Why the world of WiFi is as murky as the HiFi market

Subject: General Tech | March 6, 2017 - 01:42 PM |
Tagged: wifi, networking

Our own Sebastian Peak has delved into the nightmare world of testing WiFi, specifically MU-MIMO and explained some of the difficulties you encounter when testing wireless networks.  It is now Ars Technica's turn to try to explain why your 2.4GHz router never delivers the advertised 1,000 Mbps as well as how to test your actual performance.  As with many products, the marketing team has little interest in what the engineers are saying, they simply want phrases they can stick on their packaging and PR materials.  While the engineers are still pointing out that even the best case scenarios involving a single user less than 10 feet away, with clear line of sight will not reach the theoretical performance peak, the PR with that high number has already been emailed and packages are printing. 

Drop by Ars Technica for a look at how the current state of WiFi has evolved into this mess, as well as a dive into how the new technologies work and what performance you can actually expect from them.

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"802.11n was introduced to the consumer public around 2010, promising six hundred Mbps. Wow! Okay, so it's not as fast as the gigabit wired Ethernet that just started getting affordable around the same time, but six times faster than wired Fast Ethernet, right? Once again, a reasonable real-life expectation was around a tenth of that. Maybe. On a good day. To a single device."

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Source: Ars Technica
Author:
Subject: Networking
Manufacturer: eero

Living the Mesh Life

Mesh networking is the current hot topic when it comes to Wi-Fi. Breaking from the trend of increasingly powerful standalone Wi-Fi routers that has dominated the home networking scene over the past few years, mesh networking solutions aim to provide wider and more even Wi-Fi coverage in your home or office through a system of multiple self-configuring and self-managing hotspots. In theory, this approach not only provides better wireless coverage overall, it also makes the setup and maintenance of a Wi-Fi network easier for novice and experienced users alike.

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Multiple companies have recently launched Wi-Fi mesh systems, including familiar names such as Google, Netgear, and Linksys. But this new approach to networking has also attracted newcomers, including San Francisco-based eero, one of the first companies to launch a consumer-targeted Wi-Fi mesh platform. eero loaned us their primary product, the 3-piece eero Home WiFi System, and we've spent a few weeks testing it as our home router.

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This review is the first part of a series of articles looking at Wi-Fi mesh systems, and it will focus on the capabilities and user experience of the eero Home WiFi System. Future articles will compare eero to other mesh platforms and traditional standalone routers, and look at comparative wireless performance and coverage.

Box Contents & Technical Specifications

As mentioned, we're looking at the 3-pack eero Home WiFi System (hereafter referred to simply as "eero"), a bundle that gives you everything you need to get your home or office up and running with a Wi-Fi mesh system. The box includes three eeros, three power adapters, and a 2-foot Ethernet cable.

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Each eero device is identical in terms of design and capability, measuring in at 4.75 inches wide, 4.75 inches deep, and 1.34 inches tall. They each feature two Gigabit Ethernet ports, a single USB 2.0 port (currently restricted to diagnostic use only), and are powered by two 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi radios capable of supporting 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac. In addition, an eero network supports WPA2 Personal encryption, static IPs, manual DNS, IP reservations and port forwarding, and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP).

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Continue reading our early testing of the eero Home WiFi system!

CES 2017: D-Link Launches New Wi-Fi Routers and Extenders

Subject: General Tech | January 5, 2017 - 11:10 PM |
Tagged: wifi, D-Link, CES 2017, CES, 802.11ac

D-Link recently announced two new Covr branded wireless products that promise to blanket homes in Wi-Fi and eliminate dead spots. The Covr Wi-Fi System is a D-Link DIR-883 router and DAP-1655 extender kit while the Covr Powerline Wi-Fi System is a kit with two Wi-Fi equipped DHP-W730AV Powerline Ethernet adapters. The two kits are sold separately as are additional access points and powerline adapters to extend the network further.

The Covr Wi-Fi System will use a traditional hub and spoke setup with the extenders connecting directly to the central router. However, a promised future update will allegedly add mesh networking capabilities where the extenders can speak to other extenders allowing users to, well, extend the network further (at reduced bandwidth though) and/or improve spotty coverage.

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The DIR-883 and DAP-1655 support 802.11ac with MU-MIMO. Reportedly, the kit supports Qualcomm Technologies' Wi-Fi SON (Self Organizing Network) technology along with Smart Steering which boils down to technology that allows automatic load balancing between the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, traffic prioritization, and a single SSID that allows end devices to connect to whichever router or extender offers the best signal. The router supports 4x4 802.11ac and speeds up to 1733 MHz on the 5GHz and 800 MHz on the 2.4 GHz band while the extender supports 2x2 802.11ac with speeds up to 867 MHz (5 GHz) and 400 MHz (2.4 GHz). If it follows the same modes as the existing DAP-1665, it should support access point, bridge, and repeater modes though the specifications page does not detail this yet.

The benefit to this type of setup/kit is ease of use. In fact, the router and extender come pre-paired out of the box and while you can use existing wired connections as the backhaul to extend the wireless network for best performance, if you can't do that you can use repeater mode to extend the network without needing to lay new Ethernet or use MoCA/Powerline (at reduced performance). It is also a complete kit in that it comes with the router and access point(s) in the box.

Alternatively (or in addition to if you really want to get crazy with multiple extenders and adapters say in a multi-story or long ranch style home) the Covr Powerline Wi-Fi System is a kit that you can use to extend your existing wired home network to provide Wi-Fi (and wired Ethernet) to any location in your home with an electrical outlet. The specific adapters that D-Link uses (DHP-W730AV) each have two wireless antennas and three Gigabit Ethernet ports. Using Powerline AV2 MIMO technology (it can use any two of the three electrical connections, positive, negative, groud; whichever gets the best connection), the adapters are rated at speeds up to 1300 Mbps. (Note that you will see much less than this in real world speeds, and that this is the internal Powerline throughput number, and even if it was perfect (clean wiring, no interference, ect), it would be limited by the 1000 Mbps Ethernet ports and wireless connections. That overhead is needed though, because as you add additional powerline adapters, throughput is going to drop because the internet network is hub-like rather than switched.) D-Link claims the adapters offer roaming for devices, load balancing between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, and a simplified single-button security setup (though if possible you should manually create a network key rather than use the defaults).

D-Link Covr Powerline Wi-Fi System.png

The benefit to this kit is that you can bolt it onto your existing home network and/or simply pick your own router and switch if you want to unlike the other Covr kit. Using a wired backbone is also, at least in theory, more stable and performant than a wireless connection back to the router or worse an intermediary device (e.g. a true mesh setup).

As far as pricing and availability, the Covr Wi-Fi System and Covr Powerline Wi-Fi System will be available by Q2 2017 for $299.99 and $199 respectively.

Pricing seems to be okay for MSRPs and is certainly better than the $470 that D-Link wanted for the kit it announced at last year's CES! The powerline kit does seem to be on the expensive side to me but is not totally out of the ballpark of what I've seen. It is always good to have more options for home networking, and hopefully reviews will start trickling in as they get closer to launch.

Coverage of CES 2017 is brought to you by NVIDIA!

PC Perspective's CES 2017 coverage is sponsored by NVIDIA.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at https://pcper.com/ces!

CES 2017: ASUS Announces HiveSpot and HiveDot Mesh WiFi

Subject: Networking | January 4, 2017 - 07:40 PM |
Tagged: wifi, router, mesh, hivespot, hivedot, gigabit router, asus, 802.11ac

ASUS has just announced the HiveSpot and HiveDot Mesh WiFi systems, which both combine multiple access points into a single network. Any individual node could be configured as either a router or a repeater, but the system is designed around one acting as a router and the rest, repeaters. The main difference between the two models is the higher-end set, the HiveSpot, utilize an extra, 5 GHz band, running 867 megabit, that’s dedicated to communication between the access points.

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Because of this, the HiveSpot is listed as AC2134 while the HiveDot is AC1300, but devices that connect to this network will see two, 650 megabit bands in either case. What the HiveSpot will get you is higher performance (and maybe stability) should multiple devices be communicating with different nodes at the same time. With the HiveDot, the routers will be sharing the same bandwidth as the devices connecting to them.

ASUS wasn’t too clear about pricing in their press release, but CNet is reporting that they will be sold in bundles of three, which is the minimum for the mesh network. Three HiveSpot devices will carry an MSRP of $399 USD, while three HiveDots, $299. In other words, it will cost you $100 if you want the high-bandwidth, dedicated link between the nodes.

Coverage of CES 2017 is brought to you by NVIDIA!

PC Perspective's CES 2017 coverage is sponsored by NVIDIA.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at https://pcper.com/ces!

Source: ASUS

Intel will be absorbing USB and WiFi duties into the chipset

Subject: General Tech | November 10, 2016 - 12:17 PM |
Tagged: wifi, usb 3.1, Intel

Rumours have reached the sensitive ears of DigiTimes about the inclusion of USB 3.1 and WiFi chips on Intel's upcoming 300-series chipsets.  This move continues the pattern of absorbing secondary systems onto single chips; just as we saw with the extinction of the Northbridge after AMD and Intel rolled the graphics and memory controller hubs into their APUs.  This will have an adverse effect on demand from Broadcom, Realtek and ASMedia who previously supplied chips to Intel to control these features.  On the other hand this could lower the price AMD will have to pay for those components when we finally see their new motherboards arrive on market.  Do not expect to see these boards soon though, the prediction for the arrival of the 300-series of motherboards is still around 12 months from now.

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"Intel reportedly is planning to add USB 3.1 and Wi-Fi functions into its motherboard chipsets and the new design may be implemented in its upcoming 300-series scheduled to be released at the end of 2017, according to sources from motherboard makers."

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Source: DigiTimes

Google WiFi Bringing Wireless Mesh Networking to the Home

Subject: Networking | October 9, 2016 - 01:42 AM |
Tagged: wifi, onhub, mesh, google wifi, google, 802.11ac

Building on the company’s OnHub WiFi router program, the search giant will be offering up its own mesh WiFi network solution for home users later this year aptly named “Google WiFi.” Available in November for pre-order Google will offer single and triple packs of its puck-shaped smartphone controlled WiFi nodes.

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Google WiFi is a new product that takes advantage of an old technology called mesh networking. While most home users rely on a single powerful access point to distribute the wireless signal throughout the home, mesh networks place nodes around the home in such a way that the WiFi networks overlap. Devices can connect to any node and transition between nodes automatically. The nodes communicate with each other wirelessly and connect end devices to the router and Internet by taking the best path (least number of hops and/or highest signal strengths). This model does have some disadvantages that are shared with WiFi repeater solutions in that as much as 50% (or worse!) of the bandwidth can be lost at each hop as the devices use wireless for both communicating with end devices and the backbone to the router. The advantage though is that you need only find a power outlet to set up the mesh node and there is no need to run Ethernet or deal with Powerline or MoCA setups.

Fortunately, it looks as though Google has mitigated the disadvantage by including two radios. The circular Google WiFi nodes (which measure 4.17” diagonally and 2.7” tall) pack a dual band 802.11ac WiFi chip that can operate at both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Using the 5 GHz network for in room end devices (PCs, smartphones, game consoles, Rokus, et al) and the 2.4 GHz network to communicate with each other will help to eliminate a major bottleneck. There will likely still be some bandwidth lost, especially over multiple hops, due to interference, but it should be much less than 50% bandwidth loss.

Google WiFi Mesh.png

Each Google WiFi node features two Gigabit Ethernet ports that can be setup as LAN or WAN ports, Bluetooth, and an 802.11ac 2x2 WiFi radio with beamforming support. The nodes are powered by an unspecified quad core processor, 512MB DDR3L memory, and 4GB of eMMC flash storage. The nodes apparently draw as much as 15 watts.

Of course, being Google, the Google WiFi can be controlled using an Android or iOS app that allows the administrator to pause WiFi on a per-device basis (e.g. set time limits for children), monitor device bandwidth usage and prioritize traffic, and automatically apply firmware updates to mitigate security risks. Additionally, Google WiFi automatically configures each node to use the best channel and band to get the best performance that supports all devices.

The nodes currently come only in white and are constructed of plastic. There are blue LEDs around the middle of the puck shaped device. Google WiFi will be available for pre-order in November. A single node will cost $129 while a three pack will cost $299. Google is not first to the wireless mesh party but it looks like it will be competitively priced (the three pack is $200 cheaper than eero, for example).

This looks like it might be a simple to setup solution if you or your family are currently running a single access point that can’t quite cover the entire home. I don’t really see this as a product for enthusiasts, but it might be worth recommending to people that just want WiFi that works with little setup. I will have to wait for reviews to say for sure though.

What are your thoughts on Google WiFi?

Also read:

Source: Google

Can't WiFi and LTE-U just get along?

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2016 - 01:21 PM |
Tagged: wifi, lte-u, qualcomm

LTE-U, aka LTE in unlicensed spectrum, is a new standard originally proposed by Qualcomm which allows LTE signals to stray into the 5GHz band to allow faster data transfer over short throws without having to join your phone to a WiFi network.  It seems that the assumption is that users are to lazy or ignorant to have added their commonly used WiFi networks to their phones and so need this feature for convenience. 

There is the small problem of signal interference however, dual band WiFi uses the 5GHz spectrum and we are already seeing congestion on that band.  T-Mobile and Verizon claim that this extra traffic will not have any effect on WiFi signals and are already complaining about the thresholds they must honour, while Qualcomm seems to be trying to remain reasonable.  Tests are currently under way, under the monitoring of the WiFi Alliance, who have posted a technical paper describing what will be tested and how.  You can pop by The Register if you want to delve into the nuts and bolts of the current proposal.

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"Carriers, already under a spectrum squeeze, are hoping they can pitch their tents on Wi-Fi's campground, promising that LTE-U won't disrupt Wi-Fi. will play nice if there are Wi-Fi users around."

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Source: The Register

Faster WiFi is great but ... MegaMIMO 2.0; really?

Subject: General Tech | August 25, 2016 - 12:37 PM |
Tagged: MegaMIMO 2.0, wireless router, wifi, mu-mimo

Multi-In Multi-Out routers are a wonderful thing, not only are the routers far more tentacular than before, the technology also make our unwired lives better as Sebastian explained.  The only thing that could make it better is a bandwidth boost, which is what these researchers at MIT have been working on.  In an experiment involving laptop bearing Roombas they showed a increase of 330% in transfer speeds thanks to synchronized phases allowing multiple signals to be sent on the same frequency.  Pop on over to Slashdot to learn more about their research.

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"Scientists at MIT claim to have created a new wireless technology that can triple Wi-Fi data speeds while also doubling the range of the signal. Dubbed MegaMIMO 2.0, the system will shortly enter commercialization and could ease the strain on our increasingly crowded wireless networks."

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Source: Slashdot
Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Western Digital

Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging

Introduction

Western Digital launched their My Passport Wireless nearly two years ago. It was a nifty device that could back up or offload SD cards without the need for a laptop, making it ideal for photographers in the field. I came away from that review wondering just how much more you could pack into a device like that, and today I get to find out:

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Not to be confused with the My Passport Pro (a TB-connected portable RAID storage device), the My Passport Wireless Pro is meant for on-the-go photographers who seek to back up their media while in the field but also lighten their backpacks. The concept is simple - have a small device capable of offloading (or backing up) SD cards without having to lug along your laptop and a portable hard drive to do so. Add in a wireless hotspot with WAN pass-through along with mobile apps to access the media and you can almost get away without bringing a laptop at all. Oh, and did I mention this one can also import photos and videos from your smartphone while charging it via USB?

Specifications

  • Capacity: 2TB and 3TB
  • Battery: 6,400 mAH / 24WH
  • UHS-I SD Card Reader
  • USB 3.0 (upstream) port for data and charging
  • USB 2.0 (downstream) port for importing and charging smartphones
  • 802.11AC + N dual band (2.4 / 5 GHz) WiFi
  • 2.4A Travel Charge Adapter (included)
  • Plex Media Server capable
  • Available 'My Cloud' mobile apps

Packaging

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No surprises here. 2.4W power adapter is included this time around, which is a nice touch.

Read on for our review of the WD My Passport Wireless Pro!

Sharing is good ... until it starts eating your bandwidth

Subject: General Tech | January 29, 2016 - 02:32 PM |
Tagged: security, isp, wifi

ISPs have stumbled onto a new money making venture, renting out your wireless internet connection to third parties so that those companies can provide public WiFi to their customers.  Sources told The Inquirer that some ISPs already do this without informing their customers and that it will likely be a common industry practice by 2017.  Theoretically you are allowed to opt out but since your ISP may not have told their users they are doing this; how would the average customer know to request this be turned off?

This raises several concerns, especially here in North America thanks to our pathetic internet services.  Most users have a data cap and the ISPs have little reason to spend resources to properly monitor who is using the bandwidth, their customers or random passersby.  As well the speeds of most customers are low enough that they may see degradation of their service if numerous passersby connect to their WiFi.  Putting the monetary concerns to the side there are also serious security concerns.  Once a user has access to your WiFi router they are most of the way into your network and services such as UPnP and unprotected ports leave you vulnerable to attack.

Change the password your provider put on the router and consider reaching out to them to find out if you have been unwillingly sharing your bandwidth already, or if you might be doing so in the near future.

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"Companies are going to be selling a lot more public Wi-Fi plans over the next few years and it's going to be home Wi-Fi users who'll be the backbone of the network, according to analysts from Juniper Research."

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Source: The Register