Category: Network hardware design

Setting up a mobile NAS to work with your home network

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS

The WD MyPassport Wireless mobile network-attached storage – can offer data to the host Wi-Fi network when set up in hotspot mode

Increasingly, data-storage device manufacturers are adding to their mobile network-attached storage devices the same kind of network-based data storage and access features typically offered with a standard desktop NAS device. This is rather than these devices just being a lightweight file server for smartphones and tablets connected to the device’s own Wi-Fi access point.

I had previously reviewed one of these devices in the form of the WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS which demonstrated this kind of functionality. In the review, I had called out the DLNA-compliant media server that was part of that mobile NAS’s feature set, where you had the ability to show your photos and videos on one of the latest Smart TVs via the home network the TV is connected to.

Mobile NAS with hotspot mode set for “secure” or “private” mode

As well, some of the increasingly-sophisticated devices like the WD MyPassport Wireless Pro also are offering the same kind of Samba-based (SMB / CIFS) file transfer method that you can do with other NAS devices so you can transfer resources to these devices using your regular computer’s operating-system’s file manager and its network file transfer protocols. Similarly, the devices may implement FTP, WebDAV or other common network-file-transfer protocols primarily to allow you to upload photos and footage from your Wi-Fi-capable digital camera or camcorder to the mobile NAS if the camera honours these standard protocols.

How to have this work properly?

Here your mobile NAS unit needs to be set up for connection to an existing small Wi-Fi network as a client device of that network. It also needs to be set up to share its resources to that client network in addition to the network it creates using its own wireless access point.  Most of this configuration that I would be talking about here would be something you would do using the vendor-provided native mobile-platform app or, perhaps, a Web page that the mobile NAS creates as its management page.

Mobile NAS with hotspot functionality set up for file sharing mode

Typically, you may set this up as part of enabling a “Share Wi-Fi Connection”, “Wi-Fi Hotspot” or similar function that effectively shares a logical network connection between multiple devices that connect to the portable NAS’s access point. This function is similar to what most travel routers offer as a way to share the one logical (and usually permitted) connection to a hotel’s guest-access Wi-Fi service amongst the personal computing devices you and your travelling companions own. Similarly, this same function creates a “trust circle” between multiple devices connected to the mobile NAS’s access point allowing them to be discovered by each other even if the public-access Wi-Fi network that the NAS is connected to is configured properly with client isolation enabled.

When you enable the “hotspot” function on a sophisticated mobile NAS like the WD MyPassport Wireless / Wireless Plus series or the Seagate Wireless Plus, you will have an option to set this function to work in a “private” or “secure” mode or a “sharing” mode.  In the “private” mode, the data held on the NAS becomes available only to devices on the Wi-Fi network created by the mobile NAS’s access point. Conversely, the “sharing” mode will make the data available to devices on the network which has the Wi-Fi segment you connected the mobile NAS to as part of the “hotspot” mode.

Availability of data held on mobile NAS Sharing mode Secure / Private mode
Host wireless network Yes No
Wireless network created by mobile NAS’s access point Yes Yes

To allow the mobile NAS to share its resources on your home network, you need to enable the “sharing” mode or disable the “secure” or “private” mode while setting up the “hotspot” functionality. It is a wise practice not to use the “sharing” mode on a Wi-Fi network used as a public-access network and this function wouldn’t work with these networks that are properly set up with client isolation enabled.

What can the manufacturers do to improve the Wi-Fi bridging functionality on these devices?

The “Wi-Fi hotspot” or “Shared Wi-Fi” functionality could be improved upon by allowing users to create preset operating modes for particular Wi-Fi networks. This would work in a similar way to the way Windows allows the user to classify each network they connect to as being a “home”, “work” or “public” network, causing it to adopt an exposed persona suitable for your home or office network or a private person for that public-access Wi-Fi network. Such parameters could be to determine whether to share resources with the host network or to always clone the client device’s MAC address when connecting along with remembered Wi-Fi network passwords.

Here, as a user connects the mobile NAS to a Wi-Fi network for “Shared Wi-Fi” operation, they are invited to save the configurations they have established for that network. Then, when they reconnect to that network, the mobile NAS assumes the operating modes that the user previously defined. These details can be referenced by the host network’s ESSID or a user-defined name for that network.

Conclusion

Once you know how to set up that highly-capable mobile NAS device and exploit the “private” or “shared” operating modes that these devices offer with setting up the “Shared Wi-Fi” or “hotspot” mode, you can then use them to make resources held therein available to other small networks you connect them to.

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Passive Wi-Fi–a new trend for battery-operated Wi-Fi network devices

Articles

‘Passive Wi-Fi’ researchers promise to cut Wi-Fi power by 10,000x | PC World (IDG)

New “Passive Wi-Fi” Could Drastically Cut Power Needs For Connected Devices | Fortune

Passive WiFi – 10,000 times less power consumption than trad WiFi | Telecom TV

US engineers unveil Passive Wi-Fi, which consumes 10,000 times less power | Android Authority

Video (Click / Tap to play)

My Comments

A new direction that is being looked at for the Wi-Fi wireless-network ecosystem is the use of “passive Wi-Fi”. This is where Wi-Fi endpoints will not be needing the use of analogue RF amplification circuitry and can simply reflect these wireless signals back to access points or routers.

Traditional active Wi-Fi setups work analogously to a torch (flashlight) that is being used where it is actively putting out the light thanks to its batteries. But passive Wi-Fi works in a similar vein to a mirror that simply reflects the light without using any energy.

The advantage here with passive Wi-Fi is that devices implementing that technology don’t need to draw lots of current for them to operate on the network. This is so appealing towards mobile devices implementing it as a battery-saving measure.

But it also appeals towards how devices related to the smart home or Internet-Of-Things will be designed. This is because these devices can be designed to work for a long time on up to three AA or AAA Duracells or a coin battery, or could use energy-harvesting technologies like solar power or kinetic energy but work with a Wi-Fi network rather than the Bluetooth LE, Zigbee or Z-Wave networks that are optimised for low energy.

Here, it may be feasible to directly connect these devices to your home network and the Internet without the need to use bridge devices to achieve this goal. This is although it can be feasible to integrate Bluetooth LE, Zigbee and/or Z-Wave bridging functionality in to a Wi-Fi-capable router or access point, especially if there is a market expectation to have these devices also serve as “smart-home” or “IoT” hubs.

At the moment, passive Wi-Fi can work between 30-100 feet on a line-of-sight or through walls while passing a bandwidth of up to 11Mbps. The prototypes have been demonstrated with traditional Wi-Fi network equipment including a router and smartphone and this has proven that they can work in a standard Wi-Fi network. But there have been issues raised about requiring routers and access points to broadcast a “wake-up” call for these devices to report their presence and status.

A question that can be asked as this technology is designed is whether it could be feasible to design a Wi-FI front-end to switch between active and passive mode. Here, it could appeal to devices that enter passive mode simply to save energy but “go active” while in use with obvious use cases being mobile devices or Wi-Fi-based handheld controllers.

What it could lead to is that the goal to optimise all of the building-wide wireless-data technologies for low-power use has been nearly completed with the ability to have devices that exploit these technologies able to run for a long time on ordinary batteries.

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QNAP releases an ultra-compact SSD NAS

Article – From the horse’s mouth

QNAP QNAP logo courtesy of QNAP

TBS-453A NASBook Ultra-Compact SSD NAS

Product Page

My Comments

QNAP has just lately offered the TBS-453A NASBook which is an ultra-compact 4-drive NAS that is designed to work with solid-state drives rather than hard disks,

But this solid-state-drive NAS is a different breed to the portable NAS units offered to mobile users who exchange data between laptops and tablets. This is about Ethernet rather than Wi-Fi connectivity along with a 4-disk RAID array for performance or data safety, and increased functionality thanks to a desktop-grade NAS app store offered by QNAP.

The drives that are preferred for this device are the M.2 type that are typically used for Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s with this device being about the size of a B5 notebook. As well, it is powered by a 19-volt power brick but can accept voltages between 10 volts and 20 volts DC. This makes it suitable for a wide range if industrial and similar uses and could appeal to automotive and marine use, if there was a way to support externally-switched power control expected for such use.

It also has a 4-port Ethernet switch for one network along with a single Gigabit Ethernet socket for another network and this can be set up to work effectively like a router or to serve its own network.

As well, like other QNAP NAS units, this implements the QTS operating system with an increasing array of apps for business and personal use. But it also can be set up as a Linux computer by implementing a virtualised dual-operating-system setup and has the necessary “console” connections for this purpose. That is HDMI for display and audio connection along with USB connections for keyboard and mouse purposes. Like some recent QNAP NAS units, it also has its own audio interface which makes it appeal as a multimedia computer in its own right.

You can also expand this book-size NAS to work with a regular disk array by installing UX-800P and UX-500P multi-disk expansion modules this allowing you to create RAID disk arrays with these disks.

Tool or toy?

This kind of “far-fetched” cutting-edge network-attached-storage device could be easily dismissed as a toy rather than a tool, but there are some applications where it could earn its keep as a tool.

One would be to exist as a highly-capable Ethernet-connected portable NAS or server device that you use in a “mobile-office” setting. Similarly, you could see this being used with a home network where you want the multimedia functionality like DLNA Network Media Server functionality looked after but without dealing with a noisy or power-inefficient device. This would also win favours with home-AV manufacturers and distributors who are showcasing their network-capable hi-fi and home-theatre equipment at the hotel-based hi-fi shows like what the Chester Group are running. As well, QNAP are pitching this device in the Internet Of Things and building-security applications scenarios where this NAS could record data from sensor-type devices or visual images from network cameras yet be able to work with low power demands.

QNAP could see the TBS-453A as an effort to approach vehicle and marine applications for NAS devices along with courting mobile workgroups, remote data collection or other setups where portability, low power consumption or reduced operating noise are highly valued.

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Another effort towards a more secure home-network router

Linksys EA8500 broadband router press picture courtesy of Linksys USA

A step towards a secure home network from Czech Republic

Article

This crowdfunded router updates its own security | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Project Turnis

Home Page

Crowdfunding page (Indiegogo)

My Comments

A constant thorn in the side of the secure-home-network effort is the network-infrastructure equipment. This is more so with the router which stands between the Internet connection and the home network.

There have been issues where the firmware on the typical home-network router hasn’t been updated or is riddled with software exploits and bugs that can make it attractive to cyber-criminals. It is in addition to these devices being configured poorly, typically running “out-of-the-box” default configurations like “admin/admin” management passwords or default ESSID names and passwords for their Wi-Fi wireless-network segments.

AVM took a bold step towards this goal by supporting automatic software updating for their Fritz!Box routers. But now a Czech effort, spearheaded by the Czech Republic’s domain-name registry, has taken place to facilitate an open-source router design that also supports automatic software updates and enhanced networks security.

The Project Turnis effort is based around a multi-computer effort which keeps track of security threats that can affect home and small-business networks and uses this to amend firewall rules to protect your network better.

The router supports Gigabit Ethernet for WAN and LAN connections and 802.11a/g/n dual-band for Wi-Fi wireless LAN connections and can even support USB-based failover functionality with a USB mobile-broadband modem. It also has native IPv6 capability which makes this unit futureproof and able to work with next-generation broadband. There is even a view to have this router designed to work with the Internet Of Things as a hub device or to store data.

All of the software and even the hardware design is open-source with the software being a “fork” of the OpenWRT open-source router firmware effort, which can allow for further examination and innovation. This can lead towards more vendors offering home and small-business routers and gateways that are designed for security which would lead to a breakthrough for an affordable secure Internet service for consumers and small businesses.

The router is also about supporting other “central data server” roles such as being a NAS once coupled with a USB external hard disk or even a DVB-T broadcast-LAN server when DVB-T USB tuner sticks are connected. But I would expect a lot more from these devices like VPN endpoints, public hotspot functionality and the like. Who knows what could come about?

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A set-top box could aggregate the Internet Of Things

Article

Set top boxes could work as the hub of an "Internet Of Things" network

Set top boxes could work as the hub of an “Internet Of Things” network

The cable box might solve the Internet of Things’ biggest problem | Engadget

My Comments

This article suggested that a set-top box or PVR could do more than select channels or be a customer interface to a pay-TV system.

There is a problem that exists with the Internet Of Things where manufacturers herd their smart-home devices in to “silos” that are controlled by the apps they develop or work on a particular physical link like Z-Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This makes it hard to create a heterogenous system based around these devices and either requires many apps on your smartphone or requires many gateway boxes to be connected to your home network.

Draytek Vigor 2860N VDSL2 business VPN-endpoint router press image courtesy of Draytek UK

.. as could modem-routers

But it suggested that a cable box or similar device could do a better job by aggregating the different “silos” that exist in the Internet Of Things. They even suggested that an advanced set-top box could work as a control/display surface such as to pause what you are watching and throw up a video of whoever is in the garage, courtesy of a security camera installed therein, when your garage door opener is actuated. Another application I could think of would be that if you start your kettle boiling or coffee dripolator making coffee, you could then start watching your favourite show knowing that a message would pop up on the screen letting you know that the kettle or coffee pot is ready. You could even use the TV remote to adjust the heat or air-con to your liking with the current setting appearing as a pop-up message.

This has been highlighted in the concept of cable companies and telcos offering “multiple-play” services with fixed-broadband Internet, fixed-line telephony, pay-TV and/or mobile telephony in the one package, encouraging customers to have all their “eggs in one basket”. The telco or cable company would then be able to realise that Integrating a home-automation / security service in to their service mix is another way to keep customers loyal to them. This is even if a customer dispenses with a service like pay-TV or fixed-line telephony. Here, a set-top box for their pay-TV and/or an Internet-gateway device like a modem-router that they lease or sell to customers could be the actual device that does the bridging.

A data-security advantage has been found where all bridging functionality is confined to one device because that device can be hardened against cyber attack. But I also look at the fact that two “hub” devices can work in tandem, offering some functionality to each other. In this case, the aforementioned set-top box could work as a rich control / display surface for the modem-router and other devices in the IoT ecosystem as well as serving as a repeater or secondary access point for wireless systems that support this functionality.

At least the idea has been thrown about regarding adding functionality to existing devices like set-top boxes and modem-routers rather than having a home network riddled with dedicated-function devices.

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Securifi to release home-automation-capable routers

Article

Touchscreen-enabled routers double as home automation hubs | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Securifi

Almond routers

Product Page

My Comments

Previous, if you were to integrate home automations or the “Internet Of Everything” to your home network, you had to use a separate “bridge” device for sensor devices that worked with Zigbee or Z-Wave. Most of these devices worked as a control surface for these devices such as showing their current status or turning appliances on at certain times or in response to certain events.

Now Securifi have built up the latest iteration of their Almond series touch-controlled routers and integrated Zigbee in them and Z-Wave in the Almond+ premium version. Both these devices can be set up to work as wireless access points or range extenders as well as routers.

They have the ability to show the current state of nominated sensors or allow you to control the sensors from the router’s touchscreen. But they also have a time-switch functionality or triggered functionality so that an appliance can come on or off according to certain conditions. These use the application-based standards associated with Zigbee and Z-Wave which is on an open-frame basis.

As well, Securifi have been working on iOS and Android apps that provide the ability to manage the home-automation ability from your smartphone’s or tablet’s screen. This may mean that you can check whether that heater in your room was actually on using your iPhone’s display and turn it off remotely as you are getting in your car rather than run in to check that it is off as I have seen before. As well, you could avoid having to glance in that rear-view mirror as you drive out slowly from home to check if that garage door is closing properly.  Securifi could extend the Almond app to work with the iOS and Android in-car, wearable and voice-assistant functionalities in order to show the various status reports on your dashboard or smartwatch or allow you to ask Siri or Google Now the current status of various appliances.

Could this be a chance for router manufacturers to integrate the home-automation hub functionality in some of their products? Here, it could open up the path for more of the smart-home ideas to come across for most people and reduce the need for extra boxes to be part of your home network.

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QNAP launches a fanless 4-bay rugged-use NAS for industrial, mobile and security applications

Articles

QNAP Launches the Rugged & Fanless NAS IS-400 Pro for Industrial and Surveillance Applications | Hardware Heaven

QNAP ships ruggedized IS-400 Pro Turbo NAS for industrial environments | Electronista

From the horse’s mouth

QNAP

Press Release

IS-400 Pro NAS Product Page

My Comments

QNAP have released their first network-attached-storage appliance that is specifically designed for rugged environments like factories or warehouses. But this unit has a certain appeal for the direction towards the up-and-coming in-vehicle network trend.

The IS-400 Pro four-bay NAS is designed as a fanless unit that makes use of its steel housing as a heatsink for its components. This made me think of the unit looking like one of those aftermarket car-stereo amplifiers that young males install in their cars to make their car stereo sound louder and boomier to impress their mates. As well, the way the components are mounted inside the unit to resist vibration and impact, making it suitable for in-vehicle use like those amplifiers. Even the provision of a secondary power connection block allows for failover power-supply setups or in-vehicle setups where ignition-switch following is important.

It can house up to 4 of the 2.5” hard-disk or solid-state drives used in portable computing applications, running them in varying RAID or JBOD configurations and works under the QTS 4.1 operating environment. This ties in with a plethora of apps that make it work well as a server for your home or business needs, whether as a network video-surveillance server, backing up computer data, being a file or data server or even working as a mobile DLNA media server.

Personally, I could see the QNAP IS-400 Pro validating the concept of a NAS design that is pitched for industrial, mobile and similar installations. Here, it would play its part with the trend where your vehicle or boat will have its own small network that is effectively the extension of your home or small-business network for both work and pleasure.

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The idea of a video peripheral enabling an existing TV was highlighted by Panasonic in the 1980s

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Panasonic

Blog Post – Flashback Friday (PV-1742 VHS Hi-Fi VCR – US Market)

Previous Coverage

A reasonably-priced add-on solution for integrating Skype with your TV

Product Review – Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

Blu-Ray Players – they could give more life to older and cheaper TVs

My Comments

Pioneer BDP-160 Blu-Ray Player (Pioneer Europe press image)

Pioneer BDP-160 DLNA-capable Blu-Ray player

What do I see of video peripherals like Blu-Ray players, Blu-Ray home-theatre systems and network video players with “smart-TV” capability is that they are able to enable an existing TV with the smart-TV functions. Examples of these functions included DLNA network media playback, client-side access to the popular online content services and even the ability to co-opt your TV in to service as a large-screen Skype videophone once you purchased an optional camera kit.

But I see Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and others who do this right following an example that was underscored through the 1980s. In the Panasonic “Flashback” blog post, they highlighted the abilities that their PV-1742 VHS Hi-Fi VCR offered when it comes to reproducing what was considered great sound from video movies in its day. This was to utilise the VHS Hi-Fi system for recording and playback of video content including playback of those videos you rented from the video store with the high-quality stereo sound.

But one feature highlighted here was to allow you to use its inbuilt stereo TV tuner to watch TV broadcasts with stereo sound playing through your hi-fi, describing it as “converting your TV in to a stereo TV”. What was being highlighted here was a TV enablement feature, in a similar way to how most video recorders released through its model year also offered other features like the ability to change channels with its remote control or provide access to extra TV content (UHF or in-the-clear cable broadcasts, more channel spaces, etc) due to what the VCR’s tuner offered or simply the use of a reliable electronic tuner even if your old TV implemented a mechanical tuner.

What I see of Panasonic touching on the capabilities of video recorders like the PV-1742 and its peers was for them to be simply a TV-enablement device like today’s well-bred Blu-Ray players.

Update: A few corrections and use of a featured image.

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The latest Freebox devices now are VPN endpoints courtesy of a firmware update

Article – French language / Langue Française

Mise à jour Freebox : du Wi-Fi programmable et un VPN intégré | DegroupNews.com

My Comments

Freebox Révolution - courtesy Iliad.fr

Freebox Révolution to be a VPN endpoint

Free.fr have been adding some extra functionality to their Freebox Révolution and Freebox Crystal “n-box” Internet-gateway devices. This is being delivered through a free firmware update (version 2.1.0) as in the nature of the highly-competitive French Internet-service market and users can download and implement them in these devices.

VPN Endpoint Router

One key product is the ability for a Freebox Révolution or Freebox Crystal Internet-gateway to become a fully-fledged small-business-grade VPN router. Here, you could set these devices to work as an endpoint for a client-to-box VPN or, perhaps, a box-to-box VPN joining two small networks via the Internet backbone. For example, you could set up a secure-browsing or secure-file-transfer link to your home or small-business network in Paris or even buy a Draytek VPN router for your home network in the UK and a Freebox  Révolution for that chic French “bolthole” and establish a “box-to-box” VPN for backing up data between both locations, including making the same media available at both locations.

This is made feasible with hardware or software endpoints that work to PPTP or OpenVPN technology, which would suit software endpoints available on all the main desktop and mobile platforms as well as most other VPN endpoint routers.

Even the “seedbox” BitTorrent client integrated in these devices has been updated to be able to take advantage of the VPN functionality for user privacy.

Wi-Fi network improvements

The Freebox Révolution has been able to benefit from a software-based 802.11ac implementation which opens it up to high-speed data transfer with 802.11ac clients. Typically this would have required one to replace or add hardware to upgrade to the newer 802.11ac standard.

Similarly, the firmware has mad it easier for a Freebox user to optimise their Wi-Fi network performance by changing the channel the Wi-Fi access point is working on. It also includes a “site-survey” function which lists what Wi-Fi networks are operating on what channels at what strengths so you can choose the right channel to work on. This can be important in a neighbourhood where everyone is running a home network and could make things also easier for Free’s technical-support staff.

There is even the ability to turn Wi-FI functionality on or off according to a schedule which can be of importance for people who are sensitive to RF emissions or need to keep a lid on out-of-hours access to the Wi-Fi network.

Conclusion

You just never know what Free or other French ISPs have in store to increase the real value that they offer to their customers in that highly-competitive market.

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It could be touch-to-connect for Wi-Fi devices very soon

Article

WiFi Alliance adds support for NFC | NFC World

My Comments

Two “quick-setup” features that I have liked are coming together very shortly for wireless routers and network-enabled devices. These features are being exploited by device manufacturers who want to be part of the level playing field and desire to see innovation.

One of these features is the WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” functionality where you invoke a WPS setup option on a client device you want to enrol then press the WPS button on your wireless router to “enrol” your client device in to your home network’s Wi-Fi segment. This feature has made it easier to bring new Windows  7/8 computers, Android mobile devices amongst most other Wi-Fi-capable devices in to a home network without having to transcribe in long WPA-PSK passphrases. I even set up one multiple-access-point network to allow this to happen on both access-point devices when I was fixing up network-connectivity issues. Similarly, I was pleased with a TP-Link TL-WPA4220 HomePlug wireless access point that used “Wi-Fi Clone” to learn network parameters from an existing Wi-Fi network segment at the push of a WPS button so it can be quickly set up as an extension access point.

Another feature that I am pleased about is NFC-based Bluetooth pairing. This is primarily used on most Sony Bluetooth-capable devices but other manufacturers are increasingly enabling it. It allows you to touch your phone or computer to the Bluetooth-capable device to instantly pair and connect both these devices. When I bought the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headset adaptor with FM radio, it didn’t take me long to “get going” with this device because I simply touched my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Android phone to it to achieve this goal.

Now the Wi-Fi Alliance have merged both technologies and defined NFC “touch-and-go” setup as part of WPS-based wireless network setup standards. This functionality was seen as part of a “long-tail” vision for the WPS secure-network-setup standards with routers having to support the PIN-based and “push-to-go” methods. They defined a framework based around certain access-point and client chipsets including the Google Nexus 10 Android tablet. For that matter, Android, Linux and Windows 7/8 users could find this functionality either as a small app or “baked in” to an operating-system update.

This is another innovative step that will assure quick setup for Windows and Android devices with small-network Wi-Fi segments especially as most of the recent crop of these devices are equipped with NFC “touch-and-go” functionality and Wi-Fi connectivity.

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