Category: Network Connectivity Devices

Understanding the new distributed-Wi-Fi systems

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system – understanding these devices and whether to purchase them or not

A new class of home-network device has been appearing over the last year or so in the form of the “distributed Wi-Fi system”, sometimes known as the “mesh Wi-Fi system”.

These systems consist of two or three modules, one working as your home network’s router and the other modules working as access points. But they have features that are different to setups where you use an ordinary access point and wired-network backbone or a range extender to extend your Wi-Fi wireless network’s coverage.

Some ISPs are even offering distributed-Wi-Fi systems as a product differentiator for their premium packages or as an add-on that customers can buy. They are offering these devices in response to their customer base complaining to their support desks and “bricks-and-mortar” storefronts regarding poor Wi-Fi coverage.

Core features

Simplified setup and self-tuning

When you set up these devices, you don’t have to determine the operating frequency for each of the modules nor do you have to deal with multiple devices for your network to run properly.

Typically the only hands-on requirement is to work with one management interface when adjusting your network’s settings. You may even find that this interface is where you set up things like your Internet connection parameters or your network’s ESSID and enable / disable any particular features the system has.

You may find that the procedure involved with enrolling additional node devices to an existing distributed-Wi-Fi system may be as simple as pairing a network client device to a Wi-Fi network using WPS push-button pairing. This would simply be about pressing a button on the new device then pressing a button on one of the existing devices or the main node.

These systems continually re-adjust the operating frequency and other parameters so as to cope with changes in operating circumstances.

For example, if one or more of your neighbours set up new home networks or add access points and range extenders to these networks, you may find that your network underperforms due to the neighbouring networks operating on the same frequency. Even someone running a “Mi-Fi” mobile router or using their smartphone’s “Internet-share” mode could affect the network’s performance.

But the typical distributed-Wi-Fi system will automatically tune itself to different frequencies when these situations do occur. As well, it may implement other tactics to provide the best signal strength for your client devices.

Automatic creation of a single Wi-Fi network

A problem that users will have especially with wireless range extenders is that your network is split up in to multiple extended service sets or Wi-Fi networks. This can cause problems with users having to switch between different network names to gain the best coverage, something that can daunt a lot of users.

If you set up a traditional access-point setup with a wired (HomePlug or Ethernet) backbone, you have to “copy” the SSID and security parameters to each access point’s setup interface. A few HomePlug access points simplify this task using a WPS-based “Wi-Fi Clone” function where you activate this function then press the WPS button on your router to “copy over” the network parameters to the access point.

But these systems allow you to create your network’s SSID and security parameters with these being reflected across all of the modules that are part of the system. This includes implementing these parameters across all wavebands that these distributed Wi-Fi systems support.

This leads to a network that has the same kind of “roam-ability” as what would be expected for larger Wi-Fi networks with multiple access points. It is similar to what you would have expected with a properly-set-up traditional access-point network.

System types

Mesh-based distributed Wi-Fi system

Mesh-based distributed Wi-Fi system – each device links with each other

There are two different approaches being implemented with distributed Wi-Fi systems. These affect how the wireless backhaul signal is provided between each of the system’s modules.

Mesh system

The mesh method, implemented by Linksys Velop, Google WiFi, and eero require the use of three or more modules with one of these serving as the “edge” router for the network.

Here, the wireless backhaul works on a mesh approach where each module effectively receives signals from and transmits signals to the other modules that are in range. There is some fault-tolerance in these setups where the receiving module (node) can rely on other transmitting nodes if one of them fails. On the other hand, the receiving node aggregates the bandwidth it receives from two or more nodes of the network for higher throughput.

Router-extender / hub-satellite system

Hub-satellite distributed-Wi-Fi system

Hub-satellite distributed Wi-Fi system – uses extender devices connected to a router

The other approach, followed by the DLink Covr and the Netgear Orbi works in a similar vein to a traditional router and range-extender setup or traditional multiple-access-point setup.

Here, the satellite nodes in this system provide a single backhaul link to the hub node which typically is the router. The better designed systems like the NETGEAR Orbi use a dedicated wireless link for their wireless backhaul. This avoids competition for bandwidth by the portable client devices and the satellite nodes wanting to repeat the signal.

Features and limitations regarding these systems

Router-only or access-point functionality

Most of the distributed wireless setups are connected to the Internet in the same vein as a router where they create their own logical network. This setup appeals to users who have a modem that provides a media-level connection to their Internet service like a cable modem, optical-network terminator or a wireless-broadband modem.

This will be a limitation for users who have a modem router like most xDSL connections or users that implement a router that offers very advanced functionality like a VPN endpoint or VoIP gateway.

If you have one of these setups and want to use a distributed wireless system, look for one that offers access-point functionality or network-level bridging functionality. Here, these systems just connect to an Ethernet LAN socket on the existing router but you would have to disable the Wi-Fi functionality on the router if you use one of these systems if the node is closely located to the router.

Dedicated wireless backbone

Better-designed systems will implement a separate wireless backbone that isn’t used by any of the client devices. These systems will use specific radio front-ends and create a separate wireless network specifically for this backbone while each node has other radio front-ends that simply serve as the Wi-Fi access point for that area.

The benefit that is provided here is that the backhaul isn’t being shared with client devices that in the node’s good-reception area. That allows for optimum bandwidth for your distributed-Wi-Fi setup.

Alternative wired backbone

A handful of these systems are offering a wired backbone as an alternative setup for the network that they establish. This is provided through either an Ethernet LAN connection on the nodes or a setup may implement HomePlug AV500 or AV2 powerline networking as the wired backbone.

This feature may be of value for environments where the wireless backhaul just won’t perform as expected such as houses with interior walls made of highly-dense materials. Or these setups can come in to their own with multi-building home networks, where a wired link like HomePlug AV2 powerline networking for existing setups or Ethernet for new setups could link the buildings. On the other hand, if you wired your home for Ethernet, a distributed wireless system that implements support for an Ethernet wired backbone can exploit this infrastructure by allowing you to push out the network coverage further.

These systems should be able to treat the wired backbone as though it is another wireless backbone or part of the mesh. With some of these systems, you could push out a wireless backbone that refers to one of the nodes connected to the wired backbone as its “master” node rather than the main router.

Internet-dependent operation

There are some distributed-wireless systems that are dependent on an Internet connection for them to operate and for you to manage them. Most likely this is evident if the user interface is through a mobile-platform app that links to an Internet resource; along with heavy talk of “cloud operation” in the product documentation. This kind of setup is one that some new Silicon-Valley outfits are heading down the road towards as they want us to join the Internet-dependent “cloud bus”.

On the other hand, a system that isn’t dependent on an Internet connection for you to manage the network will allow you to visit a Web-page dashboard through a local network address or resource name and fully manage your network via that dashboard created by the router or node. Some of these systems that have UPnP IGD or management functionality enabled may make themselves discoverable using a Windows computer on the same network if you open Windows Explorer / File Explorer and see it listed as a Network device.

This is the traditional practice for most home and small-business network hardware and such a setup may offer the ability to be managed within your network using a mobile-platform app that points to the local resource. But this setup allows you to manage or troubleshoot your network even if the Internet connection is down. You also benefit from the ability to get your network ready before your Internet service is provisioned or deal with service-provisioning scenarios like changing your service provider or connection technology, or dealing with Internet services that authenticate with usernames and passwords.

What should I buy?

Not every distributed-Wi-Fi setup suits every house. This is because different houses come in differing sizes and compositions.

I would pay attention to those distributed-wireless systems like the NETGEAR Orbi that offer a choice of different nodes that have differing signal strengths at different price points. The benefit with these systems is that you can effectively shape your Wi-Fi network’s coverage to your premises size and shape.

For example, an entry-level package with a low-output satellite node could earn its keep with providing coverage to an area at the edge of your small house or apartment where you sometimes have good reception but could do with “pushing out” the coverage a bit further for better response from smartphones and mobile-platform tablets used in that area. But you would find that a standard distributed-wireless package may be overkill for this situation. Here, it is similar to creating a HomePlug powerline segment to serve a baseline HomePlug wireless access point to fill in that dark spot and achieve that same goal.

But for most homes, you could get by with running a standard distributed-Wi-Fi system that just has two nodes. Here, you install one where your Internet connection would customarily be while the other one either is at the centre of the house or towards the opposite side. A two-storey or split-level building may simply require one of the nodes to be placed upstairs while the other one is downstairs. You may find that houses with a large floor plan may require three or more nodes and/or a mesh-based system for optimum coverage.

Systems that support an Ethernet or HomePlug AV wired backhaul in addition to the wireless backhaul earn their keep with those houses that use dense building materials for one or more of their interior walls. If a system only supports an Ethernet wired backhaul, you can team it with a pair of “homeplugs” to gain the benefit of the powerline-network technology which may answer your need with that old house that has a thick brick or sandstone interior wall.

As for system management, I would prefer to use a distributed-Wi-Fi system that implements Internet-independent setup and management. This means that if the Internet connection should go down and you had to re-configure your system or you chance service providers, you can do so.

Personally- I would like to see these systems be able to support the ability for one to determine the SSID and security parameters for the wireless network that they are creating. This is important for those of us who are using one of these systems to improve our existing network, whether to supplant our existing router or its Wi-Fi functionality. In this situation, you may want to convey your existing network’s parameters to the new network so you don’t have to go around to each client device that uses Wi-Fi to set it up for the network. It is although the procedure is simplified with most of these systems implementing WPS-based “push-to-connect” client-device setup on each module.

Use an access point and a wired backbone or one of these kits?

The distributed-Wi-Fi systems do appeal to people who don’t go for a “hands-on” approach in optimising their home network’s Wi-Fi performance. They are also useful for those of us who live in a high-turnover neighbourhood where people are moving in and out frequently. You will also have to be sure that you are not dealing with radio obstacles like interior walls made out of dense materials like that double-brick home that has am extension.

On the other hand, a traditional access point linked to an Ethernet or HomePlug wired backbone can work well for those of us who don’t mind a hands-on approach to set up the system and don’t face a situation where they have to readjust their home network regularly.

It is also important if we want to use a mix of equipment from different vendors or place high importance on a wired backhaul for reliability. To the same extent, the traditional access point with the wired backhaul is infact the surefire path for dealing with a multiple-building situation such as reaching the granny flat or man-cave garage.

Conclusion

At the moment, the distributed-Wi-Fi system, especially the mesh-based variant, is a technology still in its infancy. What needs to happen for this technology to become more accepted is that it can work in a purely heterogeneous vendor-independent manner, something that has to be facilitated through the implementation of standards that cover mesh networking and simplified setup / configuration requirements.

But the fact that major home-network vendors are coming in on the act rather than it being owned by Silicon-Valley startups means that the product class is becoming increasingly viable as a solution for poor Wi-Fi network coverage.

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Netgear offers more of the Orbi extenders

Articles

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system

Netgear releases two (slightly) cheaper Orbi routers | Engadget

Netgear announces two new Orbi routers | TechCrunch

From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR

Orbi Wi-Fi System

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Most of the recently-issued distributed-wireless systems that consist of modules that extend Wi-Fi coverage across a larger area are typically architected for a large suburban home. But you may want to get the coverage right for a smaller or larger area such as a New-York-style apartment or a larger country house.

NETGEAR have revised their Orbi distributed-wireless system which is based on a “router + extender” setup. This consists of a three-band router serving as a hub device while the satellite devices work in a similar vein to the range extender although there is a separate waveband implemented for backhaul purposes as well as providing for a simplified setup and roaming routine. In this system, one of the bands is kept as a backhaul between the extender devices and the router.

But they have released a few more “right-sized” output extenders for the Orbi distributed-wireless system. The original system, known as the RBK50, was capable of working an AC3000 network with a 5000 square-foot coverage. On the other hand, the RBK40 works an AC2200 network capable of covering 4000 square feet of space. There is a third system, known as the RBK30 which uses a satellite unite that plugs directly in to the power outlet like most range extenders or HomePlug devices. This also uses AC2200 network technology and can cover 3500 square feet.

For example, I would recommend for a small single-storey house or apartment the RBK30 if you are answering the typical setup where your router is located at the front or back of the house. Here, you are nudging the coverage out to an area that is not fully covered because of the equipment being up the front. The RBK40 or RBK50 could answer needs like multi-storey or split-level houses, or larger single-storey houses. In this situation, you want to, for example, make sure that there is equal Wi-Fi coverage upstairs and downstairs or, again, “nudge” the coverage out towards the back of your house.

NETGEAR are also selling these repeaters as accessories rather than as part of an Orbi system. This is important for those of you who are wanting to provide infill coverage for an existing Orbi system such as to deal with a larger house.

The NETGEAR Orbi and its peers would work well for buildings where the interior walls aren’t constructed of highly-dense building materials. You would run in to problems with, for example, the brick or sandstone home where you built on an extension, or one of the English cottages where there was an emphasis on brick or masonry construction for the inside walls. The reason I am calling this out is because the Orbi system implements a dedicated 5GHz band for the backhaul while your network devices connect to the router or extender devices using another 5GHz and 2.4GHz band created for the network.

Personally, I would like to see the NETGEAR Orbi systems available as a variant that uses a HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV2 powerline backbone or can exploit an Ethernet backbone as an alternative to the wireless backbone for those environments where that backbone can’t cut it.

A question that needs to be raised in the use cases that NETGEAR demonstrates in their online marketing collateral is whether an Orbi Satellite extender can be “daisy-chained” to an extant Orbi Satellite extender. This may be of concern to those of us who decide we want to extend the Orbi System from the extender such as to “push out” the range further.

What I like about the latest NETGEAR Orbi additions is that NETGEAR are “right-sizing” this distributed-wireless system to suit different coverage areas like apartments, small homes and larger homes as well as providing a way to “fill-in” coverage dark spots.

New firmware available for original Orbi system (1.8.0.6)

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Telstra steps to the fore with a 3-WAN carrier-supplied router

Articles

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

Telstra Gateway Frontier 4G/VDSL2/Ethernet modem router – ready for instant Internet or to provide failover service for the Internet Of Things

Telstra’s Gateway Frontier Modem Gives You A 4G Backup For Your ADSL Or NBN | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Telstra

Gateway Frontier (Product Page)

My Comments

Previously, I have written up an article about trends affecting carrier-supplied modem routers that customers receive when they sign up for Internet service but don’t order a “wires-only” or “BYO modem” deal.

One of the trends I was calling out was for a router to be equipped with an integrated mobile broadband modem along with a DSL modem and/or Ethernet connection as its WAN (Internet) connection options. The use cases for this include the ability to provide wireless “instant Internet” to subscribers while the wired connection is being established at their premises. But other use cases include a fail-over setup should the wired Internet connection fail or be in the process of being overhauled, to provide an increased “fat-pipe” for broadband connection or as a quality-of-service measure by redirecting particular traffic like emails or Web browsing to a slower path while video streaming or downloading goes the quicker path.

The wireless fail-over connection will have a strong appeal to households with building-security, personal-safety, medical-monitoring or similar technology that connects to a monitoring facility via the home network and Internet. Here, if the wired connection dies due to old and decrepit telephony infrastructure, there is the ability to maintain this essential link using the wireless link. This can extend to small businesses who need the Internet connectivity to be able to continue to trade.

I thought it would take a long time for this kind of equipment to show up as real consumer products but I had seen Telstra’s latest modem router on display at one of their shops in an outer-suburban shopping centre. I looked at some further details about this modem router and noticed that this device, the Gateway Frontier, was also equipped with a 4G mobile-broadband modem.

This device has a triple-WAN approach with the 4G mobile-broadband modem, ADSL2/VDSL2 modem and a separate Ethernet connection. This is intended to support the use of different NBN connection types – the VDSL2-based “fibre-to-the-node” or “fibre-to-the-curb” connections; or the fixed-wireless broadband, fibre-to-the-premises or HFC coaxial connections which rely on an external modem or ONT that uses an Ethernet connection to the router.

Personally, I would like to see the VDSL2 modem be a “software modem” that can be field-programmed to be a G.Fast modem for NBN FTTC (FTTdp) and FTTB deployments that implement G.Fast technology. This is in conjunction to the 4G mobile-broadband modem being able to become a femtocell to boost mobile-phone coverage in the modem-router’s operating area if you are using fixed broadband along with a continual software-maintenance approach for security, performance and stability.

This is a full “home-network” device with four Gigabit Ethernet connections along with an 802.11g/n/ac 4-stream dual-band Wi-Fi wireless network. It even supports NFC-based WPS connection that allows “touch-and-go” network enrolment for your NFC-equipped Android or Windows phone. This is in addition to push-button-based WPS setup that benefits open-frame computing devices that honour this function.

There is support for bandwidth sharing using the Telstra Air bandwidth-sharing platform along with support for the T-Voice VoIP “virtual cordless phone” function on your mobile phone. But this only works on a fixed-broadband (DSL / Ethernet) connection, and the mobile-broadband service is limited to a 6Mbps download and 1Mbps upload.

For a carrier-supplied consumer customer-premises-equipment router, the Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router, like the BT Smart Hub modem router that has Wi-Fi performance that is “beyond ordinary”, is showing that carriers can provide first-class equipment with up-to-date requirements rather than a piece of second-rate equipment they have to supply.

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The home-network gateway device to become advanced

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package press image courtesy of D-Link

Expect a lot more out of the router that comes with your Internet service when Technicolor gets its way

The device that represents the network-Internet “edge” for your home network i.e. the router won’t just be serving that function in a standalone way anymore. Here, it will work in tandem with other Internet-side and network-side computing devices to become a highly-sophisticated “hub” for your home network.

One of these drivers is to provide a simplified customer-support process, especially for those of us who use carrier-provided equipment at the edge. Here, the support and provisioning process can be fulfilled by the router supplying information to your carrier or ISP regarding your Internet service’s and home network’s performance.without wasting time requiring the customer to supply this information during a support call. This may be considered controversial but has value regarding the support and troubleshooting process which can perplex those of us who aren’t competent with technology such as a lot of older people.

It also encompasses the fact that distributed Wi-Fi will be the “new norm” for the home network, whether through multiple access points connected to a wired or dedicated-wireless backbone, the use of one or more wireless range extenders or a mesh-driven distributed wireless network. Here, it may be about simplifying the process of commissioning the “satellite” wireless devices and making sure that they are performing as expected to assure maximum Wi-Fi coverage across your premises.

The other factor is for a call to provide for always-maintained software in these devices thanks to issues being raised regarding the security of our home networks and the Internet. It was underscored through the recent distributed denial-of-service attacks against various Internet services and blogs using the Mirai bot network that was running compromised software on routers, network cameras and the like which hosted poorly-maintained software to facilitate these attacks.

Let’s not forget that the home-network gateway device will be expected to do more in conjunction with cloud services. Here, they want to provide this kind of service in the same context as the “app-store” commonly associated with mobile computing platforms but increasingly associated with regular computing platforms, and an increasing number of dedicated-purpose devices like printers. It is where a customer can add on extra functionality to their home-network router after they have bought and installed that device rather than buying and installing a new device to achieve this goal.

I was learning about this thanks to a news release offered to me by Diego Gastaldi from Technicolor Connected home regarding this topic. Technicolor came in on this game thanks to buying in to Thomson who supplies a lot of the customer-premises equipment provisioned by telcos and ISPs for their broadband Internet service, especially the triple-play services. This company had presented at Mobile World Congress some of their new concepts for the home-network gateway devices that will be pitched to the likes of Telstra or Bouygues Télécom for their services along with how they can add that extra value.

This is in conjunction with Technicolor announcing their solutions for managed distributed Wi-Fi setups along with devices supporting wireline broadband and mobile wireless broadband on the Internet (WAN) side. The latter trend existed mainly with small-business equipment but its appeal for the home network is being underscored with the “quick-to-provide” goal for an interim wireless service before a wireline service is rolled out, a “fatter pipe” for broadband service by aggregating wireline and mobile broadband services; and always-available broadband for business, e-health / ageing-at-home and the smart home’s security.

The typical applications that will be called out would be to provide business-style “unified threat management” for the home network as a network security measure. Or they could be about joining a “community wireless” platform like Fon where they can share Wi-Fi bandwidth with guests or customers.

But they are also highlighting applications like monitoring elderly loved ones at home to be sure they are OK. Earlier on in 2010, I had a conversation with a representative from Ekahau regarding their Wi-Fi-based Real Time Location System in a residential or small-business environment. This was more so with their T301BD Wi-Fi Pager Tag, pitched primarily as a name tag with duress-alert abilities for healthcare and similar enterprise-level applications, being used as part of an “ageing at home” or similar home-based care scenario. Then I had noticed initial doubt about this kind of application in the home but such setups could be made real with distributed Wi-Fi and them being offered on a cloud-driven “as-a-service” model.

By using a multiple-computer “cloud” approach, there isn’t a requirement to overload a router device with extra processing circuitry which would require a large device to be designed. Typically this would be fulfilled by the use of one or more data centers connected to the Internet like the Amazon Web Services approach Technicolor are using. But, as the compact network-attached-storage maintains its appeal as an on-premises network storage hub with most of these devices offering “remote access” or “personal cloud” functionality, this kind of “cloud” approach could encompass these devices along with other “function-specific” hubs like smart meters or security systems.

But what is happening is that there will be more expectations out of the router device that sits between the home network and the Internet with it being a “gateway” to more online services.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2017–Accessories and the Home Network

In this article about the Consumer Electronics Show 2017 that occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada, I will be covering the trends affecting computer peripherals and accessories and the home network.

1: Computer Trends

2: Accessories And The Home Network

Peripherals and Accessories

A very dominant usage case being highlighted for laptops and 2-in-1 computers is the creation of a fully-fledged workstation at your main workspace or game-playing space. This involves connecting the portable computer to at least one larger-sized screen along with a desktop-grade full-size keyboard and mouse. Such workstations may even be the place where you connect extra non-portable storage devices like USB hard disks or optical drives or connect to your network via a blue Ethernet cable rather than the Wi-Fi wireless connection for improved reliability.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon USB-C Thunderbolt-3 detail image - press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports will be seen as the way to connect expansion docks, peripherals and the like to your laptop

The USB-C connector and its higher-speed variant, the Thunderbolt 3 connector have been valued as a way to provide a single-cable connection option between your laptop and the normally-sessile peripherals once you used an expansion module, commonly known as a docking station or dock. Here, you would connect all the peripherals to this expansion module then connect your laptop computer to that same device via USB-C or Thunderbolt. This is also underscored by a significant number of these devices being equipped with USB Power Delivery to power the portable computer from that same device, underscoring that “one cable to connect” goal.

Let’s not forget that some manufacturers are integrating this “dock” functionality in to some of their display monitors so that these screens are where you can connect your keyboard, mouse and external hard disk.

Lenovo had pitched the ThinkVision P24h and P27h monitors which have a qHD (2560×1440) display resolution and an sRGB high colour gamut “out of the box”. These monitors, with the super-narrow bezel, implement a USB-C connection to the host computer facilitating a DisplayPort 1.2 connection, the data connection, and a Power Delivery connection with a power budget of 45W, along with a four-port self-powered USB hub.

LG's 32" 4K monitor with HDR10 - press picture courtesy of LG USA

LG’s 32″ 4K monitor with HDR10

LG had teased a 32” 4K monitor which has the narrow bezel and can handle HDR10 video but also offer this similar USB-C connectivity and USB hub. They also tweaked the monitor’s integral speakers for that bit of extra “kick” from the bass. They also are pleasing the gamer clans by offering the UltraFine 34” 5K and 4K UHD gaming monitors with features like AMD’s FreeSync technology and 1ms motion-blur reduction.

Dell had advanced a range of monitors including the UltraSharp 32” 8K UHD model and the 27” Ultrathin monitor which has its electronics housed in its base. This monitor implements USB-C connectivity to the host along with a QHD display.

Dell UP3218K 8K 32" monitor press image courtesy of Dell

It’s not 4K resolution in this Dell 32″ monitor, it is 8K resolution

They even advanced the 24” Touch monitor with an integral 10-point touchscreen along with the 24” Video Conferencing Monitor which has an integral Full-HD IR Webcam that has a privacy shutter. This monitor’s camera also adds on support for facial-recognition login under Windows Hello while the sound is catered for with a pair of 5-watt speakers and a noise-cancelling microphone built in.

Dell S2718D 27" slimline monitor press image courtesy of Dell

Dell’s slimline 27″ monitor with its electronics in its base

Even households aren’t left out with a range of monitors from Dell that are designed with aesthetics and high-grade on-screen experiences. For example, the Dell 24 and 27 monitors (S2418HX / S2718HX) implement the ultra-narrow-bezel design being implemented in most of Dell’s laptops and all-in-ones plus the ability to support HDR along with Waves.Maxx sound tuning.

For those of us who have a screen that currently “ticks the boxes” for our computing experience at our desks, most of the manufacturers are offering highly-capable Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C docks. Remember that you can daisy-chain 6 Thunderbolt-3 peripherals from the same Thunderbolt-3 bus, which can open up a range of possibilities.

For example, Lenovo and Dell are offering these expansion modules as part of their official accessory lineups. Lenovo’s contribution is in the form of the ThinkPad Thunderbolt 3 dock (US279) with video connectivity in the form of 2 DisplayPort, HDMI and VGA ports; 5 USB 3.0 ports; audio jack for those speakers; a Gigabit Ethernet port; and USB Power Delivery for the host computer with a power budget of 60 watts. There is a USB-C variant that offers similar functionality for computers not equipped with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.  But Belkin have previewed the Thunderbolt 3 version of their original Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock, which will have 3 USB-3 connections, 2 Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C connections, two audio connections, a DisplayPort video connection and a Gigabit Ethernet connection. This device can supply a USB Power Deliver power-demand of 85 watts, again reducing the need for extra power supplies for your computer.

In the last post I wrote about CES 2017, I had cited Zotac’s external “card-cage” graphics module which uses Thunderbolt 3 connectivity as a way to enhance their “midget PC” product. This isn’t the only product of its kind to appear at this show. MSI also premiered the GUS (Graphics Upgrade System) “card-cage” external GPU system. This is styled for gaming and is a refresh of their original GUS external graphics module that they launched in 2012, but implementing the Thunderbolt 3 standard. It has a 500W power supply and USB 3.0 Type-C and Type-A connections.

Beyond the docking stations or, should I say, expansion modules, there have been a few other computer accessories with one being of note in the form of a Kingston 2Tb USB thumb drive.

The home network

A key trend affecting the home network this year at the CES 2017 is the concept of distributed Wi-Fi wireless systems. This consists of kits that use multiple devices to spread the Wi-Fi network’s coverage over a large area. They have appeared because most householders have run in to issues with their home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment not providing reliable wireless coverage everywhere in their house.

They are typically based on a single chipset and most of them implement a dedicated wireless backhaul between the slave devices and the master access point. A significant number of these devices implement a “mesh” topology where there is a “root” node that works as a router along with multiple access point “nodes” that connect with each other and the “root” node to provide Wi-Fi coverage, using multiple backhaul connections for load-balancing, fail-safe operation and increased bandwidth. Other systems implement the traditional router and range-extender method with a single upstream connection but have a simplified setup method and properly-simple roaming between the access points.

The problem with these systems is that you have to use equipment that is offered by the manufacturer as part of that same system. This means that there isn’t any of the interoperability available which, at the moment, is stifling innovation.

Qualcomm launched their Wi-Fi mesh chipsets which can implement Bluetooth, CSRMesh and Zigbee also to support the “Internet Of Things”. The software is based also around a dedicated software framework and cloud-services. But these systems also support wired backhauls and multiple-hop mesh setups.

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package press image courtesy of D-Link

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package

D-Link had premiered the Covr distributed Wi-Fi system which consists of a router and a wireless extender that implements the automatic setup and simplified roaming. For those of us with existing home networks, they also offered a Covr HomePlug system consisting of two wireless access points linked by a HomePlug AV2 powerline backbone. Another example that purely uses a Wi-Fi backbone is the NETGEAR Orbi which implements a router and a satellite extender device.

On the other hand, Linksys provided a true-mesh setup in the form of the Velop Wi-Fi system that implements multiple nodes. The Velop system even is able to work with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant such as controlling the guest Wi-Fi network or asking Alexa to quote your network’s credentials. Click or tap on this link to see a Linksys YouTube video which explains what Velop is about if you can’t see it below.

As well, Linksys have launched the WRT32X Gaming Router which implements the Rivet Networks Killer Wi-Fi chipset similar to what is implemented in the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook. Here, it is optimised to work with client devices that implement the Rivet Networks Killer chipsets but is a 3×3 802.11ac MU-MIMO system that supports 160kHz bandwidth. There is also the EA8300 Max-Stream AC2200 Tri-band MU-MIMO Gigabit Router which is a more affordable device based on a 2×2 802.11ac three-radio design. Both these routers are equipped with Gigabit Ethernet for LAN and WAN (Internet) connections.

Linksys even offered a WUSB400M dual-band MU-MIMO 802.11ac USB wireless network adaptor as a way to retrofit your existing laptop or desktop computer for the new-spec Wi-Fi segments. This network adaptor connects to the host computer via USB 3.0 and can work at a 2×2 AC1200 setup.

What Linksys have been offering is a representative of another trend affecting the home network’s Wi-Fi segment where Wi-Fi network infrastructure hardware is working on a simultaneous three-band approach, operating on the 2.4GHz, 5.0GHz and 5.8GHz wavebands at the same time. As well, Wi-Fi repeaters are even being setup to implement the 5GHz bands as the preferred backhaul. Amped Wireless is another company also offering the three-band Wi-Fi network-infrastructure equipment in the form of a router and an extender.

NETGEAR Nighthawk S8000 Gaming And Media Switch press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Nighthawk S8000 Gaming And Media Switch – for the home network or home entertainment unit

NETGEAR’s not silent here with the Nighthawk S8000 Media Switch which is a media-optimised Ethernet switch implementing some of the quality-of-service technologies in their managed switches but optimised for household use. As well, this house-friendly switch can support functions like link-aggregation for increased throughput on supported devices like desktop computers and NAS units with two Gigabit Ethernet connections supporting this mode.

This is also intended to complement the Nighthawk X10 gaming and media router which has an integrated Plex Media Server for USB Mass-Storage devices connected to this router’s USB ports. It is also one of the first few home routers to offer 802.11ad WiGig (60GHz) same-room wireless network LAN segment capable of a throughput three times that of the fastest 802.11ac Wi-Fi network; along with the 802.11ac 4×4 MU-MIMO three-band Wi-Fi wireless LAN segment.

As well, there are 8 Gigabit Ethernet ports which can also support port-trunking for failover or high-throughput operation like the Nighthawk S8000 switch along with the WAN (Internet) side being looked after by a Gigabit Ethernet connection. The processing horsepower in this performance router is looked after by a 1.7GHz four-core CPU and it can support VLAN setups of the port or 802.1q tag variety.

Both these devices are pitched at “core” online and VR gaming enthusiasts with those hotted-up gaming rigs along with people who are in to streaming 4K ultra-high-definition TV content. But they can also earn their keep with those of us who run our businesses from home and want “big-business-grade” connectivity for IP-based communications or cloud computing.

Another trend that is surfacing is security-optimised broadband routers for the home network. These offer the “unified threat management” abilities associated with business-grade Internet setups but in a manner that appeals to the ordinary household. The latest from this class of network-Internet “edge” device is the Norton Core router. This device implements content-filtering and security software that is also focused towards the Internet-of-Things devices in your household due to the increased awareness of security risks and poor software maintenance practices associated with these devices.

The self-updating router works with Symantec’s DNS service to prevent DNS hijacks as well as implementing deep-packet inspection on unencrypted traffic to screen for malware and network intrusions. As for encrypted traffic, the Norton Core router will inspect packet headers for and connections of this traffic class. It also comes with Norton Core Security Plus endpoint-protection software which is a variant of the business-grade Security Premium endpoint software and can be run on 20 devices running either Windows, MacOS, iOS or Android but the router is dependent on this endpoint software for the full protection..

Lenovo Smart Storage home NAS press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

Lenovo Smart Storage home NAS

Most of the network-attached-storage units were focused on the “personal cloud” trend with the device being the centre of your data-storage universe while software and services work to locate these devices from afar. Similarly, some of them are using rich media servers which can do things like obtain further data about your media content. One of these devices is one that Lenovo launched called the Smart Storage 6Tb NAS which implements facial image recognition along with event-driven recognition to make it easier to identify and organise pictures of people just like what Facebook and Windows Photo Gallery were about. This unit has 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi for portable use but can be connected to your home network via an Ethernet cable.

The next article about the 2017 CES will be highlighting the trends affecting home entertainment including the new smart TVs that will be showing up.

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NETGEAR keeps the tradition coming with their network infrastructure

For a long time, NETGEAR have been known for offering cost-effective hubs and switches for use with twisted-pair wired Ethernet segments in homes and small businesses. In the early days, this meant very small five-port unmanaged 10/100Mbps hubs and switches that didn’t cost much and could allow you to easily consider wiring for Ethernet.

To the same extent, they released a 56k dial-up modem router with an integrated four-port hub which was the first product of its kind to offer dial-up Internet across a network without the need for a computer to be running. But it was considered a product ahead of its time thanks to ADSL or cable broadband Internet not being available in many areas and not many home networks being set up for the Internet. But it led on to some of the most capable NETGEAR modem routers to surface like the DG834G which had won a significant amount of accolades in its day.

NETGEAR GS-110TP Gigabit PoE-supply Smart Switch

NETGEAR GS-110TP Gigabit PoE 8 Port Smart Switch

Subsequently they were one of the first companies to offer some affordable unmanaged Gigabit switches that can be a Power-Over-Ethernet power-source device. This was offered on half of the ports on these devices but they gradually offered some Web-managed models that had all of the ports covered.

Another approach was to offer Web-managed Ethernet switches that had a focus on eas-of-use. This was about a “big-business” feature where an Ethernet network can be managed to do things like manage quality-of-service or segment a LAN for further control. But NETGEAR’s approach not just provided the Web-based dashboard on each of these switches but provided an “automatic-transmission” approach to quality-of-service management in a manner to make this concept appeal to the small network. One of these switches that NETGEAR offered was even designed to be able to be powered using Power-Over-Ethernet, something that could appeal to “regional” switches or those devices serving a cluster of network equipment at a table or desk.

NETGEAR Nighthawk S8000 Gaming And Media Switch press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Nighthawk S8000 Gaming And Media Switch – for the home network or home entertainment unit

But NETGEAR took this concept further with a gaming-grade network switch that has the features of a business-grade network switch but is pitched towards gamers and multimedia enthusiasts. The Nighthawk S8000 Web-managed switch has the ability to be managed like the typical business-grade managed switch but invokes the “automatic transmission” approach like some other NETGEAR switches for QoS management. It is presented in a style that makes it attractive to use in the home entertainment centre where a 4K UHDTV, XBox One or PS4, and similar devices are installed and you want something better than Wi-Fi for online gaming or video streaming at Full HD or 4K UHD.

This unit even implements link aggregation / port-trunking for up to four Ethernet ports so that the Nighthawk S8000 switch can be purposed as an “off-ramp” for a high-speed link to a gaming rig, router or NAS with this kind of connectivity. In this case, the bandwidth offered by the aggregated ports is treated as one high-speed link. Let’s not forget that this unit can be integrated into a sophisticated VLAN-driven network and NETGEAR put a tentative price of US$99.99 for this unit intended to be released around March 2017.

The goal with all of these products is to offer something that could be considered only fit for big business but at a cost-effective price and with an approach that reduces operational complexity.

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Solwise adds Power Over Ethernet Plus and HomePlug AV2 in a single device

Solwise PL-1200AV2-POE HomePlug adaptor product picture courtesy of Solwise

Solwise PL-1200AV2-POE HomePlug adaptor combines HomePlug AV2 MIMO and 802.3at Power-Over-Ethernet in one device

In 2013, Solwise became the first to offer for the UK market a “homeplug” that could work “best case” with a HomePlug AV500 segment and provide power to Ethernet-connected devices “over the blue wire” using the 802.3af Power-Over-Ethernet standard.

Now this UK-based network-equipment supplier have raised the bar with a Power-Over-Ethernet “homeplug” which works to the HomePlug AV2 MIMO 1200Mbps standard. This high-throughput standard offers a more robust powerline network link highly suitable for multiple-building setups like this example or small business and community organisations using HomePlug technology for temporary or semi-permanent networks in traditional business-grade premises. It is facilitated by use of all three wires (phase/active/line, neutral and earth/ground) of the standard AC plug to transfer the data along with the other improvements associated with high-throughput, robust data transfer.

Power Over Ethernet concept

Power Over Ethenrt concept

But wait, there’s more! This GBP£74.78 device doesn’t just provide Power-Over-Ethernet power through its Gigabit Ethernet port according to the baseline 802.3af standard but to the high-power 802.3at Power-Over-Ethernet-Plus standard. This can allow for multiple-band multiple-radio access points answering to 802.11ac standards, highly-powerful access points or IP videosurveillance cameras that can yield high-quality pictures.

This Solwise device could allow for a two-piece HomePlug AV2 access point setup with this ceiling-mount 802.11ac 1350Mbps access point (GBP£71.40), this ceiling-mount 802.11ac 1750Mbps access point (GBP£118.36), the “smoke-alarm” 802.11n 900Mbps access point (GBP£70.14), the IP55-compliant (weatherproof) outdoor 802.11ac 1200Mbps access point (GBP£175.24) or the IP55-compliant (weatherproof) outdoor 802.11ac 1750Mbps access point (GBP£186.66).

HomePlug link between house and garage

Perfect for this kind of setup

As well, the Solwise HomePlug AV2 Power-Over-Ethernet-Plus adaptor  could facilitate surveillance of your outbuildings like your garage where the classic car is being kept, the shed where you have those precious tools or the barn where your livestock are being kept when you team it with this traditional-style IP66-compliant (weatherproof) “bullet-style” 1 megapixel standards-based infrared-capable IP camera (GBP£164.92).

The fact that this Solwise “homeplug” combines HomePlug AV2 MIMO and 802.3at Power-Over-Ethernet Plus opens up a lot more possibilities for what both these technologies offer.

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EU wants to establish a security baseline for Internet Of Things

Article

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

The security of network connectivity equipment is now in question thanks to the Krebs On Security DDoS attack

The EU’s latest idea to secure the Internet of Things? Sticky labels | Naked Security Blog

My Comments

The European Commission wants to push forward with a set of minimum standards for data security especially in context with “dedicated-function” devices including the “Internet Of Things” or “Internet Of Everything”. This also includes a simplified consumer-facing product-label system along with a customer-education program very similar to what has taken place in most countries concerning the energy efficiency of the appliances or the nutritional value of the foodstuffs we purchase.

This issue has been driven by a recent cyber attack on the Krebs On Security blog where the “Mirai” botnet was used to overload that security blog, the latest in a string of many attacks that were inflicted against data-security journalist Brian Krebs. But this botnet was hosted not on regular computers that were running malware downloaded from questionable Internet sites, nor was it hosted on Web hosts that were serving small-time Websites running a popular content management system. It was based on poorly-secured “dedicated-function” devices like network-infrastructure devices, video-surveillance devices, printers and “Internet Of Things” devices that had their firmware meddled with.

Nest Learning Thermostat courtesy of Nest Labs

… as could other Internet-Of-Things devices like these room thermostats

There will be issues that concern how we set network-enabled equipment up to operate securely along with the level of software maintenance that takes place for their firmware. A question always raised in this context is the setup or installation procedure that you perform when you first use these devices – whether this should be about a “default-for-security” procedure like requiring an administrator password of sufficient strength to be set before you can use the device.

But I also see another question concerning the “durables” class of equipment like refrigerators, televisions, building security and the like which is expected to be pushed on for a long time, typically past the time that a manufacturer would cease providing support for it. What needs to happen is an approach towards keeping the software maintained such as, perhaps, open-sourcing it or establishing a baseline software for that device.

Manufacturers could be researching ways to implement centralised simplified secure setup for consumer “Internet-Of-Things” devices along with maintaining the software that comes with these devices. This could be also about working on these issues with industry associations so that this kind of management can work industry-wide.

But the certification and distinct labelling requirement could be about enforcing secure-by-design approaches so that customers prefer hardware that has this quality. Similarly, a distinct label could be implemented to show that a device benefits from regular secure software maintenance so that it is protected against newer threats.

It usually just requires something to happen in a significant manner to be a wake-up call regarding computer and data security. But once a standard is worked out, it could answer the question of keeping “dedicated-purpose” computing devices secure.

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Raising the bar for triple-play Internet in France

Articles – French language / Langue Française Flag of France

SFR lancera une nouvelle box en septembre… pour contrer Free ? | O1net.com

SFR : une nouvelle box fibre pour septembre ? | ZDNet.fr

SFR annonce une nouvelle box ! | Ere Numérique

From the horse’s mouth

SFR

Product Page (French language / Langue Française)

My Comments

It looks like there will be a tight showdown between two of the French telcos when it comes to the multiple-play “n-box” services.

Freebox Révolution - courtesy Iliad.fr

The Freebox Révolution to be replaced with better-performing equipment soon

Free.fr did a bit of initial murmuring this month (July) about the Freebox v7 that will be surfacing on the French market in September. This is a powerful unit that can handle 4K UHDTV and is intended to replace the Freebox Révolution which was known to set the standard for carrier-supplied routers and set-top boxes.

Now SFR have made mention about a triple-play “n-box” service with hardware that is said to be on a par with, if not better than, Free’s setup. Here, this will be about improved Wi-Fi technology of the 802.11ac order, a new design and, like the Freebox, support for 4K UHDTV. This is in conjunction with more sports content and VoD content being made available to their subscriber base on 4K UHDTV.

It will be released in September, concurrently to when Free will put their new Freebox on the market. SFR want to also allow their existing subscriber base to upgrade to this new service for EUR€49 with a 12 month contract.

In the UK, British Telecom had raised the bar for Wi-Fi performance offered by a carrier-supplied wireless modem router. Could this also mean that the French telcos could join in and offer highly-powerful carrier-supplied wireless modem routers for their services as a way to compete against each other.

What is now happening is that the calibre offered for carrier-supplied home-network equipment could be another way where telcos and ISPs in a highly-competitive market could compete against each other. This is in addition to what you could get for your landline or mobile telephony service, your pay-TV service’s channel lineup or your Internet bandwidth and included services for the monthly charge that you stump up.

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BT raises the bar for a carrier-supplied modem router

Article BT brand identity Enquiries about this image can be made to the BT Group Newsroom on its 24-hour number: 020 7356 5369. From outside the UK, dial +44 20 7356 5369. News releases and images can be accessed at the BT web site: http://www.bt.com/newscentre.

UK ISP BT Launches New Smart Hub Wireless Broadband Router | ISP Review

My Comments

BT have offered new consumer-premises equipment that has raised the bar for Wi-Fi performance that has been said to be “beyond ordinary”.

Typically a carrier-supplied modem router has been designed as a low-cost item to provide to new customers who are taking on Internet service through that carrier. This typically had customers purchase modem routers with better specifications from anywhere that sold computer equipment with some of these devices having improved throughput or Wi-Fi reception.

But BT’s latest DSL modem router which is now known as the Smart Hub but could have been known as the Home Hub 6 has circuitry that places its Wi-Fi performance on a par with the better retail DSL modem routers. This circuitry is driven by some highly-strung up-to-date Broadcom processors (Broadcom 63137. 4366 and 43602). It also implements 7 antennas to set up a 3×3 802.11g/n MIMO Wi-Fi segment (up to 217Mbps) on the 2.4GHz band and a 4×4 802.11a/n/ac MIMO Wi-Fi segment (up to 1700Mbps) on the 5GHz band.

This modem router implements a “smart-tune” logic to set itself up for the optimum operating frequency for both the bands when it is set up along with other “smart-scan” logic to keep the Wi-Fi segment working in an optimum manner. There is also extra filtering circuitry added to the Wi-Fi circuitry to deal with overloading from radio activity on the neighbouring wavebands, which is said to happen with UK 4G mobile-broadband deployments.

This kind of technology was causing BT to rate the Smart Hub as the UK’s strongest carrier-supplied Wi-Fi router and I personally see this as appealing to other carriers like Telstra who want to choose the kind of equipment to provide to their customers.

Of course, it has up-to-date Gigabit Ethernet LAN as a four-port switch along with ADSL2+ / VDSL2 modem on the WAN (Internet) side. From what I have read, I am not sure if this modem also offers an Ethernet WAN connection for FTTP or G.Fast (next-generation DSL used for some fibre-copper networks) broadband deployments that implement a separate modem. Similarly, if this modem router implemented a field-programmable “software modem” for its DSL modem, there could be the ability for it to be updated to work with G.Fast technology expected to be used with fibre-copper deployments.

There was also some reference to the BT Smart Hub being compact enough to fit through most of the letterbox slots installed in most UK front doors, with a view of the device being supplied to customers without them needing to be present. But my question about this is whether the size that is quoted is for the unit itself or the unit when it is packed in its box with all its accessories and cables.

BT does sell the Smart Hub for GBP£50 with VAT inclusive or you can have it for free if you choose to “roll over” your BT Infinity Internet service contract or start a new BT Infinity service. Stumping up that £50 for this modem router and setting it up as an access point for your existing wireless router could come a long way as something to extend Wi-Fi coverage or simply “ramp up” an existing home network’s Wi-Fi performance.

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