Wireless Networking Archive

Feature Article–Extending your wireless network’s coverage

This is an update of the article originally published on 11 August 2008 and has been refreshed to encompass newer technologies and equipment features that wireless-network equipment have.

Many of you who have viewed this blog have been looking for information about extending the wireless segment of your home network. Typically it may be to cover a large house or to gain wireless coverage past a radio obstacle like thick brick or stone walls, foil-lined insulation or double-glazing which uses metal-based heat reflection techniques. Previously, I have mentioned about using this technique to mitigate microwave-oven interference on the 2.4GHz band which 802.11g works on.

Most wireless-network equipment manufacturers have released repeater devices that catch the existing wireless-network signal and expose it in to the new area. Some of these setups work on a vendor-specific manner or may work according to standard WDS bridging techniques. But they all require the use of equipment compatible with each other, usually equipment supplied by the same vendor.

Other companies have released “wireless range extenders” which create a new wireless-network segment using a new SSID but bridge it to the existing wireless segment. This can be a point of confusion as you have to determine the best SSID to connect to at your client equipment and you don’t necessarily get the full bandwidth from your home network in this newly-created segment.

The “extended service set”

The method that I am going to talk about here is the establishment of an “extended service set” comprising of multiple access points serving the same network and using the same SSID and security parameters. All the access points have to be connected to a common wired-network backbone which is part of the same logical network; and the access points must be working on the same technology – the same 802.11 variation and operating mode (G-only, N-only, mixed mode, etc).

This method can be performed with access points or wireless routers supplied by different vendors, thus permitting the use of equipment which is suited for the job at hand. It can allow for use of surplus routers simply as access points as long as they are configured correctly.

This setup won’t work properly across networks that are set up as multiple subnets or logical networks. An example of this may include extending a wireless network between two business premises across the street or corridor where they are served by separate Internet services. If you do want to link the two different premises across the street or corridor, you may have to make sure there is a wired or dedicated wireless backbone connecting both these locations before you set up this kind of network.

The diagram below shows what a small network should be like when running an extended service set.

 

Extended wireless-network connection diagram

Connection diagram for the multiple-access-point wireless netwrok

Key Components

The network backbone

The wired-network backbone can work on any wired-network media such as a Cat5 Ethernet, HomePlug power-line, fibre-optic LAN, MoCA TV-aerial coax, HomePNA phone-line or a mix of these technologies bridged to each other. It can even work with a dedicated inter-building wireless backbone that may be used for larger properties or to join shops or offices that are separated by a street.

The network backbone can handle other network traffic from wired-network devices like servers, desktop computers and games consoles; and become the network’s local data path to the Internet. This is while it works as the backbone for the wireless “extended service set”.

You may have be lucky to have an Ethernet cable in your house if you had it “wired for data”. But most houses typically wouldn’t have this facility everywhere. The other technology that I have found to do this job equally well is HomePlug AV powerline networking which works over the cable infrastructure used to provide AC power to your lights and appliances. It can reach further than the existing building, which is a boon if you need to extend coverage to garages, sheds, cabins or other outbuildings or have Internet access in a caravan or campervan used as a “sleepout” or mobile office.

Access Points

These devices are the transmitters that bring the data from the wired network backbone to the wireless client devices and make up the extended service set.

You typically will have one such device in the form of your wireless router which is at your network’s Internet-network “edge”. The wired-network backbone used as part of this “extended service set” would be connected to one of the LAN ports on this device. If you use a wireless router with one Ethernet port for the LAN and that port is used for a desktop computer or similar wired-network device, you will need to expand the number of sockets by using an Ethernet switch. These will typically be a “dime a dozen” for a five-port or eight-port unit. There are also some HomePlug-Ethernet bridges that have a built-in four-port switch that are worth considering if you are setting up a HomePlug backbone.

Repurposing the old wireless router

If you upgraded your wireless router to a newer model, you will still have your existing router gathering dust. Similarly, you may have changed broadband technologies like moving from cable to DSL or from DSL to a next-generation broadband technology and your router’s Internet connection may have been served by a technology-specific internal modem or connection.

This router that became surplus to your needs can work as an access point but will need to be configured appropriately.

Here, you will need to disable the following functions:

  • DHCP server
  • UPnP Internet Gateway Device functionality (typically referred to as UPnP)
  • Dynamic DNS functionality (if used)

As well, you will need to set the LAN IP address to something that is within your network’s IP address range but preferably out of the address pool used by the current router. The reason you have to take care of this setup is because there needs to be only one device performing “network-Internet edge” functions such as DHCP in a network and this device should be the one at the logical network-Internet border.

Some of the newer routers that are sold through retail have an “access point mode” option in their setup Web page. This make the effort of setting them up to run purely as an access point a simpler task because it disables the DHCP, Dynamic DNS and other functions associated with an “edge” router at the click of an option.

When you connect this router to the wired backbone, you use any of the LAN ports to connect the backbone. Never use the WAN port on this router for the wired backbone. This may not be an issue if the router you are setting up is a modem-router where the modem is performing WAN functions or you are using a router that has the above-mentioned “access-point mode” and this mode makes the WAN port become a LAN port.

“3-in-1″ HomePlug wireless access points

There is an increasing number of wireless access points that work with a HomePlug or Ethernet backbone. These devices, such as the Netcomm NP290W / Solwise PL-85PEW and the Devolo dLAN Wireless Extender, are as big as a compact “wall-wart” power adaptor used to power most electronic devices from the mains and plug directly in to the power outlet. They bridge between a Wi-Fi wireless segment (as an access point or wireless client bridge in some cases), a HomePlug powerline segment and a Cat5 Ethernet segment.

These units come in handy if you need to extend a wireless network on a temporary basis or simply if a compact device can do the job better than a large access point. They would come in to their own when you are using the extension access point to mitigate microwave-oven interference in the kitchen or if you want to extend the home network to a static caravan where the teenage kids can use that iPhone or iPad.

But with these devices, you have to make sure that you use one of the wired technologies as the backbone. This means that you have to use them with your HomePlug setgment as the backbone and the Ethernet connection to link a device like a desktop computer, PlayStation 3 or a network printer to the home network; or connect to an existing Ethernet backbone and have the device create a new HomePlug segment as well as working as an access point.

Setting Up The Network

Configuring the access points

You will need to know the SSID and the WEP or WPA wireless security parameters that are operational for your network. These are the only factors that need to be common amongst all of the access points of the network. The reason that the SSID and security parameters are set to the same details is so that wireless client devices can roam between the different access points without any user intervention.

The radio channels for each of the access points have to be set differently to each other. It is a good idea to set the access point closest to the kitchen to Channel 1 if you have a microwave oven in that kitchen. This is because, from my research, most of the domestic-market microwave ovens work at 2450 MHz which is between Channels 8 and 9 on the 802.11g channel list. I had tried an experiment to see whether a microwave can upset a wireless-network “cell” that is tuned away from its operating frequency.

If the access points or wireless routers is a consumer model that was made in the last few years, they would be equipped with WPS push-button setup. Here, you would have to make sure that they don’t reconfigure the wireless access-point parameters when you invoke the WPS push-button setup function. There is usually a “Keep settings” option associated with the WPS setup menu/

This option will then allow you to use the push-button setup on the nearest access point to enroll your wireless client device to your home network.

Dual-band wireless networks

If you are operating a dual-band wireless network which works on 2.4GHz and 5GHz, you may have to create separate extended-service-sets for each band. These would have a different SSID for each band like “Network-Name” for the 2.4G band and “Network-Name-5G: for the 5G band. The security parameters are the same for each band; and you may want to run the 2.4GHz band as “mixed mode” and the 5G band as “N-only”. The advantage of this setup is so you can identify any weak spots that affect a particular band in your dual-band wireless network and is more applicable with the 5GHz band that uses a shorter wavelength than the 2.4GHz band.

Here, you could have the main router that serves most of the house being a dual-band dual-radio type, also known as a simultaneous dual-band unit. This can also apply to an access point expected to cover a large area. Then you could use single-band or dual-band single-radio equipment for providing any infill coverage on either of the bands.

The wireless client devices

There is no need to reconfigure any of the wireless client devices such as laptop computers once you have set up the network according to the above instructions.

You will see an improvement in network performance when you operate your wireless client devices in areas where you barely could operate them. The signal-strength bar-graph that is part of your wireless client device’s network management software will register a stronger signal as the client device comes in to vicinity of the access points.

Some devices may not support this automatic roaming behaviour properly and may require you to reselect the network when you move in to the scope of the better access point.

Conclusion

Once you have followed the steps in this article, you will be able to extend the effective coverage of your wireless home network or make your wireless network cover everywhere in your house even if it uses metal-based energy-efficiency measures or has thick brick or stone walls.

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Wi-Fi Alliance starts certifying tunnel technology for better wireless performance – PC World Australia

Articles

Wi-Fi Alliance starts certifying tunnel technology for better wireless performance – WLANs / Wi-Fi, wireless, networking, MediaTek, Marvell Technology Group, Wi-Fi Alliance – PC World Australia

WiFi alliance begins Tunneled Direct Link Setup certification, hopes to improve media streaming | Engadget

My Comments

The Wi-Fi Alliance have released a new certification standard for allowing better wireless performance amongst devices in a wireless-network segment. This standard, known as Tunnelled Direct Link Setup, allows devices that are authenticated with the same access point to transmit data directly to each other.

Allowing direct node-to-node connection after an access point establishes the connection to allow for faster data-transfer performance between clients on a Wi-Fi segment. This would also yield an improved quality-of-service for media streaming or improved latency for real-time gaming.

Not like Wi-Fi Direct where a device that is normally a Wi-Fi client is there to facilitate a network connection. This is more about establishing a direct best-case device-to-device connection rather than a via-access-point connection for a file transfer or media-stream method as a way of improving the data-transfer performance.

When a TDLS link is set up, the devices would form this link at the best abilities available to each other, such as higher speed, quality-of-service, power-saving practices or security compared to what the segment’s access point would offer. Similarly, the access point does not need to be upgraded for this functionality to take place.

The access point would still play its role if the client devices move further afield, thus repeating the data between the client devices. Similarly it would also fulfil network-bridging tasks such as linking to the wired backbone or the Internet service in the case of a Wi-Fi router.

This functionality would be part of newer Wi-Fi-network chipsets that would be deployed in newer computers and similar devices. It would be interesting to see how it works further once more TDLS-enabled devices are in the field.

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Improvements taking shape for better public wireless Internet access

Article

Wi-Fi Alliance Begins Certification For Automatic Hotspot Connection – SmallNetBuilder

My Comments

The Wi-Fi Alliance are taking proper steps to make the user experience for wireless-hotspot services more user friendly and secure. This is based on the “Passpoint” standard which covers logging in and a secure usage session.

It has been driven by wireless-broadband providers who want to use these hotspots and their wired-broadband backhauls as a data offload in busy areas. One key improvement is to implement WPA-Enterprise security with session-unique security parameters rather than the common WPA-PSK security which uses a common password.

The login experience has also been tackled through the provision of a consistent experience that isn’t depending on a Web-based form. Here, the credentials could be a username/password combination that is presented by the device’s native user interface, or credentials held on the device or in a SIM card.

This may open up hotspot access to headless or limited-display devices like digital cameras, car infotainment systems or handheld games consoles. But a question that could be raised is whether it could be feasible to have a group of devices seen as a logical network that can exist through the hotspot’s space. This issue may play in to setups like multiplayer multi-machine gaming amongst a group of teenagers or young adults in the same cafe or bar.

Another question worth raising about Passpoint is whether a venue is able to have control over its Wi-Fi access? This would be of concern with anyone in the food-beverage-hospitality industry who would rather that patrons who use the venue’s Wi-Fi are the ones who are buying food and drink or renting a room.

This function has also been extended beyond just logging in to the network and Internet service. A Passpoint setup has also had the ability to factor in application-level authentication needs like content access. An example of this application is the in-room movies service offered by nearly every hotel. Here they could allow a person to stream a movie to a tablet or laptop and view this anywhere around the premises such as the lobby lounge.

One risk that I see for Passpoint or any other “easy-setup” standard promoted by the Wi-Fi Alliance is that the same old situation will repeat itself. This is where Apple won’t implement the standard in their products or platforms even though they consider themselves the “super-cool” IT brand. I have seen this for myself with WPS where just about everything except a MacBook Pro or an iPhone will enroll with a Wi-Fi segment using this “push-button” setup routine.

These standards could be implemented not just with an operating system but also in a software form which is based around a program that can be loaded on to a device by its user and that such software is available through device platform’s app store without any need for the device to be jailbroken.

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Understanding WiFi DIrect

There has been the desire to see IEEE 802.11-based Wi-Fi wireless networking work as one of the many  way of interlinking computer devices without wires.

The standard and preferred practice with this technology is to implement an access point which all data in the wireless-network segment, which is typically connected to an established wired network or the Internet.

But there is a desire to link these devices in a safe and secure way without using a hardware access point or router as an interlinking device. This would lead to a “wireless personal area network” for devices like cameras, printers, network media players and smartphones.

What is Wi-Fi Direct

Kingston Wi-Drive and Android smartphone

The Kingston Wi-Drive in this setting is an example of what Wi-Fi Direct is all about

A Wi-Fi Direct setup requires software in a client device like a computer or smartphone to make it work as an access point using its software. This can be made obvious through a smartphone running a “Wi-Fi tether” mode where it works as a Wi-Fi router using its wireless-broadband service as a WAN.  Similarly, a mobile-NAS device like the Kingston Wi-Drive is effectively supporting this function through the use of its own Wi-Fi access point. Another example is a laptop computer running Inte’s “My Wi-Fi” software to bridge its connection that it has with a public wireless hotspot to an Internet radio in order to allow it to pick up an Internet broadcast stream.

The setup would require that the network be secured using a WPA2-PSK security protocol and is able to be set up using WPS “push-push” or PIN setup methods. They also use UPnP and/or Bonjour to set themselves up for their functionality at higher levels of the protocol stack. This can allow a user to find devices that have particular functions like file transfer, media streaming or printing and is exploited in smartphone applications as a means of rapidly transferring large file clusters.

A Wi-Fi Direct device can host current Wi-Fi-based client devices like most consumer network printers as well as other Wi-Fi Direct devices. As well a cluster of devices hosted by a Wi-Fi Direct device is considered as a Wi-Fi Direct Group. This can represent a one-to-one relationship or a one-to-many relationship with the Wi-Fi Direct.

Some devices like laptops running Intel MyWiFi can be set up to support a concurrent link to a Wi-Fi network such as a home / small-business network or a wireless hotspot while being able to maintain a Wi-Fi Direct cluster.

How to go about using Wi-Fi Direct

Wi-Fi Personal-Area Network concept diagram

If you intend to set up a Wi-Fi Direct group, determine the main computing device that is in the group. This could be a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone that has this functionality. On the other hand, you could use a DLNA-enabled network-attached-storage that supports Wi-Fi Direct as the main device if you are, for example, playing tunes held on the NAS to something like the Sony CMT-MX750Ni music system.

Then enable the Wi-Fi Direct functionality on this device and connect the other devices using WPS or a pre-determined WPA-PSK password key.

The range of this network will be determined by the radio range that the Wi-Fi Direct “master” device can provide; and this may be small for a lot of battery-powered devices like handheld games. Some devices that use a non-Wi-Fi connection like Ethernet or HomePlug may break off this connection if they are working as a Wi-Fi direct “master” device.

Increasing the relevance of Wi-Fi Direct

Wi-Fi Direct can be used in digital cameras as a way of uploading photos to a Wi-Fi NAS or a laptop or simply using a laptop’s Internet connection for providing photos to a social network. It can also work well as an alternative to Bluetooth for printing or media playout; as well as a wireless link to desktop peripherals like keyboards and mice.

The Wi-Fi Direct technology can then come in to its own with local multiplayer multi-machine gaming whether this involves laptops, smartphones, tablets or handheld gaming consoles. A game publisher could write a game to support a multiplayer mode over a local network as well as an online environment. This then allows one to “verse” an opponent in a game wherever they are without it costing money in data charges or dealing with the login requirements that a hotspot may throw at the potential competitors.

Similarly, if a device does support Wi-Fi Direct as well as a wired connection, it could support an “extended-service-set” function so as to cater for environments where there is a problem with Wi-Fi coverage in certain areas.

Conclusion

Once you know what you are doing, you can make Wi-Fi Direct devices work properly for creating “as-needed” Wi-Fi networks for differing applications.

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WPS-capable access points and multi-access-point networks

Just about every wireless router or access point targeted at the consumer or, in some cases, SOHO/small-business market is equipped with Wi-Fi Protected Setup, commonly known as WPS. The obvious part of this feature is a button on the router that instigates a quick and easy enrolment routine for suitably-equipped wireless network client devices.

Here, you would instigate the WPS setup routine on the client device, which may be as simple as starting Wi-Fi network setup. In all versions of Microsoft Windows since Windows 7, you would have your computer searching for wireless networks through the “Add Wireless Networks” routine.  But you may find that you have to select the target network you want to connect to in newer versions of Windows and click or tap “Connect” where Windows will prompt for the passphrase but will tell you that you can use the WPS button on your router if the network supports this. Then you would press the WPS button which begins to securely transfer the network credentials to the client device. In some cases, if you unpack a new router and plug it in to the wall, you may be determining a new WPA-PSK passkey for that router.

But you may be wondering how this will affect those wireless networks that have two or more access points that have this feature yet are set up to extend a wireless network’s coverage.

Last Saturday, I had an opportunity to set up such a network by repurposing a broadband router with this feature as an access point to extend a wireless network past a corrugated-iron wall to the back of a newly-extended house. Luckily the house was wired for Ethernet as part of the renovation, so the wired backbone of this “extended-service-set” was the Cat5 Ethernet cabling. But most of you may simply use a HomePlug AV powerline network as your backbone for a similar network.

Both the network’s main ADSL modem-router and the broadband router, which was floating around as a spare, were recent-issue units equipped with WPS. They were configured with different channels but the same ESSID, wireless-technology and security parameters and the broadband router was set up as an access point with its DHCP server turned off and itself existing on a fixed IP address that was part of the network.

I had discovered a problem with this broadband router where it reset the wireless-network parameters after a WPS wireless-network-setup cycle. But you need to check that the settings stay by going to “Advanced”, “Wireless Setup” or “WPS” options in your router’s / access point’s management Web page and making sure that options to keep wireless-network settings are selected after you configure the device with your network’s SSID and security parameters.

This means that WPS-equipped access points and routers are capable of working in the “extended-service-set” arrangement. It then means that you can enrol new Wi-Fi client devices like Windows 7 laptops, Android smartphones or Internet radios to your wireless-network segment using that idiot-proof WPS “push-push” method at the nearest access point to where you are setting them up at. Yet the multiple-access-point network still does the job of extending wireless coverage in to the dark spot while allowing you to move the laptop, tablet or smartphone between the access-points’ coverage areas without reconfiguring anything.

Note: I have updated the article originally published on May 2012 to added some extra notes about the WPS setup experience for versions of the Microsoft Windows regular-computer operating system released since this article was originally published.

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Now DLNA is officially part of the WiFi Direct personal network

Article

WiFi Direct and DLNA get friendly, make streaming media a little bit easier — Engadget

My Comments

Just lately, the media-streaming use case has been brought to the WiFi Direct personal-area network as a competitor to the Bluetooth A2DP / AVRCP media-streaming applications.

There is an important fact that any WiFi-capable DLNA device could be a client device in this network setup as long as the host computer or smartphone is WiFi-Direct capable and running DLNA-compliant media management software. This could mean that your Intel WiDi laptop could be set to play video on that Samsung Smart TV or music on the Sony CMT-MX750Ni without needing to use an established WiFi router or access point.

What I see about WiFi Direct is that it is effectively being run as an alternative to Bluetooth for the personal-area network or standards-based peripheral link. But I am not sure whether it will succeed due to heavy emphasis by industry on the use of Bluetooth for this application and little consumer promotion of WiFi Direct capabilities.

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Bluetooth Smart–What does it mean for Bluetooth devices

Article – from the horse’s mouth

Bluetooth SIG – "Bluetooth Smart"

My Comments

Bluetooth 4.0 Low Power technology, formerly known as Wibree technology has been put on the market this year. This technology is pitched more for “sensor/controller” devices that primarily provide data to another device; and are required to run for a long time on two AA batteries or a “button-style” battery. Examples of these devices include watches, heart-rate monitors, shoe-attached pedometers, door-window security sensors and the like.

These devices are being marketed as Bluetooth Smart devices and Bluetooth terminals like smartphones and computers that can work with these devices are marketed as Bluetooth Smart Ready devices.

A Bluetooth Smart device like the heart-rate monitor or door security sensor has to be compliant to Bluetooth 4.0 Low Power as a single-mode device and support GATT functionality. These devices cannot work with legacy Bluetooth devices that don’t support this standard.

Bluetooth Smart Ready is used to describe a Bluetooth device, typically a “hub” device like a computer or smartphone that works with these Bluetooth Smart devices. The Bluetooth Smart Ready device must have Bluetooth 4.0 enablement with GATT support. It also has to have a dual-mode low-energy Bluetooth transceiver and updatable software. This would typically benefit regular and mobile/embedded computing devices that work to a “platform” like Windows, MacOS X, iOS or Android. These devices can connect to the Bluetooth Smart devices as well as regular Bluetooth devices.

At the moment Apple has the Smart Ready devices  in the form of the iPhone 4S and the latest iterations of the MacBook AIr and Mac Mini computers. But this technology will be rolled out in to newer computers and Bluetooth modules. The Bluetooth Smart technology will be a point of innovation as companies develop the sensor devices and software for this newer hardware platform.

I would also see this as an improvement for Bluetooth keyboards, mice and controllers due to the idea of having these devices run on a pair of AA batteries that assure reliable operation for a long time without needing to be charged frequently.

It will open up the Bluetooth universe to a larger collection of devices, services and applications that most of us wouldn’t have thought of.

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My comments on the WiFi “universal range extenders” like the Netgear WN3000RP

Product Page

Netgear WN3000RP

My Comments

There has been some increased Internet publicity about Netgear’s WN3000RP “universal range extender” which is intended to extend Wi-Fi coverage in to a network’s dead spot. Devices like this one are billed as being able to work with any 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network segment such as an ISP-supplied “Internet-network edge” wireless router.

But these devices work in a particular manner that may cause problems with network use. Here, they work as a wireless client bridge to the existing network and set themselves up as a Wi-Fi access point that is its own “extended service set” or Wi-Fi network segment. Most of these devices will typically have an Ethernet connection for use with Ethernet-ended network devices like PCs, network printers or games consoles and work as a Wi-Fi client bridge for these devices.

What can go wrong

Positioning in the wireless network

There is infact a lot that can go wrong in setting up and using these devices. One issue is how the device is positioned in the master wireless segment that is to be extended. You have to locate these devices just off the fringe of that wireless segment in order to avoid unreliable service from the client devices on both network segments. Usually, you would have to keep an eye on two indicator lights – one which shows reception quality relative to the master wireless segment and one which shows the quality of the wireless segment created by the device.

Operation of Wi-Fi client devices

As well, users will need to make sure that their laptop computers, smartphones or other devices point to the SSID associated with the range extender. In the case of the Netgear device that is set up using WPS to the “master segment”, the SSID will be a combination of “master_segment_SSID” + “_EXT”; like “BIGPOND-1234_EXT” for a hypothetical Telstra-supplied Wi-Fi router whose SSID is “BIGPOND-1234”. Of course, the WPA security parameters will be the same as that for the “master segment”. It may also require users to make sure their devices “latch on” to the SSID that is strongest for the area they are in; which may be a problem with laptop computers running some desktop operating systems; or some network devices like some Internet radios.

Bandwidth availability and advanced Wi-Fi setups

Another factor that is also worth considering is that the data bandwidth available in this newly-created segment will be smaller that that available in the master segment due to the device working from a weaker point of the master segment. Of course, never expect these devices to offer advanced network behaviour like client isolation for use with hotspots or support for multi-SSID access points for example. With the latter example, these devices will only work with one of the SSIDs available from these access points.

WPS network setup

A key point of confusion that can occur with Netgear’s wireless range extenders is the way the WPS “push-to-connect” function works. These devices have one WPS button on their control surface, which handles associating with the “master segment” or associating with a client device on its own segment. When you set up the range-extender for the first time with a WPS-enabled access point or router on the master segment, you are meant to press this button on this range extender to start the WPS cycle then press the button on the WPS-enabled access point to complete the process. Then you enroll a WPS-capable client device on this range extender’s segment by starting the WPS-configuration process on that device then pressing the WPS button on this range extender. What can happen is that a person who is enrolling the client device could press the button on the range extender before starting the WPS-setup process on the client and this could make the device assume it is connecting to another master segment rather than enrolling the new client.

What could be done to make these devices better

Firmware that suits multi-function operation

Of course the current firmware with these devices prohibits using them as a “pure” Wi-Fi access point with a wired backbone to the network. This is although they work properly as an access point for the new segment with the Wi-Fi “master segment” as their backbone. Rather, I would prefer that these devices have a “multi-function” firmware in place which allows at least three operation modes: a wireless range extender with one wireless segment as the backbone and another covering the area; a wireless access point with a wired backbone; and a wireless client bridge serving Ethernet-connected devices.

Improved designs could use a hardware switch that selects between the operation modes. This can then lead to a logical foolproof WPS operation mode with the WPS button only used for enrolling client devices in modes other than “Client Bridge” whereupon it would be used to enrol with the master segment. The user would be required to set the unit to “Client Bridge” mode when the want to establish a wireless backbone, then set the unit to “Range Extender” mode for operation as a range extender with a distinct satellite segment.

Improved WPS operation

Similarly, these devices could have improved WPS-button logic such as a “long press” for setup with a master segment and a “short press” for client setup. This can avoid further operation complications due to someone who intends to enrol a client device causing these range extenders to “hunt” for new master segments and affecting access to the network by established devices.

Conclusion and my opinion on these devices

If I was to extend the coverage of a wireless network segment, I wouldn’t necessarily use the wireless backbone method that is encouraged with these devices. Instead I would use access points run off a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug AV) backbone. This would then make sure that there is the full bandwidth available across the coverage of the network

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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

Articles

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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