In Wi-Fi They (Don’t Really) Trust

Sometimes, the biggest problem with the network is its very existence. Anytime something breaks, the fingers start pointing at the network. Database stopped responding? It must be the network. Client can’t access the Internet? Must be the network. Never mind that what the client can’t access is just their home page and everything else is working…

The problem isn’t so much that the network exists, but that it exists and most users, and even most IT pros, don’t understand it. Now we take that complex system that people already have a difficult time understanding and replace the simple Cat5 cable with… Magic? Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. For many people, wireless is a magical black box. Actually, it’s usually an opaque white box, but that’s beside the point. Things happen in it, but they can’t be seen and they are not easily understood. The explanations for how it works, or more likely why it doesn’t work, generally involve lots of vague hand waving motions and end with either blaming the client or the network, depending on which side you are on.

Now when something breaks and there’s nothing obviously wrong with the device people trust, it’s logical (from their perspective) to blame the thing they don’t understand. It’s known that it needs to be working for them to do what they want, so that must be what’s broken.

You can read the rest of my thoughts on this on the Aruba Airheads Community.

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How hard can it be not to install wires?

There’s a joke, “How hard can it be not to install wires?” (See this Dilbert comic) However, it’s a good question, so let’s think through this a bit.

Let’s say you are deploying a new wireless network. Maybe you had it thrown at you already purchased and delivered. You just get to implement it. What fun! Maybe it’s “just” an upgrade, so can’t you just swap things out?

Things you need to consider: What model are the APs? Do you have enough for coverage? More importantly, what about capacity?

To read the reast of this article, check it out over on the Aruba Airheads Community.

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My First Aruba Beacon #WFD8

Back at the beginning of October, I had the opportunity to be a delegate to Wireless Field Day 8. The Aruba Networks presentation was very impressive and they also were kind enough to provide all the delegates with a number of nifty items, including some Aruba Networks LS-BT1 BLE location beacons.

If you aren’t familiar with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), it’s an extension to the Bluetooth standard that allows for low power communications. This is the standard that provides the basis to create beacons and allows them to operate for multiple years using standard button cell batteries. Beacons are not the only devices out there that use BLE for communication, but those are outside the scope of the rest of this post, which you can continue reading on the Aruba Airheads Community.

Below is the video of Aruba’s location presentation, featuring Kiyu Kubo, Director of the Meridian Group at Aruba Networks.

Aruba Networks Meridian Stadium Applications with Kiyo Kubo from Stephen Foskett on Vimeo.

Kiyo Kubo, Director of Meridian Group, discusses the use of Aruba Networks Meridian location technology at Levi's Stadium. Use of beacons is demonstrated and security around the technology is also discussed. Recorded at Wireless Field Day 8 on October 1, 2015. For more information, please visit http://ArubaNetworks.com/ or http://TechFieldDay.com/event/wfd8/.

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RFC 7710 and Captive Portals

Portal

Are you captive in this portal?

I like to monitor the IETF mailing lists for new Internet RFCs that are published. Many of these are cryptic things like RFC 7675, Session Traversal Utilities for NAT (STUN) Usage for Consent Freshness. I’m not sure I even know what that means. There are some that do make sense to me. Most recently RFC 7710, Captive-Portal Identification Using DHCP or Router Advertisements (RAs) was published and caught my attention.

To find out why, you’ll have to read the rest at this post on the Airheads Community. :)

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A Strange, Unsolved WLAN Problem

I’m seeing strange behavior on the WLAN at one location. This location is one of many that are on the same controller and identically configured, save for AP locations and IP addresses. No other site is reporting this problem. Here’s my problem description:

Users report that many devices are unable to access “any site that requires a login”. From what I’ve seen, this really means most (but not all) SSL protected URLs. HTTP URLs work fine, HTTPS URLs timeout. This only happens on the open guest SSID. If one connects to the secured corporate SSID, everything works normally. Reports indicate that many, but not all devices are impacted. We couldn’t find a single Apple device that was impacted, but on-site staff believes it hits some of them, too. One of the staff owns an Android phone on which the problem is reproducible. I’m heading out there tomorrow with a suite of test devices to see if I can duplicate it with any of them. There is a possibility it only hits 802.11ac devices, but this is not the only 802.11ac site and it is the only one reporting this problem. I have connected with an 802.11ac laptop and had no issues. The 2.4GHz RF environment leaves something to be desired (and was the source of the Spectrum Analysis as Art post), but this problem also occurs on 5GHz. The APs are in FlexConnect mode, so I tried switching them to local mode and that did not change the behavior.

Does this sound like anything someone has seen? Any ideas what is going on?

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Spectrum Analysis as Art

SpecAn Art

Spectrum Analysis as Art

I was looking into a wireless problem and ran across this interesting view in 2.4GHz in my spectrum analyzer. Believe it or not, this wasn’t related to the problem I was troubleshooting, because the problem I was fixing also impacted 5GHz. However, this struck me as artistic. I see it as oceans, trees, and mountains. I believe it’s a combination of some sort of analog frequency hopper (the peaks in back), a narrow band frequency hopper that may not be bluetooth (the “trees”), and a hodgepodge of wireless networks, not all of which were on 1,6, or 11. I posted it on Twitter and quite a few people thought it was interesting and wanted a copy, so here it is. We had a little fun parodying Bob Ross, too.

In case you want the version straight from Airmagnet Spectrum XT, I’ve included that below.

As saved from AirMagnet Spectrum XT

As saved from AirMagnet Spectrum XT

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Cisco Live 2015, Antennas, & Mike Rowe

Last month I attended Cisco Live! 2015. I’m a big fan of this conference and always feel like it’s a great event. This year was a large show with around 25,000 attendees, well over 700 sessions, hundreds of vendors, and only four days to take in as much as you can.  It is summer camp for geeks, where we get to learn new things and talk to everyone we haven’t seen since last year’s conference.

The Keynote

This year’s conference was historic as the last Cisco Live with John Chambers as the CEO of Cisco. At the end of his keynote he brought out his replacement, Chuck Robbins. They said all the things you expect them to say, but we’ll have to see how everything shakes out with the changes this brings. After 25 years with Chambers at the helm, this is going to be quite the transition for Cisco. It will be interesting to watch over the next few years, but I’m optimistic that things will go well.

The Antennas

One of the more interesting things I was able to get a close look at is the new Hyperlocation Module for Cisco APs. It uses a new version of the WSM (WSM2, I believe) and wraps around the AP. They made a cool version of the module that allows you to see the antenna arrays inside.

Cisco Hyperlocation Module, Transparent Edition

Cisco Hyperlocation Module, Transparent Edition

The idea here is that with this array of antennas, they can determine the Angle of Arrival of a Wi-Fi signal. This allows a much more precise calculation of location and with these you can improve from the previous best case of about 3m of accuracy to about 1m of accuracy. That’s some pretty precise location information. Potentially more important, this will give more flexibility in design. You no longer will need to have APs all the way out in the corners of a building to get good location information. They also said that the module is where they do their research and try out new things before including them in the AP. There is an implication that they will try to get this technology inside the next generation of APs. Imagine if all your APs just had something like this built in. Designing a wireless deployment for 5GHz might naturally be a location capable design if you choose the right APs.

I also learned about a new patch antenna. The 2513P stadium patch antenna available from Cisco has 30 degree beam width and the 2566P patch has a beam width between 105 and 120 degrees, depending on the band. They wanted something in between so there is now a 2566D that has a 60 degree beam width. If you’ve ever worked with the 2566P, you know about dealing with the cables. There just are not many good ways to install that antenna in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The 2566D helps with that. The antenna will mount flush to the wall with the cables either going straight out the bottom or straight out the back. This gives you options for a much cleaner installation.

Cisco AIR-ANT2566D4M-R Antenna

Cisco AIR-ANT2566D4M-R Antenna

The Dirty Jobs

The conference ended with a closing keynote from Mike Rowe, who told the story of what led to the creation of the Mike Rowe Works Foundation. Mike started the foundation to provide scholarships to those who wanted to work hard and learn a skilled trade. He was very entertaining, but had a message that things are out of whack in the US when many people are out of work, yet jobs remain unfilled. Many of those jobs are from the skilled trades such welders, plumbers, and electricians. Jobs that don’t require a college degree, yet people are racking up huge debt from student loans for an education to get a job that may not exist. Mike Rowe seems like a down to earth guy and he’s leveraged his position to do some good work. You might consider checking out http://profoundlydisconnected.com if you like the sound of what he’s doing. You can also view his keynote online at the Cisco Live on-demand library (free account required).

I have more to say, but that’s enough for now. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference. In fact, I’m already registered!

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