Category: Wireless Networking

AVM adds distributed Wi-Fi functionality to the Fritz!Box

Article – German language / Deutsche Sprache

Fritz!Box: Auch AVM setzt auf Mesh-WLAN | Netzwelt.de

From the horse’s mouth

AVM

AVM FRITZ!Box 3490 - Press photo courtesy AVM

AVM Fritz!Box – the first Wi-Fi device range to implement distributed Wi-Fi through a software upgrade

FRITZ! Labor für WLAN Mesh (Product Details)

My Comments

A major trend affecting the home network is the rise of distributed Wi-Fi systems which are simple-to-setup Wi-Fi networks that use a mesh-based or “repeater-extender” Wi-Fi wireless backbone. Some ISPs are even offering these kind of systems as an added-value option that customers can “buy on” or product differentiator for their top-shelf packages.

But AVM, a network-technology company based in Berlin, Germany, and known for its Fritz!Box routers have taken a different approach to this situation. This is in addition to being the first home-network hardware  Here, they are offering this functionality in the form of a user-deployed software upgrade just released in Germany for some of their devices, namely the Fritz!Box 7490, 7580 and 7590 modem routers and the Fritz!WLAN Repeater 1750E Wi-Fi repeater and Fritz!Powerline 1240E HomePlug access point.

Here, AVM has done away with the need for households to replace their equipment to head towards the mesh-driven Wi-Fi home network.They just have to download the newer firmware updates from AVM’s Website and apply them to the Fritz!Box modem router. Then they take advantage of a firmware-hosted “Home Network Overview” (Heimnetzübersicht) dashboard to roll out the “over-the-air” firmware updates to any compatible Fritz!WLAN repeater or Fritz!Powerline access point to have them part of the mesh. Of course, it also facilitates one-touch configuration of the network with each wireless node in the meh being part of the proper “extended service set” with the same ESSID and security parameters.

The question here is whether AVM will implement just the wireless backbone for their mesh or have it support a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug AV2) backbone as well. Here, supporting a wired backbone as well as the wireless backbone can cater towards difficult network setups like stone buildings or multiple-building properties.

What do I see of this? Personally I would see the European network-hardware vendors implement a fully software-driven approach towards the advanced Wi-Fi setup. It would then lead to ISPs in highly-competitive markets like France rolling out this kind of functionality simply through a software functionality update for their customer-premises equipment.

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Understanding the new distributed-Wi-Fi systems

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

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

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

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

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

Core features

Simplified setup and self-tuning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Automatic creation of a single Wi-Fi network

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

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

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

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

System types

Mesh-based distributed Wi-Fi system

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

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

Mesh system

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

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

Router-extender / hub-satellite system

Hub-satellite distributed-Wi-Fi system

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

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

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

Features and limitations regarding these systems

Router-only or access-point functionality

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

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

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

Dedicated wireless backbone

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

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

Alternative wired backbone

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

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

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

Internet-dependent operation

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

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

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

What should I buy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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Netgear offers more of the Orbi extenders

Articles

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system

Netgear releases two (slightly) cheaper Orbi routers | Engadget

Netgear announces two new Orbi routers | TechCrunch

From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR

Orbi Wi-Fi System

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New firmware available for original Orbi system (1.8.0.6)

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What will 802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless networking be about?

ASUS RT-AC5300 router press picture courtesy of ASUS

802.11ax will be the next Wi-Fi standard that will grace our routers, but this will require newer hardware

There is the impending plan to define the IEEE 802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless local-area-network standard which is intended to supplant the 802.11ac standard used for general-purpose Wi-Fi networks. Qualcomm are even offering an initial lot of silicon for this standard in order to have something that can be proven.

But what is it about?

One of the man benefits is wider bandwidth which allows for five times more bandwidth than what 802.11ac offers. But there is also the idea that we will see Gigabit throughput levels being offered for real rather than as headline speeds which are based on a “link-level” speed without any error correction.

This is brought about with increased MIMO multiple-antenna / multiple-front-end abilities such as MIMO-OFDM, which is expected to improve Wi-Fi’s robustness. The MU-MIMO functionality which effectively provides optimum bandwidth to each client device will work for downstream and upstream data.

Yarra's Edge apartment blocks

802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless will benefit apartments, hotels and trade shows where many Wi-Fi networks do co-exist

802.11ax Wi-Fi implements spatial frequency reuse to improve network reliability in high-density setups. Current Wi-Fi setups don’t really perform reliably when they are faced with a high-density setup like a trade show with connections dropping off too easily. But there is the ability to reuse frequencies and co-exist to assure improved reliability in these situations. It also answers a reality with Wi-Fi and high-density urban living where you will come across with each small apartment, office or shop in a large building ends up being equipped with its own Wi-Fi network, something that will be more so with next-generation broadband service being delivered to the premises.

Something more real that will underscore the robustness that 802.11ax provides

To the same extent, this level of robustness in dense Wi-Fi environments also applies to situations where Wi-Fi networks that have multiple access points including range extenders are being implemented by most people to assure optimum network coverage for their portable devices. It is a practice underscored by the reality that a Wi-Fi router is typically installed at one end of the premises because it has to be colocated with the connection that facilitates a wired broadband connection like a telephone or cable-TV socket.

Let’s not forget that the Wi-Fi WMM and WMM Power Save standards will be improved under this specification to assure continual throughput for streamed multimedia content; along with power-efficiency for battery operated devices. These standards will be improved to cater towards an increased volume of data.

The 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard is not intended to be set in stone before 2019 although there will be equipment being released to earlier drafts through the next few years. This is a practice that has happened with 802.11n and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, with the Wi-Fi Alliance even calling the standards before IEEE had the chance to call them. But it could be seen more or less as the wireless local network standard to complement next-generation fibre-optic or 5G wireless broadband Internet services that offer Gigabit or more bandwidth.

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Wi-Fi TimeSync–to make multichannel Wi-Fi wireless audio real

Article

Wi-Fi might fix wireless speakers this year | The Verge

Wi-Fi for audiophiles: Alliance preps TimeSync certification program | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance – TimeSync

Product Page

Whitepaper (PDF)

My Comments

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Speakers like the Denon HEOS family will benefit from WiFi TimeSync so that they can be used with different manufacturers’ systems

The Wi-Fi Alliance have worked towards a standard for keeping time-sensitive data synchronous on a Wi-Fi network segment. This has become a very difficult situation with networks that rely on packet-based data-transfer technology because you are never sure whether data packets are leaving or arriving at the same time.

The key application case being put forward for Wi-Fi TimeSync is to use Wi-Fi technology to provide multiple-channel audio and video with an open-frame wireless approach for home-entertainment setups.

One implementations seen in this context would be a household starting with the TV’s internal speakers for video sound but moving towards a sound bar and / or external speakers plus a subwoofer located up the front beside the screen. Then they move towards a fully-fledged home theatre setup with rear speakers, using speaker systems from manufacturers they prefer at prices they prefer.

Another implementation would be a single-piece multiroom speaker or single-piece music system. The user then adds one or two extra speakers as their budget allows so they benefit from improved stereo separation. This also comes in to play for a multiple-speaker setup for environments where they want to “spread the sound” such as during a party.

But there are other use cases. One would be to use Wi-Fi in the context of connecting wireless microphones, instrument connections (guitars and electric basses) and wireless monitor setups for recording, broadcast and PA applications. Similarly, video field production would benefit in supporting a wireless link from one or more cameras and audio devices to the one video-production desk or video recording transport; or SMPTE time-synchronisation data can be wirelessly sent amongst multiple AV devices which have their own recording transports like camcorders or audio recorders.

Another use case being put up is showing the same video across multiple displays with a wireless link between the source and the displays. This could benefit automotive, coach and airline applications where the same video content held on a mobile device may be shown on seatback or dropdown screens to the passengers. Similarly, it could be about the use of temporarily-installed displays showing content from one main video system but allowing for “quick setup quick teardown” installation.

They also see this same technology for control and instrumentation applications such as patient monitoring in healthcare applications, industrial automation on the factory floor and, most likely, smart buildings and smart cities. For the smart home, it could be about using multiple temperature sensors to measure indoor room temperature so as to control the HVAC system efficiently.

In these applications, there is a goal to be manufacturer-independent, something that will break a curse associated with current Wi-Fi-based multiroom-audio applications. This is where the multiroom or multichannel functionality will only work with equipment supplied by the vendor or equipped with silicon from the same chipset family.

The Wi-Fi TimeSync standard will be based on the 802.11 Time Measurement standard and will support millisecond-level synchronisation. It will be independent of the baseband (physical-layer) Wi-Fi technology so as to support Wi-Fi segments implementing 802.11n or the newer 802.11ac standards.

A question worth raising is whether access points and routers need to support the Wi-Fi TimeSync standard themselves or if this can be facilitated on existing home or business-grade equipment. Another question that will also be raised is whether the same level of synchronisation can be achieved across a Wi-Fi segment involving multiple access points whatever the backbone. This can also include the common wireless-range-extender scenario that works from an extant wireless-network segment and creates its own wireless-network segment.

Here, it may also be about standards bodies representing the Cat5 Ethernet, HomePlug powerline, MoCA TV-coax and similar wired-network technologies considering higher-level support for packet synchronisation on the media types.

The initial call is that chipset vendors will offer the necessary silicon by end of 2017 for manufacturers to integrate in to their device designs. Then it will take some time for these designs to materialise as equipment like Wi-Fi-based wireless speakers or amplifiers.

What this could lead to an open platform for AV applications which can lead to a breeding ground for innovation and a reduced price point for these devices. Other areas will benefit from using a Wi-Fi wireless network for synchronising real-time data accurately.

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Improved Wi-Fi technologies as the deluxe option for your Internet service

Article

Waoo Smart WiFi kit press picture courtesy of Waoo.dk

Waoo Smart WiFi kit offered in Denmark

Premium Wi-Fi is a growing opportunity for service providers, both to differentiate and to increase ARPU | Videonet.TV

From the horse’s mouth

Waoo (Danish ISP) – (Danish Language / Dansk Sprog)

Smart WiFi – Product Page

Promotional Video –  Click or tap here to play / Klik eller tryk her for at spille

My Comments

Recently, at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, some of the major home-network hardware providers offered distributed Wi-Fi network setups which provide a simplified method to improve your home network’s Wi-Fi wireless coverage.

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

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package – could be offered by your ISP or telco

These have been offered either in a mesh-based setup or as a “router and extender” setup with simplified setup and operation procedures. The mesh setup creates a wireless backbone mesh between each of the “nodes” in such a way that any node can obtain a strong high-throughput signal from two other nodes and there is a failover process where if one node is out-of-action, other nodes can keep the coverage going. On the other hand, a “router and extender” setup works like most of the wireless extenders on the market but implements a simplified setup and roaming experience between the router and extenders.

Some of the distributed Wi-Fi network setups also allow for the use of a wired backbone which can cater for difficult wireless-network situations, multiple building setups or even as a robust high-throughput option.

There has been a need for these setups thanks to increased streaming of video content like Netflix along with heavy use of highly-portable computer devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones. But the typical Wi-Fi setup ends up being compromised by many different situations such as routers being installed at one end of the premises, the use of dense or metallic building materials in our houses and apartments or even “white goods” or metallic furniture like filing cabinets installed in a cluster against interior walls. As well, the existence of multiple Wi-Fi networks in a neighbourhood can make things works.

But there are some telcos, cable-TV providers and Internet service providers are offering distributed wireless setups as an extra-cost option for all of their customers, and / or as “part of the package” for their top-shelf packages. This kind of service is also of interest to other ISPs who are wanting to offer that more value to their customers, and is in response to complaints that customers aren’t benefiting from the headline or contracted bandwidth at their devices especially when they are using the Wi-Fi wireless network.

Examples of this are Singtel in Singapore, and Midco (Midcontinent Communications) in the USA are offering a distributed Wi-FI system as their “premium Wi-Fi” option offered as an extra-cost option while Waoo in Denmark are offering it at no extra cost to subscribers who take up their premium Internet packages that they offer with it available for extra cost for people who subscribe to the cheaper packages.

Here, the distributed Wi-Fi setup would be part of the modem-router normally offered as customer-premises equipment with it being managed and serviced by the ISP.  Some of these setups also have TV set-top boxes that also work as access points or as part of the mesh ecosystem, typically using a wired (MoCA, HomePlug AV500) or wireless backhaul. There may also be the use of dedicated access-point nodes around the premises to provide the extra reach to the other areas.

The ISPs are, at the moment, seeing this as leading towards increased customer satisfaction due to the increased stability and throughput realised at the end devices. It is also seen as being equivalent to cable-TV services where customers rent a PVR-based set-top box, because such customers see this as being better value for money therefore less likely to walk away from the service.

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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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Advanced business Wi-Fi–what needs to be done

OpenMesh managed access point product picture courtesy of OpenMesh

OpenMesh managed wireless access point

A class of Wi-Fi network setup that is appearing in the business networking market is what I would describe at best, “advanced” Wi-Fi. This typically is positioned as “managed Wi-Fi” or “virtualised Wi-Fi” due to the way these systems can be managed to suit business requirements or set up to serve multiple networks.

What does advanced Wi-Fi offer

But what does it offer? These networks are dependent on a Wi-Fi network controller that connects to compatible Wi-Fi access points using a Cat5 Ethernet wired backbone which also links them back to the Internet and other business network resources. Some of these systems may provide this kind of management through a cloud-hosted controller rather than a controller appliance installed on the premises.

The IT department can control these systems using a single dashboard, whether this is in the form of a Web-based front-end or a native client program.

The tricks that these systems have up the sleeve include:

  • the ability to adjust the operating channel, transmit power and other parameters of the access points to achieve the desired network coverage and bandwidth for the whole network;
  • to implement a combination of VLAN (virtual local area network), multiple ESSIDs (wireless network names) and related technologies to allow the same group of Wi-Fi access points to serve multiple networks thus creating a “neutral-host” or “multiple-host” Wi-Fi network; and
  • to work as Wi-Fi intrusion-detection/prevention systems to protect the network’s users against rogue wireless-network activity.

What are the current limitations

But there are limitations that need to be looked at to make this technology viable across all business types.

Lack of vendor independence

One is the lack of vendor independence and interoperability. Here, most of these systems are dependent on hardware and software offered by the same vendor which can be very limiting when a business wants to expand their Wi-Fi network’s footprint or replace end-of-life equipment in their system. It can be especially very frustrating for situations where their vendor doesn’t have an access point that ticks the necessary boxes for a particular application such as, for example, a weatherproof outdoor design that supports dual-band 802.11ac or the software doesn’t support the functionality that a customer is so after.

The same situation can be very frustrating whenever a vendor declares end-of-life for a particular managed-wireless-network platform, ceases to trade or is taken over by someone else. This can raise various support issues whenever you need to replace older equipment or improve on your existing system.

Here, you could end up dumping all of the access points that you bought for an advanced-WiFi setup if you had to change to a new platform or vendor, rather than allowing for a gradual changeover where you can keep existing equipment going.

Systems placing small business out of the equation

As well, not many systems are designed to cater to small-business users who want to effectively “start small” and “grow up”. A classic situation that may occur is for the business to use a single access point or router but as they grow, they add another access point to obtain an increased footprint such as to cover the neighbouring shop they just leased.

Typically, most of the managed Wi-Fi systems require the use of an access-point controller and the compatible access points for them to work. But this could be facilitated through the use of software-based enablement of this functionality for business-grade access points and routers where you only need to download particular software to these devices to add on this functionality.

Such a concept can be facilitated through network-hardware vendors adopting an “app-store” approach where they can offer additional software that a user can download to their network hardware, similar to what happens for smartphones and tablets.

Lack of secure inter-network data exchange abilities

Small businesses - Belgrave shopping strip

Shopping strips and similar developments could benefit from open-frame advanced Wi-Fi setups

Another missing feature is the ability to exchange data between multiple managed wireless networks to permit cohesive operation amongst the multiple networks. What could this feature offer?

Such a feature would benefit building-wide or development-wide wireless-network optimisation for multiple-occupancy developments including to create a “ring of protection” around the building for the occupants’ wireless networks. But it would require that the individual occupants can be able to have control of their networks.

The feature can also support secure authenticated access to private wireless networks via other trusted wireless networks. Such a setup could cover a multiple-occupancy building’s communal areas like lobbies, food courts or garden areas; or for extending private Wi-Fi coverage to business partners’ offices or local “watering holes” like hotels, bars and cafés. The concept here is about creation of a “neutral-host” or “multiple-host” Wi-Fi network in the communal areas or “watering holes” where all of the occupants have access to their networks in the same manner as what would happen when they discover and log in to the Wi-Fi network on their premises.  This situation is becoming increasing real as an increasing number of multiple-occupancy developments are heading towards the “mixed-use” direction where there is office, shopping, entertainment, residential, hotel and/or other space within the same development.

This functionality would require the use of tag-based or port-based VLANs (virtual local-area networks) as a way to link private LANs to the access points, and this may be already in place with multi-occupancy buildings where a business may occupy office and/or retail space across differing floors. Or it can be facilitated on a WAN-based effort through the use of box-to-box VPNs, typically used to link business locations across the world.  There could be the opportunity to have this kind of private-network-access enabled on a long-term basis such as through one’s tenancy or business partnership; or on an “ad-hoc” basis where it is enabled as required such as for a conference.

Less relevance to home-network users

Yarra's Edge apartment blocks

Apartment blocks and other residential developments can benefit from advanced Wi-Fi setups

At the moment, advanced Wi-Fi network technology is not being perceived or pitched as being relevant to home network users even though there is a use case for this technology amongst this user class.

This technology can be made relevant for home networks established in high-density or multiple-dwelling environments including the “mixed-use” development reality that I have outlined above. This is because these kind of environments involve many home and other Wi-Fi networks operated close together through that development.

Such networks can be set up for automatic channel and signal-strength optimisation across a block or street while these networks can be integrated with access points installed in common areas that can provide access to the development’s occupants’ networks on an ad-hoc basis. As well, if a development has one or more businesses or facilities of benefit to all the occupants like a food court, café or bar, the households could “extend” their Wi-Fi network to the meeting place for the duration they are in that location.

What needs to happen

Standardised secure data exchange within and between networks

The main requirements that would improve advanced business Wi-Fi would be the network to exchange configuration and instrumentation data in XML files that are defined by the industry for this application.

Rydges Melbourne

Hotels can also benefit from an open-frame managed wireless network so that it is easier for businesses to securely “extend” their networks to these places when they organise events or lodge employees at these facilities

As well, the established secure-data-interchange standards need to come in to play for exchanging data between the devices in a managed Wi-Fi network and between managed Wi-FI networks. For inter-network access, the ability to implement VLAN connections via Ethernet, xDSL or fibre-optic setups using the same physical link as an Internet service link can be investigated for intra-building setups while manufacturers need to research simple-yet-secure VPN setup procedures for setups that traverse multiple buildings and logical networks. This also can appeal to convention / exhibition facilities and hotels which businesses make use of very frequently to host their events or lodge employees who are attending business events.

The secure-data interchange could be based on SSL standards for data-in-transit encryption while a set of XML data schemas and filetypes can be used for defining the data that is transferred.

Similarly, a system of trust needs to be established to permit exchange of data between networks especially where inter-network instrumentation is involved. It also includes determining an effective “range of influence” for managing Wi-Fi networks from outside the logical network. This could be based on a “hop-count” or similar mechanism for inter-network data exchange and may require that a high-density or multiple-occupancy development be equipped with its own network electronics that covers all services in that development.

Shared network discovery

In the case of high-density or multiple-occupancy developments which have common areas, there needs to be a way to discover the existence of configurable common-area wireless networks that cover these areas. Once such a network is discovered by a building occupant’s network, it could then be feasible for the occupant to establish or configure an extension network to cover the communal area.

This would primarily be about a “publish-and-subscribe” arrangement where the building’s management or businesses who want to offer fellow occupants use of their Wi-Fi networks can share the data about these networks on a development-wide basis while the occupants can discover the communal networks they can benefit from when they configure their network equipment.

To make it work effectively as far as the end-user is concerned, it may involve knowledge of a particular Internet-based URL which may carry the data for a particular communal network or a particular development with many communal networks. A “hop-count” discovery protocol may also have to be investigated for automatic development-wide discovery of these networks.

Conclusion

So it seems like that there needs to be a lot of work to make the advanced Wi-Fi wireless network earn its keep amongst a large user base rather than just a sole-occupied corporate office.

Update (1 December 2016): A reference to “neutral-host” Wi-Fi networks which are a single Wi-Fi infrastructure set up at the order of a venue, but is set up to provide a logical-network link to other networks like business-partners’ / occupants’ own networks or public-access Wi-Fi networks.

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Assistance Journal–Dealing with a laptop’s Wi-Fi that failed after a Windows 10 upgrade

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

If you find that your computer doesn’t work as it should after an operating-system upgrade, check for newer device drivers from the system’s manufacturer

I had become part of a “men’s shed” community which encourages men to get together and engage in meaningful activities while being a chance for them to open up to each other easily. Here, it became a point where I could “put my skills on the table” and one of the men came to me about an underperforming laptop.

After I had gone through and removed some bloatware and updated the display-card driver on that laptop, the man approached me about this same notebook not connecting to his home network’s Wi-Fi segment since he upgraded it to Windows 10 as part of Microsoft’s free-upgrade program. I had noticed that it could connect to other Wi-Fi networks including the community’s own Wi-Fi network but he mentioned that it wouldn’t list his home network’s ESSID at all.

Subsequently I came around to his home to see the problem for myself and noticed that my Android phone could see the home network’s SSID but not this laptop. I used Windows Device Manager, part of the Windows operating system, to identify what kind of Wi-Fi adaptor was being used in that laptop and had previously researched this problem as something that could be driver-related.

Windows 10 Device Manager

Device Manager – a catalogue of all of the hardware in your computer

After that, I had hunted down a newer device driver for the Wi-Fi adaptor from the computer manufacturer’s Website and downloaded it to the computer. Then I ran the updated driver’s installation program and, after this update was performed and the computer restarted, Windows 10 properly listed the home network’s Wi-FI ESSID. I selected that SSID then used the WPS “push-to-connect” function to fully connect the laptop to the home network and it worked properly.

I even completed an Internet-connection “acid test” of having the client load a social-network session and check that it reflected the latest activity. By loading a site that is frequently updated with changing information, it avoids the Web browser loading material held in its cache which can be common with a site that doesn’t change frequently which makes me think that the Internet connection is working properly.

If you find that something like your computer’s Wi-Fi functionality misbehaves after an operating system upgrade, identify the kind of device performing the function using Windows Device Manager or a similar tool. Then track down the latest driver software from the computer’s, adaptor’s or chipset’s manufacturer and install that software. Typically this can fix the problem once and for all or make the hardware work better with the operating system.

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How to effectively establish that Wi-Fi-based mobile network

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wi-Fi mobile printer – one of the mobile peripheral devices pitched to smartphone and tablet users

A major trend that has become strong over the last few years is the arrival of mobile network devices that connect to each other and to client computer devices via Wi-Fi wireless networking technology.

These are represented in the form of:

  • mobile network-attached-storage devices
  • mobile printers
  • wireless speakers, and
  • mobile broadcast-LAN tuners that work with terrestrial or satellite broadcast systems,
Network setup for mobile NAS and smartphone

Network setup for Wi-Fi-based mobile peripheral devices

What is common about all of these devices, and is treated as a key marketing feature by their vendors, is that they can be set up to be their own access point with their own DHCP server as well as being client devices to existing wireless networks. Some of these devices like most mobile NAS devices are able to work effectively as bridges or routers between an existing wireless network and the network that they create.

This may work well if you are just using the one mobile peripheral device with your mobile client devices but may not work well when you intend to run two or more mobile peripheral devices. Here, you will end up switching between different wireless networks just to benefit from the different mobile peripheral devices.

Mobile NAS as bridge setup

Wireless NAS as a bridge between mobile client devices and another Internet-providing network

But you may want to run one or more of these wireless mobile devices together to serve multiple laptops, tablets or smartphones. Situations that may come about that will call for these setups would be where you are using a mobile NAS and, perhaps, a camera that has Wi-Fi functionality or one of the new Wi-Fi-capable mobile printers. This will call for you to create a proper mobile wireless network for all of these devices.

Use a router-class device as the main device

Here, you would have to run one wireless network device as a DHCP server and “master” access point and this function can be best served by a router-class device.

"Mi-Fi" portable wireless router

A typical “Mi-Fi” portable wireless router for a mobile-broadband service

The most common examples of devices of this class that apply to “on-the-road” use are the “Mi-Fi” mobile routers that work with a mobile broadband service or one of the travel routers pitched to work with a hotel’s wired Internet service. Some mobile NAS devices may also do this wireless-bridging functionality in an adept manner and could be the hub of your “travel network”. Similarly, one of the mobile-broadband wireless routers being integrated in to some new cars by the likes of BMW and Chrysler may also answer these needs.

You may think of using your smartphone’s Wi-Fi mobile-broadband-router functionality but this may encumber your smartphone for what you want to really use it for.

Some highly-sophisticated “Mi-Fi” and travel-router devices may also expose an Ethernet connection for LAN use, perhaps through an optional extended-functionality dock. This can come in handy if you want to increase your coverage area with another wireless access point or want to use devices like games consoles with your mobile network.

You may find that you don’t need to run the Internet connection on the Mi-Fi or travel router if you are simply establishing a link between multiple mobile peripheral devices and client devices and aren’t reliant on Internet functionality for their operation. Similarly, by having your mobile devices working this way, you avoid the need to authenticate with a Wi-Fi hotspot that implements Web-based authentication to do something like gain access to your mobile NAS’s data from your iPad.

Set up known wireless network parameters

Mobile network wiht "Mi-Fi" router and 2 Wi-Fi-capable mobile peripheral devices

Mobile wireless network for two or more mobile devices and mobile client devices – uses a router-class device like a “Mi-Fi” router

When you set up your “Mi-Fi” or travel router, you make this device the hub of your mobile network and have every device “point” to this device’s local-network by associating with its SSID (wireless network name) and security parameters.

Most of the mobile network devices that work on an “open-frame” approach can be quickly associated to this “mobile hub” thanks to WPS-based push-button setup. For devices that don’t support this quick setup mode like most Apple devices, you will need to note down the “mobile hub’s” SSID and security passphrase. Some “Mi-Fi” devices that have a display may be able to show these details on their display, perhaps at the request of the user.

For that matter, a good practice would be to assign a unique SSID for your “mobile hub” device i.e. your Mi-Fi or travel router. This is important when you use these setups in campgrounds, caravan parks or hotels where many of these devices will be used at once.

All wireless devices to link with router-class device

It will also mean that the mobile NAS, mobile printer or other similar device has to work as a client device rather than as its own access point. This also applies to your computing devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones which also associate with the “mobile hub” device.

When positioning your mobile-network devices, make sure that they are in the range of your “mobile network hub” device i.e. the Mi-Fi or the travel router. All the wireless traffic that goes between these devices will pass through the “mobile network hub” device rather than between the devices themselves.

You may find that if you want to avoid draining your “Mi-Fi” router’s battery too quickly, it may be a good idea to have it run from a USB charger that runs from house current or your vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket. Similarly, a high-capacity USB power-pack can also earn its keep with these devices if you are away from power.

What I stand for when reviewing or researching mobile devices

When I review any device for this Website that is capable of being its own wireless network such as a mobile NAS or mobile printer, I test the device with my home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment as if it is a client device. This is so I am sure they can work in this kind of setup as well as the highly-promoted “own access point” setup. As well, as part of researching a mobile device that uses Wi-Fi wireless technology as part of its link with client computer devices, I verify that it can work as part of an existing wireless-network segment as well as being its own segment.

Similarly, when I research a mobile router-class device like a Mi-Fi or travel router, I would expect the device to support WPS single-push connectivity along with other essential Wi-Fi connectivity and security standards. Similarly, such a device would have to be easy to configure including setting up the SSID and passphrase. As well, the Mi-FI device can’t be very thirsty with its battery if the goal is to have it as a “hub” device.

Conclusion

Once you are able to set up a mobile multi-device network, you can then be able to use it to store or print data while you are “on the road” without needing to constantly switch networks for each different task.

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