You can have my Cognio card when you pry it from my cold dead hands

There is a group of WiFi Professionals (me included) that just can’t let go of their Cognio based products. With the Cisco purchase in 2007 (which ultimately manifested itself in the CleanAir product) we have seen a slow but steady decline of high-fidelity PC based spectrum analyzers. We’ve seen people try to compete in a variety of ways; with lower fidelity devices (Metageek) or with the high cost BandSpeed based product (AirMagnet Spectrum XT) but it’s not rare to find a wireless professional still lugging around an old laptop to use their Cognio based (AirMagnet Spectrum Analyzer, Cisco Spectrum Expert, or Cognio Spectrum Analyzer) CardBus Card. It seems unlikely that we’ll see a USB based Cognio product anytime soon (if ever) so I thought it was high time to figure something else out.

Option 1) For years many of the lager laptops from Lenovo (and even Apple!) have sported ExpressCard slots. By using an Addonics ExpressCard34 to CardBus converter, you can load the Cisco Spectrum Expert software on in Windows and your card works just fine!

Pros)

  • It works!

Cons)

  • It requires an ExpressCard34 slot on your PC.
  • There are several converters on the market. Some work, some do not. Make sure you get one that maps the PCIe bus, not the USB bus.
  • It’s bulky the whole card fits outside of the machine and it’s not very pretty.

Cognio adapter in an Addonics converter

Option 2) The Sonnet Echo ThunderBolt to ExpressCard34 adapter will allow you to take the above Cognio/Express card solution and map it to ThunderBolt compatible interface on your laptop. This means that any MacBook past the Early 2011 MacBook Pro (which I’m using) or any PC with a ThunderBolt compatible interface (many modern Lenovo machines) now have a cable-attached (important for flexibility) way to use their Cognio, PC-based Spectrum analyzer on new hardware!

Pros)

  • It works without having a built in ExpressCard slot!
  • It’s cabled so you can move/relocate the whole bulky assembly to the back of your laptop lid easily.

Cons)

  • It requires a ThunderBolt port on your laptop.

Big, but relocatable thanks to the cable!

It should be noted that both of these solutions will not work through a hypervisor (VMWare Fusion or Parallels, for example) and require direct access to the PCIe bus – this means running Windows natively on your hardware. You Mac users, this means BootCamp. It should also be noted that many people call ThunderBolt many things and there are several varieties of the bus. Make sure it’s not a DisplayPort only interface!

In short, if you’re still lugging around an old laptop just for this (or any other wireless CardBus based adapter), you now have a solution that’s cheaper than an new AirMagnet card and far less bulky than carrying around that crusty old XP machine. It’s time to upgrade!

Make sure it's ThunderBolt!

My wireless literally burns me.

WARNING: this post includes uncensored pictures of a potentially provocative area of my body. While not Rated R (or even PG-13) you are hereby warned to avert your eyes if you believe that you may be even mildly offended or worse, intrigued.

When I was younger I had a lighter leak in my pocket. Unbeknownst to me, lighter fluid leaked all over my upper thigh and by the time I realized it, I had a hand-sized chemical burn where my pocket normally rests on my thigh. After some time (and discarding an otherwise perfect pair of pants!) the irritation went away.

Fast forward to several years ago and I noticed a similar ‘irritation’ forming on both of my upper thighs underneath my pockets. Since I’m a fairly light skinned guy – not albino, but still pretty light and pretty susceptible to sunburns in general, I wrote it off as pocket irritation. I couldn’t find any reasonable rhyme or reason to the general pocket-sized redness and irritation that I was experiencing but didn’t pay it much attention. Being, what I consider a professional in my industry, I recently decided to ‘up my wardrobe’. As a reasonably tall fellow I opted for custom pants among other things and the particular pants that I received included a right-hand pocket-in-the-pocket that was a perfect fit for my wallet! (Follow me here) When I started wearing said new pants, I consistently kept my wallet in the small right pocket which had the side effect of keeping my left pocket as a perfect place for my phone! I started getting into the habit of keeping my phone in my left pocket even when I wasn’t dressed for work. Then one day I noticed, the light, even, and spread out irritation that I used to carry on on both of my upper thighs started getting really bad on my left side – immediately under where my phone fit and has completely disappeared on the right!

Now, I’ve been around the wireless industry for a while now and I’ve heard it all the way up to wireless gives me headaches, so I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but the skin irritation that has followed my phone (and cleared up where my phone no longer is!) has given me a good reason to re-consider the potential risks that may be involved in wireless networking. My phone has not gotten hot, so I’m left with assuming that the skin irritation I’m experiencing is being caused by nothing short of energy radiation burns (not radioactive, silly!). Maybe it’s WiFi, maybe it’s cellular, maybe it’s bluetooth? Does it matter?

Now, I’ve not been to a doctor to have my burns officially evaluated (trying to not get a ‘don’t stick your finger in your eye if it hurts opinion) but there is a clear correlation between the location of my phone and the burns and irritations I’m personally experiencing.

IMG_6008 FullSizeRender

Having said all of that, I’m curious what you, the reader thinks. What do you think about my burns that have clearly followed my phone? Are short-range, long term exposure issues real? I for one will be distancing myself from my device until my burns go away, and likely for some time to follow.

Outdoor 802.11ac – doing it right.

When you talk about seeing the proliferation of 802.11ac devices, most often it’s with regard to indoor devices or at least ‘under roof’ devices. Until recently, there have been very few options for putting 802.11ac outdoors. One of the very good reasons for this wasn’t because of environmentals (you can put an indoor 802.11ac Access Point in a protective enclosure), it was about getting enough signal to and from your clients to be able to see any actual performance benefits. Cisco just launched their 1572 outdoor 802.11ac Access Point and as you’d expect, it sports many features that make it ‘a cut above the rest’.

I’ve been fortunate enough to play with a unit for the past several weeks and there are two of these features that I’d like to highlight:

Feature 1) Radio performance: These things are loud. I think the phrase ‘hella loud’ is more akin to what is reality. At 30dBm transmit power in UNII-3 (here in the states, FCC), it’s significantly more than what you’d be able to get out of a typical indoor Access Point (usually caps at about 20dBm). This means that more power out gets a cleaner RF signal to your client which means better modulation, which means faster speeds. That’s only half of the story though. What stands out is that Cisco went the extra mile and dramatically improved the receive sensitivity of these radios. This means that the AP can hear the signal coming from the client more cleanly which improves the clients ability to talk faster and get off of the air sooner. In mobile clients, this is the end-game for improving battery life. When you couple both of these things with high-gain antennas, you get significantly larger cell sizes outdoors with the awesome byproduct of actually being able to *use* the AP from a distance.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 6.25.15 PMFor comparison, you can see a sampling of the receive sensitivity values from a competitors outdoor AP. All values represented in dBm. Don’t forget that 3dBm is twice the power so each 3dBm is the equivalent of doubling your receive sensitivity!

Feature 2) PoE out. This is one of the most commonly asked feature that I find lacking in other solutions and it’s a simple one. The ability to hang a PoE powered surveillance camera off of an outdoor AP or even a PoE powered switch gives you the flexibility to take greater advantage of the investment you’re expending on the installation anyway. In short, if you’re going to run power, make it more useful to your infrastructure and business needs than ‘just to support an AP’.

If you couple these features with the other general awesomeness of the AP including ruggidization, real spectrum intelligence, 4×4 transmitters and receivers for 3 spatial streams, Fiber and cable uplink options, and field upgradability makes this the outdoor 802.11ac Access Point that you wish you had.

Avaya Wireless is all about SDN

After hearing about Avaya’s wireless portfolio recently, I kept coming back around to a common thread that seemed so entrenched in the core of their solution – SDN. Admittedly I’m not a Data Center or Applications kind of guy, but Avaya has an interesting take on positioning their wireless portfolio. Instead of focusing heavily on a unique set of hardware specific features in their Access Points, they focus on a ‘module enabled’ Software Defined Network strategy. Paul Unbehagen, Chief Architect at Avaya accurately describes SDN as meaning something different to everyone.

At its core, regardless of vendor or implementation, SDN is meant to ease network administration and orchestration by way of software (the S in SDN). Avaya enables this by way of software running on their hardware to create Fabric Attach (FA) Elements. These elements use FA Signaling as a way of communicating amongst each other. These modules running throughout your network (on Avaya hardware) automatically discover and become a part of your FA Core through the orchestration suite.

Avaya does this across their entire infrastructure portfolio which includes their core products, edge switching, and Wireless Access Points. These components all orchestrate together to automatically configure and allocate resources in your infrastructure as needed. In one example, they showed an Access Point coming online and auto-registering using Fabric Attach and magically the requisite VLANs for the wireless infrastructure were automatically provisioned on the uplink switch. It’s clear that Avaya has invested significant resources in enabling this FA functionality including going as far as proposing Fabric Attach as a standard to the IEEE but their messaging is clear – when you run an FA enabled network end to end, it ‘just works’.

It was interesting in hearing the Avaya story in their own words including their addressing some of the more interesting corner cases:

  • Running an FA network without FA enabled devices being attached – this is supported using standards based LLDP TLVs but will likely require more effort than having the FA ‘agent’ running natively on your device.
  • Running Avaya wireless on a non-FA infrastructure – this is supported, but Avaya doesn’t bring anything special to that story that someone else doesn’t already do. This is an interesting scenario that could be positioned for transition needs.

In short, Avaya has taken a link-layer protocol, customized it heavily and allowed it to ask for network resources in an orchestrated fashion. It remains to be seen if this meets everyones definition of SDN and is somewhat predicated on the ‘controller bottleneck myth’ that seems so pervasive in the wireless industry. I, for one, am very interested in seeing where this takes us over the next several years. Addressing distributed challenges at scale (such as provisioning resources) is a problem that has been solved in the wireless space for a long time – do it centralized and scale from the inside out. I look forward to seeing how (and if) Avaya can leverage this FA architecture across multiple platforms and vendors to create the foundational panacea that SDN promises.

Drag racing the bus

Picture it. You’re a school district transportation engineer. You’re in charge of purchasing a fleet of new school busses for your district. The big ones. The expensive ones. The ones that will last you for the foreseeable future. So, you call up Bus Vendor A, B, and C and inform them that you’re in the process of selecting a fleet of new school busses. The following week each vendor dutifully delivers their ‘bus of choice’ to be evaluated. You then grab your intern, put him at the midway point of the bus from ‘Vendor A’ and take it for a spin! You see how fast it goes from 0 to 60. You see how it corners. People hear tires screeching from all over the city as you and your one other occupant sling this bad boy around town ‘evaluating’ the bus. You then repeat the same process for ‘Vendor B’ and ‘Vendor C’. You aggregate your data. You correlated your data. You make pie charts about your data. You do ROI calculations on your data. You do comfort analysis on your data. You do handling analysis on your data. You made your ‘educated’ recommendation and purchased a fleet.

Day 1 of school rolls around and the first thing your brand spanking new fleet of school busses does is immediately do the one thing you neglected to test: they loaded up with kids and trudged along at 20 MPH safely around town. You start getting complaints. They don’t stop well. They don’t handle well. They don’t get good gas mileage. They bounce all over the place and your district has to send 2,000 kids to chiropractic care because you didn’t evaluate the bus under the conditions it’s going to be used in. Instead, you took it for a joy ride. You drag raced it. The one bus that went the fastest with a single guy in it, you bought. When you deployed it, it broke because you didn’t test it using real world scenarios.

Please, don’t drag race your evaluation Access Points. Test them like you’re going to operate them. That way you get a realistic view of how they’re going to behave in the real world. Do your self a favor. Stop joy riding your vendors gear and put it in the real world to test it.

This blog inspiration courtesy of @florwj . Go follow him. He’s awesome.

-Sam

The FCC.

Here in the states, we have a regulatory body called the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). As it pertains to the Wi-Fi world, they tell us what channels we can use how obnoxious we can be (strength) in those channels. We have what you would consider to be a ‘blanket rule’ that basically states ‘within a given number of frequencies, you can do anything you want as long as you limit yourself to a maximum power’. A very intentional byproduct of these rules is the relatively low cost of WiFi components. Since we don’t have to submit everything we operate to the FCC for validation, we have no ‘validation costs’ to pass onto our end users. In short, the FCC, as a regulatory body imposes rules and restrictions on our use of wireless frequencies in the name of the greater good. This generally works very well, creating the ecosystem of ‘small cell’ give and take that we live in today. You are given the choice to make your own determination if analog video cameras, microwave ovens, X-Box controllers, etc should take priority or if your Wi-Fi should. Political challenges aside, we’re masters of our own domain.

So what happens when someone does something outside the norm? What happens when someone violates the FCC specifications? What happens when someone fires up 10 watt outdoor analog video feed in 2.4GHz and points it at the broad side of a hospital?

As it turns out, someone recently did just that. I was asked to assist with locating what was being detected as a whole bunch of analog video cameras that hogging up all of Channel 1 in 2.4GHz along the broad side of a hospital. As you could imagine, with a good 100 or so Access Points all excluding channel 1 (due to interference) from their channel plan, this meant that a two channel plan was all that was left (6 and 11). After much sleuthing, we determined that the signal was traveling well in excess of 10 city blocks! In my book, that certainly fit the bill for ‘obnoxious’. With more than a little hesitancy, I went to the FCC web page for complaints and filed one.

We're concerned with Wi-Fi Jammers.

We’re concerned with Wi-Fi Jammers.

Once my complaint went off into oblivion, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t expect to hear anything from them at all. Instead, a few weeks later, I got a letter in the mail with the usual FCC ‘devices must accept interference’ text that you’d expect from a Federal entity. I was heartened by the fact that I got a response however, and there was a ‘for more information call this number’. They offered, I did. The nice Federal employee took my call, listened to my acknowledgement of the letter, listened to my insistence the letter was insufficient, and listened to my complaint that there was something going on that the FCC clearly needed to get involved in. She thanked me for my time and stated that she would escalate my case. This was the last I personally heard from them.

I was fortunate enough to have some contacts near the building that we suspected was generating the noise. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, they informed me that a FCC field agent showed up asking questions. Shortly thereafter, the video camera signatures stopped being detected, the channel cleared up, and things got back to normal at my customer.

The point of all of this is that you do have a friend in the FCC. They’re not the most communicative, timely, or ‘feel good’ organization I’ve ever worked with, but if you have no other choice, and you can prove reasonably that there is a strong need for them to get involved with a neighbor that being obnoxious, they will. Start to finish, once I engaged the FCC, it took roughly 2 months to get back to normal. Don’t expect them to be quick. Don’t expect them to believe you. Don’t expect them to understand what you’re saying. Do be patient. Do be persistent. Do be kind. You don’t want to make a Fed angry.

Here are some good times to engage the FCC:

  • You can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that something beyond your sphere of influence is causing harmful interference to your Wi-Fi network.

Here are some good times to not engage the FCC:

  • Your ER department won’t buy new Microwave ovens
  • Your security team is installing analog video cameras
  • Your customers are bringing gaming consoles onto your property and using them
  • Your co-worker put a 20dBi antenna on a 200mW radio outside (although, this is a good way to get them called on you!)
  • You believe you have external interference, but don’t have a Spectrum Analyzer to prove it

If you need a Spectrum Analyzer, head on over to the MetaGeek folks and check out their Wi-Spy Mini or their Wi-Spy DBx for a good cost effective way to tackle interference issues. If they get too big, rest assured that Big Brother is out there – just a complaint form and a couple phone calls away…

Cisco releases new WLC UI, Changes default values (finally)

Cisco released WLC code version 7.6.120.0 which brings with it (among other things) a new User Interface for the 2504 WLC. When you use the new simplified setup, it also changes many of the default values that haven’t yet been enabled by default in the base code. The new default values are:

Aironet IE: Disabled
DHCP Address Assignment (Guest SSID): Enabled
Client Band Select: Enabled
Local HTTP and DHCP Profiling: Enabled
Guest ACL: Applied
CleanAir: Enabled
Event Driven RRM: Enabled
Event Driven RRM Sensitivity, 2.4GHz: Low
Event Driven RRM Sensitivity, 5GHz: Medium
Channel Bonding, 5GHz: Enabled
DCA Channel Width: 40MHz
mDNS Global Snooping: Enabled
Default mDNS profile: Add better printer support, Add HTTP
AVC (no Control, only Visibility): Enabled*
Management via Wireless Clients: Enabled
HTTP/HTTPS Access: Enabled
WebAuth Secure Web: Enabled
Virtual IP Address: 192.0.2.1
Multicast Address: Not configured
Mobility Domain Name: Name of employee SSID
RF Group Name: Default

*AVC stands for Application Visibility and Control. Control means remarking or blocking – for the purposes of the default setup, you’re inspecting only, Control is disabled and must be enabled manually. This also requires a current boot loader which should only be important if you’re setting up an older unit that’s been cleared.

You should note that to get these default values auto-set, you must use the new setup wizard – if you do the regular CLI setup of your controller, or if you just upgrade an existing controller without clearing it’s config, these are not set. You should also note that, for now at least, this only applies to the 2504 controller, not the 5508, WiSM2, 7510, 8510, or Virtual WLC platforms.

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