Category: Network hardware design

RCA to deliver an Android-powered three-piece AV system

Article

RCA’s Internet Music System blends detachable Android tablet, boombox | Engadget

My Comments

RCA is intending to turn the classic 3-piece bookshelf music system design on its head by using a touchscreen tablet as the centrepice of the system’s design.

This unit has what is expected for a bookshelf music system such as a CD player, an FM broadcast-radio tuner as well as a line input for other audio devices. But it usies an Android-powered 7” dockable tablet with access to the Google Play Store as its key feature.

When you detach the tablet from this music system, it implements a Bluetooth wireless link for sending the sound to the speakers while this tablet can link to the home network via Wi-Fi wireless technology. There is also an HDMI output so that one can put images or video like those YouTube videos or Facebook or Instagram pictures on a large flat-panel display.

Installing apps like Twonky Mobile or Bubble UPnP to this music system’s tablet will allow you to play what is on the NAS using the DLNA technology while adding TuneIn Radio, Spotify or last.fm brings online music services to the music system’s speakers.

From what I see, who know who else will put up a small music system that allows for this customisability through the use of an Android tablet.

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Western Digital’s latest NAS more as a personal cloud storage

WD MyCloud consumer network-attached storage - press image courtesy of Western DigitalArticles

WD Tightens Focus On Home Personal Clouds | SmallNetBuilder.com

WD Asks: Why Are You Paying Dropbox for Cloud Storage? | Mashable.com

WD announces My Cloud, an external drive that connects to your home network for $150 (video) | Engadget

WD embraces C word* and hews HDD handles from NAS kit | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Western Digital

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Western Digital have issued new iterations of their consumer network-attached-storage drives but have placed heavy focus on them being the heart of a “personal cloud”. Here, they branded this lineup of 2Gb, 3Gb and 4Gb book-sized NAS units as “MyCloud” and have supplied refreshed desktop and mobile companion apps as “MyCloud” apps.

They were pitching these drives more or less as part of a multi-tier storage system for personal or home data i.e. alongside your device’s built-in or directly-attached storage and any storage space you rent or have for free with a service like Dropbox. I had written about this concept in a previous article when WD were pitching storage management software that worked alongside a recent-issue NAS as well as online storage services.

The software will work alongside Google Drive, SkyDrive and Dropbox online storage services and work the NAS as an “overflow” for these services. As well there is a semblance of data aggregation functionality in the software. The problem with the iOS version for this software at the moment is that if you want to offload photos from your device’s Camera Roll to the MyCloud resources, you have to do this manually – there isn’t yet an automatic backup or file sync for these devices.

As for network-local functionality, this unit ticks the boxes for SMB/CIFs file transfer and DLNA and iTunes media serving. The DLNA function has even been improved with TwonkyServer 7 being supplied as standard. This includes the ability to use the DLNA specification to upload content like digital images to the NAS, which comes in handy with DLNA-capable Wi-Fi digital cameras and advanced smartphone apps.

An issue worth raising with these so-called “personal clouds” is the ability to maintain multiple MAS devices in a “personal cloud”. This encompasses situations where you purchase a new NAS because you outgrew the existing NAS and you move some data to the new NAS, or you have another consumer or small-business NAS in another location and want to have a copy of some or all of the files in the other location either as a safeguard or for quick access. There could be support in the WD MyCloud platform for these scenarios especially as those of us who make use of these devices end up filling them with data.

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Taking the integrated access point practice further with Wi-Fi-capable client devices

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock – an example of a device that uses an access point for initial network setup

An increasing number of consumer-electronics and small-business devices that don’t have a large screen are repurposing their integrated Wi-Fi functionality as an access point as part of the setup routine. This is used alongside an integrated Web server and is mainly for when the devices are being integrated with a Wi-Fi network that doesn’t implement WPS one-touch setup.

But a lot of these devices also implement an Ethernet wired-network connection for use when there isn’t reliable Wi-Fi wireless-network connectivity. This function is used primarily as a product differentiator for the consumer printers but is common on a lot of “big-set” consumer AV equipment. This concept can be taken further in one of a few ways in order so that the Wi-Fi wireless network ability in these devices doesn’t go to waste, especially when the device is connected to a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug AV powerline) network segment.

Setups

Separate Wi-Fi logical network

One of these devices, typically a wireless speaker or printer, could implement a logical network that just serves the access point and run its own DHCP server. This could come in to its own where you just want the device to provide its function to portable devices in a walk-up manner but you don’t want the portable devices wandering on to the Ethernet-connected network or Internet service.

This may be a situation with a wireless speaker or a network printer where you want to allow the device to gain access to Internet and network resources or allow other network devices to have access to the device. But you don’t want people who use the device in a “walk-up” manner with unauthorised devices to maraud around the network or use the Internet bandwidth, which is something of concern with business users with larger networks.

Some of the wireless speakers like what Pioneer offers follow this pattern by working as their own networks so as to create an ad-hoc setup to get the tunes going in environments where a small Wi-Fi network segment isn’t in service. Pioneer achieves this through a switch on the back of the speaker which enables this mode specifically rather than for setup and this method could be exploited by other device manufacturers through a “permanent setup mode” where the speaker doesn’t stay in the setup mode if it succeeds in connecting to a wireless network.

Access Point

On the other hand, you could have the Wi-Fi functionality that is normally dormant when the device is connected to the wired network, become a simple access point. Here, this setup could come in to its own if the device is being used in an area where Wi-Fi wireless reception for your network is very difficult.

One classic example could be a smart TV that is installed in a secondary lounge area but this lounge area is out of reach of the main wireless router. Here, the Wi-Fi-capable smart TV can serve as an access point for the secondary lounge area and neighbouring rooms even while it is on standby.

This kind of setup could be simplified with a WPS-based “Wi-Fi Clone” function so you could switch to the access-point mode even if the device worked initially with the Wi-Fi segment. On the other hand, a device like a business-grade network printer could implement WPA2-Enterprise access point functionality in order to work with business-grade wireless networks.

As well, this functionality could be simplified by the device detecting the connection to an Ethernet network and asking the user if they want to operate it as an access point if the device was previously connected to a wireless network.

Wireless Client Bridge

In a similar context, the Wi-Fi and Ethernet network interfaces that these devices have could permit the device to become a wireless client bridge for an Ethernet-based device or segment. This would be of an advantage if the device is picking up a reliable strong signal from your Wi-FI network.

The classic use of this would be to provide network connectivity to a games console or Blu-Ray player from a Wi-Fi-enabled smart TV working with an existing Wi-Fi wireless network. Similarly a desktop computer in a remote room could work with the integrated Wi-Fi ability in a network printer for its network connectivity.

Simplifying the Setup Experience

The setup experience could be set up with the use of WPS-assisted “setup copy” routines and vacant-channel-seek routines for network integration. For “standalone segment” setups, the device could implement setup routines that are similar to carrier-provided wireless routers like SSID / passphrase stickers or cards.

This can be augmented through the use of nVoy technology which is intended to make the configuration and operation of small networks simpler yet giving these networks the ability to be like a big network.

Business-grade setup could involve support for WPA2-Enterprise functionality and multiple-SSID / VLAN functionality that are part of larger networks. This would be more relevant for printers or other devices that small business could take advantage of. It can be assisted with a technology similar to the original Windows Connect Now USB technology where parameters are transferred between devices using a USB flash drive.

Similarly the above technology could work hand in glove with Wi-Fi Passpoint technology in order to support the simple-yet-secure hotspot login technology that the Wi-Fi Alliance have proposed. This can work through the devices linking back to access controllers that implement this technology.

Conclusion

Manufacturers could take the concept of the integrated access point that is part of their network-capable devices and make sure that they don’t go to waste when these devices are connected to a wired network. Similarly, they could make sure that the wired network functionality doesn’t go to waste if a wireless link is exploited for network connectivity.

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A HomePlug access point that works on both the Wi-Fi bands available from Solwise

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Solwise

Value – Aztech HomePlug AV with Dual Band WiFi – PL-HL117EW

My Comments

We are seeing a lot more of the Wi-Fi access points that use the HomePlug AV powerline-network technology as a backbone but these typically work on the 2.4GHz waveband, now using 802.11g/n technology.

But Aztech have released a HomePlug wireless access point that works on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands rather than just the 2.4GHz band. The Aztech PL-117EW uses a HomePlug AV500 powerline network segment or an Ethernet segment as its backbone, so can be used for a “wired-for-Ethernet” house with the ability to create a HomePlug AV500 segment as well as being an access point.

It satisfies the reality that a home network will be needing the 5GHz 802.11n wireless network segment everywhere especially as the 2.4GHz band becomes more congested. There is the SimpleConnect “push-button” setup for the HomePlug segment as well as a WPS push-button setup for enrolling new Wi-Fi clients close to it. As far as I know, it misses out on the simple “Wi-Fi clone” function which aids setting it up as a secondary access point.

What I see of this is the idea of using the “wired no-new-wires” network that is HomePlug AV as a backbone for extending wireless-network coverage hasn’t died off and is appealing to the UK market as a valid home-network setup option in the face of the cheaper wireless-network range extenders. This device underscores this reality by extending it to the 5GHz Wi-Fi band.

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Pioneer’s Wi-Fi-linked optical drive for Ultrabooks

Article

A Wireless Blu-ray Drive For Those With Ultra-thin Laptops

My Comments

Those of you who own or lust after a computer like an HP x2 detachable-keyboard tablet, a Sony VAIO Duo 11 or an HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook may find that these computers miss the optical drive. This will limit their usefulness when it comes to enjoying CDs, DVDs or Blu-Rays or sharing data on cost-effective optical discs.

This situation is typically rectified through the use of a USB-connected optical drive of which there is an increasing number. But Pioneer have taken this further with a Blu-Ray drive that links to these computers via a docking station that has an integrated WI-Fi access point. This is similar to the many “mobile NAS” devices that are appearing on the market such as the Kingston Wi-Drive that I previously reviewed. It is part of a system that Pioneer is proposing with the docking station also being able to support an external hard disk this being like these mobile NAS devices.

A question that can be raised about this devices is whether it is worth paying the extra premium for a Wi-Fi-linked device rather than buying a USB optical drive. If you are using a regular clamshell-style ultraportable or just using this drive to “rip” content from optical discs to the computer’s local storage such as “loading up” that Sony VAIO Tap 20 with music from those new CDs you bought, or “burn” files to optical discs like you would do when you using the Sony VAIO Pro 13 to prepare a “proofs” disc to give to your client after the photo shoot, this unit may not be for you.

But if you do things like play CDs through the HP Envy x2’s Beats-tuned sound system or lounge on your bed while watching that Blu-Ray copy of your favourite movie on your Microsoft Surface Pro, this device would earn its keep.

What I am starting to see more are manufacturers who come up to the plate and offer devices to fill the gaps in the marketplace. This kind of situation avoids the risk of a product class reaching “peak” condition where products of that class lose their excitement.

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At last HomePlug AV and Power-Over-Ethernet in one device

Article

Asoka PL9660-PoE PlugLink 200 Mbps Powerline Adapter w/ PoE Reviewed – SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

Asoka USA

Product Page

My Comments

Introduction

I have often heard the line that the Power-Over-Ethernet technology, which supplies power to a network device connected via twisted-pair Ethernet cable using that same cable, and HomePlug powerline-networking technology are mutually exclusive technologies.

What is Power-Over-Ethernet and what is it used for?

The common 802.3af and 802.3at Power-Over-Ethernet technologies make use of the Category-5 “twisted-pair” Ethernet cabling that is used to transfer data to the network also as a power-supply cable. The main advantages are that you don’t have to have an AC outlet close to a network device and you can just run one cable to that device to allow it to function.

The typical implementation is either an Ethernet switch that has Power-Over-Ethernet ports providing power to a VoIP desk telephone, wireless access point or IP-based video-surveillance camera. This appeals to businesses as a way of providing centrally-managed power for these devices as well as allowing for simplified cost-effective installation and reliable operation.

What is HomePlug AV powerline network technology

The HomePlug AV network technology uses the building’s existing AC wiring as a data conduit. This provides a “no-new-wires” wired network setup for homes and other installations where it is not cost-effective to have Ethernet wiring in place and has shown a strong appeal for temporary wired-network setups.

Even if a building has Ethernet wiring in place, the HomePlug AV technology works as a way of extending this network in a temporary or semi-permanent manner. In some cases, the HomePlug technology can work as a cost-effective wired network link between a house and an outbuilding such as a detached garage if there is AC wiring in that building which isn’t separately metered.

Of course most of these network segments have network client devices connected via a short Category-5 Ethernet cable to a HomePlug-AV-Ethernet bridge adaptor typically referred to in the UK as a “homeplug” in the case of the common single-port wall-wart device.

Why am I impressed with the Asoka PL-9660POE “homeplug”

This adaptor is both a single-port HomePlug-AV-to-Ethernet network bridge along with a Power-Over-Ethernet power supply according to the 802.3af standard. Here, I could connect a Wi-Fi access point or VoIP desk telephone that can be powered using Power-Over-Ethernet to this device and it provides power to that access point while linking it to the HomePlug AV powerline-network backbone.

The advantages seen here is that I only use one AC outlet to link the network device to the HomePlug segment as well as providing power to it rather than having to have another AC outlet or double-adaptor being used for another wall-wart. You also benefit from only needing one cord between the device and this HomePlug adaptor which is easier to manage in to an aesthetically-pleasing setup. This is of importance when you are using an wireless access point to extend your wireless network and you would find that having that access point up high with a clear line of sight to the laptops, tablets and smartphones used in that area would yield optimum network performance and battery runtime for the mobile devices. It is compared to using a HomePlug wireless access point which will typically be installed at floor level and obscured by furniture and may not be able to perform adequately.

What about transportability when you are thinking of that VoIP desk telephone? Typically, a furniture and equipment arrangement may suit one’s current needs but these needs do change. This adaptor may allow you to reposition the phone to a newer location as you see fit even in a semi-permanent manner such as if you are moving the cash-wrap stand in your shop to a newer location to cater for a sale or you simply wanted to bring the VoIP conference phone out only when needed.

This device may also help with legitimising the Power-Over-Ethernet technology for the home network. Examples of this could include “two-piece” HomePlug access-point kits; small consumer-AV applications like tabletop Internet radios, network speakers or digital picture frames; or even all-in-one computers that can be powered through the Ethernet conneciton. To the same extent, computers like tablets, small notebooks and “adaptive all-in-one” computers of the same ilk as the Sony VAIO Tap 20 can benefit from using their Ethernet port as a power connection option to charge up their batteries or allowing the user to avoid compromising battery runtime,

Even an Internet-gateway router could be powered using this method as an alternative to the separate power brick that these devices come with. As well, using a Power-Over-Ethernet power splitter which provides 12 volts or 5 volts DC to a device that isn’t capable of Power-Over-Ethernet from an 802.3af Power-Over-Ethernet connection could yield benefits to the home network by eliminating the need to use a “wall-wart” or “power-brick” and a separate AC outlet to power network devices.

Points of improvement with this device

Here, the HomePlug standard that this device supports could be the HomePlug AV 500 / IEEE 1901 standard for better data throughput. This is more so as this standard becomes the norm for most HomePlug AV segments. As well, a variant that supports the 802.3at Power-Over-Ethernet Plus standard could be made available and pitched towards set-top-box applications. But these improvements may require further power-supply engineering to cater for higher power loads.

Similarly, the Asoka “homeplug” could be made available under an OEM-contract to other vendors to sell to customers so as to make the concept more ubiquitous. For example, having this fitted with the Continental-standard AC plug and sold in to France could work hand-in-glove with the “décodeurs” (TV set-top boxes) that are part of the many “n-box” triple-play Internet services offered in that country. Here, these would work as a convincing easy-to-implement alternative to a “homeplug / power-supply” box like the Freeplug that is used to link the “n-box” Internet gateway device and the “décodeur” set-top box. These boxes typically have three wires with one to the power outlet and two to the “n-box” or “décodeur” device.

Conclusion

I just hope that this device isn’t just a “flash in the pan” when it comes to HomePlug and Power-Over-Ethernet but a way to prove to the industry that these technologies complement each other.

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A mobile network-attached storage that is a server for USB flash drives and SD cards

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Sony

Sony announces new Portable Wireless Server : Consumer Products Press Releases : Sony Australia

Product Page (Worldwide)

My Comments

The Sony WG-C10N is like most other mobile network-attached storage devices in that it requires the mobile device to be effectively attached to its own wireless segment. Of course it can work as a bridge between an existing Internet-connected network and your device like most mobile NAS devices. As well, it requires the use of a mobile platform app or the use of a Web front for users to benefit from the data stored on the NAS using the Wi-Fi network.

This means that it can’t work with existing wireless home networks, nor can it support SMB/CIFS network file transfer that is common on regular computers nor can it serve audio-video content to DLNA-capable media devices.

But unlike the other mobile NAS devices that are on the market, this device works simply as a file server for attached SD cards or USB flash drives rather than using an integrated storage medium. This is more so for those of us who want to use higher-capacity memory cards or USB thumbdrives or have a collection of different SD cards / USB thumbdrives for different applications.

It also works as an SD card reader for those of you who don’t have an SD card slot in your computer or similar device (think of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook that I previously reviewed) to view or download your digital camera’s “film roll”. As well, it is one of the first “mobile NAS” devices that can serve as an external battery pack for your power-thirsty smartphone or tablet.

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Lenovo now shows up with a firmware upgrade that gives enterprise abilities to their small-business NAS products

Article

LenovoEMC fortifies small-business storage with enterprise smarts – virtualization, servers, storage, hardware systems, Lenovo, emc – PC World Australia

My Comments

Small business can now move towards what the “big boys” at the top end of town are doing courtesy of LenovoEMC (Iomega). This is through the latest firmware update for the StorCenter ix and px series of small-business network-attached storage systems.

Here, the business can benefit from “virtualisation” where the network-attached storage system can become effectively two or more servers with dedicated performance to these servers. This can appeal to the small business who wants to run various “headless” servers on this device like a database server or a Web server.

Similarly the NAS units can implement solid-state-drive caching in order to speed up data throughput on these systems. There is even the ability to implement solid-state RAID arrays in order to assure higher capacity or failsafe operation.

As well the systems can offer snapshot backup ability so as to grab an “image” of volumes of data across the system at particular moments in time.

What I am amazed about is that this kind of functionality is available in the “breadbox” and “pizza-box” NAS units that can appeal to the small business and the IT value-added resellers that pitch these businesses. In some cases, these systems could continue to serve as a business grows and has different needs. It also is an example of technologies that were just used to satisfy the big end of town filtering down to the smaller operations.

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HP brings around the OfficeJet 150 mobile multifunction printer

Articles

HP introduces Officejet 150 all-in-one mobile printer, Photosmart 5520 — Engadget

My comments

As most of us know, desktop multifunction printers which have an integrated scanner have been around with us for a long time and are a popular primary-use printer type. They have worked well also as photocopiers and, in an increasing number of cases, fax machines which are more cost-effective than the cheap thermal-transfer plain-paper faxes that some small businesses use,

But this device class hasn’t become of benefit to the mobile user. Some of these users may require a document to be printed out for the customer to sign as part of the workflow such as a quote-acceptance or job-completion handover form. Here they don’t want to have a pile of these documents occupying space in the briefcase or van before they head “back to base” to process and file them.

Typically, these users either had to buy a mobile printer and a mobile scanner if they wanted to be able to print and scan hard-copy documents on the road. Canon previously offered a scanning attachment for their BJC-80 mobile printers but required the user to install the attachment in the printer if they wanted to scan.

But now HP have offered the OfficeJet 150 mobile multifunction printer which I see as a game changer. It can work in a similar manner to the direct-connect multifunction desktop printer and can link with a regular computer via USB or Bluetooth. Of course it has what used to be known as “three-way” power where it can be run from AC, a rechargeable battery pack or your vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket. Infact the unit does come with the rechargeable battery pack as well as the AC adaptor and the car adaptor can be obtained through HP.

There is the ability to perform driverless printing from PictBridge-enabled cameras and selected (non-Apple) smartphones. But if this is to work with most mobile devices, HP could modify the ePrint Home & Biz app to use Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi wireless for the device connection. Similarly this printer doesn’t support Apple’s AirPrint ecosystem for their iOS devices because this technology is pitched at network connectivity as the main link.

On the other hand, HP could develop and supply an “ePrint / AirPrint” kit with an 802.11n Wi-Fi interface that connects to this printer. This could be set to work as a wireless network adaptor for existing Wi-Fi networks or as an access point for quick-set-up arrangements where there isn’t a wireless router in place.

As I have read through the press material on this device, the HP OfficeJet 150, like all mobile inkjet printers that have been released so far, is a two-cartridge colour printer. This means that colour printing can be very costly on these setups because if you run out of one colour, you have to throw away a cartridge that has plenty of the other colours. This class of printer could be improved upon with the use of a four-cartridge colour printing setup in order to provide the same level of economy as a well-bred desktop multifunction inkjet printer.

What I see of this is an effort to provide tradesmen, travelling salesmen and other similar workers with a lightweight portable device that works with workflows that require heavy use of hard copy and quick-turnaround documents.

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A HomePlug AV 500Gbps switch–now with 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports

Articles

ZyXEL To Ship 500 Mbps Powerline Switch | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

Zyxel press release

My Comments

Gigabit Ethernet is now becoming the order of the day with most current desktop and laptop PCs as well as network-attached-storage units being equipped with such a port. This is being taken further with routers having to be equipped with Gigabit Ethernet LAN (and WAN) ports in order to be considered fit for next-generation broadband Internet. This situation is also augmented with basic 5-port and 8-port Gigabit Ethernet switches now becoming more affordable.

At the moment, most HomePlug AV-Ethernet switches have been equipped with Ethernet ports that can work to a link speed of 100Mbps. This wouldn’t work in an optimum manner if you are connecting Gigabit-Ethernet-equipped computers to a HomePlug AV segment.

What Zyxel have done now is that they have announced a HomePlug AV Ethernet switch, the PLA4225, that uses Gigabit Ethernet ports as well as working to the unqualified 500Gbps extension of the HomePlug standard. This could allow you to provide a proper high-throughput HomePlug AV on-ramp for your desktop or laptop computer; fully-compliant next-generation-broadband “edge” router and NAS with these devices working at speed.

This is also in conjunction with them releasing the PLA4205 “homeplug” that works to the same powerline-network standard but uses a single Gigabit Ethernet socket.

Personally, what I would like to see for all of these 500Gbps HomePlug AV devices is that they are able to work to the full HomePlug AV2 standard once it is ratified and a proper firmware update is delivered.

But what I am pleased about is that the Ethernet connectivity of this HomePlug hardware is up to standard for people who use next-generation broadband Internet services with the proper routers.

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