Category: Network Management

Working around the limitations of rural Internet access to facilitate the Tour De France in Yorkshire

Articles

WiFi and Satellite Equipped Tractors to Follow Yorkshire’s Tour de France | ISP Review

Wifi tractors en route for the tour | Farming UK

From the horse’s mouth

Avonline Satellite Broadband

Home Page

National Farmer’s Union

Press Release

My Comments

The Tour De France 2014 is starting off in Yorkshire UK and is an event that moves from location to location depending on where the péléton are cycling in this race. As I have seen for myself when I have watched this cycle race on SBS TV, it attracts huge crowds with various locations of flat land near the race route resembling caravan parks due to the many motorhomes showing up at each point because people hire these so they can follow the race by vehicle.

This time, the National Farmer’s Union in the UK have answered to the needs of the connected spectator by setting up mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. But how have they done this even though access to decent broadband in rural areas is non-existent? They have equipped two tractors with a public-access Wi-Fi hotspot consisting of a Wi-Fi hotspot router connected to a satellite-broadband modem provided by Avonline Satellite Broadband. This means that each tractor has its own satellite bandwidth which is distributed by Wi-Fi over a range of 500 metres from where it is parked.

Locations

  Stage 1
Leeds – Harrogate
Stage 2
York – Sheffield
Tractor 1 Yorkshire Dales National Park Visitor Centre (Hawes) Steel Stage event (High Bradfield)
Tractor 2 Visitor Centre (Grassington) Holme village

 

One question that has been raised is whether the mobile hotspots and their satellite backhauls would cope under the pressure of many spectators tendering the images and video they take to multiple social networks using these networks. This is similar to situations that hoteliers would encounter when their guest-access Internet services are at capacity as all of the guests download multimedia content at the same time.

As well, it is an example of using network equipment powered from motor vehicles i.e. the Massey-Ferguson tractors to provide Internet access and making sure that the equipment does survive the distance with uneven power-supply conditions that this entails. I see this also appealing to other rural districts like France’s rural districts who want to cater to the connected visitor who attends a special event like a fair, rally or a cycle road race like the Tour De France.

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Solwise offers a two-part Wi-Fi repeater for caravans and similar applications

Article

Great gadgets: Solwise antenna and wifi hotspot | John Norman’s Blog

From the horse’s mouth

Solwise

Wireless 11n USB CPE with built-in 12dBi antenna GBP£41.08

Solwise Wireless USB repeater GBP£47.75

System total GBP£88.83 VAT and delivery to UK included

My Comments

There are those of you who use a caravan, motorhome or other similar recreational vehicle as the mobile holiday home and are likely to spend time at caravan parks or campgrounds rather than set up somewhere like at the beachfront or the bush. Increasingly these places are offering a public-access Internet service with Wi-Fi either as part of the package or for an extra charge, in order to make themselves relevant to the “switched-on” traveller.

But the problem with gaining access to these Wi-Fi services from your caravan is that your site may not be in a position where you can gain reliable reception of that service. Similarly, the vehicle’s metalwork will also play a part in attenuating the Wi-Fi signal that gets in to the van.

You may think that the typical Wi-Fi range extender may cure this problem but most of these devices have integrated antennas which may not be all that “crash-hot” when it comes to picking up the Wi-Fi network’s signal properly. But the clever people at Solwise have partnered a pair of devices that can bring the Wi-Fi network in to the caravan wherever you are.

The first device is a USB Wi-Fi network adaptor with a 12dBi panel aerial. This single-stream 802.11g/n device can be mounted outside the vehicle or building and connected to a regular computer via its USB socket using a 3 metre USB cable. The second device is a dual-WAN 802.11g/n wireless router with a choice of Ethernet or USB serving a wireless-broadband modem for its WAN / Internet service. But it also is able to work with the abovementioned USB Wi-Fi network adaptor effectively as a router.

On the LAN side of this router, you have a separate Ethernet connection along with the Wi-Fi network offered by the device. This earns its keep not just with smartphones and tablets but also with devices like network-attached-storage units, printers or DLNA-capable media devices because this means that you are not dealing with having to log on to the venue’s public-access Wi-Fi network to run these devices or share their resources through that network.

Being a two-part setup, you you can locate the network adaptor outside the vehicle and plug this in to the router’s USB port to effectively “bring in” the Wi-Fi service. It is also designed to support the “quick set-up quick tear-down” requirements that these kind of travellers would need and there are accessories available through Solwise to provide a semi-permanent mount for the USB network adaptor.

According to the screen shots in the manual, there is apparently a “bridge” mode to allow the router to be an extension access point that plugs in to your Ethernet or HomePlug AV(2) wired backbone. This could come in handy at home for extending that wireless network but I am not sure how this is implemented fully, something which could be written up on further.

It sounds like Solwise are fielding another device which would have some utility value when it comes to having that small network how you like it.

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Linksys LRT-224 VPN router–the first of its class with an easy-to-provision VPN

Article

Linksys LRT-224 Product Review (Page 3) | SmallNetBuilder

Previous Coverage

VPNs and remote access in the home and small-business space – a lot of unanswered questions

From the horse’s mouth

Linksys

Product Page (LRT-224)

My Comments

I was skimming through a SmallNetBuilder review of the Linksys LRT-224 VPN endpoint router and came across a feature that could appeal to those of us who are creating “box-to-box” VPNs between networks.

This feature is called “Easylink VPN” and requires the creation of an account username and password on the destination router and the user to supply to the origin router  the outside (WAN) IP address, account username and password for the destination router to establish a “box-to-box” VPN.

I do see some limitations with this concept as it is applied nowadays. One is that it is set up to work onliy with VPNs that have the Linksys LRT-2×4 series VPN routers at each end which doesn’t bode well for the goal of an interoperable easy-to-set-up VPN.

Similarly, there isn’t a way of identifying whether an IP-address conflict could occur once the VPN is established. As well, there isn’t support for dynamic-DNS setups which can make things easier for people who implement most residential and small-business Internet services that are “DHCP-only” rather than having the option to create an IP address.

But what I see of this is an attempt to allow home-office-plus-shopfront business operators and similar users to create a “box-to-box” VPN between locations without creating extra room for mistakes during the setup and provisioning phase/ It could also work well with the UPnP RemoteAccess and ContentSync profiles as part of the goal of a multiple-device personal “cloud”.

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AVM Fritzbox 7490 to be the first router to offer automatic firmware updating

Article (German language / Deutsch Sprache)

Automatische Updates für Fritzbox-Router | PC Welt

From the horse’s mouth

AVM

Software update page

My Comments

AVM FRITZ!Box 3490 - Press photo courtesy AVM

AVM Fritzbox 3490 to be able to update itself like your Windows or Mac computer

One of the big holes in data security that has been recently identified is the typical Internet gateway device sold to most households and small businesses as the “edge” between their home network and Internet connection.

This hole has been identified because most of the devices, especially those sold through most retail, value-added reseller and most service-provider channels, work simply on the firmware installed in them when they left the factory. As we all know, a lot of this firmware can be full of bugs and software exploits that place the home network and the computer equipment on it at risk of security breaches.

Most regular and mobile computer equipment and some set-top boxes benefit from a continual update process with the ability to have the critical updates delivered by the software vendor automatically without any user intervention. But this doesn’t hold true for the typical consumer router, which requires the customer to install updated firmware manually. In a lot of cases, the user may either have to run a firmware-installation tool on their regular computer or download a special firmware-package file from the manufacturer’s Website and subsequently upload the firmware to the device via its Web-based management interface.

A few devices may allow you to deploy updated firmware by causing the device to download and install the latest firmware from the manufacturer’s Web site by clicking on an “Update” button. These devices make the job easier but you have to regularly visit that user interface to check for new updates and start the update process.

These tasks can be considered very difficult for anyone to do unless they have had a lot of computer experience and expertise and is something commonly performed by the computer expert in the family or community.

AVM, a German company who makes premium-grade routers and networking gear for consumers and small business, have answered this need with the latest firmware for the Fritzbox 7490 Internet gateway device. This firmware offers automatic updating for firmware patches to enhance the device’s security.and reliability.

You would have to visit the AVM site to download and install the latest firmware in to the Fritzbox 7490 but this would be the last time you would need to do this because the Fritzbox could simply “look after itself” when it comes to the updates. There is a question remaining about whether AVM will roll this feature out to other Fritzbox routers and network devices so as to keep them secure.

At least AVM are setting a good example for all Internet-gateway-device manufacturers and resellers to follow by putting up the idea of self-updating equipment in to the consciousness. This could even extend to other devices like smart TV and devices that constitute the “Internet Of Everything” as we think of the smart home.

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What these HomePlug AV wireless access points are about

I had come across this Tweet that was shared on to Solwise’s home page concerning how quick it was to extend a small Wi-Fi network using a HomePlug AV wireless access point. As the picture showed that, once in place, this looked discreet and didn’t use any extra cables. You also had the advantage of being able to relocate this access point if you needed to such as focusing more coverage on another area.

Expect a lot more reliability and proper bandwidth from your Wi-Fi wireless network coverage when using a HomePlug wireless access point to extend that home network.

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UPnP+ links non-IP devices to wide-area networks

Article

UPnP+ links non-IP devices to wide-area networks | EETasia

My Comments

The recent extension of the UPnP Device Architecture specifications, known as UPnP+ is being worked on at the moment by the UPnP Forum. This is to extend the reach of the UPnP Device Architecture specification sets to satisfy certain new realities.

One key reality is to make UPnP work properly with the “Internet Of Everything” concept. This is where devices are able to interlink with each other and share their information in a manner not dissimilar to the concept associated with the Internet.

It will be achieved with native support for IPv6 across IP networks. This takes advantage of the huge number of addresses this standard offers compared to the legacy IPv4 which most of the Internet works on at the moment.

As well, a SensorBridge Device Class will be defined. This caters for the “bridge” device that links sensors and similar devices that work on non-IP networks with IP-based networks. The article talked of the non-IP wireless-sensor networks as being Zigbee, Z-Wave and ANT which take advantage of low-power low-overhead operation suited for those fields. These devices could be represented by “black-box” devices that stand between an Ethernet or Wi-Fi-based home network and the sensors or controllers such as the Honeywell Evohome Mobile Access Kit, but could also be represented as software integrated in either a router that also has a Zigbee or Z-Wave interface or a smartphone, tablet or laptop with Bluetooth 4.0 Smart interface.

There will also be inherent support for cloud-based “hosted” services to be part of the UPnP ecosystem. Of course, I find that the term “cloud” alludes a lot to services hosted by other parties away from the main home network, typically to provide remote access from smartphones, tablets and other computers connected via the Internet. In the context of “Internet Of Everything”, it could extend to service providers like utilities or monitored-alarm companies using this data to participate in the “Smart home” concept.

I would see this come in to its own with home and other networks that are operating along the line of “Internet Of Everything” and this could be supported with newer devices that have newer UPnP+ firmware in place.

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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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Network-enabling vehicles and boats–the challenges

Range Rover Sport

The home network to eventually be part of the car

Article

How To Network-Enable A Bus | Lifehacker Australia

My Comments

This article talked about implementing a 3G / Wi-Fi network in a Sydney transit bus to facilitate the Opal “touch-on touch-off” smartcard ticketing system in these buses. But it may also apply to other realities such as Internet access in the car or the car being part of the home network. This is being taken further with the desire for access to online or hard-disk-based infotainment systems that are likely to become the norm for today’s vehicles whether as a factory-supplied option or something installed after the fact.

Moving between different areas

Pleasure-boats at a marina in Melbourne

Even pleasure-boats will be considered as part of the networked world

One major issue is that the vehicle will be required to move between its primary network which could be your Wi-Fi network in your home or a marina’s Wi-Fi network to an Internet service provided by a mobile-broadband service. Here, this will require effectively a smooth switchover between these different services in order to provide a smooth Internet connection to network-connected devices such as an online-capable infotainment system and / or a small Wi-Fi network within the vehicle or boat.

The uneven power situation in vehicles

Another challenge is the power issue. Here, if the vehicle’s or boat’s engine isn’t running, the car battery is supplying the power from a finite resource and there also has to be a sufficient amount of current left in the battery to start the vehicle. But when you are starting the vehicle, there is a significant current dip that occurs while the starter motor is in operation. This is something you may notice where your car’s interior light will dim as you are starting the engine and you have one of the vehicle’s doors open. Once the engine has just started to run, there will be a surge of current which is typically limited by various regulator circuits in all of the vehicle’s equipment.

Ignition key Expected Power condition for network devices
OFF (key can be removed) Devices are expected to run at bare minimum from the battery to support standby functionality
ACCESSORIES (usually used to allow the car radio to be played without the engine running) Devices are expected to run at full power from the battery
ON Power spike occurs just when the vehicle has been started, but devices run at full power off the engine’s alternator.
START Power dip while the starter motor is being operated

 

How was this worked around?

The installation was based around a customised Netcomm router that worked between a particular Wi-Fi network at the depot or Telstra’s 3G mobile broadband when on the road. This router was shoehorned to cope with the abovementioned power issue encountered in vehicles and boats most likely with a significant amount of extra circuitry so that it draws the minimum amount of current when the ignition is off but draws its normal amount while the engine is running. This extra circuitry also is about the provision of a regulator to allow it to cope with the current dip / surge that occurs when the bus driver turns the key to start the engine.

Vehicle builders like BMW, Chrysler, Ford and GM who have worked on the “online vehicle” have developed in-vehicle network equipment from the ground up when developing prototype or production in-vehicle routers for these projects. Typically these would have a mobile broadband setup as the primary setup and have perhaps a WI-Fi LAN for use with tablets and similar devices as well as a specialised Ethernet setup for the online infotainment setups.

In the context of the online personal vehicle or boat, it will mean that if the vehicle is at home, it can connect to the home network and do an update process for maps, AV content and similar material. Then when you are on the road, you could gain access to Internet-hosted content like traffic information, current “open/shut” status reports of nearby businesses, the location of cheapest fuel prices, and audio content from online services like Spotify or Internet radio.

This issue will be faced further as the in-vehicle network becomes as much a must have for vehicle enthusiasts as the souped-up car sound system. It will mean the availability of aftermarket routers that are designed for in-vehicle use along with connection standards for aftermarket infotainment setups that work online whether with a smartphone or their own network / Internet access.

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TRENDNet to supply unmanaged switches with Power-Over-Ethernet Plus at all ports

Article

TRENDNet Adds Unmanaged POE switch pair | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

TRENDNet

Product Pages (TPE-T80H 8 port, TP-T160H 16-port)

My Comments

TRENDNet TPE-T80H 8-Port Power-Over-Ethernet switch Image: TRENDNet press imageTRENDNet have just launched a pair of unmanaged desktop switches that have 802.3at Power-Over-Ethernet across ports and are offering them as a USD$280 8-port variant and a USD$510 16-port variant.

Most unmanaged desktop Ethernet switches that offer Power-Over-Ethernet power typically offer this for half of the ports that they have but this pair of switches has all ports with Power Over Ethernet. These units have 30 watts maximum per port for 802.11at power with the TPE-T80H 8-port variant having 125 watts total power and the TPE-T160H 16-port variant having 250 watts total power.

One major limitation with both these switches is that they are limited to 10/100Mbit/s throughput which may be OK for running most cameras, IP phones or 802.11n access points. It would be better to see TRENDNet offer them as an all-Gigabit version to cater for the newer 802.11ac access points or higher-throughput 802.11n access points, especially if adding this functionality has a slight per-port premium over a 10/100 setup.

Both of them can be desktop switches but also come with “rack ears” so they can be installed in a 19” standard equipment rack. This allows contractors to install the switches in an “integrated” manner rather than having them pile up on a desktop.

Here, I would position these switches for a baseline VoIP or IP surveillance setup or a system that has a mix of access points and entry-level VoIP or IP-surveillance equipment.

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