Wireless Networking Archive

20 Years of Wi-Fi wireless

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance Wi-Fi Alliance 20th anniversary logo courtesy of Wi-Fi Alliance

20 Years of Wi-Fi (Press Release)

My Comments

“Hey, what’s the Wi-Fi password here?”. This is a very common question around the home as guests want to come on to your home network during their long-term visit to your home. Or one asks the barista or waiter at the cafe “Do you have Wi-Fi here?” with a view to some free Internet use in mind.

“What’s the Wi-Fi password?”

It is brought about by Wi-Fi wireless-network technology that has become a major lifestyle changer over the last 20 years. This has been propelled in the early 2000s with Intel advancing their Centrino Wi-Fi network-interface chipset which put forward the idea of highly-portable computing.

Dell XPS 13 9380 lifestyle press picture courtesy of Dell Corporation

The laptop like this Dell XPS 13 – part of the Wi-Fi lifestyle

The laptop computer, mobile-platform tablet and smartphone benefited from Wi-Fi due to their inherently-portable nature. This effectively allowed for “anywhere anytime” online work and play lifestyle including using that iPad or smartphone as a second screen while watching TV. Let’s not forget the use of Internet radios, network-based multiroom audio setups and those smart speakers answering you when you speak to them.

“Do you have free Wi-Fi here?”

Over the years there has been incremental improvements in bandwidth, security and quality-of-service for Wi-Fi networks both in the home and the office. Just lately, we are seeing home networks equipped with distributed Wi-Fi setups where there are multiple access-point devices working with a wired or wireless backhaul. This is to assure full coverage of our homes with Wi-Fi wireless signals, especially as we face different floorplans and building-material types that may not assure this kind of coverage.

But from this year onwards, the new Wi-Fi network will be based on WI-Fi 6 (802.11ax) technology and implement WPA3-grade security. There will also be the idea of opening up the 6GHz wavebands around the world to Wi-Fi wireless-network traffic, along with having support for Internet-of-Things applications.

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

The Wi-Fi router – part of every household

The public-access Wi-Fi networks will be more about simple but secure login and usage experiences thanks to Wi-Fi Passpoint. This will include simplified roaming between multiple Wi-Fi public-access hotspot networks, whether this is based on business relationships or not. It will also lead to telcos using Wi-Fi networks as a method to facilitate complementary coverage for their mobile-broadband networks whether they use current technology or the new 5G technology.

What needs to happen for Wi-Fi is to see work take place regarding high-efficiency chipsets for Internet-of-Things applications where such devices will be required to run on a small number of commodity batteries for a long time. One requirement I would like to see for public-access Wi-Fi is the ability to create user-defined “secure device clusters” that allow devices in that cluster to discover each other across the same public-access network but other devices outside of the cluster can’t discover them.

So happy 20th Anniversary to the network technology that has effectively changed our online lifestyle – the Wi-Fi wireless network.

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WPA3-Personal security–What does this mean for your Wi-Fi network

Article

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

Expect the next-generation Wi-Fi network to have WPA3 security

What is WPA3? And some gotchas to watch out for in this Wi-Fi security upgrade | Network World

My Comments

Over the next few years, Wi-Fi routers, access points and client devices like computers and smartphones will be supporting WPA3 as a media-specific network security protocol.

At the moment, I will be focusing on the WPA3-Personal variant which is relevant to small networks like the typical home or small-business network. This kind of network security is also implemented in an increasing number of venue-based public-access networks in order to allow the venue owner to protect and authenticate the network and preserve its role as an amenity for the venue’s customers.

The WPA3-Personal network security protocol has the same method of operation as for a WPA2-Personal network. This is using a “Wi-Fi password” commonly known across all access points and client devices that use the network segment.

But it describes this “Wi-Fi password” as Simultaneous Authentication Of Equals rather than the previous Pre-Shared Key used in previous WPA-Personal implementations. It also affects how this “Wi-Fi password” is represented and encrypted in order to protect it against an off-site brute-force cracking attempt.

As well, each connection between the client device and the access point is encrypted in a manner unique to that connection.

The initial onboarding process will be typically based on the traditional password-entry method. But it will also implement Wi-Fi EasyConnect which uses a QR code or WPS-based push-button setup.

The Wi-Fi WPA3 security protocol may take years to become mature while a secure surefire codebase for client-side and access-point-side implementations is worked out. The initial codebase was found to have software weaknesses in the early Personal-setup implementation and is being debugged now.

A question that will be raised is whether an upgrade to WPA3 security will require new hardware for either the client device or the access point or if this can be performed using revised firmware that has the necessary software code. This may depend on whether the hardware uses a purely software-defined approach for managing its functionality.

There will be situations that will take place regarding existing equipment and WPA3-capable equipment. Here, a WPA3 client like a smartphone can work with an existing WPA2-compliant Wi-Fi network segment but not have the full benefits. Similarly, a WPA3-capable Wi-Fi network segment will need to be operated in a “transition mode” to allow existing WPA2-compliant client devices to connect. Again, this doesn’t provide all the benefits of a Wi-Fi network segment secure to WPA3 standards.

You can also work around this limitation by implementing two Wi-Fi network segments that have separate ESSIDs. One of these could be configured to work the current WPA2-Personal standard while the other is set up purely for WPA3-Personal. This practice may come in to its own if you have a Wi-Fi network using the latest standards while you maintain another using tried-and-trusted standards.

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NETGEAR to offer one of the first Wi-Fi 6 distributed-wireless setups

Article NETGEAR Orbi with Wi-Fi 6 press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

Netgear takes its Orbi mesh Wi-Fi system to the next level with Wi-Fi 6 | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR

LEADING A NEW ERA OF WI-FI, NETGEAR ANNOUNCES ORBI MESH WI-FI SYSTEM USING WI-FI 6 SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED FOR THE GIGABIT INTERNET HOME (Press Release)

Product Page

My Comments

As Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless networking comes to the fore, there will be a desire to see distributed-wireless-network systems that support this technology. Here it’s about being able to support many Wi-Fi client devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones along with devices that are designed “Wi-Fi first” including smart-home devices.

NETGEAR have started to refresh the Orbi distributed Wi-Fi system by making a new version that supports this new technology as part of the product lineup they are premiering in Las Vegas at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. It uses the separate radio backhaul that their Orbi system is know for, thus avoiding a dent in performance that can be brought about with systems that use the main “fronthaul” Wi-Fi segment for their backbone data transfer.

But it uses four data streams across the dedicated Wi-Fi 6 backhaul to allow high-speed high-capacity data transfer. It is in addition to four concurrent data streams on the 2.4GHz band and four concurrent data streams on the 5GHZ band for the client devices to use. The system is powered by Qualcomn networking system-on-chip silicon that allows for the higher data throughput.

It is expected to appear during the second half of 2019, primarily as an updated take of the RBK50 wide-coverage devices. A question that will perplex those of us who have an Orbi distributed-Wi-Fi setup is whether the existing Orbi equipment will work with the newer Wi-Fi 6 Orbi devices.

This is more so where smaller or specialised Orbi satellite modules like the RBS50 Orbi Outdoor Satellite unit or the Orbi Voice which is a combination of a satellite unit and Amazon-Alexa-driven smart speaker are part of your Orbi setup. Or you like the idea of “pushing down” existing equipment to secondary purposes so you get more value out of the equipment you own.

What is being highlighted is the idea of using Wi-Fi 6 as a future-proof approach for wireless local networking, including distributed- Wi-FI setups.

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Staff panic buttons to drive networks to handle the Internet of Things

Article

Ekahau Wi-Fi Pager Tag panic button

Emergency-alert buttons like this Ekahau Wi-Fi name-tag panic-button setup will be influencing network architecture for the Internet Of Things

The Hotel Panic Button Could Redefine Hospitality Networking | IoT World Today

My Comments

In some workplaces where staff work alone at night or other times where they are in danger, portable emergency-call buttons are often used. Initially they were the same size as an older garage-door opener but they are becoming the size of a pendant, badge or fob. As well, rather than these devices lighting up a separate alert panel, they light up a message or “throw up” a map with an indicator on a regular computer running building-security software to show where the danger is.

Initially, they were being positioned for very-high-risk workplaces like psychiatric care or the justice and allied settings. But other workplaces where staff work alone are seeing these devices as an important safety measure, usually due to various occupational health-and-safety requirements.

For example, hotels in the USA are moving towards having Housekeeping staff use these devices in response to workplace agreements, industry safe-work safe-premises initiatives or city-based legal requirements. But these systems are being required to work in conjunction with the Wi-Fi networks used by staff and guests for business and personal data transfer.

A device of the kind that I had covered previously on HomeNetworking01.info was the Ekahau Real Time Location System. This was a pendant-style “panic-button” device, known as the T301BD Pager Tag which had an integrated display and call button. It also had a setup that if the tag was pulled at the nexkstrap, it would initiate an emergency response.  I also wrote an article about these Ekahau devices being deployed in a psychiatric hospital as a staff emergency-alert setup in order to describe Wi-Fi serving a security/safety use case with the home network.

This application is being seen as a driver for other “Internet-of-Things” and smart-building technologies in this usage case, such as online access-control systems, energy management or custom experiences for guests. As I have said before when talking about what the smart lock will offer, the hotel may be seen as a place where most of us may deal with or experience one or more of the smart-building technologies. Also I see these places existing as a proving ground for these technologies in front of many householders or small-business owners who will be managing their own IT setups.

One of the issues being drummed up in this article is quality-of-service for the Internet Of Things whereupon the device must be able to send a signal from anywhere on the premises with receiving endpoints receiving this signal with no delay. It will become an issue as the packet-driven technologies like the Internet replace traditional circuit-based technologies like telephone or 2-way radio for signalling or machine-to-machine communication.

The hotel application is based around the use of multiple access points, typically to provide consistent Wi-Fi service for staff and guests. Such a setup is about making sure that staff and guests aren’t out of range of the property’s Wi-Fi network and the same quality of service for all network and Internet use cases is consistent throughout the building. Here, concepts like mesh-driven Wi-Fi, adaptive-antenna approaches, load-balancing and smart smooth roaming are effectively rolled in to the design of these networks.

Wi-Fi access points in the smart-building network will also be expected to serve as bridges between IP-based networks and non-IP “Internet-of-Things” networks like Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth Smart), Zigbee, Z-Wave or DECT-ULE. These latter networks are pushed towards this application class due to the fact that they are designed to support very long battery runtimes on commodity batteries like AA Duracells or coin-style watch batteries. There will be an emphasis on localised bridging and the IP-network-as-backbone to provide better localisation and efficient operation.

These systems are being driven towards single-screen property-specific dashboards where you can see the information regarding the premises “at a glance”. I would reckon that operating-system-native applications and, perhaps, Progressive Web App versions will also be required to use operating-system-specific features like notification-panels to improve their utility factor in this context.

As far as the home network is concerned, I do see most of these technological concepts being rolled out to the smart home with an expectation to provide a similar service for householders and small businesses. This is more important as ISPs in competitive markets see the “Internet of Things” and improved Wi-Fi as a product differentiator.

The use of multiple Wi-Fi access points to cover an average home being made real for a home network thanks to HomePlug wireless access points, Wi-Fi range extenders and distributed-Wi-Fi systems that will bring this kind of localised Wi-Fi to the smart home. Typically this is to rectify Wi-Fi coverage shortcomings that crop up in particular architecture scenarios like multi-storey / split-level premises and use of building materials and furniture that limit RF throughput. It is also brought about thanks to the use of higher-frequency wavebands like 5GHz as Wi-Fi network wavebands.

There will be an industry expectation to require access points and similar devices to provide this kind of “open-bridging” for Internet-of-Things networks. This is more so where battery-operated sensor or controller devices like thermostatic radiator valves and smart locks will rely on “low-power” approaches including the use of Zigbee, Z-Wave or similar network technology.

It will also be driven typically by carrier-supplied routers that have home-automation controller functionality which would work with the carrier’s or ISP’s home-automation and security services.

To the same extent, it may require “smart-home / building-automation” networks to support the use of IP-based transports like Wi-Fi, HomePlug and Ethernet as an alternative backhaul in addition to their meshing or similar approaches these technologies offer to extend their coverage.

In some cases, it may be about Zigbee / Z-Wave setups with very few devices located at each end of the house or with devices that can’t always be “in the mesh” for these systems due to them entering a “sleep mode” due to inactivity, or there could be the usual RF difficulties that can plague Wi-Fi networks affecting these technologies.

DECT-ULE, based on the DECT cordless-phone technology and is being championed by some European technology names, doesn’t support meshing at all and IP-based bridging and backhauls could work as a way to extend its coverage.

Such situation may be rectified by access points that use a wired backbone like Ethernet or HomePlug powerline.

In the context of the staff panic button use-case, it will roll out to the home network as part of a variety of applications. The common application that will come about will be to allow the elderly, disabled people, convalescents and the like who need continual medical care to live at home independently or with support from people assuming a carer role.

This will be driven by the “ageing at home” principle and similar agendas that are being driven by the fact that people born during the post-war baby boom are becoming older as well as the rise of increased personal lifespans.

Similarly, this application may also be underscored as a security measure for those of us who are concerned about our loved ones being home alone in a high-risk environment. This is more so in neighbourhoods where the risk of a violent crime being committed is very strong.

But I would see this concept work beyond these use cases. For example, a UK / European central-heating system that is set up with each radiator equipped with a “smart” thermostatic radiator valve that is tied in with the smart-home system. Or the use of many different control surfaces to manage lighting, comfort and home-entertainment through the connected home. This is something that will rise up as most of us take on the concept of the smart home as the technology standardises and becomes more affordable.

What is being highlighted is the requirement for high quality-of-service when it comes to sending “Internet-of-Things” signalling or control data as our networks become more congested with more gadgets. Similarly, it is about being able to use IP-based network technology as a backhaul for non-IP network data that is part of the Internet-of-Things but providing the right kind of routing to assure proper coverage and quality-of-service.

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5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi can complement each other

Article

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot press image courtesy of NETGEAR USA

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot – first retail 5G device

Why You’ll Still Need Wifi When 5G Is Everywhere, According To The Wi-Fi Alliance | Gizmodo

Wi-Fi Alliance: Wi-Fi, 5G will be complementary | FierceWireless

My Comments

There is some hype being driven by organisations defending the 5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi wireless LAN technologies about their technology being the only one for our connected lives.

Some existing devices use 5G mobile-broadband technology but connect to endpoint devices like mobile phones using Wi-Fi. Initially they are routers being deployed by mobile carriers as a proof of concept or for network trials while AT&T were offering a “Mi-Fi” for retail sale in the USA that implements 5G technology. At the moment, 5G hasn’t been rolled out in the form of a smartphone or a mobile-broadband modem that is integrated in or connected by USB to a host computer.

Both Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac and prior technologies) and 4G LTE mobile broadband have seen widespread deployment with each technology being seen by mobile users as offering a complementary role. Networks and equipment running the newer technologies (5G and Wi-Fi 6) will be backward compatible and offer a best-case approach to this compatibility. That is if both the network and end-user equipment run the same technology, the user gains the most benefit from what the new technology offers.

It has been identified that both technologies at their latest specification can complement each other. Here, 5G will earn its keep in the outdoors and in a mobile context while the Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) technology will earn its keep indoors. This is although public-access Wi-Fi networks will be seen by mobile carriers as a cost-effective data-offload tool.

Wi-Fi also has supporting technologies like WiGig and Wi-Fi HaLow. The former one will match 5G for speed but uses a short range equivalent to an ordinary room in the house, while the latter benefits from long range and power efficiency but doesn’t have the speed. Wi-Fi HaLow will then end up in the smart-home, smart-building, connected-car and smart-city application spaces where data throughput isn’t all that necessary. This is while WiGig will end up with virtual reality, augmented reality, 4G video and other bandwidth-intensive applications.

Then there is also the kind of spectrum available for each technology. Wi-Fi technologies primarily rely on unlicensed radio spectrum which makes them popular for households and businesses to deploy. It is in contrast to 5G which, like other cellular mobile telecommunications technologies, relies on licensed radio spectrum which the mobile carrier has to deal with the national radiocommunications authority organise and purchase a license to use.

There is also a trend regarding wireless-network equipment design where there is a software-defined approach towards the media-level components. This is facilitated with small-footprint high-capability computing power and can allow the same piece of equipment to honour newer standards.

Another factor that is never raised is the concept of the local network where data can be transferred between co-located devices at the same premises. 5G is really positioned as a wireless “last mile” setup for providing telecommunications and Internet service to the end-user. This is while Wi-Fi is intended primarily to work as a local network but is used to distribute a single broadband service to multiple endpoint devices.

What really is now seen is that the new 5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) LAN technologies can complement each other in a horses-for-courses manner.

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New nonenclature for Wi-Fi wireless networks

Article ASUS RT-AC5300 router press picture courtesy of ASUS

802.11ac? 802.11n? Wi-Fi Alliance stops with the jargon, goes with Wi-Fi 6 | Android Authority

Wi-Fi Alliance Simplifies Things With Version Numbers | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance

Wi-Fi Alliance® introduces Wi-Fi 6 (The Beacon blog)

My Comments

The Wi-Fi Alliance have decided to adopt a new nonenclature for the different main standards that Wi-Fi networks support. This  is in stark contrast to referring to each standard by its IEEE reference which can sound confusing.

It will be used in product marketing material and specifications sheets to refer to the effective “generation” that the router / access point or client device will support so one can know what is the expected “best” capability offered by that device.

But the device’s operating system or firmware will be able to indicate on devices with some sort of dynamic visual user interface the “generation number” the network connection will support. In the case of client devices like computers or smartphones, this will be to indicate the “best available” network expectation for the current connection.

Similarly, people and companies who provide a public-access Wi-Fi network can reference the kind of performance expected out of this network by using the “generation number” indicating what technology it would support. It could be use as a means to gauge the network’s suitability for handling peak loads such as, for example, a transit station during peak hours or a fully-occupied hotel.

802.11b Wi-Fi 1
802.11a Wi-Fi 2
802.11g Wi-Fi 3
802.11n Wi-Fi 4 Determined by Wi-Fi Alliance
802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 Determined by Wi-Fi Alliance
802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 Determined by Wi-Fi Alliance

A question that will come up will be is what way will the device indicate whether it is a simultaneous multi-band device or how many MIMO streams it concurrently runs. This will be of importance with Wi-Fi 4 / 5 / 6 (802.11n/ac/ax) devices that can work on two or more bands and have MIMO abilities but at differing levels of capability and performance.

Classic examples of this could be some low-cost access points and Wi-Fi extenders capable of working to dual-stream 802.11n on the 2.4GHz band known as N300 devices or mobile devices working on single-stream or dual-stream MIMO chipsets as part of battery conservation.

On this site going forward, I will be using the new “Wi-Fi generation number” along with the IEEE standard reference for describing the Wi-Fi network technology offered by a network device. It will also apply to describing minimum Wi-Fi standards particular to a networking situation that I write about.

For example, I may describe the Dell XPS 13’s Wi-Fi abilities as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) dual-stream to reflect the effective generation Wi-Fi supported by that Ultrabook.

At least this new nonenclature will be a barometer to indicate whether a Wi-Fi network is running new technology to allow it to perform properly.

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Are we going to expect more from distributed Wi-Fi setups?

Article

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

We could be expecting more from distributed-Wi-Fi devices of the NETGEAR Orbi ilk thanks to 802.11ax Wi-Fi and the Internet of Things

Distributed Wi-Fi: How a Pod in Every Room™ Enables Connected Smart Homes | Wi-Fi Now Blog

My Comments

The Wi-Fi Now consortium wrote up a blog article where we are to expect more from a distributed Wi-Fi installation especially in the context of Internet Of Things and the smart home.

One of the key drivers for this issue will be the 802.11ax standard for Wi-Fi wireless networks. This is intended to be the successor to the current 802.11ac but also is about high throughput and the ability for multiple devices to work at once from the same network. As well, it is expected to yield high-efficiency operation with an experience similar using an Ethernet network that uses a switch like when you have devices connected to your home network’s router via its Ethernet LAN ports.

According to the article, 802.11ax with its increased throughput is pitched as being suitable for newer broadband-service technologies like fibre-to-the-premises, DOCSIS 3.1 HFC cable-modem and 5G mobile broadband. In the context of the distributed Wi-Fi network, 802.11ax will be positioned for use as a wireless backhaul between the access-points and the edge router that links to the Internet.

But the article places an expectation on these access-point pods being installed in every room due to the increased number of Wi-Fi-based network-enabled devices connected to the home network. There is also an expectation that these access points will support Bluetooth and/or Zigbee as well as Wi-Fi thus becoming a localised network bridge for smart-home and Internet-Of-Things devices based on these wireless technologies. But I would place in the same scope Z-Wave, DECT-ULE and other similar “Internet Of Things” wireless technologies.

Previously this kind of functionality was offered through separate network bridges that interlinked a Bluetooth, Zigbee or similar-technology device to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet.

Such equipment was typically offered as an accessory for a smart-home device like a smart lock by the device’s manufacturer and you weren’t sure if this piece of equipment would work with other smart-home devices implementing the same wireless-link technology. Or it was offered as a “smart home hub” which worked with devices using a particular wireless technology and supporting certain function classes. But these hubs offered various smart-home controller functions including remote management as long as you were using particular apps or services.

This new approach could allow for an increased number of IoT devices in each room “talking” with the access-point pods and this data moves along the backhaul to the “edge” router for that “smart-home-as-a-service” setup. The article also sees it as allowing for an IoT device, especially one that is battery-powered, not to be part of a large Zigbee, Z-Wave or Bluetooth mesh thus leading to increased device reliability. I would also see it become relevant with setups that use technologies like DECT-ULE which use a “hub and spoke” topology.

For this concept to work properly, the network-bridge devices that interlink Zigbee or similar IoT wireless technologies to an IP-based network have to work independent of particular smart-home controller software. Then the smart-home controller software has to be able to work with any IoT-based device no matter which of these network bridges they are talking to as long as they are on the same logical network. This situation would be of concern with portable user-interface devices like remote controls that are likely to be taken around the premises.

Although this article is Wi-Fi focused, I would still see the wired network being important. For example, some house designers and builders are even wiring the homes they design with Ethernet whether as standard or as an option while the home is being built or renovated. As well, there is powerline networking based on either HomePlug AV500 or AV2 standards. Here, these wired-network technologies are still viable as a backhaul connection alternative especially if you are dealing with building materials and techniques like double-brick or sandstone construction, or foil-lined insulation that can slow down Wi-Fi wireless communications.

But could these wireless-network access-point “pods” be simply a dedicated device installed in each room? It could be feasible for a device that offers other functionality that benefits from the network to be an access point or one of these “pods” in its own right. For example, a network-capable printer or a consumer-electronics device like a home-theatre receiver could connect to an existing network’s backhaul but also be an access point in its own right.  In this context, a Smart TV installed in a lounge area further down the end of the house could become an access point or smart-home “pod” to cover that end area.

The idea has been proven in the form of the Amazon Echo Plus smart speaker which has a built-in network-bridge function for Zigbee smart-home devices. This is alongside the ability for it to be a controller for these devices in context with the Amazon Alexa ecosystem.

What is being put forward with the Wi-Fi NOW “Pod In Every Room” concept is the idea of a single logical network with a high-speed wireless data backbone and access-point devices serving all wireless networking applications for both regular data transfer and smart-home/IoT applications. As long as the approach is driven by common open standards without dependence on particular technology owned by one vendor, then there is the ability for this approach to multi-function Wi-Fi networking to work properly.

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Wi-Fi introduces a new way to onboard new wireless-network devices

Articles

Draytek Vigor 2860N VDSL2 business VPN-endpoint router press image courtesy of Draytek UK

A QR code and a configuration app could be the way to get your Wi-FI network going or add a device to that network

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance

Wi-Fi Easy Connect (Product Page)

My Comments

The Wi-Fi Alliance has released as part of its WPA3 update for wireless-networks security the Wi-Fi Easy Connect protocol for onboarding new devices to a Wi-Fi network segment. It will work with extant WPA2 network segments as well as newer WPA3-compliant segments which offers the chance for existing Wi-FI devices to support this technology. That is alongside the ability for device manufacturers and software / operating-system developers to meld it in to their existing products using new code.

It is intended for onboarding devices that have a limited user interface including onboarding Internet-capable “white goods” and “backbone” devices like fridges or heating / cooling equipment to your Wi-Fi network. It is currently being seen as an alternative to the push-button-based WPS configuration process for devices that don’t have much in the way of a user interface. For Android smartphone users, much of this process will be similar to using a printed QR code to “onboard” your smartphone to an existing Wi-Fi wireless network.

What is it about?

QR Code used on a poster

QR codes like what’s used on this poster will be part of configuring your Wi-Fi wireless network

The main goal with the Wi-Fi EasyConnect standard is to permit a device with a rich user interface like a laptop, tablet or smartphone running suitable configuration software to pass configuration information to other devices that have a limited user interface. This can be facilitated with an independent configuration app or function that is part of the device’s operating system. Or it could be to allow configuration through the access point using its Web-based management user interface or a management app supplied by the access point’s manufacturer.

In all cases, the software that looks after the configuration aspect is described as a configurator. Access points or client devices that want to be part of the network are described as “enrollee” devices.

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones will become part of your Wi-Fi network’s setup or device-onboarding process

It can be feasible for one device to assume the role of a configurator or enrollee. An obvious example would be a computing device like a laptop, tablet or smartphone being able to come onboard an existing Wi-Fi network then you using that same computing device to bring another device like a network-capable fridge on board. Or you could bring a Smart TV or set-top box on-board to your Wi-Fi network using Wi-Fi Easy Connect but it then has the ability to be a “set-up point” for smartphones or tablets who want to join your Wi-FI network.

There are different ways of “associating” the enrollee device with the configurator device but it is primarily about making both devices know that they are trusted by each other.

The main method would be to use a QR code.that is on a sticker or card associated with the device or shown on the device’s display if this display is of the bitmapped graphical kind or can connect to a TV or monitor. Then the configuration device would scan this QR code if it is equipped with a camera.

Another option that is put forward is to use a text string written on a card or shown on a display and this would be used for configuration devices not equipped with a camera. This kind of situation may come in to its own if you are running a configuration program from a regular computer that isn’t equipped with a functioning Webcam.

.. as will laptops, Ultrabooks like this Dell XPS 13 and tablets

The Device Provisioning Protocol standard that is what the Wi-Fi EasyConnect feature is based on supports the use of NFC “touch-and-go” or Bluetooth Low Energy wireless link as another way to interlink a configuration device and an enrollee device during the setup phase. Both these technologies could work well with smartphone-centric applications, wireless speakers, connected building-management technology and the like. But these haven’t been placed as part of the certification testing that Wi-Fi Alliance has for the EasyConnect standard.

Once the initial information is exchanged between the devices, both devices will establish a separate secure Wi-Fi link with each other. Then the configuration software on one of the devices will use this link to pass through the parameters necessary to allow the enrollee device to connect with the extant Wi-Fi network. The whole configuration data-exchange is secured using asymmetrical public-key cryptography with the public key obtained during the initial setup process. Then that device hunts for, discovers and connects to the newly-programmed network.

There is the ability to use this same setup with an access point to set it up to work with an extant network or to create a new network. The latter situation would most likely be based around accepting a machine-generated ESSID and password or allowing the user to enter an ESSID and/or password. On the other hand, the previously-connected Wi-Fi networks list that an operating system maintains could be a data source for configuring a Wi-Fi device to a particular extant network using EasyConnect.

From the FAQs that I had read on the Wi-Fi Alliance Website, the Wi-Fi EasyConnect protocol allows for a single configuration program to configure multiple enrollee devices at once. Here, it is to facilitate situations where you are onboarding many IoT devices at once or are creating a new Wi-Fi network with new credentials.

But it doesn’t support the ability to onboard a single Wi-Fi client device to two Wi-Fi networks at once like your main network and a hotspot / guest network. Instead you have to repeat the Wi-Fi EasyConnect procedure including scanning the QR code for each network you want a device to associate with. This is so you can have greater control over what networks your devices are to associate with, but it can be of concern if you have a separate Wi-Fi network segment with distinct ESSID (network name) linking to the same logical network such as when dealing with a dual-band network with separate network names for each band.

What needs to be done

Personally, I would like to see Wi-Fi EasyConnect configuration functionality baked in to desktop and mobile operating systems including Apple’s operating systems rather than be separate programs. This avoids the need to find, download and install separate EasyConnect apps from your platform’s app store or loading a computer or smartphone with too many apps. But it could encourage other software developers to build improved Wi-Fi EasyConnect configuration apps that may, perhaps, suit particular user needs like asset control in the business-computing context.

I would also encourage the idea of maintaining WPS-PBC push-button pairing as an alternative method to Wi-Fi EasyConnect for onboarding Wi-Fi devices. This is more so for those devices that have a limited or no user interface and the goal is to quickly onboard a device without a rich user interface like a printer to a Wi-Fi router or access point.

Similarly, the use of NFC or Bluetooth as a legitimate certification option for onboarding Wi-Fi devices has to be encouraged and underscored through the life of this standard. Here, I would prefer that smartphones or tablets equipped with NFC and / or Bluetooth be tested to be compliant with the NFC and Bluetooth aspects of this standard.

There also has to be the ability with Wi-Fi EasyConnect to onboard a Wi-Fi network device with a limited user interface to an enterprise-grade Wi-Fi network that uses individual usernames and passwords. This is important for “Internet-Of-Things” devices that will increasingly be part of these networks.

Conclusion

Wi-Fi EasyConnect leads to another way of onboarding a Wi-Fi network device or access point using another device equipped with a rich user interface and can apply across all small-network setups.

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Wi-Fi defines a new standard for distributed wireless netowrks

Articles

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

Wi-Fi now to standardise the operation of distributed Wi-Fi setups like the NETGEAR Orbi with the EasyMesh standard

A new Wi-Fi standard could let different mesh routers work together | The Verge

Mesh Wifi gear from different companies could soon work together | Engadget

Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wi-Fi EasyMesh certification aims to standardize mesh networks | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance

Press Release

EasyMesh Product Page

My Comments

Increasingly, home and small-business Wi-Fi users are showing interest in distributed-WiFi network systems that implement simplified configuration and hands-off optimisation. They consist of multiple access-point devices and use a Wi-Fi path or, in the case of a few systems, an optional wired-network path to provide a backhaul to the router that links to your Internet service.

People are showing interest in these setups as a simplified way to assure Wi-Fi wireless-network coverage across a large or multi-storey / split-level building or a building that uses materials and construction techniques that play havoc with Wi-Fi network coverage. As well, they don’t want to deal with devices that are difficult to set up or to have to remember which SSID to use for best coverage in a particular area.

To the same extent, those of us who have separate buildings on our properties like a cabin or converted garage may want to be sure we can gain reliable access to the Internet and network resources from these buildings. Some of the distributed Wi-Fi systems like the Netgear Orbi can support wired backbones which can work with a HomePlug powerline link or Ethernet cable strung between the buildings and this could bring seamless Wi-Fi network operation to these buildings.

But the current problem with these systems is that you have to create the system with equipment from the same vendor or, in some cases, implementing a particular chipset. This makes it hard for customers to mix and match equipment to create a distributed-WiFi system that answers their needs exactly.

There is also the risk that if a manufacturer abandons their distributed-WiFi product line and one of the units fails, customers can’t replace the faulty unit with a new one from a different vendor – they would have to scrap the whole system. The same situation also applies if a customer wants to use a unit that offers specific functionality such as a router with higher security, a modem router or a weatherproof access point.

Enter the Wi-Fi Alliance who have established a certifiable standard with a trademark for these kind of systems. This standard, known as the EasyMesh standard and is part of their device-certification scheme, is based on the IEEE 1905.1 protocol for small-network configuration allows for “mix and match” operation of a distributed-WiFi system.

A network based on the Wi-Fi EasyMesh standard can implement a backhaul based on a Wi-Fi wireless and/or a wired (Ethernet, HomePlug powerline, MoCA TV-aerial / cable-TV coax, etc) medium. As well, the devices can support a dedicated Wi-Fi backhaul segment with dedicated radio transceivers or use the same Wi-Fi segment used to serve client computing devices.

There are two classes of device that exist across an EasyMesh Wi-Fi network – a Controller and an Agent device. The Controller co-ordinates what is happening with the network and typically it can be part of the Wi-Fi router that is the network-Internet “edge” of your home network. But it can be software running in another computer or an access point. You can have only one of these in operation on the one EasyMesh network.

The Agent device is the access point that your client devices such as your laptop, tablet or smartphone link to your home network through. These will connect to each other and to the Controller using the Wi-Fi, Ethernet or similar backbone.

A simplified setup and device-onboarding process takes place in an EasyMesh network, with the device-onboarding process typically being facilitated through methods like NFC or push-button setup. The onboarding procedure will also be about learning the capabilities that the new device offers such as what bands it operates on and whether they can be used simultaneously or what Wi-Fi standard is being supported by that device. Of course, initial network configuration may be about determining the ESSID (Wi-Fi network name) and, perhaps, a user-chosen passphrase for your network.

Let’s not forget that the EasyMesh network implements continual self-tuning for each Agent AP node. This means that if you add or remove extra Agent APs or move them around, they adjust their operating frequency and signal strength themselves. It also applies whenever neighbours set up or modify their Wi-Fi-based home networks.

The Controller device then monitors the network for best performance and will have the network steer client devices towards access points that offer the best bandwidth. As well, the Agent access points report their measurements to the Controller device and each other to provide the self-tuning self-healing network.

The Wi-Fi Alliance stated that there is the possibility of implementing Wi-Fi Certified EasyMesh at a software or firmware level without any particular requirements as far as the hardware is concerned. This could appeal to vendors to implement EasyMesh in to existing devices as part of, say, a firmware update which is a practice that AVM have done to enable some of their Fritz series of home-network equipment for distributed-Wi-Fi operation.

But what do I see the Wi-Fi Certified EasyMesh technology lead to?

There will be the ability to supply distributed-WiFi equipment that offers better value to the home or small-business user. This includes the ability for manufacturers to supply equipment that targets particular niches such as VPN-endpoint Wi-Fi routers for business or weatherproof access points for installation outdoors. Manufacturers could even consider the idea of integrating “mesh AP” functionality in to client devices so these devices could effectively boost Wi-Fi coverage in to an area.

The technology will benefit ISPs, telcos and cable-TV operators who supply Wi-Fi routers, typically modem routers, to their customers as part of providing Internet service. Here, it could become feasible to provide a modem router with EasyMesh capability to their customer and allow these customers to purchase the EasyMesh-compliant access points that suits their needs through the ISP’s storefront or a third-party retailer.

There is also room for the vendors to continually improve on their products in many different ways without needing to worry about risks associated with designing for a proprietary setup. Here, the algorithms associated with network-performance management can be tweaked in a manner so as to carry that improvement across an existing EasyMesh setup.

At the moment, the Wi-Fi EasyMesh solution will primarily be targeted at simple small networks but there will be a call to evolve this standard to support Wi-Fi-based VLAN setups. This is more so to cater for “guest networks”, FON-style shared-bandwidth setups and IP-based telephony which will make use of these setups. Here, a setup that answers these needs may may have to cater towards replicating the multiple SSIDs and network setups these networks implement while shifting data from each SSID to each “data pipe” like the Internet or a VoIP service.

But I see the Wi-Fi EasyMesh standard leading towards the ability for householders and small businesses to make sure that their small network’s Wi-Fi segment is providing the right coverage to suit their needs.

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Wi-Fi Agile Multiband–What will it be about

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance

D-Link DIR-895L AC5300 6 stream wireless router press picture courtesy of D-Link America

Wi-Fi Agile Multiband will make better use of those dual-band Wi-Fi wireless networks

Wi-Fi Agile Multiband (Resource Page)

My Comments

A reality that is affecting how the Wi-Fi wireless local network operates is the increasing number of network-infrastructure hardware that can work simultaneously on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Add to this the fact that most Wi-Fi clients released in the last few years are able to work on both these bands.

But there is the issue of making sure these devices can provide the optimum throughput for whatever data you are sending to them. This can affect the setup process for network-infrastructure hardware where you have to be sure you are on the right channel for optimum throughput everywhere over your premises.

There is also the fact that you may want to make sure that your laptop, smartphone or other client device chooses the right band for the right application when you deal with a network that works across both bands. This would be more important where you have to use the least-cluttered band to assure reliable audio or video streaming or IP-based voice or video telephony sessions.

The Wi-Fi Alliance have launched a certified trademarked specification known as Agile Multiband to answer these situations.

What does it offer

A network access point or client that implements Wi-Fi Agile Multiband has the ability to monitor the service quality to determine the best connection opportunities available for that network.

Client and infrastructure devices in a Wi-Fi Agile Multiband network can steer away from congested channels and bands. This is a form of “self-tuning” which can take place even as the network’s environment changes.

In a multiple-access-point network, a Wi-Fi Agile Multiband setup can steer client devices away from

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

Even multiple-access-point networks will benefit from this technology

oversubscribed access points to those that aren’t loaded with traffic to access points that don’t have much traffic on them. This is also to answer the reality that home networks are heading towards the multiple-access-point path thanks to HomePlug-based access points and mesh-based wireless network kits.

All these options can answer the needs of both static and mobile client setups. This means that a Wi-Fi-capable printer or Smart TV can benefit as much from these features as a laptop or smartphone that is always moved around. It can also appeal to “transportable” clients like Smart TVs installed on easily-movable furniture or “all-in-one” desktop computers which are normally static but are moved on an ad-hoc basis.

Moving around a Wi-Fi Agile Multiband network will see minimal interruption for the network device’s user. This is because client devices can cache network encryption keys to facilitate a quick handover between different access points, something that will be important for IP telephony or AV streaming.

A question that needs to be asked thanks to the ubiquity of Wi-Fi wireless networks operating on the 2.4GHz band is how a Wi-Fi Agile Multiband network can address non-Wi-Fi interference on that band. This is a situation driven by microwave ovens, cordless telephone systems, Bluetooth devices and the like that work on this band and the use of these devices could cause temporary interference.

What Wi-Fi Agile Multiband is about is a step to assure increased reliability out of Wi-Fi wireless network segments and make better use of the radiofrequency spectrum available to them.

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