Most of us think of filling in our home network’s Wi-Fi dark spots where there is poor wireless reception or extending its range through the purchase of a wireless range extender. But these devices can be a headache to use and, as I have heard for myself when I talked with a friend regarding their home network, these devices are likely end up being returned to the store very quickly.
As well, when I advise someone on filling in that Wi-Fi dark spot, I recommend using an access point that connects to the router via a wired backbone i.e. Ethernet or HomePlug powerline.
NETGEAR and Best Buy has answered this problem by offering the DST package which consists of a NightHawk R7300DST wireless broadband router and DST adaptor. The DST name stands for “Dead Spot Terminator” which is about eliminating these dark spots in a home network’s Wi-Fi segment. This will also get rid of frustrations that Best Buy face with handling the number of wireless range extenders that come in as returned stock.
Here, once you have set up the Netgear DST router and given your Wi-Fi network segment its ESSID name and WPA2-Personal passphrase, you can simply plug the DST adaptor which is really a HomePlug AV2 simultaneous dual-band access point in to the power outlet in the area you need to expand Wi-Fi coverage to. Then you press the WPS and DST Sync buttons on both these devices to effectively transfer the settings to extend the network.
You could “revise” your network using the router’s interface and have these settings transmitted to the DST Adaptor. As well, you can separately purchase extra DST adaptors so you can cover that large house easily. The HomePlug AV2 segment created by this router can be used for other HomePlug AV, AV500 and AV2 devices but, as far as I know, you don’t have the ability to transfer Wi-Fi network parameters from the router to other HomePlug access points.
I would like to see Netgear offer this feature across more of their routers including the modem routers and offer these products beyond the USA. This feature can be augmented through manufacturers implementing nVoy in to their consumer and small-business networking equipment to allow for simplified network setup using the best network medium for the job,
As well, the Netgear NightHawk DST router supports up-to-date requirements like IPv6 dual-stack operation and the system supports operation up to AC1900 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet and HomePlug AV2.
It shows that it is feasible to have one-touch setup of multiple-access-point Wi-Fi networks and that there is a future in maintaining the concept of access points with a wired backbone as a way to assure Wi-Fi coverage across a home. Who else will come up with such a package. As well, it is a first for a major appliance chain to encourage a supplier to factor in HomePlug technology as a valid solution for a problem.
Synology is best known for their range of highly-flexible network-attached-storage devices but they have taken their first steps in to releasing network hardware, especially routers.
The typical Synology NAS is based on the “Disk Station Manager” or DSM platform which, like QNAP’s QTS platform uses user-installable apps to add extra functionality to these devices. Here, you can deploy these programs from Synology’s Web site via the NAS’s Web interface for a device that suits your needs, with some allowing the NAS to be that “office in a box” server for a small business.
Now they have released the RT1900ac Wi-Fi router which is based on the Synology Router Manager platform, a router-specific derivative of the DSM platform. There is the similar user-friendly graphic interface for the router’s Web dashboard that would be experienced with a Synology or similar NAS. As well, users can downolad and deploy apps that extend the router’s functionality to something that would be akin to other small-business routers or, more likely, the Freebox Révolution.
This is compared to a few attempts that Linksys and others achieved at router platforms that extend these devices’ functionality. One of these was to provide a mobile-platform-centric operation which wouldn’t work well with a heterogenous desktop/laptop/mobile/server operating environment where there is a desire to manage the device from a Web browser.
One of these apps is a VPN endpoint server so that you could run the Synology as part of a client-box or box-box VPN. It can work using the common VPN protocols including OpenVPN. Anothers of these is a RADIUS server that would earn its keep with managing wireless hotspots or enterprise networks with user-based access control. Oh yeah, secondary storage needs are taken care of courtesy of an SD card and a USB port for you to connect a thumbdrive or USB hard disk to.
There are expectations that the app platform can bring on extra functionality to this router such as different application-level gateways, VoIP servers, public-access wireless hotspots and the like. As well, it would be interesting to find out if Synology writes functionality in to the router’s software and their NAS unit’s software to have these device work tightly together, as well as supplying different routers that suit different needs and budgets/
Seagate has helped another manufacturer raise the bar for a consumer-grade router that has integrated storage.
Xiaomi had released to the Chinese market the Mi WiFi Router 2 with 6Tb storage on board. This is provided with a Seagate hard disk that is optimised for video-surveillance applications, with this hard disk able to handle continuous write operations and have a 1-million-hour mean-time-between-failure rate which leads to very high reliability. This is compared to most integrated-storage routers of this kind coming in with 1Tb hard disks typically optimised for regular computers.
The benefit that Seagate drew out was for storage integrated in an Internet-edge router is that the storage can serve as a waypoint for incoming and outgoing data especially if customers are using Internet services with not-so-good bandwidth. This is in addition to being an integrated network-attached storage for documents and media to be pulled up over the home network.
It could show that it is feasible to set up an integrated-storage router with today’s NAS-grade or surveillance-grade hard disks having capacities in the order of at least 4Tb. As well, using application-level gateways and other software can make these devices work as staging posts for such applications as cloud storage services, software updates, content delivery and the like.
As well, the higher-capacity higher-reliability hard disks are showing up as a trend that will affect how network storage is designed.
When a person signed up to “fibre-to-the-cabinet” next-generation broadband service in the UK, they would have to make an appointment with a BT Openreach technician to install their VDSL2 modem and rewire their telephone service. Here, you then had to make sure you had a broadband router with an Ethernet WAN connection on the “edge” of your home network which is something you would have to do for fibre-to-the-premises (all-fibre) setups.
Now BT and others are offering this service on a “self-install” or “wires-only” basis where they do the work with getting you ready for next-generation broadband at the FTTC cabinet only. You would have to buy your own VDSL2-capable modem router and microfilters to benefit from this service. This is similar to the current practice of providing ADSL in the UK, Australia and most other countries.
There are an increasing number of high-end modem routers available from most of the well-known home-network equipment names like Draytek, Billion, and TP-LINK. But the VDSL2 modem must work to UK standards which means that it would be a good idea to go to local online or bricks-and-mortar outlets to purchase that VDSL2-compliant modem router.
Bear in mind that some high-end ADSL2 modem routers that are advertised as VDSL2-ready may implement a software-programmable modem which can be set up to “do VDSL2”. Here, check on the manufacturer’s Webpage for a firmware update that opens this functionality and make sure this update is “fixed” to UK requirements.
As well, for anyone around the world who is benefiting from VDSL2-based “fibre-copper” services and having it on a “self-install” or wires-only basis, make sure that you are dealing with equipment or firmware that works to the standards supported by your ISP or infrastructure provider.
To start you off, consider the Draytek Vigor 2860N as a flexible VPN endpoint wireless router for your small business or the Billion BiPAC 8800AXL AC1600 wireless router as modem router ideas for your FTTC-driven home or small-business network.
I have come across most of the small wireless-broadhand Wi-Fi routers and most of them seem to offer the same functionality – working just as a wireless router for wireless-broadband services. But the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R201 has offered more than the typical device of its class.
This battery-operated device has a built-in microSD card and is able to work as a network-attached storage device as well as a router for wireless broadband. It can present the files via three different protocols – SMB/CIFS, HTTP or UPnP AV / DLNA for media files. The latter function is provided for by TwonkyMedia Server which is being integrated in to many network-attached storage devices.
It can be powered from AC power, USB or integrated rechargeable batteries but, due to its small size, it doesn’t have an Ethernet connector for either LAN or WAN (broadband) connectivity. An Ethernet connector being added to the device could allow the unit to become a NAS / wireless access point for an existing network or it could work with a cable or ADSL modem as a router. As well, it is dependent on the Wi-Fi network as the primary connection method.
The unit can work tightly with Windows 7 or with other operating systems and devices that support WPS, especially the PBC “push-to-connect” method. As well, the PSK passphrase for the WPA2 security setup and the SSID are unique to each unit, which makes for better security.
Another feature is that this particular “Mi-Fi” can work alongside the network-connected computers as an SMS send/receive terminal. This is done using a Web form that is part of the Web management interface for this device.
My comments about this device is that it would work hand in glove with a portable Internet radio like the Pure Evoke Flow that I previously reviewed as long as you have a generous data plan on the SIM card for receiving Internet-radio programs. This is intensified by you putting a microSD card full of music or a SlotMusic card (the microSD equivalent of the pre-recorded Musicassette) in this device and using the radio’s DLNA music-player mode to play the music files from the card.
As well, I would recommend that users who buy this device buy a USB car charger that plugs in to the vehicle’s cigar lighter in order to avoid compromising the device’s battery life when they use it in the car. This charger should have a standard USB socket on itself or a microUSB plug that fits the device.
By the way, it is worth noting that this router is now available in the UK and will be rolled out to countries that Vodafone does business in as a name.
The common situation is that most customers will end up buying many wireless-broadband-enabled devices over the years. First they will buy a smartphone, then they will buy a wireless broadband modem for their laptop or upgrade their laptop to a model with an integrated wireless-broadband modem. They will also end up buying an Internet tablet like the Apple iPad which has integrated wireless broadhand. This will become more serious as vehicle builders integrate wireless broadband in order to provide Internet-enabled services like Internet radio or always-live mapping.
Multiple service plans – one service plan for each gadget
Whenever this happens, the user signs up to one service plan per device, typically as part of a subsidised-device contract. Here, they end up with many different plans to take care of, which come with many SIM cards and different included-data allowances to take care of.
The carriers like the idea of signing up a customer to multiple plans no matter whether this yields one account or multiple accounts per user. As well device manufacturers like to integrate wireless-broadband technology in to their devices as a way of differentiating particular models in a device series.
But this can become unwieldy for most users because they have to keep track of their plan allowances and contract-available plans. As well, customers may end up using one device more and “burning up” its plan allowance then are on metered use or reduced bandwidth for that device. This may be OK for fixed locations where different usage patterns may occur. As well, there isn’t an incentive in the industry to allow customers to consolidate data plans for multiple devices into one “super plan” with one large allowance and this can penalise customers who are loyal to one carrier or want to have “all their eggs in one basket”.
Use of “MiFi” routers or tetherable smartphones across multiple devices
A MiFi (wireless router with integrated wireless-broadband modem), a regular wireless router that has support for a USB wireless-broadhand modem “stick” or a 3G/4G smartphone which supports tethering via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or USB could allow a user to share one plan across multiple devices that you own. The user could then be given the option to bind these devices to a high-capacity service plan so they could use the wireless-broadband service across many other Internet-enabled devices. Another advantage of these abovementioned devices is that they can provide Internet connection to devices like Internet radios that don’t have their own wireless-broadband technology.
For example, a battery-operated Internet radio like the Pure Evoke Flow that I reviewed previously or the Roberts Stream 202 can he linked up to a battery-operated “MiFi” device that is on a generous plan in order to bring the fun of overseas Internet radio in the same manner as a classic portable radio or boom-box. Similarly, a “MiFi” device can provide Internet connectivity a group of laptop computers used on a remote site.
Moving a SIM card between multiple devices
Another way of achieving this could be to buy wireless-broadband gadgets without being bound to a particular service, so you could move a SIM card between the different devices. This includes buying a prepaid USB modem or similar device on a deal where you can pay to unlock it later, perhaps by paying a modest fee. Then you use the service and unlock the device so you can move a SIM card amongst the different devices.
This practice can limit use of smartphones because the SIM cards in these phones are primarily to “present” the phone to the mobile network and connect it to its number.
This issue of users buying devices like notebook / netbook computers and iPad / tablet computers that are equipped with integrated wireless broadband connectivity will lead to user confusion when it comes to managing data plans and accounts. It will become an issue with wireless-broadband carriers and service providers as users want to consolidate their services in to one plan that they can think of without carrying extra devices or fiddling with tiny SIM cards.
There have been previous attempts to combine a network-attached-storage device with a broadband router but most of these have resulted in devices having the worst of two worlds unless you build a computer to work as this kind of device. Mostly you have a “storage router” which is a regular wireless “edge” router which can convert a USB-connected storage device in to a network-attached storage or a network-attached storage which can serve two networks and offer elementary routing functionality.
But LaCie have made a better attempt to bring the best of both worlds together. They have released the “Wireless Space” which is a NAS with integrated wireless-router functionality in a beautiful piano-black housing.
The network-attached storage can do what most single-disk systems can do such as offering integrated backup using operating-system-integrated backup functions that are part of Microsoft Windows or Apple MacOS X. Of course, files can be stored using the SMB or CIFS in a network-public share or a private share and the unit can provision media using UPnP AV / DLNA or Apple iTunes. One feature that I would like to know about with the UPnP AV media server is whether it can work with the full metadata for audio, image and video files or simply provide a folder view.
The unit can be set to work as a wireless “edge” router, a wireless access point or a wireless client bridge which provides for high flexibility, no matter whether you want to keep your existing broadband router going or replace it with something better. There are 3 Gigabit Ethernet ports for the LAN side of the connection and one Gigabit Ethernet port for the WAN (broadband) side of the connection, which makes this unit fit for use with “next-generation broadband” setups. The wireless network is based on 2.4GHz 802.11n technology and can use WPS quick-setup options.
When the unit works as a broadband router, it has the full expectation for a mid-range broadband router including UPnP Internet Gateway Device functionality and VPN pass-through. If it works as a switch, it can work alongside UPnP Internet Gateway Device routers to enable remote access to the network-attached storage resources.
It could have support for 4-port switch functionality when in switch mode rather than the 3-port switch + “recovery port” functionality that it has. As well, it could do well with support for WPS-assisted “extension access point” setup so it can work quickly and easily as part of an “extended service set”. Of course, I would prefer to hook this device to a wired backbone or run it as a wireless broadband “edge” router in order to avoid putting your data at risk due to the radio-interference risks associated with wireless networking and the fact that the wireless network is a shared-bandwidth network.
This may raise questions about this device being an “infill” NAS/access-point network device for a small network or being a replacement for an existing broadband router such as to “fatten the pipe” for next-generation broadband.
You may be in an area where the mains power cables are strung between poles and there are many trees alongside the cables, Similarly, your neighbourhood may use very old infrastructure for its mains power supply. As well, your electricity supply utility may be regularly engaging in “load-shedding” practices where it may reduce power to certain customers in order to avoid the need to generate extra power.
Sometimes, the premises that you are in may have very old electrical infrastructure that is undersized for modern needs and you may experience situations where the fuses blow too frequently. You may also have an appliance that is “on its last legs” so much so that it causes the fuses to blow or the circuit breaker or earth-leakage circuit breaker (safety switch) to trip when it is used.
In these situations, there is an increased likelihood of unreliable power and whenever the power comes back on, you may have problems getting your home network and Internet service up and running.
Equipment reset procedures
One task you may have to do every time the power comes back after a power cut or surge would be to reset the network-Internet “edge” equipment. If you have a modem integrated in to your router, like most ADSL setups, you may be able to get away with just powering down the router, waiting 10 seconds, then powering up the router.
On the other hand, if you have a cable modem, FTTH fibre-optic modem, DSL modem (including high-speed VDSL2 modems that are part of some next-generation broadband setups) or similar equipment connected to the broadband router via an Ethernet cable and powered by its own power supply, you may have to use a different procedure when resetting your network.
This is to avoid the common access-mismatch situation when you power both devices up at the same time. In this situation, the router attempts to gain network-availability information from the external modem while the external modem is trying to re-establish its link with the Internet service provider and it may not have that link established by the time the router needs it. This usually leads to the router using a “private network” or “Auto-IP” address as its broadband (WAN) address rather than the proper Internet service IP address.
You then reset your network using this procedure outlined below:
Disconnect both the router and the external modem from the power
Wait 10 seconds
Connect the external modem to the power
Wait for the external modem’s CABLE or other media-specific connection light to become stable
Then wait for the “service” or “Internet” light to glow steady.
Once that has happened, connect the router to the power
Wait for the router’s “Internet”, “Broadband” or “WAN” light to become stable. You should then have a stable connection by then
Some installations such as certain FTTH installations may have a separate modem located outside the house and you may not be able to reset that unit. Here, you may just get away with just resetting your router by powering it down, waiting 10 seconds then powering it up again.
After this, you may have to restart or reset network-attached storage devices and other equipment in order to make sure they know where they are on the network and they make themselves known to the rest of the network. This also means that you may have to either reboot your computers that were on or force them to re-obtain their IP address from the broadband router.
Use of an uninterruptible power supply unit with your network equipment
It may be worth using an uninterruptible power supply with the network-Internet “edge” equipment to keep the equipment working properly in an environment known for an unstable power supply. You may get away with the lower-capacity UPS devices like the APC Back-UPS ES series if you intend to provide this kind of power to the network-Internet “edge” and, perhaps, a VoIP ATA or cordless phone base station. This would be an imperative where the household phone service is provided by a VoIP service like the many “n-boxes” (Livebox, Freebox, etc) in France, or the newly launched iiNet “Bob” base station in Australia.
It is also a good idea to connect a high-capacity UPS to your network-attached storage device if you run one on your network. This unit can make sure that the NAS unit is managed properly through the power outages to avoid data corruption and hard-disk damage. Here, you could perhaps use the same higher-capacity unit also to run the network-Internet “edge” equipment or run this equipment on a separate low-capacity UPS.
You may deploy a UPS for your computer, perhaps to provide a graceful shutdown when the power goes down. Here, you would still need the separate UPS for the network equipmentin order to avoid competition for the reserve power that may be needed for your computer or server to complete a proper shutdown if need be.
When you know how to properly manage your home network when the mains power becomes unstable, you will be able to assure long service life for your equipment and “keep your head on” when these times come around.
Are you thinking of moving away from the single desktop PC or laptop connected to the broadband Internet via a single-port modem using an Ethernet cable? Are you planning to head down the path of the “new computing environment” where you use a laptop computer that you can take around the house yet still remain connected to the Internet? Do network-enabled gadgets like Internet radios or WiFi digital picture frames appeal to you?
If so, you will need to buy and install a wireless router and these can be purchased for a small amount of money, typically under AUD$110 or US$60. This may also appeal to people who may want to “equip” their young-adult child who is leaving the family nest with one of these devices as well as a modest-specification laptop to study and “Facebook” on. In fact these routers can help you with saving money in the long term on your Internet connection especially if you aren’t interested in a “single-pipe triple-play” communications service.
The advice provided here will differ over time as manufacturers “push” features down to the entry-level wireless routers as newer technologies and standards are introduced to the home network.
What does the entry-level wireless router offer
Broadband (Internet) / WAN connection
Most entry-level wireless routers offer a connection for a wireline Internet service on the “Internet” or “broadband” side of the connection. This typically is in the form of an Ethernet connection marked as “Internet” or an integrated ADSL2 modem. They will support the access-authentication-accounting protocols being deployed by most of the Internet service providers including the big names in the marketplace.
The Ethernet-ended “broadband” routers will be primarily useful for people who sign up to Internet service where you have to use customer-premises equipment supplied by the Internet service provider. Such services typically include cable Internet (whether through the cable-TV set-top box or a separate modem), some ADSL Internet services, “next-generation Internet” such as fibre-optic services, or wireless-broadband that isn’t in the form of a USB-connected modem. If you do want to use regular ADSL service with these routers, you would have to purchase an ADSL modem that can work as a “bridge” (in the case of “wires-only” / “BYO modem” service) or configure supplier-provided ADSL equipment to work as such.
Saving money on setting up your Internet connection
Most ISPs, cable companies and telephone companies offer wireless home gateway devices at highly-inflated prices and are often set up so you don’t have much control over the device. In a lot of cases that I have observed, you may end up with equipment that. for example, won’t work properly with Skype or MSN Messenger because it won’t support the automatic port-forwarding functionality provided by UPnP IGD that is common with nearly all of the entry-level routers. As well, I have observed cases where the ISP-supplied wireless home gateway simply provides substandard performance or unreliable service; or simply is “technologically backward”.
If you intend to set up an ADSL-based Internet service, you buy a wireless router with an integrated ADSL2 modem; as well as the correct number of ADSL line or wallplate splitters for each phone socket in your home. Then you subscribe to an ADSL plan with a “wires-only” or “BYO modem” hardware option where you supply the customer-premises equipment i.e. the ADSL modem.
If you are setting up a cable-Internet service or similar service, you just need to purchase a “broadband” router with an Ethernet port for the Internet connection. Then you have the ISP who provides cable Internet provide you a cable modem with a single Ethernet port rather than their heavily-promoted wireless cable routers. Your broadband bill will only reflect the cost of the single-port cable modem in the equipment tab.
Local network connection
The entry-level wireless router should have 4 Ethernet ports for use in connecting network hardware that uses Ethernet sockets. This also comes in handy with HomePlug powerline connections because you can connect your HomePlug-Ethernet bridge to one of these sockets and use the AC wiring as part of your home network.
Most of these units will have at least 802.11g WPA2 WiFi as their wireless connectivity, with some having 2.4GHz single-band 802.11n WPA2 WiFi providing this function. It may be preferable to go for a unit that supports WPS “quick-setup” connectivity so you can avoid frustration with setting up a secure wireless network. Some of these routers will use an integrated aerial while others will use one external aerial or, in some cases, two external aerials set up in “aerial-diversity” mode. The RF coverage for this network may suit the typical suburban house with timber or plasterboard interior walls based on a timber frame.
Most of these routers will offer UPnP IGD functionality which allows programs like games and instant-messaging programs to establish links to the outside network without user intervention.
An increasing number of these routers will be equipped with a USB port that can be used for sharing peripherals over the home network. The applications that might be made available with this port will typically be printer sharing or file-server functionality using standard protocols and some of these routers may offer the ability to share a wireless-broadband modem as an Internet connection. But beware of those routers that use the port for “USB-over-IP” peripheral sharing where you have to run a “USB-over-IP” driver on each computer. Here, you would be limited to one computer being able to use the device at a time.
These routers would suit households who are setting up their “new computing environment” with a laptop as their primary computer or are establishing their home network for the first time. This also includes people who may use a desktop computer connected to the unit via Ethernet and want to have a WiFi network segment for devices like electronic picture frames and Internet radios.
They may also suit secondary-home locations like holiday houses or city flats where you may not be doing much high-end Internet use like gaming.
If you do upgrade this router to a better unit, you can keep these units as a secondary wireless access point once you disable DHCP server and UPnP IGD functionality and allocate them an IP address within the same IP range as the router that you upgrade to has for the local network. Then you connect the router to the new network via the LAN ports. This can come in handy in the form of a dedicated WiFi-G (802.11g) network segment for a network that is moving to WiFi-N (802.11n) or simply as an extension access point for a WiFi-G network.
I wouldn’t recommend these routers as the network-Internet “edge” for small-business mission-critical use because of the inability to support high data throughput and mission-critical reliability. Nor would I recommend them for serious gamers who demand proper latency for their Internet fragfests.
Once you establish your first home network with an entry-level wireless router, you will wonder how you existed with the way you used the Internet before that.
What we are starting to see is the arrival of the “multimedia router” which is a device that is primarily targeted at the home and small-office user, the people whom this blog is written for.
What is this product class
This product class is a single-band Wireless-N broadband (Ethernet WAN) router with integrated multimedia playback functionality through an integrated screen and / or speakers. They have access to the popular online multimedia services and are able to play media held on local storage.
The screen in some of the devices also acts as a local “instrument panel” for these routers and if the device has a touchscreen, it could permit the device to have a local control panel.
They have come about because the cost of integrating these functions in the one shell has become very cheap and it has allowed manufacturers to differentiate their product range in a deeper manner.
Could this product class have a place in the broadband-router market
These devices may appeal initially as a novelty device but they could add an independent media playback device in the location where the Internet router would also go. This would typically be the home office or study or the back office of a small shop. In households where the phone is customarily installed in the kitchen or hallway, it could be feasible to make maximum benefit of these locations by locating these routers there alongside an Ethernet-ended DSL modem because these units could provide a picture display or “there-and-then” information display and, in the case of the proposed design, Internet radio in one box.
Similarly, even if another router like a VPN-endpoint router is on the network edge, these units can work as an integrated multifunction wireless access point that can be moved around the house.
What the device class needs
The first two iterations of this device class need to support DLNA-compliant LAN media playback so that media held on NAS boxes and media server devices that exist on the local network can be played through these devices. They could support DLNA MediaRenderer functionality as a controlled device so a PC or other device can become the control point.
They would also have to work well as an access point or as a router with a simple configuration routine for units that are connected to existing routers. They could support working as dual-band single-radio or dual-band dual-radio access points for those networks where a dual-band 802.11n segment exists.
These kind of features could be introduced in to this device class as more manufacturers introduce devices in to the class and the competition heats up. The previously-mentioned DLNA functionality could come in to play through a firmware update during the existing router’s service life.
Once this device class is developed further, it could be the arrival of a router that can acceptable be on show in that credenza in the home office.
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