernet network-connectivity devices being made affordable and ubiquitous for most users.

As well, the switches that are required as part of an Ethernet network are now available at very cheap prices. This all ends up with the Category 5 Ethernet medium being considered as a lowest-common-denominator for network connectivity.

Why wire a house for Ethernet?

You will benefit from the high data throughput that Ethernet provides especially now that 1 Gigabit/ second is now becoming the norm for these setups due to affordable Gigabit Ethernet switches. This will benefit applications like Internet gaming, network media streaming such as Internet radio and video-on-demand; as well as graphics-rich printing.

You also gain the advantage of reliable network behaviour because you are not regularly sharing data transports that are prone to interference. This is due to the way the common Ethernet network switches provide dedicated bandwidth to each port on them. They also scale data throughput to the highest speed available between the client and the network switch that the client is connected to. If different clients are moving data at different speeds, the switch implements a buffer so slower clients can benefit from the data while the data is off the faster clients’ minds very quickly.

As you may have known before when you have worked with the computer network at work, or with your Internet experience, the Ethernet infrastructure can carry lots of different data.

This wiring practice will get the best out of the killer applications for these home networks i.e.

  • Internet access from everywhere in the house;
  • PC or console-based network / Internet gaming;
  • Online media derived from Internet services or media that is streamed around the house using DLNA-compliant equipment
  • Voice-over-Internet-Protocol telephony which is either being provided as part of a “triple-play” service or an alternative low-cost telephony service

amongst other activities.

There are infact some situations that may drive you to consider wiring your house for Ethernet, as outlined below.

Next-Generation Broadband Internet Services

A major trend that either is occurring at the moment or will be occurring over the next few years is the rollout of next-generation broadband Internet services. These services are typically based on a fibre-optic backbone with some providing fibre-optic connectivity to the customer’s door, and have a very high headline speed of at least 50Mbps for each customer.

These services will typically provide a “triple play” service with landline telephony, broadband Internet and multi-channel high-definition pay TV as part of the one service, delivered through the one high-speed pipe. You may experience a triple-play service with your broadband Internet service but the next-generation broadband service will provide the extra functionality like many full-HD video streams at once, HD-audio telephony with FM-radio clarity for voice communications, or video telephony that isn’t just confined to Skype or science fiction.

Of course, Ethernet would work well with these services by allowing the full bandwidth of these services to be exploited. This is because the high-speed data communications that the next-generation broadband services provides can be fully attained due to this connection being an “in-home data expressway” for the network. Here, it will benefit large file transfers that will become the norm as media content and computer software is delivered “over the wire” rather than as physical media. This also includes supplementing games with downloadable content such as characters or scenarios that add play value to the game.

This is even though the Wi-Fi wireless or HomePlug powerline technology will still work on shared bandwidth and work as a complementary setup for portable or ad-hoc-positioned devices.

IP-TV / Video-on-demand being part of the“Triple-Play” goal

Sony BDP-S390 Network Blu-Ray Player

Sony BDP-S390 Network Blu-Ray Player – an example of a component that adds DLNA to existing equipment in an affordable manner

This leads me on to talk about Internet-hosted video delivery services that are increasingly becoming the norm for video sources. Here the desire is to view these on the large-screen lounge-room TV and other TV sets in the house; and this application is being considered as a key application, if not the killer application, for the next-generation broadband networks.

This is being facilitated on two different grounds – one being to provide content that is either complementary to or an extension of what is offered by broadcast TV providers and the other is for telecommunications companies and Internet providers to distribute multi-channel pay-TV via the same Internet “pipe” as the telephone service and broadband Internet service.

The first situation, which is highly common in the USA, is to provide “over-the-top” video service where the Internet “pipe” is used by another operator to distribute streamed or downloaded video content independent of the established broadcasters. It manifests in the form of “download-to-view” video-content services like Netflix and Hulu or “complementary cable services” which provide channel groups that may not interest the main cable-TV providers, such as wholesome family entertainment or overseas / expat content in the US. Increasingly, network-enabled video products like games consoles, TVs and BD-Live Blu-Ray players are now using apps or extensions that support broadcaster “catch-up TV”, complementary-TV or video-on-demand platforms.

In this same manner, some users in the USA are looking towards “cutting the cord” – discontinuing their pay-TV subscription with their cable or satellite TV providers in order to save money and / or reduce exposure to the “many channels, nothing on” culture of cable TV there. Here, they are looking towards the “over-the-top” providers for content that would otherwise be on these cable TV services.

The second situation that is currently common in Europe, is “IP-TV”. This is where content from established free-to-air and subscription TV broadcasters is transmitted via an existing IP-based Internet-capable network. This method is being pitched as a way of using DSL or fibre-optic-based next-generation-broadband to distribute Pay-TV signals to subscribers. It has become more common with the ISPs and telcos moving towards offering the “single-pipe triple-play” services with regular telephony, Internet service and multi-channel pay-TV from the same entry point. This setup involves the telco or ISP providing the customer a set-top box (STB) or personal video recorder which plugs in to the router via an Ethernet cable.

As far as this application is concerned, a house that is wired for Ethernet is at an advantage for these “IP-TV” service. It benefits security of the conditional-access system in pay-TV applications because it is harder to unnoticeably “sniff” out conditional-access key values before they reach the set-top box; and there is a high quality-of-service due to the nature of “switched Ethernet” where high bandwidth and low-latency is assured for full-screen video. Also there is the ability to extend the service either through a “portable” setup where the set-top box is relocated at will or through having extra set-top boxes connected to secondary TV sets, this being a feature increasingly offered as a value-added option.

Of course, the Ethernet backbone will provide for improved quality-of-service that is needed for the full enjoyment of streamed and live IP-delivered video content.

Extending or improving the wireless network

Extended wireless-network connection diagram

The multiple-access-point wireless network used to mitigate Wi-Fi reception problems

 

By wiring your house for Ethernet, you are also laying an infrastructure that can definitely work “hand-in-glove” with wireless networking.

This is whether you have your home network based on a wireless backbone provisioned by a wireless router or you are starting from scratch with a wired backbone. If you were on an existing wireless network, you could set up your “fixed” nodes like desktop PCs to work on the Ethernet system.

This then leads to the wireless network being primarily of benefit to those devices that gain the most benefit from it i.e. portable or transportable equipment like laptops, smartphones and tablets.

You are also in a better position to improve your wireless network’s performance by implementing a practice that is performed in corporate, education or public wireless networks. This is to install one or more extra access points in areas where it is not possible to gain optimum reception from your primary wireless access point or wireless router using your existing portable nodes. All these access points are connected to the one wired-Ethernet infrastructure and set to similar network parameters so that the wireless client devices can seamlessly move between these access points depending on which one has the best signal strength. This is illustrated in the diagram above this text and discussed further in my article on improving your wireless network’s coverage.

This situation would mainly affect most pre-1950s brick houses with thick brick walls because such walls can easily attenuate the short-wavelength radio signal that wireless networks use. In some of these houses that have been recently extended, the wall that joins the extension to the main house is often a very thick one because it used to be the outside wall, and therefore becomes the point of attenuation for the short-wavelength wireless-network radio signals. The same situation can affect houses with chimneys that are on interior walls that adjoin rooms. In these houses, especially where there is a fireplace or the remnants thereof in both adjoining rooms, these walls are noticeably thick in order to accommodate the chimney and this situation can lead to poor wireless-network performance. It can also affect buildings that are insulated with foil-reflective insulation or use the new-look corrugated-iron wall as an outside-wall style.

This practice of using two or more access points would also permit optimum coverage of large houses by allowing one to deploy an access point close to each end of the house.

In the same manner, you can use HomePlug AV powerline networking to complement the Ethernet network by catering to those devices that can only use this technology; or as a secondary wired-network setup for ad-hoc use. This is done using a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge and that functionality may be built in to those routers and other devices that support HomePlug, as well as Ethernet and/or wireless as a LAN medium.

The reason this is going to be necessary in the long term because some manufacturers may decide to make network-capable devices that use an “existing-connection” method of providing network connectivity in order to save on design and manufacture costs. This is because they don’t have to add extra sockets on the device’s PCB for Ethernet or write in Ethernet-adaptor support into the device’s firmware. As far as the user or installer is concerned, there is no need to worry about making sure that there is an Ethernet connection accessible to the device or even connect another cable to that device.

Whether you have one computer or many on your premises; or whatever kind of internet service you are using, the improvement brought about by wiring for Ethernet will be seen as enhancing capital value for your premises. This may certainly pay dividends whenever you sell the house or let it out at a later date, because of the concept of pervasive broadband Internet becoming a reality. This brings with it a desire to wire up multiple computers to a network in order to share the high-speed Internet connection.

The Ethernet infrastructure has now existed on the same feature level as an intruder-alarm system as far as most customers are concerned when considering their next home.

The best time to wire for Ethernet

The best time to do this kind of work on an existing house is whenever you are doing works that are involving the house’s electrical system. This would involve rebuilding; refurbishing or extending the building or rewiring the building to comply with modern electrical-safety codes. It is also best done when you are constructing a new building from scratch and I would suggest that you raise this issue with your builder or architect during the planning stages.

This will mean that you may prefer to employ electrical contractors who are competent with telecom and data wiring. These tradesmen will advertise their competence by listing job types like telephones, networks, security and similar work in their advertisements and on their vehicles.

If you have a regular maintenance “sparkie” who does your repairs or other ad-hoc work, he may be able to do this kind of work or know of tradesmen who can do this kind of work on an ad-hoc basis.The reason is that this wiring can be done at the same time as the electrical wiring that is involved in the project.

It comes in to its own if there is “rough-wiring” being done before the walls are plastered or panelled; which is common during building work. Then you just need to have any fitting-off of sockets done when the walls have been covered and decorated.

If the job is essentially a re-wire job, the same electricians who do that job can pull the Ethernet cable through the walls while they lay the new AC wiring. By having the work done at the same time as any other major electrical work, you are in a position to gain maximum value out of your tradesmen who charge by the man-hour.

If you are installing an alarm system or doing similar work where new electrical infrastructure is being laid, you could have the Ethernet wiring laid at this point. This works best if the tradesman that you engage is competent at all facets of infrastructure work and will do this as part of the job.

Working on a budget

If you are on a shoestring budget, you may just focus on wiring the study / home-office and the main living areas in your house such as the family room and the formal living room or rumpus room. In this case, it is also worth making sure that there is an Ethernet connection on each floor of the house and at each end of the house. This is more important for older brick or stone houses that have been extended, so you can set up an extension access point that assures proper wireless coverage past the brick wall that separates the main house and the extension.

Then if you need wired network coverage in the rest of the house, you can use HomePlug AV hardware to cover those areas. But if you do intend to factor in adding extra Ethernet points at a later stage, you may want to make sure you can run that extra wiring through your house.

Planning ideas and issues

Central location

You will need to choose a location for the network switch, which is where all the data that passes the network goes through. It should be out of the way but easily accessible and shouldn’t be too hot.

The places that would come to mind are any built-in storage cupboards like the broom cupboard, the linen press or a built-in wardrobe in one of the bedrooms. You may use a place like the attic or basement. Some of you may want to place the switch in one of the cupboards in the home-office because this would be where the main “Internet-edge” router would be located and you could have the switch co-located with that router.

As I have seen for an alarm-system installation, you may use the wall hidden by the laundry door when it is open as a central location for the network switch. Ideally you shouldn’t use a room which is used for any heat-generating systems like hot water tanks, boilers or furnaces.

Co-locating with your alarm system’s panel

Tight central-location layout for Ethernet network

What to avoid when co-locating the Ethernet switch with an alarm panel or other similar equipment

This same location idea also allows you to establish an installation point for any devices that provide “back-end” functionality for the home like network-attached-storage devices. It then means that you can service all these devices by going to one location.

You may also have to be sure that you have enough space near the system’s central box and room at the power outlet to plug in another “wall-wart” power supply so you can install the Ethernet switch without reliability problems for the network and the alarm system. You could achieve this by using a good-quality power board (power strip) that has many power outlets on it and mount this on the wall, thus plugging your Ethernet switch, alarm system and other devices in to it.

The network switch

WD MyNet 8-port Gigabit Switch

WD MyNet 8-Port Gigabit Switch – an example of an Ethernet switch that works as the hub for your Ethernet network

As for the switch, you should purchase a Gigabit unit with more ports than there are rooms to wire. This allows you to add extra network points at a later date or connect network devices like Ethernet-powerline bridges, wireless access points, network-attached storage or home-automation equipment directly to the switch.

The preference for the Gigabit switches is driven by the fact that most desktop and mainstream laptop computers that have an Ethernet socket have this socket as a Gigabit Ethernet socket. Similarly, it is an expected feature that a well-bred network-attached storage devices on the market have this kind of high-speed connectivity. This also future-proofs the network for 802.11ac “Gigabit Wi-Fi” access points and the next-generation broadband services that are coming on the scene.

It is also worth being aware of and considering switches that work as Power-Over-Ethernet power sources. These units use the Ethernet wiring to provide power to suitably equipped network devices thus eliminating the need to run a power wire to these devices. This feature would be a boon for wireless access points and network CCTV cameras because it removes the need to make sure that there is a power outlet near these devices or risk them being “down” due to accidental power disconnection.

Broadband Internet

You will usually have the network-Internet “edge” router, whether it is the typical ADSL modem-router or a broadband router connected to a cable modem or similar broadband-technology device, either in the study, the home office or the main lounge area and will most likely have Ethernet-enabled devices located close to it. Here, you would connect one of the router’s Ethernet ports to the Ethernet installation while having the other sockets available for the other Ethernet-enabled devices like a games console, network-attached storage or network printer.

An increasing number of newer mid-range and high-end routers are coming out with all of the Ethernet ports being Gigabit Ethernet ports rather than the typical 10/100Mbps Ethernet connections offered on this class of device. This will be of benefit when you wire your home for Ethenet and want to have this backbone work at best speeds with the currently-available cost-effective Gigabit Ethernet switches.

Wiring the network

Rooms to wire

When wiring up for Ethernet, it is a good idea to provide a point in each bedroom as well as the kitchen, living room, dining room / family room and the study or home office. This means that you have covered every primary activity area in your home, thus permitting you to install network devices in each of these areas.

You may not think of wiring the living room for Ethernet but this room is where you will end up using networked entertainment equipment. A key example of this are the new “smart TVs”, Blu-Ray players and set-top boxes which have access to online video content or Internet services. They will also be able to draw down media content that his held on hard disks that are available to the home network. <Sony BDP-S390>

If you use an open-plan shared-purpose room like the kitchen / family room or living room / dining room, it may be a good idea to have a network point in each logical “room”. This will avoid the untidy look and safety hazard (to person, machine and irreplaceable items) of running long cords across the floor of these rooms.

Socket fittings

When choosing the socket type for the room sockets, it is best practice to use a standard wall-mount socket for each of these sockets. You may be tempted to use a side-entry socket, which is similar to some TV aerial points that have been commonly used in Australia or the older Telecom Australia telephone connector and these may work out for areas where space may be too tight due to furniture being placed against the wall. The only limitation with using a side-entry socket is that you may experience difficulty plugging and unplugging the device from the socket especially if the cable has the cheaper crimped-on connector.

If the job is aesthetically sensitive, you may be able to find outlet plates that work with the aesthetics of the room where the sockets are installed. This is easy due to the use of standard wall fitting designs that permit manufacturers to supply a large variety of trim-plates or socket modules. This can be of importance to anyone who owns a home that is styled to periods before the beginning of the “neat” 1960s and want to make the fittings reflect that style.

Multiple Points in one room

In some rooms like the kitchen or home office, you will need to be able to have more than one point in that room. This is because you will often end up with multiple devices in that same room.

Extra ports on the main switch

This method involves running extra wires from that room to where the main switch is located and using one of the vacant ports on that main switch. This may allow direct bandwidth being provided to the device that is connected to the port; and can therefore yield better performance for that device. This method also certainly comes in handy when the devices are spread around the room because the room has multiple activity locations such as open-plan living areas.

It would be more fault-tolerant due to the removal of another Ethernet switch that could be a point of failure for the network devices in that room.

Regional switch

This method requires all the network devices to be plugged in to a switch, which is uplinked to the network point that is in that room. This mainly works better for any setups where the devices exist in a cluster; such as a home entertainment centre or a home office / study room.

The only main problem is that if the switch is powered down, those devices lose network connectivity. This can be worsened by the way that “wall-wart” power supplies are often used for powering most switches, routers and other network-infrastructure devices. What this means is that these bulky power supplies can easily fall out of most power boards which have outlets that are spaced wide enough for ordinary plugs rather than these “wall-warts”.

This can be alleviated if there is use of Power Over Ethernet, which uses the same Ethernet cables to run low-voltage DC power to network devices. This avoids the need for power outlets to exist near Ethernet ports for devices like access points. The power is placed into the network via a powered switch or a midspan power injector and devices take the power off the network cables either via their own sockets or through a power splitter which connects to the device’s Ethernet socket and power socket.

The Power-Over-Ethernet setup has been assisted via the use of the IEEE 802.3af standard, which now means interoperability between different device manufacturers. As far as switches are concerned, this could mean that you could have a network-powered 5-port switch with “power forwarding”. This means that the switch can be powered via a network port from a Power Over Ethernet infrastructure rather than a “wall-wart”; and feeds power through at least one of its ports to a network device that is powered over the network.

It can also be alleviated if the switch is powered off its own outlet, which would be the case if it is hidden in a built-in cupboard. This also avoids the temptation for one to unplug the switch in order to run other appliances, which can lead to that part of the network being unexplainably down.

Expandable solution for built-in devices

Expansion Loop - current needs

An expansion loop satisfying current needs

One way to assure expandability for future network needs while saving costs on the current project is to create an “expansion loop” in areas where you may want to install built-in or concealed network devices or extra Ethernet sockets at a later date. One example may be the entertainment centre in the main living area where you may house your network-enabled home entertainment equipment in a cabinet. You may of course have an exposed Ethernet socket for the Internet-enabled HDTV or similar equipment.

By installing two Ethernet sockets in a cupboard such as the pantry, entertainment cabinet or built-in wardrobe, you would achieve this ability to cater for this situation. One of the sockets is wired to a visible point that is in the main area, such as at the breakfast bar. The other is wired to the main Ethernet switch for the home network.

These sockets could be installed in a “three-gang” or “four-gang” faceplate with blanking panels on the unused panels. Then, in the meantime, a straight-through Ethernet patch cable is plugged into both sockets. This then means that you are able to connect any computers or other network devices to this socket that is in the main area.

Expansion Loop - with extra devices or sockets

The expansion loop satisfying future needs at a later date

When the time comes to add a built-in Internet terminal or similar network device, or add extra network sockets in to that area; you or an installer, runs a short run of Ethernet cable from the new device’s or new socket’s location to where the two Ethernet sockets are. Then, a socket is installed at the device’s location and another Ethernet socket is inserted in to the abovementioned multi-gang faceplate and these sockets are connected to the Ethernet cable run. You then use a 5-port switch to connect this device and the existing network socket to the existing network backbone. Here, the switch is uplinked to the main Ethernet switch while the existing Ethernet point and the new device are connected to other ports on the switch.

This solution, which is illustrated in the two images here can also permit other “back-end” network devices such as security and home-automation “hubs” to be installed in this cupboard. As well, other network devices such as network hard drives and Ethernet-“no-new-wires” bridges can he installed in this location. It could even allow one to run extra Ethernet points in this same area at a later date.

Conclusion

Once you consider the idea of wiring for Ethernet, you would certainly have prepared your house for the connected home future. As mentioned before, this act of wiring for Ethernet will be even considered as a capital improvement, which may add value to your house in the Internet age.

You will also avoid the need to think about extra wiring chores should you think of implementing network-based home automation in the future, especially when most “connected-home” equipment will use a standard Ethernet connection on it.

Send to Kindle

App Essentials for your smartphone or tablet

Introduction

You may have just bought your first smartphone or tablet computer and are starting to browse around the iTunes App Store or Google Play app store using your device.

At this point, you may hear from your teenage son, other family members, friends or workplace colleagues about what apps to start off with as you get in to the world of the mobile-computing platform. In some cases, your teenage son who has that ultra-cool iPhone that is full of apps to impress others with, grabs your phone, asks for your platform username and password and starts filling your phone or tablet up with various apps.

It is also worth exploring the app store for those apps that are essential to your profession or hobby so you can make your mobile device earn its keep in your work and leisure life.

Communications

One main app class that suits the mobile computing platform very much are the communications apps. These encompass the social-network apps as well as other chat, VoIP and messaging apps.

They work best with the smartphone but some of the apps can be used with most tablets in a speakerphone form. But if you want privacy or better call quality, you would need to use a wired or Bluetooth headset.

Social Networking

(Smartphones, Tablets)

Facebook Android

Facebook for Android

If you have presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social networks, you can have your experience with these social networks extended to your smartphone or tablet.

This is typically provided for in the form of platform-native mobile apps that you use to interact with the social network. Most of these apps are written by the social-network but some are written by third parties, typically as multi-social-network amalgamation tools.

The ones written by the social network are primarily a mobile user interface for most tasks that you do with this service such as browsing activity, adding posts or uploading photos. Some social networks such as Facebook and Google+ also write “messaging” apps that work primarily on the messaging and presence functions that the social network offers.

Chat, Messaging and VoIP

(Smartphones, Tablets)

Skype Android

Skype for Android

This leads me to apps that work as front-ends for various chat, messaging, presence and VoIP subsystems. Examples of these include Skype, Viber and various SIP user interfaces or softphones; or even gateways to Yahoo Messenger or Windows Live Messenger.

These apps provide a touch-friendly view for writing messages or engaging in VoIP / chat sessions. If the communications subsystem has the ability to know whether one is online or offline, there is the ability to look at a glance to see who is online at a given moment.

Banking and Finance

(Smartphones, Tablets)

If you use Internet banking services regularly, an Internet banking app would be a good idea for your phone. Most of these apps are Web links to the bank’s mobile site but an increasing amount the apps are client-side apps which run on your phone and link to online banking APIs that are used as part of your bank’s Internet-banking setup.

Similarly if you maintain a share (stock) portfolio, you may want to install a stockmarket app so you can see the state of your shares. Some of these apps may allow you to buy or sell the shares or submit orders to your stockbroker.

Entertainment

Internet radio and music

(Smartphones, Tablets)

TuneIn Android

TuneIn Radio for Android

Most subscription Internet-media services like Pandora have a mobile app for them so you can benefit from your media subscription through your smartphone or tablet. As well, the TuneIn Internet radio app allows you to have the same kind of access to Internet radio stations such as your favourite local and overseas radio stations as you can on an Internet radio.

Most smartphones and tablets come with a music player with some platforms like iOS offering a comprehensive take on this form. But you can purchase improved music players for Android devices like the PowerAMP music player which I use. These ones provide better control over your music playback and some of them even have their own “tone controls”.

Video apps

(Smartphones, Tablets)

Similarly, one or more video apps may help you with having access to video content. This could be fulfilled by a video player which would be important if you download or rip video content and sync it to your device. Of course, the platforms would come with a video player app but there may be some better third-party apps available in the app store.

The one that a smartphone or tablet shouldn’t be without is a YouTube front-end. For iOS 6 users, this can be fulfilled by you using the Google-supplied YouTube ap. If you also visit other video-on-demand sites, it may be worth looking for mobile front-ends for these sites.

DLNA network media software

(Smartphones, Tablets)

TwonkyMedia Android

TwonkyMedia for Android

Programs that work with DLNA Home Media Networks typically are either controllers, players or servers. The former function allows you to push content to a DLNA-compliant receiver or smart TV using the phone’s or tablet’s screen as the control surface. Some of these programs also allow you to “throw” Internet-sourced resources like Facebook photos to DLNA-compliant TVs.

A variant on this theme, supported by different media players, is the DLNA media player which allows you to play content held on a DLNA Media Server like your network-attached storage. Some of these programs such as the Android variant of TwonkyMobile, allow you to download the media files to your phone so you can play the media on it without being on the network.

Another class is simply a DLNA Media Server which shares content held on your phone with other DLNA-compliant devices. This may be part of the DLNA Media Controller, like TwonkyMobile, but could be its own app, thus allowing you to play music to DLNA-compliant Wi-Fi speaker docks.

Song Identification Software

(Smartphones, Tablets)

Shazam for Android

Shazam song-identification for Android

You watch a favourite show on TV or you hear that piece of music being played over the speakers in that bar. But you want to know what it is or who performed it.

There are two mobile-platform apps that can help you identify the titles and artists of songs that are played. These are Shazam and SoundHound and they are accurate on most popular music including some jazz. But they don’t work well with classical and opera where you want to know what it is “composer first, work (including movement or aria name) second”.

These apps also provide further information on the music such as lyrics, or a biography or discography for the performer. They also allow you to buy and download the music from an affiliated store like Amazon or, for iOS devices, iTunes. Of course, they keep a history of the songs you used the software to identify so you can use this when buying the music from your favourite outlet and on your favourite media.

Games

(Smartphones, Tablets)

Of course, no smartphone or tablet is complete without a collection of games installed on it. They can range from card, casino and board games through the classic pinball and arcade games to newer game styles such as the unforgettable Angry Birds. There are some games which you can play online across the world and are typically based on a social-network infrastructure but there are others where you simply play against the computer.

These games allow you to fill in the time while travelling on public transport or waiting for that appointment and, in some cases, can be an ice-breaker for conversation with others.

Information on hand

Reading / reference apps and electronic bookstores

(Tablets)

IMDB Android

IMDB movie app for Android

If you want to use your tablet for reading. you won’t go far when finding the reading apps. Some of these work alongside electronic bookstores and newsstands so you can buy and download books, newspapers and magazines to your device, with a few of them like Amazon Kindle available across all platforms.

This extends to dictionary, translation, Bible and other reference apps which have the information at a glance. The apps may work with the information locally stored on the device or may obtain the information online.

Public-transport timetable apps

(Smartphones)

Most public-transport authorities and operators are building apps that work as information sources about their public-

TramHunter Android

TramHunter for Android – Melbourne trams

transport systems. Typically these provide access to the latest timetables and information concerning cancellations or delays affecting the public transport service.

Some of the apps even have a “journey-planner” function which works out the best journey for your needs. If the public-transport provider has the ability to track its vehicles as they are providing the service, their app may also provide real-time information on the public-transport service so you can know how long the wait is for your service.

It is worth having one of these apps for each city you travel in. In some cases, you may need the apps that are specific to a transport mode like the bus or tram services.

Sports scoreboards

(Smartphones, Tablets)

London 2012 Official Results App

London 2012 Official Results App

One app class that can help you enjoy the sports events that you follow better are the scoreboard apps. This is something I have covered previously on this site more as a tool that augments how you follow those fixtures rather than using them as something to follow them on.

One example is using one of these app to keep tabs on the scores while you are watching that football game in that packed-out bar. Another is gaining a quick glance at the cricket or baseball score as you hear that major event like a run or batter-out being called on the radio while you are outside, so you can decide on whether to run inside and see the replay on the TV.

The good apps in this class are typically developed by the sports broadcasters or the leagues and codes themselves. For Australians, including “Aussie expats”, I would recommend the “Footy Now”, “League Now” and “Super Rugby” apps for AFL, NRL and Super Rugby Union leagues respectively.

Calculators and Converters

(Smartphones)

Most smartphones come with a basic four-function calculator as part of the “supplied” apps. But the app stores are full of better calculator apps such as some that may provide an “adding machine tape” view, more functions like scientific, statistic or financial functions or the ability to support different data-entry methods like “Reverse Polish Notation”. These then position your phone as an alternative to the scientific calculator that you would have had for school.

An app class that I would consider important is a unit conversion app. This is where you can enter a quantity that is in one unit so you can find out what it is in another unit. This is important if you are think in Imperial / US units like pounds or inches and you see references to quantities in metric units or vice versa.

Utilities

Mobile-phone torch app

(Smartphones)

One app that I would consider essential for a smartphone owner would be the “mobile phone flashlight”. These work with the phone’s display or flash LED to turn your phone in to a flashlight (torch). Here, they can be useful as an on-hand source of light for many different situations — think of having to check out what’s wrong with the engine when your car plays up at night; checking which circuit breaker had tripped when the power went out or simply letting yourself in to your home at night.

Emergency info app

(Smartphones)

ICE In Case of Emergency Android

ICE In Case Of Emergency for Android

Another Important app that is worth having is the emergency info app. This keeps essential emergency information on your phone like your doctor’s details, medication information and next-of-kin and even has direct access to the contact details so you can contact then directly from your phone.

This is more important if you have a chronic illness like epilepsy or diabetes but can be of benefit for anyone, especially if you travel in to foreign areas.

QR code reader

(Smartphones, Tablets)

One important app class for your smartphone and tablet is the QR-code reader. These apps use your phone’s or tablet’s rear-facing camera to read and interpret QR codes.

But what are QR codes? These are a common form of two-dimensional barcode that is printed on flyers and other artwork, most often as a link to an online resource.

The good QR-code readers like i-Nigma do have a high accuracy rating no matter what the code is printed or shown on. Some of these readers can also read the standard barcodes on merchandise so you can look up further details on the product that the code is on.

Mapping and distance log apps

(Smartphones)

Endomondo Pro Android

Endomondo Pro for Android

Most smartphone and tablet platforms come with a good GPS-driven map but the app store may offer better mapping solutions. This may be important if the platform didn’t come with a really-good map solution or there is a solution that suits your needs better like a “hiking-specific” solution.

A distance-log app that uses the GPS functionality and / or the accelerometer in the phone can be a great boon if you are walking. Programs like Endomondo can work well if you track your outdoor workouts and some of them may work as “breadcrumb tracking” apps.

Client apps for electronic notebook services

(Smartphones, Tablets)

If you use cloud-based services like Dropbox or Evernote, it is worth having a mobile client app for this service. This allows you to review and update the information that you have at these locations from your smartphone or tablet in the same way that you can from your computer.

Conclusion

Once you know of the essential apps to have on your smartphone or tablet, no matter the platform that it runs, you can find that you will end up gaining a lot more mileage out of your device as you use it through the day.

Send to Kindle

Feature Article–Extending your wireless network’s coverage

This is an update of the article originally published on 11 August 2008 and has been refreshed to encompass newer technologies and equipment features that wireless-network equipment have.

Many of you who have viewed this blog have been looking for information about extending the wireless segment of your home network. Typically it may be to cover a large house or to gain wireless coverage past a radio obstacle like thick brick or stone walls, foil-lined insulation or double-glazing which uses metal-based heat reflection techniques. Previously, I have mentioned about using this technique to mitigate microwave-oven interference on the 2.4GHz band which 802.11g works on.

Most wireless-network equipment manufacturers have released repeater devices that catch the existing wireless-network signal and expose it in to the new area. Some of these setups work on a vendor-specific manner or may work according to standard WDS bridging techniques. But they all require the use of equipment compatible with each other, usually equipment supplied by the same vendor.

Other companies have released “wireless range extenders” which create a new wireless-network segment using a new SSID but bridge it to the existing wireless segment. This can be a point of confusion as you have to determine the best SSID to connect to at your client equipment and you don’t necessarily get the full bandwidth from your home network in this newly-created segment.

The “extended service set”

The method that I am going to talk about here is the establishment of an “extended service set” comprising of multiple access points serving the same network and using the same SSID and security parameters. All the access points have to be connected to a common wired-network backbone which is part of the same logical network; and the access points must be working on the same technology – the same 802.11 variation and operating mode (G-only, N-only, mixed mode, etc).

This method can be performed with access points or wireless routers supplied by different vendors, thus permitting the use of equipment which is suited for the job at hand. It can allow for use of surplus routers simply as access points as long as they are configured correctly.

This setup won’t work properly across networks that are set up as multiple subnets or logical networks. An example of this may include extending a wireless network between two business premises across the street or corridor where they are served by separate Internet services. If you do want to link the two different premises across the street or corridor, you may have to make sure there is a wired or dedicated wireless backbone connecting both these locations before you set up this kind of network.

The diagram below shows what a small network should be like when running an extended service set.

 

Extended wireless-network connection diagram

Connection diagram for the multiple-access-point wireless netwrok

Key Components

The network backbone

The wired-network backbone can work on any wired-network media such as a Cat5 Ethernet, HomePlug power-line, fibre-optic LAN, MoCA TV-aerial coax, HomePNA phone-line or a mix of these technologies bridged to each other. It can even work with a dedicated inter-building wireless backbone that may be used for larger properties or to join shops or offices that are separated by a street.

The network backbone can handle other network traffic from wired-network devices like servers, desktop computers and games consoles; and become the network’s local data path to the Internet. This is while it works as the backbone for the wireless “extended service set”.

You may have be lucky to have an Ethernet cable in your house if you had it “wired for data”. But most houses typically wouldn’t have this facility everywhere. The other technology that I have found to do this job equally well is HomePlug AV powerline networking which works over the cable infrastructure used to provide AC power to your lights and appliances. It can reach further than the existing building, which is a boon if you need to extend coverage to garages, sheds, cabins or other outbuildings or have Internet access in a caravan or campervan used as a “sleepout” or mobile office.

Access Points

These devices are the transmitters that bring the data from the wired network backbone to the wireless client devices and make up the extended service set.

You typically will have one such device in the form of your wireless router which is at your network’s Internet-network “edge”. The wired-network backbone used as part of this “extended service set” would be connected to one of the LAN ports on this device. If you use a wireless router with one Ethernet port for the LAN and that port is used for a desktop computer or similar wired-network device, you will need to expand the number of sockets by using an Ethernet switch. These will typically be a “dime a dozen” for a five-port or eight-port unit. There are also some HomePlug-Ethernet bridges that have a built-in four-port switch that are worth considering if you are setting up a HomePlug backbone.

Repurposing the old wireless router

If you upgraded your wireless router to a newer model, you will still have your existing router gathering dust. Similarly, you may have changed broadband technologies like moving from cable to DSL or from DSL to a next-generation broadband technology and your router’s Internet connection may have been served by a technology-specific internal modem or connection.

This router that became surplus to your needs can work as an access point but will need to be configured appropriately.

Here, you will need to disable the following functions:

  • DHCP server
  • UPnP Internet Gateway Device functionality (typically referred to as UPnP)
  • Dynamic DNS functionality (if used)

As well, you will need to set the LAN IP address to something that is within your network’s IP address range but preferably out of the address pool used by the current router. The reason you have to take care of this setup is because there needs to be only one device performing “network-Internet edge” functions such as DHCP in a network and this device should be the one at the logical network-Internet border.

Some of the newer routers that are sold through retail have an “access point mode” option in their setup Web page. This make the effort of setting them up to run purely as an access point a simpler task because it disables the DHCP, Dynamic DNS and other functions associated with an “edge” router at the click of an option.

When you connect this router to the wired backbone, you use any of the LAN ports to connect the backbone. Never use the WAN port on this router for the wired backbone. This may not be an issue if the router you are setting up is a modem-router where the modem is performing WAN functions or you are using a router that has the above-mentioned “access-point mode” and this mode makes the WAN port become a LAN port.

“3-in-1″ HomePlug wireless access points

There is an increasing number of wireless access points that work with a HomePlug or Ethernet backbone. These devices, such as the Netcomm NP290W / Solwise PL-85PEW and the Devolo dLAN Wireless Extender, are as big as a compact “wall-wart” power adaptor used to power most electronic devices from the mains and plug directly in to the power outlet. They bridge between a Wi-Fi wireless segment (as an access point or wireless client bridge in some cases), a HomePlug powerline segment and a Cat5 Ethernet segment.

These units come in handy if you need to extend a wireless network on a temporary basis or simply if a compact device can do the job better than a large access point. They would come in to their own when you are using the extension access point to mitigate microwave-oven interference in the kitchen or if you want to extend the home network to a static caravan where the teenage kids can use that iPhone or iPad.

But with these devices, you have to make sure that you use one of the wired technologies as the backbone. This means that you have to use them with your HomePlug setgment as the backbone and the Ethernet connection to link a device like a desktop computer, PlayStation 3 or a network printer to the home network; or connect to an existing Ethernet backbone and have the device create a new HomePlug segment as well as working as an access point.

Setting Up The Network

Configuring the access points

You will need to know the SSID and the WEP or WPA wireless security parameters that are operational for your network. These are the only factors that need to be common amongst all of the access points of the network. The reason that the SSID and security parameters are set to the same details is so that wireless client devices can roam between the different access points without any user intervention.

The radio channels for each of the access points have to be set differently to each other. It is a good idea to set the access point closest to the kitchen to Channel 1 if you have a microwave oven in that kitchen. This is because, from my research, most of the domestic-market microwave ovens work at 2450 MHz which is between Channels 8 and 9 on the 802.11g channel list. I had tried an experiment to see whether a microwave can upset a wireless-network “cell” that is tuned away from its operating frequency.

If the access points or wireless routers is a consumer model that was made in the last few years, they would be equipped with WPS push-button setup. Here, you would have to make sure that they don’t reconfigure the wireless access-point parameters when you invoke the WPS push-button setup function. There is usually a “Keep settings” option associated with the WPS setup menu/

This option will then allow you to use the push-button setup on the nearest access point to enroll your wireless client device to your home network.

Dual-band wireless networks

If you are operating a dual-band wireless network which works on 2.4GHz and 5GHz, you may have to create separate extended-service-sets for each band. These would have a different SSID for each band like “Network-Name” for the 2.4G band and “Network-Name-5G: for the 5G band. The security parameters are the same for each band; and you may want to run the 2.4GHz band as “mixed mode” and the 5G band as “N-only”. The advantage of this setup is so you can identify any weak spots that affect a particular band in your dual-band wireless network and is more applicable with the 5GHz band that uses a shorter wavelength than the 2.4GHz band.

Here, you could have the main router that serves most of the house being a dual-band dual-radio type, also known as a simultaneous dual-band unit. This can also apply to an access point expected to cover a large area. Then you could use single-band or dual-band single-radio equipment for providing any infill coverage on either of the bands.

The wireless client devices

There is no need to reconfigure any of the wireless client devices such as laptop computers once you have set up the network according to the above instructions.

You will see an improvement in network performance when you operate your wireless client devices in areas where you barely could operate them. The signal-strength bar-graph that is part of your wireless client device’s network management software will register a stronger signal as the client device comes in to vicinity of the access points.

Some devices may not support this automatic roaming behaviour properly and may require you to reselect the network when you move in to the scope of the better access point.

Conclusion

Once you have followed the steps in this article, you will be able to extend the effective coverage of your wireless home network or make your wireless network cover everywhere in your house even if it uses metal-based energy-efficiency measures or has thick brick or stone walls.

Send to Kindle

Retirement–no need to leave your computer skills at the office

Introduction:

A common situation I have observed with some retirees and older people who have left the workforce is that they leave their computer skills at the office door. Here, they severely reduce their use of the computer because they associate it with their work life.

This situation can be dangerous when it comes to using the computer for personal use because it can be easy to fall out of practice with the various computing and IT skills.that will come in handy over the life that you spend in this new “free” situation.

Computer activities in this new situation

The computer as a communications tool

If you are deciding to reduce your computing activity after your retirement, it would be a good idea to keep those skills associated with Internet-based communication such as email or Skype alive. This would be important where you have relatives or friends who are located a long distance apart or you consider a move to the country or a nice outer-urban area as part of your retirement plans.

For example, a good practice would be to check email once a day and reply to messages or compose and send messages at least a few times over the week. Similarly using Skype or a similar service at least weekly, if not fortnightly, would work well in saving international or other long-distance telephone costs while being able to see whom you are talking to. Think of situations like seeing and hearing your excited new grandson or granddaughter on your computer or TV screen or celebrating a birthday “across the wire”.

In some cases, the Social Web can be a valuable communications tool through creation and management of online photo albums and online diaries where applicable. As well, most of the Social Web platforms like Facebook have integrated instant-messaging functions so you can use this as an adjunct to email and / or Skype.

The Web as a research and shopping tool

The Web can be used as part of your business, shopping and travel life, whether to find the best prices for particular goods and services or simply to know more about a particular item of interest.

For example, you could use Google as a starting point for research on a topic or item. On the other hand, you could visit online merchants to buy goods or organise services like travel. You can even use this online method of shopping as an adjunct to visiting your local or favourite shops.

Using office applications at home or as part of your hobbies and interests

The office applications like Microsoft Office or Apple iLife can be used beyond the office door. Here, they can come in handy for your personal lifestyle efforts.

For example, a word processor can cone in handy in writing something like a memoir or other “magnum opus”; or documenting that special trip you had done. Similarly a spreadsheet can come in handy for having information in an organised form, for example managing a guest list for that special party. Even that dreaded Microsoft PowerPoint application could be used for creating “title slides” that are to be part of screen-shows or home-video projects.

The computer as a multimedia tool

A common task you will end up doing is to store and manage music, photos and video on your computer. This will be more so as you use your digital camera and / or smartphone to take photos and videos of family events and your travel. Similarly, you may “dump” your CD collection to your computer’s hard drive so you can play it over your home network or create “mixtapes” on to USB thumbdrives or memory cards for the car.

Here, you can still use your computer and associated programs to organise, edit and curate you digital media so you have it how you want it. This can be done using a mix of the popular tools like iTunes, Windows Live Photo Gallery, iPhoto, Audacity or Picasa.

The goal is to engage in the other non-work activities like family, hobbies and travel first but use the computer as a supporting tool for these activities.

Choosing the equipment

Toshiba Satellite L730 ultraportable on coffee bar

Toshiba Satellite L730 full-function ultraportable

If you don’t have computer equipment to use at home after your retirement, you may be in a position to buy new equipment for this period in your life.

When you choose the equipment, you could offer to buy out your company-supplied computer from your previous employer for use at home if you can do so. A possible advantage of this may be that your employer can turn this asset of theirs in to cash that they can use towards a newer more up-to-date computer.

On the other hand, you could buy a decent consumer laptop or all-in-one / low-profile desktop with consumer-priced software. You may also want to consider a “2-in-1” computer which can be a laptop or a tablet. This is important as an more of these “fold-over” convertible or detachable-keyboard computers are appearing at a lesser price premium compared to a traditional “clamshell” laptop. As well, the advantage here may be to “free up” the iPad that one is normally using to watch video content personally or simply have one device for all of your computing activities. This can help you start afresh on new equipment that you fully own. Have a look through the Product Reviews, especially the laptop reviews so you can get a fair idea of what you want to purchase.

Acer Iconia Tab A500 tablet computer

Acer Iconia Tab A500 tablet computer

In some cases, if you just want to work with email and Web browsing, you may find that you could get by with just a tablet computer like an iPad, an ASUS Transformer Prime or an Acer Iconia Tab. These can even just work as a secondary computer that you use around the house. Even if you do have a 2-in-1 computer, you may find that a tablet may come in handy as a “spare” secondary computing device for children when they play games for example.

HP Photosmart 7510 multifunction inkjet printer

HP Photosmart 7510 multifunction inkjet printer

Similarly, a network-capable consumer inkjet multifunction printer could suit your needs as a hard-copy device. Here, I have reviewed many of these printers on this site, but would recommend those units that use separate ink cartridges for each colour and can print on both sides of the paper if you value a machine that isn’t costly to run.

It is also worth reading my article about equipping the “family house” for broadband as extra guidance on this topic. This has guidance regarding the right broadband plans to choose, especially when you want to take advantage of packages that integrate this service along with telephony and/or multi-channel pay TV.

Seeking assistance from others

You may need to seek assistance with newer computing situations or find that you have trouble remembering a particular procedure that you have started to fall out of practice on. Here, there are many avenues to benefit from this assistance.

Firstly, there will be younger relatives and friends who would be able to help you with these skills and / or keep your equipment in proper shape. Similarly, if you do maintain contact with your former employer and they have an on-site or contract IT team, this team may also help you with these skills or your equipment.

As well, there are plenty of computer-skills courses offered by community organisations like U3A in Australia that are targeted at retirees and similar people. The best place to ask about this is through your local council who will put you in the loop with these organisations.

This is especially if you have to face newer computing environments and practices or simply find it hard to keep certain skills alive within the context of your new life.

Conclusion

The main essence of this article is that those computing skills you acquire through your working life are still valid even as you leave the office for good. Here, they can be used to augment your communications with relatives and friends or sustain your hobbies and interests that you have more time to nurture.

Update – 31 January 2017: I have added to this article a mention about the recent crop of convertible or detachable “2-in-1” laptop computers that can become a tablet with them being at a very low price premium compared to standard laptops.

Send to Kindle

Setting up for Internet in France

Key Resources – French languageFlag of France

DegroupNewsFrance map

DegroupTest

Service Providers

Free.frFreebox, Alicebox

Orange (France Télécom) – Livebox

Bougyes TélécomBbox

SFR – Neufbox

CompletelDartyBox

Introduction

If you have bought or are thinking of buying that chic apartment or holiday home in France, you may also be considering setting up Internet service along with your phone service for that property. Here, it will become very difficult to choose the service that suits your needs because most, if not all, of these services are priced very keenly.

Competitive market

Map of FranceHere, you are dealing with a highly-competitive communications-service market which supports local-loop unbundling or discrete infrastructure to your premises for the Internet services. This applies both to copper-based ADSL services and fibre-optic next-generation broadband services.

It is infact so much so that in most French cities and towns, being equipped with broadband “hot-and-cold running” Internet and unlimited-use landline telephony is considered a “given”.

ADSL technology

If a provider provides local-loop-unbundled access to phone lines in your service area, the area is described in French as a “zone dégroupé” for this provider. This allows the provider to provide the best service available that they can offer to you. It is because they simply have their ADSL equipment in your exchange, with an arrangement for direct access to your phone line’s wiring.

The DegroupNews site has an interactive map of France which allows you to know whether your desired provider provides this kind of access in your town and its sister site DegroupTest allows you to enter in your French location’s telephone number so you can know who can provide the unbundled access to your phone number.

Fibre-optic next-generation broadband

If you are able to have fibre-optic next-generation broadband, this will also come mostly as fibre-to-the-premises but in a competition-enhanced format. Here, you will have a “monofibre” setup with one fibre-optic line from the street to your premises and fibre-optic switches would be used to select which fibre-optic next-generation provider would provide the broadband to your home.

On the other hand, you may have a “multifibre” with fibre-optic lines from each competing infrastructure provider fed to a special multi-input wall socket in your premises. Here, an installer would select the connection that pertains to the service you subscribe to by modifying this wall socket.

Rural broadband Internet

Most rural areas of France will have ADSL Internet provided for by Orange (France Télécom) at least, but there is still work needed to be done with some sparse country areas not having the ability to support the full offering, especially the TV part of the triple-play service.  There is action taking place in some parts of France like Brittany that is being brought about by local and regional governments, with some assistance from Paris as well as business assistance.

It may be worth checking with local government, local chambers of commerce, Orange and local businesses; as well as consulting DegroupNews to find out what is going on for Internet at that “mas en Provence”; mountain home in the Pyrenees, Alps or Massif Centrale; or other country dwelling.

Of course, there is a strong likelihood that the main resort areas lke the Pyrenean and Alpine ski resorts and the main seaside resorts on the French Riviera (Côte D’Azur) like Saint Tropez will be dégroupé (fully unbundled) by the popular operators like Free or SFR.

Triple-play service

Most of these Internet service providers offer a “triple-play” service with broadband Internet, regular landline telephony and multichannel pay TV as a single package. This setup is specifically in the form of a single-pipe triple-play service with all services carried over the one copper or fibre-optic link between your premises and their exchange setup.

Services

Typically, you put down at least 25-30 euros per month for at least 20Mbps ADSL broadband, more TV channels to choose from, and calling anywhere in France at least as part of this cost.

A fully-equipped service with all of the channels on the TV, fibre-optic broadband and inclusive telephone calling to landlines and mobiles in the most-often-called countries in the world would set you back by approximately 40 euros per month.

There are even times when you can’t really call an accurate benchmark price and service mix for telephone and Internet service there because these prices can be keenly honed or services quickly varied for value. This is an example of how keen this competitive communications environment is in France.

The hardware

You would be provided with what is referred to as a “box” which is an Internet gateway device which also houses a VoIP analogue-telephony-adaptor as well as a “décodeur” which is an IPTV / digital-broadcast-TV set-top box. Mostly, these devices would be connected to each other via a HomePlug AV link, known in French as “réseau CPL”.

These Internet gateway devices are typically known as “Livebox”, “Freebox”, “Bbox”, “Neufbox” or some similar marketing name which also applies to the triple-play service you subscribe to and I refer to these services and routers in this article and across HomeNetworking01.info as an “n-box” because of the naming convention used by the carriers.

Increasing you are dealing with carrier-provided home network hardware that is above the ordinary when it comes to anything a telco or ISP would provide as standard for their customers. I would expect the latest incarnations of these devices to be a well-bred 802.11g/n Wi-Fi router with four Ethernet ports and UPnP Internet Gateway Device functionality.

Increasingly, these Internet gateway devices also are capable of being a network-attached storage device when you connect a USB hard disk to them or, in some cases, through the use of an integrated hard disk. If they have this function, they will typically work as an CIFS-compliant network file share as well as a media server for a particular media directory using iTunes (DAAP) or DLNA standards.

Similarly, the set-top boxes would be capable of being DLNA network media clients as well as increasingly becoming personal video recorders. Of course, this hardware is regularly and frequently updated with firmware that adds on extra functionality.

The Freebox Révolution – the best example of these “n-boxes”

One of these devices that I have given a fair bit of airtime to is the Freebox Révolution. Here, I wrote an article on this site about this piece of stunning industrial design which has an integrated Blu-Ray player in its décodeur (set-top box) and works tightly with the Apple ecosystem. For that matter, if you head for this option, you may be in a position to forego the need for a DVD player to go with the flat-screen TV that you intend to hook the Freebox Player to.

Choosing the right triple-play setup for that French property.

Who is it “dégroupé” to?

If you are coming in to France and have bought that “appartément en Paris” or “mas en Provence”, use the map in the DegroupNews website to identify who is covering your area in an unbundled or “dégroupée” state at the moment. You may also have to use the DegroupTest resource if you know your property’s current phone number or the phone number of one or two of your neighbours if you haven’t got phone service on in your location.

The right offers

Then, once you know who has the service under the “dégroupée” conditions, head to the service provider’s Web page and look at what they have to offer. For the telephony packages that come with any of these services, make sure that you have chosen the plan that allows you to make calls to your home country or frequently-called destinations “illimité” i.e. for no extra cost.

As for Internet use, choose the bandwidth that suits your needs, including allowing for use of the IPTV and interactive entertainment services that will be available through your “décodeur” set-top box. These services aren’t metered so there isn’t any worry about a broadband download limit or how much bandwidth you have used.

You also check that you have the TV channel packages that meet your needs, although most of these channels will be available with the shows running in native language audio with French-language subtitles (version originale sous-titres).

Getting the most out of your “n-box”

Firmware updates

All of the “n-boxes” and their corresponding “décodeurs” do undergo frequent and regular firmware updates, most often to accommodate new services and supply new functionality as well as to keep a stable operating environment. Some of them may perform a “blind” update or you perform the update manually by heading to the management Web page (page de gestion) or the Setup Menu and looking for the “mis à jour” or “mettre à jour” option.

Using an UPS to provide telephone-service continuity

A good practice would be to purchase a low-capacity uninterruptable power supply and connect the Livebox, Freebox or similar Internet gateway to that device if you don’t want to lose phone service during a power cut. Here, you may have to purchase a separate “homeplug” for those devices like the Freebox Révolution that use a power supply and “homeplug” module as their power supply and connectivity to the TV.

The best example of these UPS devices that would suit the “n-box” would be the APC ES series UPS units which are like a large thick power strip. Here, you would need to purchase these units in France so that you have the correct French power sockets on the unit and it comes with a proper Continental power plug.

Exploiting the n-box’s integrated NAS functionality

If the “n-box” has NAS functionality, whether with an integrated hard disk or a USB external hard disk that you supply yourself, it is a good idea to exploit this function. Here, you can use the storage capacity as a drop-off point for files that you move or copy between computers via the home network. Similarly, you could dump the latest pictures from your camera to a known directory on the NAS, share it via DLNA and view them using the set-top box or DLNA media app on your tablet.

Property owners who let others use their properties could place electronic copies of the reference material for that house on to the network storage. Then the people who are using these properties can download the material to their laptops or to their smartphones and tablets that are equipped with SMB-compliant file-manager apps.

The “n-box” may support this function with the aid of a USB external hard drive but may not provide enough power to run some of the small USB hard disks on the market. These drives typically have a separate USB connection for power, so you could then plug this USB power connection in to a self-powered USB hub or an AC-USB power supply, which you could pick up from Darty, Carrefour or other similar stores.

But I would still use a regular NAS for applications where the security of your data is concerned such as computer-system backup. This means that you are able to keep your data if you shift between carriers, the “n-box” plays up and the carrier has to replace it, or you move out of your French abode. As well, the regular NAS can handle intense data-sharing applications more readily than the “n-box” as a NAS.

Key terms and words to remember

Dégroupé(e) A condition of direct unbundled local-loop access to your phone line by your carrier
Monofibre Single fibre run to your premises with access to competing fibre carriers
Multifibre Multiple fibre runs to your premises with each owned by a competing finre carrier. Selected using a special wall socket
Box (n-box) Carrier-provided Internet gateway device (router) with at least a VoIP analogue-telephony adaptor and/or DECT base station
Décodeur Carrier-provided TV set-top box that connects to the Internet gateway device
CPL HomePlug powerline network
page / interface de gestion Web management page for the “n-box”
mettre à jour (mis à jour) update (often used in relation to these devices’ firmware)

Conclusion

This guide will help you with planning for and setting up an Internet service for that property that you have or are  dreaming to have in France.

Send to Kindle

Making sure your small business is ready for IPv6

Article

HP Blogs – 6 steps for SMBs to become IPv6-ready – The HP Blog Hub

My Comments

There is all the talk of us running out of IPv4 public IP addresses for the Internet, and an increased awareness of IPv6 Internet technology. One major driver for the IPv6 technology is the rolling out of next-generation broadband services; where this feature will be seen as being part of the “next generation” mould.

In the near time, the typical IPv6 network will operate as a “dual-stack” setup where there is an IPv6 network and an IPv4 network operating over the same network space. A device such as an IPv6-ready router will typically bridge the gap between the dual-stack devices and the IPv4-only devices by assisting in the discovery of the devices and transferring data between the two different network stacks.

Outside IT contractors

If you do regularly engage outside contractors for your IT needs such as your POS / property-management technology, it would pay to ask whether the technical staff know about IPv6 and how to deploy it. Most of these contractors may think that small business doesn’t need IPv6 but as the Internet moves to this technology, it pays to be future-proof.

ISPs and Webhosts

It is worth making sure that your business’s ISP and Internet hosted services such as your Webhost are ready for IPv6 or have intentions to roll out a customer-facing IPv6 service.

Most ISPs and Webhosts are likely to have the backend of their services working on IPv6 technology but their customer-facing services like the Web services or Internet service may not be ready. This may be due to the presumption that most customer setups will fail when confronted with IPv6. The exception may be the ISPs that serve a “switched-on” audience that knows their way around the Internet technology; or ISPs and Webhosts that offer customer-facing IPv6 service as a limited-user beta test and they may offer a “dual-stack” setup.

It also pays to check that your domain host supports domain records that are compatible with IPv6 setups. This includes having AAAAA-form DNS records that can resolve your domain name to IPv6 addresses.

Hardware

Computers that run Windows Vista or 7, MacOS X Lion or recent Linux distributions will be ready for IPv6; with Windows XP having support through a downloadable module from Microsoft’s Web site. Relatively-recent computer equipment can be upgraded from prior operating systems to the newer IPv6-compliant operating systems. For the mobile platforms, the IOS (iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch), Android, Symbian and Windows Phone 7 platforms do support IPv6. They will typically operate on a “dual-stack” arrangement by being able to service an IPv4 network and an IPv6 network at the same time through the same network interface,

Similarly, most network printers pitched at the business end of the market that were released over the last few years would have support for IPv6 in a dual-stack setup.

As for routers, managed switches, access points and other network hardware, I would suggest that you check for firmware that supports IPv6 for your existing equipment. Keep an eye on the manufacturer’s Website for newer firmware updates that support IPv6.  If you are purchasing or specifying newer network equipment, make sure that it does support IPv6 or has future support for this in a planned firmware update. Most unmanaged switches, HomePlug-Ethernet bridges and devices that don’t use a Web or SMNP user interface would not need to be compliant with IPv6. This is because these devices work at levels below the IP stacks.

In the case of routers, the device should work as a “dual-stack” unit with support for routing between the two different IP network types. It should also be able to cope with working with a dual-stack Internet service especially as the business Internet services that provide IPv6 will do so in a dual-stack manner.

When I review any network hardware including printers, I will identify those pieces of equipment that are IPv6-ready so as to help you know whether the equipment will be future-proof.

Software

As for software on these computers, any desktop firewall software or other network-utility software that you run would need to support IPv6 operation. This is something that recent versions of this software would cater for, but you should make sure of this when you specify new software. It also holds true for any other network-management programs that need to work on an IP level.

The application software that serves office functionality or line-of-business needs wouldn’t be of concern in relation to IPv6 because the operating system would be handling the network-resource requests for these programs.

Conclusion

The key issue with assuring IPv6 compatibility for your small business network is to make sure that your computer equipment works on dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 software and / or there is a router that works as n IPv4/IPv6 bridge on both sides of the network-Internet “edge”. As well, the IT contractors and services that you engage would need to be knowledgeable about IPv6 and the impending rollout for your business.

Send to Kindle

QR Codes–a useful tool for promoting your organisation

What are QR Codes

QR code used in a newspaper to link to its mobile site

QR code used in a newspaper to link to its mobile site

A QR Codes is a two-dimensional monochrome barcode that is designed to house a long text string. This may represent contact details or Wi-Fi network parameters but is commonly used to provide a link to a Web-hosted resource. These barcodes may be printed on a newspaper, business card or flyer; or even shown on a Website; the latter method being used to show links to software for the Android platform.

Typically, a person who has a mobile phone equipped with a QR-code reader app can then just point the phone’s camera to the barcode and “take a picture” of that barcode. This then leads to the contact details being put in their contact list or the user being taken to the Web site or Web-hosted resource. This function has even been extended to supplying GPS coordinates to a device for navigation (think of geocaching) or, in the case of Android phones, supplying Wi-Fi service parameters to these phones as part of provisioning hotspot service.

QR Code used on a poster

A QR code as used on a poster to advertise this site

They are popular in Europe especially with cafes and restaurants but are slowing increasing in popularity in other countries. As well, some commentators have described the QR code as a way of providing a machine-readable hyperlink in the field. It is also worth having a look at various QR-code blogs like this one so you can know what the trend is about.

Infact, when I promote HomeNetworking01.info using posters or business cards, I make sure there is a QR code pointing to the site so that people can use their phones to head to the site.

Why QR codes for your organisation

One major benefit that QR codes have for your print-based campaigns is that you can insert a direct link to your Webpage or a resource on that Webpage. Your audience then can visit that resource without having to memorise a URL or transcribe the URL in to the phone using a small touchscreen keyboard or SMS-style with the phone keypad.

The QR code is better than using Bluetooth transmitters to provide content. This is because the user isn’t likely to be annoyed with “accept this” Bluetooth responses from these transmitters when they come in to range of the transmitters. As well, the user doesn’t have to remember how to enable or disable Bluetooth discovery mode on their device. As well you don’t need to make sure there is a transmitter at the advertisement and make sure there is power to the transmitter, which can make the QR code acceptable even for posters on that noticeboard or shop door.

It is also better than using any of the proposed “near-field communication” technology for linking to Web resources because you don’t need to buy and integrate near-field transmitters in your promotional materials for the technology to work.

Direct Link to deep Web resources

You may want to provide a sound clip, video or PDF file to your mobile users. As well, you may want to link the user to a particular Web page about a product or promotion. But mobile users may find these resources difficult to gain access to on your site because of being required to enter a long URL into that numeric or small alphabetic keypad.

The QR code can provide the direct link to your campaign page, PDF file or audiovisual resource in a manner that is ready to download “there and then”. If the resource is a YouTube video, you can provide the link to the video clip as it appears on YouTube and the site or local YouTube client can open when the QR code is scanned.

Appropriate for the Social Web

Here, the QR code can augment your Social Web campaign because most active Social-Web users tend to work their Facebook or Twitter presence more from their smartphones. This is especially as I have noticed a lot of small businesses promote their Facebook presence online through posters and flyers that have the “Like us on Facebook” slogan.

What a simplified way of doing this by pointing the latest ultra-cool iPhone to the QR code on the poster attached to the trendy cafe’s espresso machine or refrigerated display cabinet in order to “like” that cafe on Facebook. It certainly makes it certain that you are seen with that iPhone.

Reading QR Codes

Some mobile-phone carriers and manufacturers will supply a QR-code reader with their Internet-enabled camera phones. But iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7 users can come across many free QR-code readers at their platform’s app store. One example that comes to mind is the free i-Nigma which started becoming available for the iOS platform but lately became available for the Android and Blackberry platform. There are others like Barcode Scanner for the Android platform, BeeTag for the Blackberry platform and ScanLife for most of the platforms.

A main difference that may sort the “sheep from the goats” as far as QR-code reader programs go is whether they can read a light-coloured QR code that is printed on a dark surface. Similarly, there may be differences in how well a difficult-to-read code like a double-sided sign that is backlit can be understood.

At the moment, most QR-code readers are pitched at handheld mobile phones for immediate viewing of the resources on these devices. But it could be feasible to provide “capture-store-sync” transfer of Web URLs or downloaded resources to desktop operating systems or tablet computers as a feature of a QR-code reader. This could then allow a person to view the Web site on their laptop computer using their favourite Web browser at a later time.  It would also be of importance with QR codes being used for presenting Wi-Fi network parameters to Android phones, where the same parameters can be passed up to a laptop and integrated in to the Wi-Fi networks list for that computer.

Preparing QR codes

There are many QR-code generator sites and programs, most of which are free to use. Typically these sites may allow you to provide a URL to a resource as the input text or prepare contact details. A good resource to start from is this blog’s list of the top 10 free QR-code generating sites. As well, i-Nigma also offer a free QR-code generating page as well as their QR-code reader. Yet another resource is the QReateBUZZ Webpage which I have used for the QR codes for promoting this site.

These codes can be yielded as a small, medium or large size. Here, you could use a small size code for business cards and flyers here you don’t have much room or just want a discreet code on the corner of the poster. You could then use the larger sizes if you want people to notice that there is a QR code in the signage’s artwork or need to be far from the artwork to scan it.

Most sites will yield high-resolution PNG or JPEG bitmaps but some may yield EPS Postscript files or PDFs that are vector-images of the QR codes. You typically will then copy-and-paste or import the mage in to your artwork. As well, a lot of the sites will generate a JPEG image that you copy from the site using Ctrl-C / Command-C and paste to your artwork using Ctrl-V / Command-V.

Of course, there are some desktop QR-code generator programs which will run on a regular computer but most of these are Windows-only and a lot of them are offered at “large-business” prices.

It is still good practice to work with dark-graphics-against-light codes because most QR-code readers cannot work effectively with light-graphics-against-dark at the moment. If you are setting a QR code on a dark background, you could use the dark graphic on a light background and have a distinct light-background margin around that barcode.

Conclusion

Once you explore the creation and use of QR codes as part of your online and offline marketing strategy especially where you have online resources

Send to Kindle

Twitter–who see what and when

Another increasingly-popular social network service is Twitter. This was intended as a “microblogging” service but some people have been implementing it as another social network.

Like the similar Facebook article that I have written for Facebook novices, this will list who will see which information you post when you use Twitter. Here, I would recommend this as a bookmark or favourite or as something to print out and keep near the computer or have available on the business intranet.

Twitter lexicon

Tweet A public Twitter post. Also to leave a public post on Twitter
Follow To subscribe to a Twitter user’s Tweets (public comments)
Follower A person who subscribes to a user’s Tweets. Is also capable of receiving direct messages from the users they follow.
Hashtag A reference tag that is preceded by a # (hash) symbol and is used for filtering Tweets on a topic. Used primarily in front of cities, TV shows, brands, etc.
Mention or Reply A Tweet that features a Twitter user with that user’s name preceded by an @ symbol.

Who sees what

What you do Who sees this  
When you post a Tweet All your Twitter Followers  
When you Retweet someone’s else’s Tweet All your Twitter Followers Your followers will see the original Tweet suffixed by “Retweeted by <your_user_name>”
When you reply to someone else’s Tweet or mention another user in your Tweet All your Twitter Followers The Tweet will have the other person’s username preceded by the @ symbol and the user will be able to see the mentions or replies in the “reply / mention” filter
When you send a direct message to a Follower Only that specific Follower that you address Your Follower has to be following you to be able to be contacted by a Direct Message

What to do where on Twitter

General comment or broadcast message Post a Tweet Be careful what you write as all followers or potential followers can see what you write.
Reply to someone else’s Tweet or mention a Twitter user where confidentiality isn’t required Post the tweet using the Reply or Mention tools Again, be careful what you say when you write these posts.

This can be good for congratulating the user or offering some sympathy on an event they Tweeted about.

Direct private message to a Follower Post a Direct Message  

 

If someone follows you on your Twitter account, it may be a good idea to check that person out when you receive the notification by email. Here, you could then consider following that person and being able to use direct messaging as appropriately.

It is also worth noting that a lot of social Twitter users use “textspeak” (abbreviations and acronyms for common expressions used when sending SMS messages) when they send out Tweets. So you may have to use resources like the Urban Dictionary to help you understand some of this lingo.

Send to Kindle