Category: Wireless Networking

With two new standards in the works, we could be approaching the Gigabit wireless network

Articles

Understanding gigabit Wireless LAN: 802.11ac and 802.11ad

My comments

What is it all about

At the moment, 802.11n on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wavebands is the current link standard for the Wi-Fi wireless network. But the IEEE have decided to work on standards for providing increased-bandwidth wireless networks.

The two standards are 802.11ac, which will primarily work on the 2.4Ghz and 5GHz radio bands and be seen as a migration path from the current 802.11n technology; as well as 802.11ad which works on the 60GHz waveband and has a very short range. The latter technology would be considered best for peer-to-peer applications like short-range wireless backhaul.

Both of these systems will use MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) radio technology; a “front-end diversity” system with multiple transceivers which is what the 802.11n network uses. But this technology will work with at least four “front-ends”; known as “4×4” due to four signals coming in and four going out.

Dedicated bandwidth options

One major benefit that I see with these technologies will provide is dedicated-bandwidth wireless networking which each access point compliant to these standards can do. This is brought on through the use of MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multi-Input Multi-Output) Here, it extends “transmit beamforming” technology which provides improved signal quality in an 802.11n network to allow the access point to provide “switched” Wi-Fi with dedicated bandwidth to stations; similar to the way the typical wired Ethernet network works.

It may be an improvement for network setups with many SSIDs per access point like so-called “guest / hotspot” + “private” networks, shared hotspot access points or many university networks; by allowing full bandwidth to each SSID.

The realities

Of course, the actual throughput that a network link will achieve will typically be less than headline link speed due to overheads associated with the link’s transmission requirements. Here, the average real world maximum throughput will be 867Mbps and the figure may be quoted for first-generation equipment or mature-generation equipment.

How it affects my small network

What will be asked of a small network like a home network would be a 5GHz segment that provides the 802.11ac network.

It may provide for dedicated throughput to client devices like laptops or tablet computers. For those networks that run as dual networks like hotspots or guest networks that share the same wireless router as the private network,the dedicated throughput for each wireless-network segment will be a bonus.

Of course, 2.4GHz will still be used as an 802.11n segment for existing devices and there may be a compatibility mode so that existing 802.11n devices can operate on the same segment.

Other issues

If the 802.11ad technology is to be used as a wireless-backhaul for many 802.11ac access points, there will have to be work on a complementary mesh-network technology. It will then provide a level of fault-tolerance in the wireless backhaul as well as a chance for each station to have and pass on full bandwidth networking. This is something that the IEEE standards body are working on with the 802.11s draft standard.

Conclusion.

It therefore shows that when there is a standard in place, there will be a chance to “raise the bar” with the technology that it covers. This will mean that a Wi-Fi wireless network could become close to the goal of a switched Gigabit network.

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Simplifying login and authentication processes for WiFi hotspots

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Wi-Fi body wants hotspots to override 3G • reghardware

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ Hotspot Program to Ease Subscriber Connectivity in Service Provider Wi-Fi® Hotspots  – Press Release

Wi-Fi Alliance Webpage

My comments

One main thrust behind the Wi-Fi Alliance’s new initiative concerning authentication, authorisation and accounting on public hotspots was to permit a wireless-broadband carrier to use Wi-Fi hotspots as a complimentary cellular technology. This is to avoid the need to buy cellular-telephony spectrum in order to increase service capacity and is increasingly necessary as the available radio spectrum becomes increasingly scarce.

Here, a cellular carrier could run their own Wi-Fi hotspot networks like what Telstra is doing or they could form a partnership with a wireless Internet service provider like “The Cloud” in the UK as a way of providing this service. They could then allow for a customer to seamlessly hand over from a 3G network to a Wi-Fi network that supports these credentials.

The way this is going to operate is to use a SIM card in a smartphone to store credentials for Wi-Fi networks. This card is typically controlled by the cellular carrier and may be only used for login credentials that continue the carrier’s partnerships.

A limitation I find with this is that the carrier could implement software locks so that the customer can’t use public networks other than those provided for by the carrier or their partnership. As well, there are other issues that haven’t been looked at properly with this goal for improved authorisation, authentication and accounting on these networks as I list below.

Venue-controlled hotspots

It can also make life difficult for customers who use hotspots provided by venue owners like hotels or cafes. Here, the login experience is typically managed by the hotspot owner and this may require information like a session ID in the case of a hotspot at a bar or cafe, or a room number for a hotel. These may apply for hotspot service where you pay the premises owner for that service or the service is part of the business’s main operation. In some free hotspots, you may have to click on a form to assent to terms and conditions of the service before you continue using the service.

As well, a user could use a hotspot run by an independent wireless hotspot operator and buy their access themselves through a Web-based user interface before using the service.

What I would like to see is support for these kind of hotspots because the user interface that is provided by most of them can become awkward for people who use handheld devices. This is typically because most of these user interfaces are designed for devices like laptops rather than handheld devices.

The improved interfaces could support “app-style” login experiences including “remember-me” login experiences where applicable. Other improvements that could be facilitated include the use of barcodes that are scanned by the phone’s camera to load “session keys” for docket-controlled hotspots or MMS direct-load support for login tokens for “SMS login token” WISPS. It could then lead to a venue-branded experience which some users may find as a “safety net” for their hotspot experience.

As well, a branded experience can be part of a “walled-garden” of sites that a person can visit free of charge or can be a sophisticated experience with such things as an online menu or the ability to order food and drink from your computing device.

Similarly, the idea of “franchising” WISP service to owners of venue-controlled hotspots hasn’t been worked out fully with this technology. Here, a person could have the rights to resell a WISP’s service under varying risk-return models and have the clients associated with that service use their hotspot in exchange for a cut of the costs paid by the clients.

Selective device-cluster creation

It is also a preferred standard to have devices in a public network isolated at lower network levels in order to prevent unwanted peer-to-peer discovery of the devices on these networks. This is typically achieved through functions like “AP isolation” or “Wireless Network isolation” and makes it appear to the devices that they are connecting directly to the Internet privately.

There are situations where a person may want to provide local connectivity between their own devices or devices owned by other users that are in their trust circle. Examples of this include LAN-based gaming over a wireless hotspot network, workgroups sharing data during a cafe meeting; one shifting data between a smartphone and a tablet computer at a coffee lounge or simply uploading pictures from a Wi-Fi-enabled camera to a 13” traveller laptop at their favourite “watering hole”.

Here, the authentication needed for this could be achieved through “same-token” login for devices with integrated Web browsers to entry of MAC addresses or WPS PIN numbers into a “cluster-creation” screen provided by the hotspot gateway. The Wi-Fi Alliance could examine the feasibility of using the new authentication methods as a way of creating selective network clusters across a device-isolated public wireless network.

Authenticating hotspots at the SSID-discovery level

The other question that has not been answered as far as I am concerned is whether there will be a system for authenticating hotspots and public networks in a similar manner to what is done when a user logs on to a banking site for example. This is to verify that the user has discovered a “safe” network before they select that SSID and begin to login to the hotspot.

The data that would be verified would be the MAC addresses of the access points as well as the gateway device’s  IP address and MAC address. This can be used to verify that the user has logged in to a network that is operated by the venue that is providing the hotspot service. For a WISP like “The Cloud” or FON, this may be useful for verifying that users have logged in to the WISP’s network. In this case, this information may pertain to the locally-installed hardware for the WISP.

Here, this could be achieved through a private-key / public-key exchange setup where the successfully verified hotspots could at least be highlighted in a wireless network with a ?key” or green-light icon. If this system does also support the transmission of logo icons, the client device could also show a company logo for that hotspot host.

It can also work as a way of encouraging customers to be sure of where they are surfing the Web through. As well, a business could have a Windows 7 laptop or Blackberry smartphone that supports this kind of verification for public wireless networks to prohibit logging in to public wireless networks that don’t have this kind of verification.

The main issue with this is that independently-run cafes and bars may need to be able to have access to any certification setups at a modest price, preferably through a government business-support agency or their bank.

Conclusion

Once these issues are ironed out concerning the provision of public Wi-Fi Internet service to the hordes of users with notebooks, netbooks, smartphones and tablet computers, then they can use these services to full capability in a secure manner.

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Feature Article – Basic information about provisioning public Wi-Fi hotspot service

Introduction

You might be considering setting up that complimentary hotspot for your guests to use but there are certain risks to be aware of concerning the security of your business and your guests’ data and identity.

Risks that have been highlighted include confidential-data and identity theft performed against customers as they work this data from their portable devices; as well as clandestine computer activity like the downloading or serving of illegal content; or the distribution of spam email, performed using computers connected to public Internet networks like wireless hotspots.

As well, there may be other imperatives required of people who provide Internet access to the public. These imperatives, asked for by various local, state / regional or national governments may include requirement like keeping a log of whom you provide Internet access to or requirement for session tracking. Therefore I am not therefore in a position to explain how to satisfy these needs and it is best to seek local advice on this topic.

Therefore, your business should know who is using the hotspot service and be able to make sure that the people who benefit are the business’s customers or guests. This means that the customers or guests are actually going to be operating the network device that they use when connecting to the service and also operate it on your premises. As well, your customers know that they are going to actually benefit from your hotspot service when they log in to this service.

The cafe or bar as a “second office”

This is more important for the cafe as an increasing number of businesspeople use these places as “second offices” where they can work without unnecessary office-borne distraction or as places where they meet their colleagues or business partners. Here, these people will be working on workplace-confidential data and most of these workplaces place high value on the security of this data as it travels between the laptop and the workplace’s main computer systems.

In fact, the reason I have decided to publish this article was because a cafe that I regularly visit in Camberwell (Melbourne, Australia) had just started to offer free public Wi-Fi access but I had wanted them to provide a free Wi-Fi service that is safe for their customers. Here, they had an ordinary wireless router as the Internet service but they needed help in getting this service working properly and safely. They also wanted to make sure that this resource was available just to their customers as part of their customer service.

Your equipment

When you start out with your complimentary-use hotspot service, you may use a wireless router hooked up to a separate Internet service or use one with a “guest-access” or hotspot function and is connected to your common Internet service.

This should be set up to cover your public area such as the bar areas in your bar or the dining room in your cafe. In some situations, you may need to use an additional access point to cover larger areas or get your signal past thick walls. This is something I have covered in this site as a separate article.

As well, if your equipment works on 802.11n technology, it should be set to work in compatibility mode where it can work with 802.11g and 802.11n devices. This is to cater for the fact that most devices that are in circulation, especially smartphones, are likely to work with 802.11g technology and people may operate battery-operated 802,11n-capable devices in 802.11g mode in order to conserve battery runtime.

Dual-band setups

It may be an asset to consider a dual-band setup for your wireless hotspot. This will use a radio presence on the 2.4GHz band as well as the newer 5GHz band and is supported by an increasing number of newer laptops, tablets and smartphones. The new waveband comes in to its own for multimedia applications like video conferencing or photo and video uploads to social media as well as taking some pressure off the 2.4GHz band for legacy equipment to use.

This can be achieved with a router / gateway or access point that implements simultaneous dual-band operation or you can add a 5GHz access point or a dual-band access point set up for 5GHz operation to your existing network.

Here, you need to make sure you still have your network set up for 802.11b/g/n operation for the 2.4GHz band and 802.11n operation for the 5GHz band. If your equipment supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi, you may have to make sure that the 5GHz aspect works in a compatibility mode for both 802.11n and 802.11ac equipment. As for the SSID (Network Name) which is talked about below, you can use the same SSID for both bands and the clients’ computer equipment switches between the bands automatically.

Your SSID or Network Name

The SSID or network name is very important to your hotspot’s identity. Here, it should reflect your business’s name and have a reference to public or guest Wi-Fi service. An example that I used for a basic complimentary-use Wi-Fi hotspot that I set up at a coffee lounge just recently was MORAVIA-PUBLIC-WIFI. Here this reflected the coffee lounge’s name (MORAVIA) as well as stating that the service was a public Wi-Fi hotspot service hosted by this business. Therefore, you can then identify any “evil-twin” or “fake-hotspot” devices left on or near the premises that exist to capture customers’ sensitive data.

This SSID must be used in all signage advertising your hotspot and the signage must reflect your company’s identity. This means that it either has your company logo and name or be in your company’s styling. In this case, the signage about the hotspot should at least exist beside the cash-register and the door, preferably at eye-level or near the main handle or pull.

Hotspot security

Basic security

Your hotspot network should be secured with a WPA-PSK passcode which your staff should give out to customers who want to use hotspot service. As well, the network should have wireless-client isolation enabled, so that customers who are using the hotspot cannot browse on to each others’ computers.

Previously, there wasn’t any wisdom in implementing link security on a public-use wireless network but now that most computers and handheld devices support WPA-based link security for wireless networks, adding this function to WPA-level is still worth it for achieving some control and security in a public-use wireless network.

It is still important to change the WPA-PSK passphrase regularly such as at least twice a month. Some environments may require the passphrase to the changed every week. This is so that it becomes hard to set up a “fake hotspot” using your service’s credentials or keep a computer logged in to the hotspot service without you knowing.

People who use “open-frame” computing devices based on recent versions of Android or Windows may find that this job may be simplified. One method, which works with both the operating systems, is to use WPS push-button setup on consumer routers that are suitably equipped and are serving as dedicated hotspot devices. But another method is to make a QR code representing the SSID and WPA passcode as a machine-readable form and print this out on to a card that you hand to your customer. Then they scan this code with their Android or Windows 10 device with the appropriate reader software.

As well, your hotspot should properly support VPN pass-through for all protocols so that business users can log in to their workplace VPNs  without any headache.

Special hotspot-gateway devices

It may be worth knowing that if you want greater control over your public Internet service, it may be worth implementing a “docket-printer-based” wireless hotspot gateway like the Netcomm HS-1100, Solwise WAS-105R or Zyxel N4100.

Here, these devices direct users to a login page where they have to key in a session login and password that they transcribe from a paper docket that is printed from a docket printer attached to the hotspot gateway. If you intend to offer a paid service, these devices put you in a position to use the payment methods and paths that you use to accept payment for your goods and services.

This is unlike some other hotspot gateway setups that require the potential user to pay another company directly using their credit card or an account maintained by that other company using a payment form hosted by that hotspot. Typically, a lot of these setups are managed in a manner where you don’t have much control over how the service in provided and the service may be provided in a manner not dissimilar to how most vending and amusement machines are provided where you don’t own the equipment, representatives visit the premises to maintain the equipment and you get a small “cut” from the takings.

As well, the session login parameters that your users type in from these dockets exist only for a particular time limit. This is also important for people who run a paid service, but can be useful for managing complimentary service so you can be sure that the people who are using your service are your customers or guests who are in your public areas.

If you do run one of these dedicated hotspot gateway devices, such as a “docket-printer-based” device, the wireless network that these devices operate should still have WPA-PSK security with the passphrase changed regularly. The “docket-based” devices will list the WPA-PSK passphrase on that same docket so your customers can still log in to your hotspot from their device.

Hotspot 2.0 / Wi-Fi Passpoint functionality

Hotspot-gateway devices that supports Hotspot 2.0 or Wi-Fi Passpoint operation, including firmware updates that bring this functionality to existing equipment, is also worth its salt. This provides for improved login experiences including the ability to have your venue described in the list of available Wi-Fi networks when your customers use compatible along with a simplified signup or login procedure. It also supports link-level security between the user’s computer or phone and the access point.

When you enable Hotspot 2.0 or Passpoint functionality on your hotspot gateway device, make sure that your establishment’s details are properly entered when you fill out the setup form for this function. Here, if your users have equipment that supports this technology to the letter, they can identify your establishment in a more qualified manner so they are sure that the Wi-Fi service they are connecting to is the one you are providing at your business.

Of course those of us who use devices that don’t support this functionality can still benefit from Wi-Fi hotspot service on these services as long as “universal” authentication is enabled on the gateway device.

Branding options

If you do implement these devices, make sure that you know how to brand the customer-facing user interfaces.

Most of these devices can allow you to upload a graphic and integrate it in to the login interface or they can allow you to upload customised login screens or point to a Web server for the login interface graphics. The latter option may appeal to you if you have a good hand with creating basic HTML Web pages.

Here, make sure that you have your business name and logo and, if you can do it, set the colour scheme to your business’s colour scheme. As well, make sure that your business name appears on the access dockets that your hotspot gateway prints out.

Power outlets

With a hotspot, always expect that some of your customers will use the power outlets on your premises to power their laptops or smartphones from AC power to avoid compromising battery runtime. This is more so with customers are operating older equipment that has batteries that are “on their last legs” or are working VPN sessions in order to “pick up” files from work and want to be sure this is done properly.

Here, a few double outlets near the tables can work wonders here and if an outlet is used for powering a device like a lamp, the device could be connected to the outlet via a multi-socket power-board with extra outlet space for a few appliances.

Conclusion

Once you know how to choose and set up your public-use wireless network properly, you can make sure that this is a service that your customers and guests will benefit from fully. This may even put your business “on the map” as far as customer-service extras are concerned.

UPDATES

I have done some revisions to this article which was originally published in August 2011 to reflect the arrival of newer technologies like 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi wireless technology, Wi-Fi network credentials via QR codes, and Wi-Fi Passpoint technology.

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“Wi-Fi-ready” consumer electronics–what should you know

Article

Why you should avoid proprietary Wi-Fi dongles | Crave – CNET

My comments

Previously, I had written an article about using HomePlug to connect a TiVo device to your home network if you don’t have Ethernet connectivity near the TiVo device. This was after I had seen poor Wi-Fi performance from the TiVo-specified 802.11g Wi-Fi adaptor that a TiVo that was on show at a consumer-electronics show was connected to. This is infact the beginning of a trend by consumer-electronics manufacturers to differentiate their product ranges.

What does it mean if consumer-electronics is “Wi-Fi-ready”

Consumer-electronics manufacturers will place a range of network-enabled consumer-electronics products like flatscreen TVs or Blu-Ray players as “Wi-Fi-ready” or “Wi-Fi-enabled” units. These units will be cheaper than the products that have Wi-Fi functionality integrated in them and this fact is used as a way of differentiating between particular models or ranges.

When you want to use the “Wi-Fi-ready” TV or Blu-Ray player on your home network’s Wi-Fi segment, you have to buy a special Wi-Fi network-adaptor module from the consumer-electronics manufacturer through their retail front. Most such adaptor modules will come in the form of a USB “dongle” that plugs in to a specified USB socket on the device but some manufacturers may require that their technicians install the module in the set for you. This latter practice may be more so with TVs sold by some European manufacturers who are used to having add-on functionality modules available for installation by their technicians at a later date upon their customers’ request.

Of course, nearly all of these items of consumer electronics will have an Ethernet socket on them so you can connect them to an Ethernet network segment or a HomePlug networks segment with the appropriate bridge device.

The Wi-Fi dongles or modules

The dongles or modules are usually peculiar to a manufacturer’s products or may only work with a certain subset of their products such as those that are based on a particular design. They usually cost more than a USB-Wi-Fi network adaptor sold for general-purpose computers. As well, the modules, especially the dongles, may not give the same kind of Wi-Fi performance as a setup where the Wi-Fi functionality is integrated in the device.

It may also be worth paying attention to the price difference for the model that comes with Wi-Fi and the model that is “Wi-Fi-ready”. If the device of concern is a TV set, I would suggest that you compare the two models that have the same screen size and display technology. It is also worth asking if the retailer does sell the Wi-Fi module and how much for. This is because in some cases, the aforementioned price difference at the store may be less than the cost of buying this module.

What can you do with a “Wi-Fi-ready” device if you don’t have Ethernet at its location?

This same situation can also hold true if you wish to go for the cheaper “Wi-Fi-ready” model yet integrate it in to the home network in a “no-new-wires” manner.

I would suggest that you use a HomePlug AV setup to connect the “Wi-Fi-ready” device to the home network if you don’t have an Ethernet connection in place at the device’s location. This also includes situations where you may move the device to a newer location such as “pushing” the existing Internet-enabled “Wi-Fi-ready” TV to the secondary lounge area or bedroom.

Most of the HomePlug AV starter kits which comprise of two HomePlug AV-Ethernet bridges (a.k.a “homeplugs”) can typically cost the same as the add-on Wi-Fi adaptors. It is also worth knowing that if you pay a bit more, some of these kits even come with an integrated Ethernet switch which may be useful if you have two or three network-enabled video peripherals near the TV or are likely to connect the PS3 or Xbox 360 to the TV.

Other comments

One situation that I would fear most with consumer-electronics would be to use the optional Wi-Fi module technique used in the current crop of “Wi-Fi-ready” equipment to provide network / Internet connectivity to cheaper equipment at extra cost to the consumer.

Here, the equipment would have no Ethernet socket yet still show “network-function” teasers in its user interface and describe the functions in its user manual and marketing literature. But the user would have to buy a Wi-Fi or Ethernet module in order to link the device to the  home network before they benefit from network and Internet functionality.

Like with the Wi-Fi-ready scenario, the user wouldn’t be able to use cheaper or better-value hardware to network-enable their device, therefore end up paying the premium for network connectivity.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2011–Part 3

Now we come to the issue of network-infrastructure equipment that will need to support the increasing demands placed on the home network by the previously-mentioned smartphones, tablet computers and Internet-enabled TVs.

Network Infrastructure

Network Connectivity

Some newer chipsets have appeared which will increase network bandwidth for the 802.11n Wi-Fi segment and the HomePlug AV segment. The current implementations may use manufacturer-specific implementations which won’t bode well with the standards.

The first new “call” is the 450Mbps 802.11n WPA2 WPS Wi-Fi segment which is being provided by most network makes for their midrange routers and access points. Access points and routers that work with this specification use three 802.11n radio streams to maintain the high throughput. The full bandwidth may be achieved if the client device is equipped with an 802.11n wireless network adaptor that supports the three streams but your existing devices may benefit due to reduced contention for the wireless bandwidth due to the access point / router offering three streams.

Most of the routers shown at the Consumer Electronics Show this year that support the 3-stream 450Mbps level for the 802.11n wireless network functionality also offered dual-band dual-radio operation to the same specification. Here, these devices could work on both the 2.4GHz band and the 5GHz band at this level of performance.

Some manufacturers were trying out the idea of a 60GHz high-bandwidth media network which may be based on a Wi-Fi (802.11 technology) or other proprietary scheme. This could lead to three-band multimedia routers and access points that use 2.4GHz and 5GHz for regular whole-home wireless networking and 60GHz for same-room wireless networking.

The second new “call” is the 500Mbps throughput being made available on high-end HomePlug AV devices. These powerline network devices may only achieve the high bandwidth on a segment consisting of the high-bandwidth devices that are based on the same chipset. Here, I would wait for the HomePlug AV2 standard to be fully ratified before you chase the 500Mbps bandwidth on your HomePlug segment. Of course, these devices can work with HomePlug AV segments.

The third new call is for midrange high-throughput routers to have Gigabit on the WAN (Internet) port as well as the LAN ports. This is more relevant nowadays as fibre-based next-generation broadband services are rolled out in most countries.

Everyone who exhibited network-infrastructure equipment offered at least one 450Mbps dual-band dual-radio router with Gigabit Ethernet on the WAN (Internet) connection as well as the wired-LAN connection. As well, most of these routers are equipped with circuitry that supports QoS when streaming media and some of them have a USB file-server function which can also provide media files to the DLNA Home Media Network.

Trendnet also offered an access point and a wireless client bridge that worked to this new level of 802.11n performance. They also demonstrated power-saving circuitry for Wi-Fi client devices which throttles back transmission power if the device is in the presence of a strong access point signal for their network. This was ostensibly to be “green” when it comes to AC-powered devices but would yield more real benefit for devices that have to run on battery power.

They also ran with the TPL-410AP which is a HomePlug AV Wireless-N multi-function access point. Another of those HomePlug access points that can “fill in the gap” on a wireless network or extend the Wi-Fi network out to the garage, barn or old caravan.

They also issued the TEW-656BRG 3G Mobile Wireless N Router, which is an 802.11n “MiFi router” that is powered by USB and works with most 3G / 4G modem sticks available in the USA. It is of a small design that allows it to be clipped on to a laptop’s lid or a small LCD monitor.

TP-Link had their 450Mbps three-stream dual-band dual-radio router with Gigabit on bot WAN and LAN Ethernet connections. As well they fielded a single-stream 150Mbps USB stick as the TL-WNT23N.

They also tried their hand with IP surveillance with the TL-SC4171G camera . This camera can do remote pan-tilt, and 10x digital zoom. It connects to the network via Ethernet or 802.11g Wi-Fi (not that much chop nowadays) and is equipped with an IR ring for night capture, as well as a microphone and speaker.

Netgear were more active with the 450Mbps three-stream routers with Gigabit LAN. Two of the models are broadband routers with Gigabit WAN, while one is an ADSL2 modem router which I think would serve the European and Australian markets more easily. The top-end model of the series has a USB file server function which works with the DLNA Home Media Network and also with Tivo “personal-TV devices”.

They also released the XAV5004 HomePlug AV switch which is the 500Mbps version of the their earlier “home-theatre” four-port HomePlug switch. Of course, they released the XAV2001 which is a compact “homeplug” adaptor which connects to the regular standards-based HomePlug AV segment.

They also have released the MBR1000 Mobile Broadband Router which works with 3G/4G wireless broadband or  Ethernet broadband. This unit is being provided “tuNrnkey” for Verizon’s new 4G LTE service.

Netgear have also fielded the VEVG3700 VDSL2/Gigabit Ethernet dual-WAN router with Gigabit Ethernet LAN, Cat-IQ DECT VoIP phone base station. This device, which is pitched at triple-play service providers also supports DLNA server functionality. As well, they also had a DECT VoIP kit available for these providers

As well, Netgear have tried their footsteps in to IP-surveillance for home and small business with a camera and an Android-driven screen for this purpose.

D-Link’s network hardware range include the three-stream 450Mbps routers with Gigabit WAN/LAN, a multifunction access point / repeater for the 802.11n network as well as a new DLNA-enabled network-attached storage range

As far as the MoCA TV-coaxial-cable network is concerned, Channel Master is the only company to release any network hardware for this “no-new-wires” network. It is in the form of a MoCA-Ethernet 4-port switch for the home theatre.

“Mi-Fi” wireless-broadband routers

Every one of the US cellular-telecommunications carriers are catching on to the 4G bandwagon not just with the smartphones and tablets but with the wireless-broadband routers.

Sprint have a unit for their WiMAX service while Verizon are fielding a Samsung LTE “Mi-Fi” as well as the aforementioned Netgear MBR1000 router.

Computer hardware and software

Monitors

Some of the companies who manufacture monitors are looking at the idea of “Internet-connected” monitors which have a basic Web browser in them so you don’t have to fire up a computer to view the Web.

CPU/GPU combo chips

These new processor chips combine a CPU which is a computer’s “brain” as well as the graphics processor which “draws” the user interface on to the screen. AMD and Intel were premiering the “Accelerated Processor Units” and the Core “Sandy Bridge” prcessors respectively at the CES this year.

Intel were trumpeting the fact that this technology could make it harder to pirate movie content but this is more about mainstream computing and small-form-factor hardware being behind this space and power saving processor hardware.

Sony had lodged a commitment to AMD to use the Zacate “Accelerated Processor Unit” in some of their VAIO laptops.

Other hardware

AMD haven’t forgotten the “performance computing” segment when it comes to processor chips and released the quad-core and 6-core “Phenom” desktop and gaming-rig CPUs.

Seagate have also made the “GoFlex” removable / dockable hard disks a standard by building alliances with third-parties to make hardware that works to this standard. Could this be another “VHS-style” alliance for dockable hard disks?

Microsoft also used this show to premiere their Touch Mouse which uses that same touch operation method as Apple’s Magic Mouse. Do I see an attempt for them to “snap at” Apple when it comes to “cool hardware” as well as software?

The Microsoft Platform

There has been some activity with the Microsoft Windows platforms now that set-top boxes and tablet computers are becoming the “order of the day”

One direction Microsoft is taking is to port the Windows Platform, which was primarily written for Intel-Architecture processors, to the Acorn ARM-architecture processors. The reason that this port is taking place is due to these energy-efficient RISC processors being commonly used in battery-driven applications like tablet computers. They are also popular with other dedicated multimedia devices like set-top boxes and TV applications.

As well, Microsoft will be working on a lightweight Windows build for TV applications like set-top boxes. This is although they have previously written Windows-CE builds for this class of device.

Microsoft also want to make a variant of the Windows Phone 7 for tablet computers and are starting work on the Windows 8 project.

Similarly, Somsung has demonstrated the second incarnation of the Microsoft Surface platform This one comes in a slimmer table-based form rather than a unit that is as thick as the 1980s-style “cocktail-table” arcade game machine.

Conclusion

The Consumer Electronics Show 2011 has certainly put the connected home on the map. This is due to affordable smartphones and tablet computers becoming more ubiquitous and Internet-provided video services becoming an increasing part of American home life.

It will be interesting to see what will happen for the other “pillar” of the consumer-electronics trade fair cycle – the Internationaler Funkaustellung; and how more prevalent the Internet TV, smartphone and tablet computer lifestyle will be in Europe and Asia.

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Wi-Fi and HomePlug collaborate on the smart-grid aspect of the connected home

Articles

WiFi, HomePlug Collaboration Facilitates Interoperability of Smart Grid Applications -  SmartGrid.TMCNET.COM

Wi-Fi, HomePlug Alliances Collaborate On Smart Grid Apps – InformationWeek.com

Wi-Fi strikes alliance with mains networking tech – The Register (UK)

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance® and HomePlug® Powerline Alliance Collaborate on Connected Smart Home – HomePlug Powerline Alliance

My comments

This news article is certainly placing the two main “no-new-wires” network technologies that exist in most home networks as being able to have their place in the “smart-grid” home-automation and energy-management scenario.

General home-network applications

From what I have read in this article and also from my experience with handling home networks, the Wi-Fi wireless technology and the HomePlug powerline technology are considered as established “no-new-wires” connection methods in this class of network. This is typified with most network-Internet “edge” devices being Wi-Fi wireless routers and nearly all laptops currently in use being equipped with some form of Wi-Fi technology. As well, most mobile-phone contracts that have been signed are for phones that are equipped with Wi-Fi technology alongside the cellular-phone technology.

Similarly, HomePlug AV has been considered as a data transfer medium for bringing IPTV to the main lounge area. This has become more so in Europe with the “triple-play” service providers who are using the home network to distribute TV. Here, they use a HomePlug AV connection to provide a network link from the network-Internet “edge” router to an IPTV set-top box in the lounge area to obviate the need for users to run Ethernet wiring to achieve the same purpose.

The main benefit of HomePlug is that it makes use of existing AC wiring including extension cords, which can become data+power cables. I have talked about this as a preferred solution with multi-building home networks where it is not worth the cost or effort to run Cat5 Ethernet cable to an existing outbuilding and Wi-Fi wireless wouldn’t work well with some buildings like “quick-assemble” garages or static caravans because of their metal construction.

Smart-grid applications

Both technologies would complement each other in the smart-grid space.

One main use for Wi-Fi would be smartphones and other programmable devices as consumer-facing energy monitors. Here, this application would capitalise on the installed base of laptops, netbooks, smartphones and tablet computers that have integrated Wi-Fi functionality as well as the Wi-Fi segment of the home network rather than having to reinvent the wheel.

As well, once manufacturers work on Wi-Fi chipsets that can work for a long time on two AA batteries or a regular “button-cell” watch battery, Wi-Fi could become a “sensor and control network” in its own right. Here, it could be feasible to use it as part of wireless movement sensors, thermostatic radiator valves, wireless room-temperature sensors and the like.

There is also a subset of the HomePlug technologies being developed to replace the role of the old X10 home-control system as data-transfer conduits for AC-wire-based home automation. This could lead to affordable home-automation systems that work hand-in-glove with the smart grid. Common application examples would include the ability to have appliances like washing machines, dishwashers, and pool-filter pumps come on when the off-peak tariffs apply or air-conditioners go in to “set-back” but with the fan running during a high-demand period where the utility wants to apply “load-shedding” measures.

Similarly, the management of electric-vehicle charging will be achieved through HomePlug technology as the primary data conduit for the command-and-control data. This will also be important for vehicles that are managed as part of a fleet and for countries that want to make sure that they tax the fuel that is used by road vehicles ostensible for maintaining the roads.

Conclusion

At least the new “smart-grid” applications are becoming another area where the dominant “no-new-wires” network technologies are able to have a foothold in and thus avoid reinventing the wheel with.

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Devolo has raised the bar with a HomePlug AV WiFi-N access point by adding a 3-port Ethernet switch

Articles

German Language

Der Devolo dLan 200 AV Wireless N organisiert Ihr Heimnetzwerk – COMPUTER BILD

From the horse’s mouth

Web page for this product (Deutschesprachen, English language)

My Comments

Previously, Netgear had released an 802.11n wireless access point which can connect to an Ethernet network or a HomePlug AV powerline network. This is a product that I had commented on as being suitable for extending the coverage of an 802.11n wireless network or establishing the footprint of your home network in to an outbuilding or static caravan that you are using as part of the house.

Now, Devolo have answered Netgear’s effort by releasing a similar product in the European market which also has a 3-port Ethernet switch.  This unit, which sells in Germany for €109.90  has similar WiFi functionality to the Netgear unit, including WPA2 security with WPS push-button setup. As far as I know from the research I have done at Devolo’s Website, this unit doesn’t seem to support WPS-based quick setup for multiple-access-point wireless networks – the WPS function only works for setting up a wireless client to the access point. This function could be added to this unit through a firmware update.

The 3-port Ethernet switch would come in handy for a lounge area with an Internet-enabled TV, a Blu-Ray player and/or a games console; or an office set up in the garage or barn where there is a desktop computer and / or a network printer. It also can come in handy if you have to use this HomePlug AV access point with another HomePlug AV-Ethernet bridge to extend the coverage of your HomePlug AV powerline network to another building or caravan as I have explained here.

At least someone else has come up with another HomePlug AV wireless access point for the home network and have taken this concept further by adding a 3-port Ethernet switch rather than the typical Ethernet port found on this class of device.

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A major update for inSSIDer

News article

MetaGeek releases updated inSSIDer | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

inSSIDer 2 Preview – Blog article on MetaGeek site

Download inSSIDer from here!

My Comments

InSSIDer is a free but highly-capable Wi-Fi site-survey tool for use with Windows-based computers that works with any Wi-Fi network adaptor including the integrated Wi-Fi network subsystems in most laptops. I have reviewed this program on this site and cited it as a preferred tool for small-business owners and householders to manage Wi-Fi networks and tune wireless routers. I have also mentioned it as a piece of software you can have in your arsenal for keeping your wireless hotspot secure and free from fake “evil twin” hotspots set up to catch your customers’ data.

This program has just been taken to the 2.00 version level and has had some key improvements added to it.

User-defined filters

An improvement that I am pleased with is the ability for the user to define filters that show up wireless networks that match or don’t match certain criteria. A good use of this would be to determine if any access points are using your SSID and not matching other criteria like security specification or BSSID (wireless MAC address) or RSSi (signal-strength index).

Other factors you can filter on include the access point’s vendor, whether it operates with 802.11n, whether it uses the 40Mhz “double-bandwidth” channels amongst other things.

Better views

There is the option to turn on a multi-colour legend view which will show up which SSIDs match particular coloured lines on the graphs. This is important in urban areas where there are many wireless networks in operation.

As well, there is the option to see a historical preview of various access point as a “sparkline” or mini-graph view when you select access points. This is useful when you determine filters based on relative signal strength or activity of particular APs.

Other functions

The same software can work with GPS devices like Bluetooth “pucks” or integrated GPS modules for mapping wireless networks. This can be useful for plotting out wireless coverage for an outdoor access point or hotzone or may be just useful for “wardrivers”.

Features I would like to see

One feature I would like to see is options to make it easier to identify and filter on a multi-access-point “extended service set” so you can identify the coverage of that wireless network or “smoke out” foreign access points. This could be catered for with security credentials that are held on the host computer, whether as part of Windows Zero Configuration for accessing the network, or as a separate local database and / or the visibility of a network’s Internet gateway as determined by IP address and MAC address from the access points.

This function could be augmented with the use of multiple Wi-Fi adaptors on one computer thus improving the monitoring of an “extended service set” or a multi-band Wireless-N network.

As well, it could be a good idea to port the program to Android and other smartphone platforms so that these phones can be used as a tool for managing the wireless networks. This could include support for data capture applications where the data can be uploaded to a PC for later analysis.

Conclusion

This program is an example of a free and easy-to-use network-management program that is being made more of a tool than a toy.

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New NETGEAR products for the home network

 NETGEAR Rolls Out HD Media Players, UTM and Powerline Products – SmallNetBuilder

My Comments

I have read the attached article and found that most of the devices had impressed me as devices that would work well in a home or small-business network. This was because of particular abilities that had made the devices unique rather than run-off-the-mill devices.

NeoTV network media players

NETGEAR NeoTV 550 network media player

NeoTV 550 network media player

This group of NeoTV network media players may be very similar to the other network media players  like WDTV Live that are appearing on the market. This is that they are capable of playing audiovisual media held on a USB memory key, camera card reader or external hard drive; or from a DLNA/UPnP-AV-compliant media server that exists on your network. But one of the models in this lineup, the NeoTV 550,  has eSATA connectivity and the ability to be a Blu-Ray Disc player when connected to an optional eSATA-connected Blu-Ray drive. This can benefit people who want to consider running this unit alongside their DVD player as a network media player but may take the plunge for Blu-Ray when they are ready.

At the moment, I am not sure whether this unit can work as a substitute DVD player if it is connected to an eSATA or USB DVD drive or a DVD is loaded in to a connected Blu-Ray drive.

HomePlug AV 802.11n access point

NETGEAR XAVN2001 HomePlug AV 802.11n wireless access point

XAVN2001 HomePlug AV 802.11n wireless access point

One device I am pleased to see on the scene is the XAVN2001 HomePlug AV 802.11n wireless access point which work like some of the 802.11g wireless access points that can connect to a HomePlug 1.0 Turbo segment. It is also available as part of the XAVNB2001 kit which includes the Netgear XAV2001 HomePlug AV-Ethernet bridge as well as this access point. Like these other access points, this unit plugs in to the wall and works as a bridge between an Ethernet segment and a HomePlug AV powerline segment as well as being an access point for a 2.4GHz 802.11n wireless network.

This device can work as a way of extending the effective radio footprint of an 802.11n wireless network with the use of an Ethernet or HomePlug AV wired backbone. On the other hand, it could bring an 802.11n wireless network and Ethernet network point in to an outbuilding or static caravan (trailer) in the manner talked about in my feature article “Multi-Building Home Networks”.

Quick extension-access-point setup with WPS

I had done further research about this access point through Netgear’s Web site and found that this unit uses WPS as a way of simplifying the creation of a multiple-access-point wireless-network segment. This kind of segment, also known as an “extended service set” makes use of multiple access points with the same SSID, network operating mode and security parameters so a portable device can move between access points with minimal user intervention. I have written a bit about the concept of using WPS as a way of simplifying setup of a small multi-access-point wireless network in an article I had posted last year on this site at its old location and had moved to the current location.

The user just has to hold down the unit’s ON-OFF button for a few seconds then press the WPS button on the WPS-ready wireless “edge” router to start the configuration routine. A few moments later, they are then able to move the access point to the area where the Wi-Fi network is needed and proceed to connect this access point to the Ethernet or HomePlug AV backbone which the wireless router should be connected to.

Conclusion

If more manufacturers can look towards making affordable and easy-to-use network devices, they can end up with equipment that will appeal to most users and have equipment that is out of the ordinary.

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Temporary “client-isolation” override for trusted network client groups on public networks – how about it?

Most Wi-Fi hotspots that are properly set up are configured to isolate client devices on the network that is available for use by the general public. This function, commonly known as AP-isolation or client-isolation is seen as a security measure to stop network users trespassing on to the computers owned by fellow network users.

But there are times when it is desirable for network users to interlink devices using the hotspot’s network infrastructure. For example, a person may want to transfer data between a laptop and another device such as a smartphone or digital camera. Another example would be for two trusted users who want to transfer data between each other or simply to play a network game over that local network.  This kind of client-isolation would make it harder to set up these kind of mutually-trusted network interactions in public networks.

You may think that the only solution would be to use Wi-Fi Direct or similar Wi-Fi-based “personal-area-network” technology. The main limitation with this technology is that it requires the device or trusted computer to be close to the laptop that is the “hub” of the “personal-area-network” rather than be anywhere in the scope of the hotspot network. This can limit activities like photographers and videographers downloading each shot or take to a laptop computer as they complete their shots or takes; or simply the fun of peer-to-peer network gaming.

One way of going about this could be to establish a so-called “trusted-group” protocol for devices in the same logical network and this protocol could be managed at the public-network’s gateway device. The devices could be registered by MAC address or use of a session-driven “trusted-group” key and, once set up this way, inter-client data transfer can proceed through the hotspot network. This could be set up through a management protocol that permits the creation of a trusted group and the addition of client devices to that group.

The creation of the “trusted group” could be integrated at the provisioning stage of one’s hotspot session such as when the disclaimer contract is agreed on or the username and password is validated in a docket-based system. The user would then be pointed to a session-management page where they can log out, buy extra time or add computers and devices to the trusted group.

The main limitation with this is that there isn’t a way to provide for hotspot provisioning to devices like smartphones, PMPs or handheld games consoles. These devices typically have a small screen and use either “pick-n-choose”, SMS-style  or an awkward-to-operate “virtual QWERTY” on-screen keyboard as their text-entry means. This may be of concern if one of these devices is being used to instantiate a hotspot session at a pay-to-use or membership-driven hotspot. This limitation would also make it more difficult to use one of these devices to set up or add devices to a trusted group and it would make it increasingly difficult to establish a local-network gaming session between a group of friends that are using handheld gaming consoles at a fast-food joint for example.

The IT industry could look towards answering this problem through use of UPnP or similar technologies for managing the provisioning of hotspot sessions to end-users and establishment and management of trusted device groups that override hotspot client-isolation setups amongst only the members of those groups.

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