Network Management Archive

Use of WiFi technology for safety and security

Ekahau Enhances Staff Safety of Hospital Psychiatric Wards

My comments on this issue

The Ekahau press release that is linked to from this article details the use of a WiFi-based staff badge that can be used to locate particular staff members in the hospital’s psychiatric ward and deliver messages to them.  But the feature that drew me to this device was the remote panic-alarm functionality that sends its signal via the hospital’s WiFi network.

Any panic-alarm or medical-alert system that is deployed in the home typically requires a transmitter and receiver working on a dedicated frequency, in a similar manner to garage-door openers.  If they are monitored by an external agency, the devices then transmit their alert signal to the monitoring station via a dedicated telephone or cellular circuit.

Now there is a different reality being brought about with cost-effective Internet service provided to WiFi-based wireless home networks in many households. This has included the concept of providing telephone and multi-channel television service through the same pipe, all thanks to the magic of IP-based packet networks. The classic circuit-based signalling methods used by these alarm devices are becoming less relevant in the packet-based signalling. Similarly, most users will want to benefit from the infrastructure that is laid down in a home network, such as the establishment of a multi-access-point WiFi network with a HomePlug-based backbone to cover a difficult house.

The Ekahau setup could be scaled back to allow an alarm installer or broadband Internet provider to sell a similar system in to the home. Any moveable sensor like a medical-alert pendant could make use of the existing WiFi network for transferring its data to the monitoring facility. It could then lead to e-mail and / or text (SMS) messaging if the device is triggered. Similarly, the unit could be used to deal with “wandering” behaviour that can be part of dementia-related illnesses by alerting if the person goes out of range of the WiFi network. As well, such systems could support local monitoring through the use of a local server device, thus providing their output through a Web page, platform-specific “widget” or desktop application.

This setup may appeal to broadband providers who want to gain more “average revenue per unit” by reselling basic security services as part of their package. It could also be a way of achieving a legitimate upgrade path for currently-deployed building security systems, especially in the context of the “switched-on” Internet-enabled home.

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Secure streaming from Windows Media Player via the Internet

W7 RC Secure WMP Internet Streaming is Impressive | DigitalMediaPhile.com
further details on handling of network connection speeds

Windows 7 Enables Secure, Remote PC to PC Streaming via WMP and Windows Live ID | eHomeUpgrade

My comments on this feature

There are certainly a few key applications for this feature.

One main and obvious application would be to gain access to music, pictures or video held at home from a remote location like the holiday home, car or small business. This would be achieved through the use of technologies like 3G or WiMAX wireless broadband; or simply ADSL broadband depending on the location.

Another application similar to what Barb Bowman was using as her demonstration setup in the articles she had posted on this feature is a household with two or more individually-controlled Internet services. This may be a student or other person who is paying board and lodging to you; a live-in housekeeper or nanny; or an elderly or disabled relative or friend who needs continual care. These people may want to operate a separate Internet service that is under their own control but may want to annexe both the primary household’s and their own media resources.

But. as with any new technical implementation, there are questions that need to be asked

Could this setup work over a VPN such as one used to facilitate remote access to a small business’s data? This setup may be of benefit to a shop or small office where some of the music or pictures used as part of merchandising at the business may be held on the home computer.

Could this allow a UPnP AV / DLNA device to pull up media from the remote location via the Windows Media Player “gateway”? In this setup, a DLNA-compliant Internet radio installed at the remote location points to the UPnP Media Server that is part of the remote computer’s Windows Media Player. This would be pulling up media from the local computer’s Windows Media Player setup as in your described installation.

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Bluetooth 3.0 with High Speed Transfer – What does this mean?

Bluetooth Special Interest Group press release

WiFi Planet article on Bluetooth 3.0

My Comments

Bluetooth has hit the “big 3” by introducing a high-throughput version of its wireless personal network specification. This same technology used for sending pictures or phone-number data between mobile phones in the same space or streaming sound between mobile phones and car handsfree kits can do such things as wirelessly transferring one’s music library between a laptop computer and an MP3 player or “dumping” the contents of a digital camera to a computer.

It primarily allows data streams conforming to the Bluetooth protocols to be transmitted over the 802.11b/g WiFi network just by using the media-transfer levels of that specification. This takes advantage of the fact that a lot of the smartphones and the laptop computers have Bluetooth and WiFi wireless technology built in to them; and that premium MP3 players like the Apple iPod Touch will offer WiFi and Bluetooth on the same device. This is a situation that will become more common as chip manufacturers develop “all-in-one” WiFi / Bluetooth radio chipsets. For applications requiring a small data stream, the device just engages a single Bluetooth transceiver with the regular Bluetooth stack, which can save on battery power.

Intel had developed “My WiFi” which is a competing standard for a personal area network based on the WiFi technology with the devices using the full list of protocols and standards applicable to regular LAN applications. The idea was to have the laptop “split” its wireless-network ability into a client for a WiFi LAN and a very-low-power access point for a WiFi LAN which is the personal area network. At the moment, this technology is limited to laptops based on the Centrino 2 platform and requires that the laptop, being a general-purpose computer, becomes a “hub” device for the personal area network. But what could happen could be that other WiFi chipset vendors would license this technology and implement it into their designs, which could extend it towards other applications.

This would lead to a highly-competitive space for technologies that connect the wireless personal area network together, especially if the primary device of the network is a laptop computer. It could also incite manufacturers of devices like digital still and video cameras to include WiFi and Bluetooth in to these devices.

Who knows what the future will hold for the wireless personal area network.

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Feature Article – Understanding and Managing your HomePlug network

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

Understanding the typical AC supply

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

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

Electrical accessories and the HomePlug network

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

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

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

Managing your HomePlug network

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

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

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

HomePlug Device Identifier

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

HomePlug Network Segment Identifier

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

Configuring a Network Segment To A Particular Identifier

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

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

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

What you can do

“Pushing out” a HomePlug installation

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

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

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

HomePlug AV and 1.0 in the same premises

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

Conclusion

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

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Network Management Hierarchy Terms

Term Description Example

Network Areas

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

Devices

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

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

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

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

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

An example of this kind of setup

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

AC power issues

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

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

Testing a HomePlug network segment

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

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

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

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

Other setup issues

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

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

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Ultra-Low-Power Wireless Networking

Recently semiconductor manufacturers like Intel and members of the Bluetooth consortium have been working on reference circuit designs for Bluetooth and WiFi network hardware that is designed around reduced power consumption and small circuit footprint. They will still have the same power output as current-generation wireless-network devices.

Ozmo and Intel are now looking at using the physical layer standards of WiFi beyond the local area network. They are looking at competing with Wireless USB and Bluetooth by using it as a “personal area network” or linking peripherals, typically user-interface peripherals, to a computing device. Their idea is that if a computing device like a laptop, mobile phone or portable media player has WiFi functionality for network access, the same WiFi electronics can be used for connection to wireless peripherals. It is in a similar sense where one uses a Bluetooth-capable laptop computer and uses that Bluetooth functionality for connection to a mobile phone as well as using a Bluetooth mouse.

Initially this technology will work as a way of allowing gadgets like mobile phones and MP3 players that have Bluetooth or WiFi functionality to work for longer sessions without “running out of juice” or needing to spend significant amounts of time being hooked up to external power. It could even lead to the feasibility of running this class of devices on commonly-available batteries like AA alkaline batteries. In the case of “small-form-factor” devices like watches or key-fob / card-size remote controls, they could be able to benefit from WiFi or Bluetooth technologies while running for their expected battery life of at least 3 months on one or two “button-cell” batteries.

Subsequently, the technology will allow the WiFi LAN technology to be considered useful for device control subsystems like handheld or key-fob remote controls and control / display units that are part of any building control and security application. Such devices could then be able to run on the same power quota as devices of this class based on current technology i.e at least 6 months on a set of 2-4 AA or AAA alkaline batteries or 1-2 “button cells” rather than manufacturer-specific rechargeable battery packs that require the device to live in a charging cradle. This can give RF-based remote control the ability to work in a home network that is optimised for the building. It also permits one to design a network device that has only a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug powerline) network connection but can exchange control signals with an optional WiFi-based controller that works through the wireless home network hosted by the wireless router that the device is connected to using a wired network connection. Similarly, a central HVAC system could use one or more wireless-linked temperature sensors to gain a proper measurement of house temperature instead of referring to the thermostat located in the hallway or kitchen.

As we se more of the semiconductor manufacturers and the wireless networking standards bodies work on the ultra-low-power wireless client device, there could be many new applications for WiFi and Bluetooth being made real and a huge gateway of innovation could open up.

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BBC NEWS | Technology | Pioneer of cyberspace honoured

 BBC NEWS | Technology | Pioneer of cyberspace honoured

Video Interview with Professor Wendy Hall about Web Science

My Comments

One thing I have seen as a benefit from cyberspace and the World Wide Web is the ability to build a world-wide library of information. It had also given the Internet its breakthrough or “killer” application, in a similar vein to VHS videotape being given its breakthrough application in the form of video-movie rental in the ‘80s. This concept was talked about by Bill Gates in his first book, “The Road Ahead” (Amazon shortcut).

It has eventually led to the use of the HTML-based user interface for controlling network devices from PCs in the home and beyond and the ability to regard the Web browser as an “applications terminal”.

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Understanding MoCA – the new no-new-wires network that uses the TV-aerial wiring.

Over this coming year, there will be product launches for MoCA-based home-network devices that are to be sold through mass-market retail. But this article explains what the new MoCA coaxial home networking technology is about.

What is this MoCA thing all about

MoCA has one thing common to the old coaxial-based local area networks – 10Base2 ThinNet and 10Base5 ThickNet, in that they all use RF-style coaxial cable. But the similarity stops there.

Unlike the old coaxial-cable networks, this network uses the 75-ohm TV-antenna cable commonly used in our homes and offices and can work with an ad-hoc cable layout. This means that you can use splitters and have sockets not having anything plugged in to them which is common with TV-antenna and cable-TV setups.

The reason it is designed to work like this is because the MoCA system is meant to use an existing cable-TV or TV-antenna wiring installation for transporting data. It is also meant to share the cable’s bandwidth with regular analogue and digital TV signals from the cable-TV service or the property’s TV aerial (antenna).

This system will come in to its own with such setups where there are multiple antenna or cable-TV sockets installed around a house to suit the installation of many TVs or an easily-relocatable TV set in different rooms.

Difficult installations

RF amplifier setups, including “active amplifiers” driven by digital-TV set-top boxes will need to have a bypass filter working between 875-1500 MHz. This may be more important with inline booster or hub (distribution) amplifiers rather than headend amplifier setups like TV-aerial masthead amplifiers.

In some cases, you may need to install a 850MHz low-pass filter at the entry point of your TV signal infrastructure such as your TV antenna (aerial) or cable-TV entry cable. This may be to comply with government RF-interference laws or to improve signal quality in a cable-TV setup.

A cable-TV provider or a competent TV-antenna technician can perform any of these modifications listed above if your system needed them.

A MoCA installation won’t work properly on a satellite-TV setup because of the sophisticated nature of these setups. These installations are typically on their own coaxial path which is separate from the broadcast TV-aerial path that is common with satellite as a pay-TV medium. This issue may be more of concern where all of the TV service is being received via satellite such as in rural or remote areas.

As well, most of the MoCA-Ethernet bridge devices come with software which determines the operating frequency and network password, which can come in to use when handling difficult installations. As well, you could set another group of units to work on a different frequency and network password if you want to create a separate MoCA network segment on the same coaxial wiring.

If you are installing MoCA hardware, especially Ethernet-to-coax bridges, on TV-antenna systems in countries which are based on the PAL system like Europe, Australia or New Zealand, you will run in to a problem with the coaxial connectors typically used in these areas for such installations. These countries typically use a “push-in” connector, commonly known as a “PAL connector” or “Belling-Lee connector” for the TV-antenna installation, rather than the screw-on “F-connector” used in North America and other countries based on the NTSC system. This problem can be rectified with the use of connector adaptors that either may be supplied with the hardware if it is sold in any of those countries or can be obtained from a local electronics store. It can also be rectified through the use of cables that have an F-connector on one end and a PAL connector on the other end.

Link Speed Comparison

  Theoretical Actual
MoCA 230Mbps 175Mbps
HomePlug 1.0 Turbo 85Mbps 10Mbps
HomePlug AV 200Mbps  

Where is MoCA suitable for and relevant to

The prime application for MoCA would be multi-room “personal TV” service where there is a set-top box for each TV set in the house. In this setup, the MoCA network is used as a data network and a digital streaming network between the main high-capacity “personal TV” device and other “view-only” set-top boxes or low-capacity “personal TV” devices. This can permit functions like setting up recordings from any TV in the house, viewing recorded content anywhere and moving between TV sets without losing the spot in the content.

It is also relevant to households who have cable Internet and one or more cable-TV points (with or without cable-TV service) in other parts of the house. They can then use the cable-TV infrastructure as a network link to that area of the house.

As a network medium, it works well if there is a significant amount of coaxial-cable infrastructure in place, typically at least 1 socket in at least 2-3 rooms. This reduces the “reach” ability of this “no-new-wires” wired-network medium compared to the power-line-based HomePlug medium.

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WiFi tops poll for best technological innovation of last decade – Telegraph

 

WiFi tops poll for best technological innovation of last decade – Telegraph

What has WiFi been about especially for the home IT environment?

One major way WiFi has benefited the home IT environment is the increased sale of laptop computers (http://www.australianit.news.com.au/story/0,24897,24851973-15306,00.html?referrer=email) over desktop computers. This typically would manifest in a home computing environment consisting of one or more laptop computers that have built-in WiFi wireless ability. The network – Internet “edge” device in this environment would be a wireless router that brings the Internet to these laptops via WiFi wireless. In some countries, the standard provider-supplied “customer premises equipment” for Internet service would be equipped with WiFi wireless capability.

Increasingly, nearly every printer manufacturer is running at least one residential-tier multi-function printer equipped with network ability, typically with WiFi network access. This means that the printer can be located in one position wherever the user desires and print documents from their laptop. There also is the increasing number of “Internet radios” or “i-Radios” that use WiFi to bring Internet radio streams to the speakers in these sets.

This may not be strictly a home-IT environment issue but the number of “hotspots” and “hotzones” that are part of public places is now increasing. These WiFi-based public networks are allowing for anywhere computing.

This has also caused most current-model mobile phones and PDA devices to be equipped with WiFi wireless thus allowing for cost-effective portable Web browsing and, increasingly, DLNA-driven music management and playback. These phones will eventually lead to WiFi being another mobile-telephone network usually in the form of fixed-mobile communications for example.

There have been attempts to “kill the goose that laid the golden egg” by limiting WiFi or making it unpopular. It has mainly been based on the “electromagnetic waves being dangerous to people” theory being propagated as part of junk science, but real scientific tests have proven that the RF emissions yielded by typical WiFi and Bluetooth setups none or very little detrimental effect on people.

Even without this article, I would certainly agree that WiFi has become an important computer technology for all IT scenarios.

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