Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wi-Fi Mobility Symposium, Live 25-Jan-2012

The Wi-Fi Mobility Symposium will take place on Jan. 25th, 2012 in San Jose, CA live and streaming on-line at the Tech Field Day website.

This one day event will bring together panelists from industry vendors developing the latest Wi-Fi technology with the larger community to discuss emerging solutions and provide a vision for the future. Stay tuned for a full list of panelists as they are announced prior to the event. Organized by the Gestalt IT crew of Stephen Foskett and Matt Simmons, and will be moderated by independent industry experts Marcus Burton and myself.

Tickets for free attendance will be available through EventBrite. Be sure to join the conversation on Twitter by following @TechFieldDay@SFoskett, @standaloneSA@MarcusBurton@RevolutionWiFi, and the rest of the Wireless Field Day 2 delegate and sponsor participants.

Topics of discussion will include:

  • Mobile Devices & BYOD - The appeal of the latest generation of smartphones and tablets is undeniable. Consumers are buying mobile devices in record quantities, replacing sales of traditional PCs and laptops, and becoming more tech-savvy than ever. And now they want that flexibility and ease-of-use in the workplace too. The industry is calling this trend the "consumerization of IT" and one thing is clear, enterprise IT departments have little say in the matter due to executive level sponsorship. Symposium panelists will present the challenges and opportunities with mobile devices in the workplace, and discuss solutions that allow IT departments to effectively enable workforce mobility without compromising corporate data security.

  • Hotspot 2.0 - Public Wi-Fi hotspots are predicted to grow at an astounding rate, quadrupling in number from 1.3M to 5.8M between now ant 2015 according to the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA). Due in large part to the growing demand for mobile data by consumers and the lack of available capacity on cellular data networks (even after LTE upgrades), Wi-Fi offload has become a key strategy for most mobile network operators. Recognizing this need, the Wi-Fi Alliance and WBA teamed up to create the new Wi-Fi Certified Hotspot program which promises to provide a cellular-like user experience by streamlining Wi-Fi network selection and access. Hotspot operators will also be able to leverage cellular or 3rd party credential providers to facilitate network access and to provide data security. Symposium panelists will present the business drivers for the next generation of Wi-Fi hotspots, and discuss progress made by industry participants to bring Hotspot 2.0 solutions to market.

  • Gigabit Wi-Fi - Speed is king. The desire for in-home video and multimedia distribution is growing as consumers increasingly adopt more dynamic time-shifted and location-shifted media consumption behaviors. Wireless networking is the preferred method due to its ease-of-use, ubiquity, and low-cost compared to wired network installation. Two separate standards are being developed to enable higher capacity and support for multiple high-def video streams: 802.11ac provides gigabit speeds for multi-room access and ensures backward compatibility with existing Wi-Fi equipment in the 5GHz frequency band, while 802.11ad provides multi-gigabit speeds at much shorter ranges but does not provide compatibility due to operation in the much higher 60GHz frequency range. Symposium panelists will present the benefits and development progress for both standards, and discuss use-cases within the home as well as enterprise environments.

Community discussion will be facilitated through live attendance as well as Twitter for those not able to attend in-person.

Supplemental material will also be provided through support from the Packet Pushers Podcast and the brand-new No Strings Attached podcast for Wi-Fi professionals!

We hope you will join us for this informative event on the future of the Wi-Fi industry!

Andrew vonNagy

P.S. - For a feel of what the Symposium is all about, check out the previous OpenFlow Symposium organized by Tech Field Day!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wi-Fi Article Round-Up: 2011/12/22

A recap of interesting Wi-Fi and IT industry articles from around the interwebs.

Author's Note
Since my last article round-up, Google has decided to completely gut the sharing features from within Google Reader, which includes notes, tagging of external articles not in your subscriptions, and lack internal sharing capabilities. Everything has been ported over to Google+, which is not nearly as useful. Therefore, an RSS feed of my shared articles is no longer available from my shared article feed (only historical shared items from before the change in November). I'm still looking for an alternative solution.

Wi-Fi Articles:
Wireless Tech Field Day 2 is coming this January, and we're adding to the mix with the Wi-Fi Symposium the day prior! Symposium topics will include the rise of mobile devices, BYOD, hotpsot 2.0, and gigabit Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi Mobility Symposium – San Jose, CA: "Wireless networks are everywhere, and mobility is the order of the day from the enterprise to the consumer space. Wi-Fi technology is changing as a result, and the industry will come together to present a vision of the future at the Wi-Fi Mobility Symposium!"
Speaking of gigabit Wi-Fi, consumers can expect products to emerge in 2012 with enterprises following in 2013.
Another milestone for 802.11ac and gigabit wireless LANs: "One-gigabit wireless LAN products should enter the retail channel for the 2012 holiday season thanks to the fact that the 802.11 working group concluded balloting on the proposed 802.11ac standard last summer, meaning enterprise-focused products should follow in 2013."
Wi-Fi market growth shows no signs of slowing down. Find out why from Kevin over at CWNP.
What happens in Wi-Fi after 2015? | CWNP - Enterprise Wi-Fi Career Certifications: "Three studies: Informa Telecoms & Media / Wireless Broadband Alliance, Cisco, and IDC. One conclusion: between now and 2015, Wi-Fi is going to explode."
Still skeptical of those reports that Wi-Fi hotspots will grow dramatically in the next few years? Carrier Wi-Fi is only one reason, retail Wi-Fi could be even bigger! Brick and mortar retailers can take back the momentum from e-commerce retailers by opening up that in-store Wi-Fi! Here's why:
The Smartphone and the Revival of Impulse Purchases: "nothing compares to the instant gratification of buying it in the store with the comfort that they have done their research and they are getting a good price. The price doesn’t have to be the same as lowest online price - it just has to be close enough to offset the additional value the consumer receives from buying their products within the store, such as taking the product home with them immediately as opposed to waiting, and having the ability to easily return the product to the physical store if they need to instead of shipping it back to the online retailer."
Also check out my article on 5 Retail Trends Driving Wi-Fi while you're at it.
Ruckus Wireless released ChannelFly, joining the crowd in automatic and [dare I say] intelligent Wi-Fi channel selection... with a twist. Instead of passively listening to channels, Ruckus claims a better method is to actively measure performance with live clients to determine the optimal channel for operation. I'll reserve judgement until I see it in action (hopefully at Wireless Field Day 2).
Ruckus joins real-time wireless channel selection fray: "Ruckus access points enabled with ChannelFly use the dynamic frequency selection [DFS] feature of the 802.11h IEEE standard to bring wireless clients with them as they migrate from one Wi-Fi channel to another to perform real-time wireless channel selection analysis."
Any engineer can relate to this article. A fictional short-story on falsely accusing the network infrastructure for application problems!
Falsely Accused: The Wireless Controller Story - Your NCI: "This is another tragic case of the victim turning out to be our perp. Once we started looking at the evidence, it was clear that the WLAN controller was being falsely accused. After that, it was a simple matter of following the evidence back to the victim."
This Cisco newsroom release proposes using public VPNs as a solution to insecure Wi-Fi hotspot access. This is bad advice which is backwards-facing rather than forward-looking. Mobile access today requires an excellent user experience, and VPNs are not the solution. Secure hotspots are, which is why I find this article strange. Is the writer not aware of Cisco's efforts in carrier Wi-Fi and Hotspot 2.0 solutions?
Reducing the Risks of Public Wi-Fi - The Network: Cisco's Technology News Site: "One solution is to have corporate users connect to public Wi-Fi networks using public VPNs. These are less secure than corporate VPNs since they provide encryption only from the device to the service provider, not all the way through to the corporate network. But they do protect the most vulnerable zone, the Wi-Fi link and associated local area network."

IT Industry Articles:
A fascinating story on the history of Silicon Valley!
The Secret History of Silicon Valley » ÆtherCzar: "Entrepreneur Steven Gary Blank delivers an outstanding lecture on “The Secret History of Silicon Valley.” The story is in large part how Frederick Terman invented the culture of entrepreneurship at Stanford and Silicon Valley in the aftermath of World War II."
Why should we love a company or their products? Because they differentiate and are "evangelistic" about their products.
Why I Don’t Love Your Company Or Your Products. | In Search of Tech: "There is no differentiation from everyone else. There is nothing special about them. Their marketing stinks. Their ability to execute stinks. All they can do is jump up and down like a spoiled little child demanding that you notice them, but when you do take time to notice them, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about them."
Other Great Articles:
Forbes dives into why large companies lose great talent. It's not all about the money, it's about igniting their talent with exciting work and empowering employees to innovate.
Top Ten Reasons Why Large Companies Fail To Keep Their Best Talent - Forbes: "large established companies have a tremendous advantage in retaining their top talent and don’t. I’ve seen the good and the bad things that large companies do in relation to talent management. Here’s my Top Ten list of what large companies do to lose their top talent"
Follow that by reading this article from the Corporate Executive Board on the bleak outlook for employee retention and what IT organizations need to do to about it
CEB Tech Views » A Bleak Outlook for IT Employee Retention: "Only 25% of IT employees show a strong inclination to stay with their current employers and the number continues to fall. In response, IT leaders must take another look at the how they attract and retain key employees"

Comic for the Week:
I'm becoming a HUGE fan of the 1.00 FTE webcomic!

Cheers (and happy reading)!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

5 Retail Trends Driving Wi-Fi

Mobile shopping often requires in-store Wi-Fi
Retail Wi-Fi networks have long been dominated by inventory management applications and services that enabled a more productive workforce and leaner operations. However, brick-and-mortar retail is being disrupted due to the explosive growth from pure e-commerce competitors offering [often] lower prices and a more personalized shopping experience. In addition, the e-commerce sales channel offers deeper product information, community reviews, and greater levels of localization and customization that resonate with consumers.

Brick and mortar retail must adapt to compete in this new environment. A key component of this adaptation is delivering new IT solutions while leveraging the physical assets of the storefront, mixing the benefits of in-store product "touch-and-feel" with the personalization of e-commerce shopping. Merging these two worlds together will create an enhanced shopping experience through the use of mobile Internet devices, often connected through Wi-Fi networks.

Here are 5 retail trends that are driving Wi-Fi growth and new capabilities in retail organizations.
  1. Consumer Interaction and Business Analytics
    Physical retailers have the most influence over consumer purchase decisions in the store, when they are standing in front of the product they are weighing whether or not to buy. Historically, this has been through in-aisle marketing and signage. However, customers are increasingly equipped with mobile Internet access and turning to external sources of information in real-time while within a retail store. This has been coined the emergence of the "smart shopper". These external sources of information are much more comprehensive than what the retailer can provide through traditional in-aisle marketing and signage, and this leaves the physical retailer at a big disadvantage.

    Physical retailers are turning to multi-channel initiatives to enable in-aisle consumer interaction on mobile devices. Multi-channel is the broad alignment of in-store, online, and mobile retail channels into a cohesive experience and set of services for the consumer. It can also include mail-order, catalog, and telephone channels as well. This is accomplished through cross channel integration of back-end systems for product information, inventory, pricing, promotions, order fulfillment, and unified CRM (customer relationship management) systems for a complete view of the customer across all channels. It provides conveniences and benefits for the consumer such as consistent pricing, ship-to-store, ship-to-home, expanded assortment, unified checkout (in-store and online product), list and gift/wedding registry management, and more.
  2. The emergence of the "smart shopper"
    Guest Wi-Fi is a key enabler of in-store multi-channel initiatives to interaction with consumers on mobile devices. It enables the retailer to provide guests with an avenue for Internet access, product research, and broader access to the retailer's website and mobile applications, which can often be richer and more personalized than what can be offered in-store. Cellular connections can also provide this access, but coverage is typically poor inside most retail stores. Wi-Fi is preferred over cellular because it is owned and operated by the retailer, and provides reporting insight into consumer behavior and rich business analytics including mobile platform usage, web destinations, and product research. These analytics allow retailers to better understand consumer desires, tailor in-store product assortments, focus marketing campaigns by location, personalize marketing and promotions to individual shoppers, and quickly identify changing consumer and market trends to allow faster adaptation.
    Digital wallets can improve retailer
    "wallet share" and brand loyalty

    Mobile payment and digital wallets can also be provided to allow consumers flexibility in payment options at point of sale. In lieu of a large hardware investment by retailers in touch-to-pay (contactless payment) solutions at the register, mobile payments can leverage mobile applications and guest Wi-Fi data connections to provide similar services at a fraction of the cost. And digital wallet solutions allow retailers to maintain "wallet share" for brand loyalty cards. How many times have you signed up for a retailers rewards card, only to find your wallet too thick, remove cards to save space, and end up without the card when making a purchase?

    Imagine walking into a store, automatically connecting to Wi-Fi to easily research products, pricing, and availability, receiving personalized shopping offers on your phone tailored to your shopping history (if you're a loyalty customer) as well as tailored to your location within the store (leveraging location based services). Or perhaps you've scanned a 2D/3D barcode on a product to retrieve additional information on the website and being presented with a coupon in real-time for that very product. Retailers are betting that consumers will be interested in these types of services, which may sound invasive to privacy today, but may become normal in the not-too-distant future. Retailers will need to strike the appropriate balance between privacy concerns, use of consumer opt-in (not opt-out), appropriate use of data, and appropriate levels of consumer interaction to be successful.

    There is often a fear that allowing competitive research that will negatively affect retail sales. However, consumer research and analyst predictions have shown that retailers do not need to have the lowest price as long as they are competitively priced or convenient:
    Deloitte predicts that in 2011, 25 percent of North American big box and anchor tenant retailers will begin offering free in-store Wi-Fi access to shoppers... [and] cellular signals can be highly variable: weak signals and low speeds are common, especially deep inside a store. Without Wi-Fi, the in-store online experience is often frustrating and dissatisfying… When shoppers do in-store online comparison shopping, preliminary and anecdotal evidence suggests the likelihood of purchasing appears to go up, not down. A common reason why shoppers do not make a purchase is that they are paralyzed by the lack of knowledge: “is this item available elsewhere for a much better price?” When an online search reveals that competitor’s prices are similar, many shoppers proceed with the purchase at the store they are in, rather than drive around just to save a few dollars.
    - Source: Deloitte (also see this video presentation)
    Digital interaction with the consumer through mobile platforms enables retailers to remain competitive and continue to influence purchase decisions where they matter most, in-store. Multi-channel initiatives blend the personalization and convenience of shopping online with the touch and feel of physical products in the store; it allows the retailer to leverage their physical assets most effectively. Wi-Fi will be at the epicenter of this change.

  3. Empowering Sales Associates
  4. Given the increasingly connected and smart shopper, consumers now have more product information than in-store sales associates in many cases. Yet sales staff are key to providing a great consumer experience in-store. Retailers need to empower sales associates with the depth of product information that consumers have, and to provide additional tools that facilitate existing and new services offered by the retailer.

    Historically, only a fraction of retail sales associates have been provided with mobile devices, and those devices have enabled only a limited set of  capabilities such as stocking, inventory management and product availability. One reason for this is the high cost of ruggedized mobile devices for use in retail. A typical high-speed scanner PDA can cost well over $1,200 each. In order to provide every sales associate with more information to help consumers, retailers are adopting lower-cost, feature-rich, smart mobile devices that provide more robust capabilities than specialized scanners. Mobile platforms built by Apple, Android, and third-party manufacturers are enabling this shift, along with a retail IT focus on enabling business processes in a more flexible, consistent, and re-usable fashion.

    Smart mobile devices and apps can empower sales associates

    Leveraging these smart mobile devices, retailers are rolling out new services such as expanded-aisle and mobile POS (point-of-sale). Expanded-aisle capabilities allow sales associates to easily retrieve additional product and assortment information for consumers from the retailer's back-end systems, show consumers rich media content such as videos and product demonstrations, send the consumer more information to their mobile phone or email in real-time, and seamlessly integrate with the retailer's e-commerce website to facilitate checkout and payment activities. Mobile POS capabilities allow the retailer to provide a better customer checkout experience in many situations. These include faster checkout for small basket sizes, flexible checkout locations throughout the store, easier checkout for large bulky items (e.g. furniture, appliances), electronic receipts, and relief of line congestion during peak hours without dedicating floor space to more register lanes.

    Empowering sales associates with smart mobile devices on a larger scale than before will require a robust, well-designed Wi-Fi network that can handle greater capacity and is highly reliable. Like the old political slogan "a chicken in every pot," retail is adopting "a mobile device in every hand!"

  5. The In-Store Digital Experience
    The in-store experience is critical to connecting and engaging customers with relevant merchandise and marketing information to capture their attention and turn browsers into buyers. Increasingly this means replacement of printed signage with one-way or interactive digital solutions that provide real-time, dynamically updated content that can be roll out in minutes or hours, instead of days or weeks.

    Retailers are deploying one-way digital signage and electronic shelf labels in aisles and on end-caps, which can be updated immediately once changes have been decided by corporate staff, replacing long lead times for printing and distribution of paper signage materials. Digital signage is expensive, cannot be placed at every desired location, and locations requirements will change seasonally with product. Therefore, these systems will require portability. Running Ethernet cabling to every possible location is also not financially attractive, so these systems will rely on Wi-Fi networks for management, monitoring, and content retrieval. Interactive digital kiosks are migrating from fixed location solutions to mobile solutions as well.

    Connected electronics require Wi-Fi for
    product demonstrations and consumer interaction

    Connected electronics allow retailers to showcase Internet-connected consumer electronics capabilities and increase sales. Consumer devices such as televisions, DVD/Blu-Ray players, gaming systems, music systems, computers, tablets, and smartphones are integrating more digital content and streaming services as core product features which drive differentiation and purchase decisions. Retailers will need to connect these devices to in-store Wi-Fi to demonstrate these capabilities to consumers to enhance the shopping experience. At the same time, provisioning and management of these devices will be challenging due to their lack of enterprise features, high churn rate (as product assortments change), and necessity for well-developed in-store processes and staff training.

  6. Expanding Branch Office Services
    In order to remain competitive, retail organizations must deliver better customer service in their physical stores. This is accomplished by migrating away from traditional lean-branch operational models focused on cost reduction to a more sophisticated service-rich operational model within the store. Deploying integrated and context-aware services into the store for both sales associate and customer use will translate into a better shopping experience, return visits, and brand loyalty.

    New services such as robust wireless telephony solutions can enable better availability and improve responsiveness of sales associates for customer assistance by tying service desks to every associate in real-time, as well as provide push-to-talk integration for integrated in-store communications. Digital video services over wireless enable increased security by providing real-time video feeds to in-store security personnel, and can enable videoconferencing for merchandise planning and collaboration with headquarters staff. Location based services allow retailers to provide relevant services to customers, such as targeted promotions that appeal to today's cost-conscious consumer or in-store navigation (wayfinding) to improve the customer shopping experience. Location services will also require the Wi-Fi network to be deeply integrated with back-end marketing systems, making it more integral to core retail business operation.

    Traditionally, these types of services were only available within campus networks due to the cost of deployment into highly distributed branch offices. However, virtualization and deeper integration between network and application architectures are making these services available for branch offices at more reasonable costs.

    Increasingly, retail Wi-Fi networks are providing more intelligent capabilities rather than serving as a basic network access mechanism. As a rich source of real-time and context-aware data, retailers are exposing Wi-Fi network information through APIs for consumption by broader enterprise services and applications. Wi-Fi networks are becoming highly-integrated with core business systems.

  7. High Availability
    The modern retail branch Wi-Fi network must be highly available, even more so than the wide-area network (WAN) circuits back to the main office or data centers. This requires site survivability without loss of functionality. Survivability of historically centralized services such as directory, RADIUS, DHCP, and DNS will need to be to in place to prevent failure of local network connections and applications, service outages, loss of business functionality, and impact to core retail business operations.

    High availability can be accomplished either through deployment of centralized services down to each branch or by installation of an intelligent wireless network. Deployment of services to each branch can be a very expensive undertaking, requiring physical or virtual server deployment, licensing, maintenance, data replication, higher WAN bandwidth, and extensive growth of management and monitoring tools for these distributed services. Alternatively, an intelligent Wi-Fi network can dynamically adjust for the loss of central services and provide site survivability for a period of time until those services can be restored. It can accomplish this through a robust software feature set that integrates RADIUS, provides credential caching with directory services, and dynamically monitors central services to intelligently transition to local network survivability when required. What's better is that this functionality is built into the network and doesn't require deployment of additional hardware, software, or management tools.
Revolution or Evolution? – Andrew’s Take
Modern retail branch wireless networks must provide a high capacity, performance-rich, distributed, scalable, highly available, and stable architecture that also provides intelligent, context-aware services that integrate directly into back-office merchandising, marketing, and analytics systems. Wi-Fi networks are migrating from a best effort inventory focused service, to a core retail business enabler that demands much higher performance and service levels. Along with this shift, business partners and key stakeholders will take a much more involved and active role in determining network requirements to support core business capabilities. IT organizations must understand and navigate this change effectively to be considered business partners rather than an inflexible organization the business teams will seek to bypass.

Andrew vonNagy

This article originally appeared on the Cisco Mobility blog as a 3-part series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

R.I.P. Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a technology that, in many respects, consumers and IT professionals have a love / hate relationship with. Developed as comprehensive protocol stack back in a time when personal area network (PAN) solutions were complex and Bluetooth provided a solution that was low-cost, low-power, and relatively robust (compared to alternatives at the time).

However, I would propose that Bluetooth is becoming largely irrelevant in the face of newer technologies that supplant its capabilities with more feature-rich, capable, and robust solutions. The need for a comprehensive solution stack is being greatly diminished, and increasingly will only impair new capabilities from being developed and brought to market in a timely fashion.

I think it's only a matter of time until the Bluetooth capabilities are completely supplanted by new technologies. Wi-Fi Direct provides an easy-to-use personal area networks (PAN) where its predecessor, Ad-Hoc Wi-Fi, failed. It also provides backward compatibility with all existing Wi-Fi enabled systems. Cost and battery life concerns of Wi-Fi have also largely been addressed. Apple AirPlay and AirDrop protocols provide simple solutions for audio / video streaming and file sharing (over Wi-Fi). NFC enables short-range, one-time, transaction oriented information transfer. Add to that the emergence of feature-rich mobile platforms and a robust mobile application development community, and the need for integrated protocol stacks like Bluetooth seem greatly diminished if not completely irrelevant.

Meanwhile, the Bluetooth ecosystem appears increasingly fragmented. Bluetooth 3.0 and 4.0 provided newer features, but are not backward compatible with previous generations of Bluetooth technology. Recent news also seems to indicate that Bluetooth is clinging to newer technologies in an attempt to maintain relevancy. Consider that almost all recent Bluetooth development has focused on leveraging other technologies to extend its capabilities and useful life. Bluetooth 3.0 (and later) leverages Wi-Fi for high-speed data transfer, and the Bluetooth SIG announced device pairing using NFC will soon be supported.

The one gap remaining to Bluetooth replacement will be embedded devices, such as audio peripherals, medical/fitness instrumentation, and in-car systems, that cannot easily be upgraded or replaced in the short-term. Manufacturers will slowly drop support for existing Bluetooth solutions, and opt to develop new solutions based on alternative technologies. This will leave Bluetooth hanging around for use with legacy systems for a few years, albeit with one foot in the grave.

But ultimately it appears that Bluetooth's fate has already been decided. 

R.I.P. Bluetooth, you just don't know it yet.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Wireless Video Streaming Products Using Wi-Fi, Not Waiting for WiGig or 802.11ad

Wireless video streaming solutions aim to
reduce the cabling mess behind your television set
Wireless video streaming, specifically cable replacement technologies, are emerging in the marketplace. Standards are being defined to fill this need with WiGig and 802.11ad in the 60GHz frequency band.

But consumer electronics companies aren't waiting around, using existing 5GHz U-NII unlicensed bands with 802.11n.

Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) compatible laptops and TV adapters have been around since early 2010. It requires specific system specifications, including a Wireless-N adapter. But it wasn't until earlier this year that Intel incorporated WiDi support for DRM protected DVD and Blu-Ray content, expanding consumer interest.

Intel WiDi streams video from laptops to your HDTV
through a compatible adapter using 802.11n Wi-Fi

And consumer electronics manufacturers are getting into the game too, with devices such as Actiontec's MyWirelessTV which are already available on the market.

The Actiontec MyWireless TV Kit streams video between any two
HDMI compliant devices by utilizing 5GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi

While SmallNetBuilder gave a glowing review of the units, significant questions remain. Actiontec specifies utilization of 802.11n technology, but the product is not currently certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Additionally, the MyWirelessTV user manual (PDF) is especially vague on key implementation details such as security. Actiontec claims the units are pre-paired and support push-button sync, most likely for use when pairing additional receivers. Does this use Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS)? Likely not, given the lack of WFA certification. Also, the product specifications list wireless security as "Standard Wi-Fi Security". That's intentionally vague! Why the lack of transparency, Actiontec?

Revolution or Evolution? - Andrew's Take
I think video streaming in the home will catch on quick. People hate fussing with cables, want more flexibility in where they place set-top-boxes, are increasingly desiring multi-room viewing capabilities, have gotten used to time-shifted viewing with DVRs and will want that extended to mobile devices, and want something that "just works".

I think it's also safe to assume that cable replacement technology will also be adopted in the enterprise and education markets. Numerous use-cases exist, and in-room video projectors could likely drive adoption by itself. No more tugging on cables and moving tables to accommodate projector placement during meetings! And if there is one thing the Wi-Fi industry has taught us already, it's that consumer adoption and demand will push its way into the enterprise.

Wi-Fi engineers should be prepared to ensure compatibility and performance of wireless video technologies alongside corporate Wi-Fi networks. In the short-term this means 802.11n. Long-term, WiGig and 802.11ad may alleviate co-existence concerns. The question will be, how fast will solutions emerge and when will your business want the technology?

My only ask is that consumer electronics companies take more care to ensure interoperability with existing Wi-Fi networks by achieving WFA certification, and being transparent with product specifications. In the meantime, I'd love to get my hands on one of these kits for Wi-Fi analysis :)

Do you have any experience with wireless video streaming and cable replacement solutions? Leave a comment below, I'd love to hear your findings!


Wi-Fi Roaming Analysis Part 1 - Connection Control

Welcome to the series of articles on Wi-Fi roaming analysis. In this article, part 1, we will define Wi-Fi roaming, provide background on how a client and access point establish a connection, what roles each play in the control of the connection, and establish the importance of Wi-Fi roaming analysis for engineers to successfully operate a modern wireless LAN (WLAN) environment.

Wi-Fi Roaming Analysis Series:
  1. Part 1 - Connection Control and Importance of Roaming Analysis
  2. Part 2 - The Many Variations of Wi-Fi Roaming
  3. Part 3 - Methods of Measuring Roam Times
  4. Part 4 - Analysis with Wireshark and AirPcap
  5. Part 5 - Analysis with Wildpackets Omnipeek (coming)
  6. Part 6 - Tips for Roaming Performance Improvement (coming)
Advanced protocol analysis is becoming an increasingly important skill for Wi-Fi engineers as networks grow increasingly sophisticated and complex. The wireless LAN market is a tremendously innovative and fast-changing landscape, and the skills necessary to understand and dissect their inner workings are highly valuable.

One of the most important aspects of building a successful enterprise wireless LAN is ensuring adequate Wi-Fi roaming performance. However, Wi-Fi roaming is a complex subject due to the many variations of Wi-Fi security found in the marketplace and the historical difficulty in being able to easily gather and analyze roaming data.

In this series I will provide an overview of Wi-Fi roaming, how it works, and provide readers with guidance on how to capture, measure, and analyze wireless roaming performance of clients within their own environments. In addition, I'll highlight a few professional tools and tricks of the trade to make this process simpler than manual analysis.

Wi-Fi Roaming Definition
Roaming, in the context of an 802.11 wireless network, is the process of a client moving an established Wi-Fi network association from one access point to another access point within the same Extended Service Set (ESS) without losing connection (e.g. within a defined time interval, usually in the range of a few seconds).

It is also helpful to distinguish between different wireless connection scenarios that may occur. Delineation will provide a better understanding of how and when each scenario will occur, why variations in performance between scenarios exist, and aid in establishing performance baselines.
  • Initial Connection - The client has no previous 802.11 association to the ESS (any AP advertising the same SSID). This situation requires the client to perform all required connection and authentication steps defined in the network policy before network access is achieved. The time required for a client to perform an initial connection will be the same as wireless roaming unless fast roaming or session caching techniques are implemented. The length of time required to complete full 802.1X authentication in secure wireless environments is considerably longer than in open or pre-shared key (PSK) networks, making implementation of fast roaming techniques highly desirable. It may even be required depending on the network architecture and applications implemented (e.g. branch / remote office networks with central RADIUS across the WAN increase the time to complete EAP authentication and can render real-time voice applications unusable).

  • Wireless Roaming - The client has an established 802.11 association to an infrastructure AP and migrates its connection within the same ESS to another AP. Association to the new AP terminates the previous AP association either implicitly or explicitly (only one association is allowed at a time, per the 802.11 standard). The goal of a wireless roam is to identify an alternate AP that can provide better service to the client than the current AP.

    Wireless client roaming algorithms are typically optimized to minimize the time required to transition between APs in order to avoid network access disruptions to client applications. This can be accomplished through fast roaming or session caching techniques that eliminate some of the authentication steps. Fast roaming can only occur after an initial connection has been performed to ensure the client has successfully completed all required authentication and authorization required by the network policy.

  • Connection Termination & Re-Establishment - The client has an established 802.11 association, but the performance severely degrades to the point that the connection is rendered unacceptable. The client and/or AP is required to recognize the degraded connection, which may not be explicitly apparent, then terminate and re-establish a connection from scratch. A connection could degrade for a number of reasons, including interference, multipath (with older 802.11a/b/g clients), excessive packet error rate, out of range, roam not completed within the client's time threshold, etc.

    When analyzing client roaming events it will be necessary to determine if the client performed a wireless roam or if it terminated and re-established its network connection. A terminated connection requires solutions to remediate underlying issues affecting network stability, versus the focus of wireless roaming which is to improve performance.

Additionally, identifying which situation is occurring can be incredibly valuable when performing protocol analysis and troubleshooting in order to determine what may be occurring with a client network connection when the client cannot be directly observed (e.g. remote troubleshooting).

Connection Control
Wi-Fi network connection establishment and roaming is decentralized, being controlled almost entirely by the client. The 802.11 standard explicitly places control of wireless connection establishment in the hands of clients by defining various logical services and breaking implementation out between clients and access points.

Think of the AP as a hotel concierge:
"Welcome to the Distribution System! You're 

requested Association is ready."
Some of these services require integration with external networks (e.g. the distribution system [DS] outside the basic service set [BSS]), which is not defined by the 802.11 standard but is typically an 802.3 wired Ethernet network. These services are only implemented in wireless access points, and include association and dis-association services among others. It is important to understand that although APs provide association services for client stations, it is the client station that invokes the association process. It may be difficult to conceptualize how client stations control connection establishment when the association service is only implemented within APs. However, remember that the 802.11 standard defines "services", and the AP provides the association service for the client who invokes the service.

Furthermore, the access point is responsible for association services in order to inform the broader network of the STA to AP mapping, and for data delivery between stations across the network. This mapping is also the reason why an 802.11 client station can only be associated to a single AP at a time to ensure that the network can deliver data to the correct AP.

Infrastructure Influence
Wi-Fi infrastructure vendors have developed proprietary features to influence client behavior. One example of this is the Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) program which includes AP assisted roaming through neighbor reports, fast roaming enhancements, RF scanning, client reporting, and roaming diagnostics. Another example is the band-steering feature provided by many vendors, which typically works by delaying probe responses to dual-band clients in order to influence them to join a 5GHz BSS instead of 2.4GHz BSS (otherwise many clients "stick" to 2.4GHz with high prejudice, although manufacturers are starting to change this preference due to the increasing prevalence of 5GHz Wi-Fi networks). Finally, the IEEE has standardized a set of radio resource enhancements with the 802.11k amendment that allows the infrastructure to send "Neighbor Reports" to the client to aid the client scanning and roaming decision. See the CWNP whitepaper on RSN Fast BSS Transition (free registration required) for more information on 802.11k and neighbor reports.

Proprietary Client Implementations
Since the connection is controlled by the client station, it typically relies on an internal algorithm developed by the manufacturer to determine when a wireless roam should occur. Client roaming algorithms are not standardized and are proprietary intellectual property of each manufacturer. This results in highly variable client roaming performance based on manufacturer implementation approaches and variations.

However, from a high level perspective, all client stations typically perform the same general steps when roaming, which includes:
  1. Passive / Active scanning in the background to identify other APs that are within range
  2. Client roam triggers (exact algorithms are vendor proprietary, but are commonly based on signal strength thresholds, RSSI heuristics between APs, data rate shifting, retry and error rates)
  3. Active scanning to confirm the new AP is still available
  4. Roam to the new AP
Comparison to Cellular Networks
For comparison, consider connection control similarities and difference between Wi-Fi roaming and cellular handover mechanisms. Cellular networks may implement a variety of handover protocols to transfer a mobile station between source and target cells, ranging from network-controlled to mobile-station-controlled depending on the standard being implemented (AMPS, CDMA, GSM, etc). Modern cellular networks typically rely on decentralized handover, similar to Wi-Fi, but define key enhancements to ensure connection reliability. Soft-handover in CDMA networks allows a mobile station to establish a connection to the target cell before breaking the connection to the source cell, thereby reducing the chance of service disruption. Standards such as 3GPP, which defines GSM and LTE networks, specifies that handover triggering (section III) is defined by the network core but implemented by mobile stations (user equipment) to improve consistency and performance. Finally, rigorous and thorough testing of every mobile phone is performed by mobile network operators (MNO)  before certification is granted for activation on their networks (the GCF is one example).

Note - Wi-Fi roaming is most comparable to cellular handover. In contrast, cellular roaming refers to service acquisition outside of the subscriber's home location or network provider, and should not be confused with Wi-Fi roaming.

Wi-Fi engineers should take away a few concepts from this comparison. First, soft-handover is likely not realistic for Wi-Fi networks due to typical enterprise multi-channel architectures based on frequency division of adjacent APs (similar to GSM). Second, standardized handover triggering is within the realm of possibility, and the central definition of trigger mechanisms is feasible with modern coordinated Wi-Fi architectures (typically involving a controller, but not required). However, the need for such standardization will need to become much more apparent before action by the IEEE or Wi-Fi Alliance is considered. Perhaps the industry will begin talking about such measures as MNOs take more prominent roles within the Wi-Fi standard and certification processes due to carrier Wi-Fi adoption.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is the approach to endpoint certification implemented by mobile network operators. By taking control of endpoint certification prior to activation and use on the network, MNOs more tightly control their network ecosystem to achieve desired performance levels. Wi-Fi networks will never be able to achieve such levels of control due to the use of unlicensed spectrum. However, Wi-Fi network administrators can (and should) implement similarly rigorous client testing and verification procedures to optimize network performance.

Importance of Wi-Fi Roaming Analysis
Consider - modern wireless networks require high performance to concurrently support voice, data, and real-time video, high capacity Wi-Fi to support an influx of mobile Internet devices, and ultra-low latency performance to support vertical industry solutions such as automated warehouses, robotics, and medical instrumentation.

Wi-Fi network design and optimization is a complex undertaking, with numerous features, configuration options, and environmental variables that can make achieving a high performance network difficult. Roaming analysis provides insight into how decisions made on wireless architecture, network design, client selection, and configuration impact overall network performance.

Performing Wi-Fi roaming analysis will enable network architects and engineers to:
  1. Baseline current client roaming performance
  2. Analyze gaps between current network performance and application requirements
  3. Identify opportunities to improve and optimize performance
  4. Implement changes to infrastructure and client devices to optimize performance
  5. Take more active control to ensure network performance matches desired service levels
Be sure to check back in for the next article in this series which will cover the complexity brought about by security protocols and the many resulting variations of wireless roaming.


Many thanks to Marcus Burton at CWNP for technical review and contribution to this post!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's Coming! Wireless Tech Field Day 2

Wireless Field Day 2 -
Getting all up in your Wi-Fi!
It's coming.... Wireless Tech Field Day 2! Are you ready?!

It's been almost one year since the first-ever Wireless Tech Field Day (WFD1) took place in sunny San Jose, CA. Stephen Foskett and the team at Gestalt IT are back at it, preparing for a second go-round with even more Wi-Fi tricks up their sleeve for the viewing audience. WFD2 will be the community's pre-eminent source for the latest news on industry direction and advancements, and lively discussion around solutions to meet the growing need for Wi-Fi in all types of environments. It will take place Jan. 25-27th in Silicon Valley and on-line in real-time.

A lot of change has occurred in the industry in one year. Wireless field day 2 will cover the latest advancements in Wi-Fi technology, likely including:
  • Broader availability of 3-spatial stream access points
  • Evolution of Wi-Fi architectures (controller versus controller-less anyone?)
  • The mobile craze sweeping enterprises (including BYOD trends and solutions)
  • Beamforming advancements that improve device connectivity and reduce interference
  • Hotspot 2.0 progression with cellular to Wi-Fi authentication (and derivatives)
  • Spectrum Analysis growing in importance with increasing utilization of both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands
  • ... and probably a few surprises along the way too!

Tech Field Day events are made special by the three groups involved: delegates, sponsors, and community viewers. I call it the "Tech Field Day Trifecta!"

The Tech Field Day Trifecta

In attendance will be some of best independent industry experts ... our team of delegates who will poke and prod the vendor sponsors to get past marketing fluff and talk down 'n dirty about the future of Wi-Fi. Delegates come from a broad range of backgrounds, including training and certification providers, vendor partners, consultants, and customers.

Vendors will host the sessions, preparing presentations, hosting discussions, providing live demonstrations of technology in action, and fielding hard-hitting, brutally honest, thought-provoking questions from delegates that should make for some great discussion. The mix of vendors covers both large and small companies, and their differing approaches to delivering Wi-Fi solutions highlights the rapid pace of innovation in this industry.


Vendors, don't forget to bring the bacon (both figuratively and literally, or even bacon as a service)! Dirty chai will also be welcomed. Our delegate crew loves to be challenged with thought-provoking new ideas while avoiding the doldrums of presentation slides. Let's sink into the nitty-gritty with demonstrations, hands-on labs, and honest discussions.

Xangati "brought the bacon" at Tech Field Day #5

Both delegate and vendor groups will have a few returning faces from WFD1, as well as some new faces to provide some new perspective and opinions.

Community viewers, are you prepared to:
  • Tune-In to the live video feed that will be hosted on the TechFieldDay website?
  • Interact in real-time on social media?
  • Contribute to the discussion and get answers to your most relevant and pressing Wi-Fi questions?
  • Learn about new and exciting innovations that are coming in the world of Wi-Fi?

The industry sponsors are set. The independent delegates have been picked. In-depth discussions are imminent. We ask that you, the community of viewers, get involved. This event is for the community more than for the delegates. We want to hear your discussion, thoughts, and questions live during the sessions so we can drill into the information that is relevant.

It's coming! Be prepared. Get involved!


P.S. - Stay tuned, we may have another trick up our sleeve related to this event!

* Updated 2011/12/22 to include HP as a sponsor.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

BYOD - A Symptom of Poor IT Service Delivery

Does What You Deliver Match What Was Asked For?
Enterprise mobility and BYOD are both hot topics these days. However, I think the two topics are too often lumped together when they shouldn't be because most BYOD discussion involves mobile devices.

Fellow IT bloggers Tom Hollingsworth (@networkingnerd) and Bill Hill (@virtual_bill) posted articles around the BYOD trend (see Tom's article and Bill's article). These articles, along with numerous other blog posts, public discussions, and different viewpoints expressed within the IT community have led me to voice my opinion on this topic. I wrote once already about the need to focus enterprise mobility on building organizational value, but didn't directly discuss the interaction between enterprise mobility and BYOD.

The focus of much of the general discussion by IT workers that I have noticed centers around how this trend is hitting IT departments, reactions to whether IT should provide services to personal mobile devices, how the IT department can secure data, and how to address device support.

I think these are important questions that are yet unanswered to a large extent. However, it feels like these conversations within IT circles are still missing the point. Engineers like us field requests, start determining requirements, limitations, impacts, and trying to execute on delivery. I hear concerns over supportability and security for both endpoint devices and corporate data. In other words, we love to solve problems. However, in so doing we tend to focus on non-functional requirements without proper perspective on functional strategy definition. Implicitly, large assumptions are made that BYOD is a solution that must be delivered. In most cases, it's NOT!

Instead, we should be taking a step back to understand where this request is coming from, why the request is being made (on a pretty large scale), determine the real request (rather than what may be directly asked for), and develop a strategy that solves the underlying business needs. Let's not just form a knee-jerk reaction to the request, assume that personal devices are the path forward, and start throwing up barriers to make ourselves feel better and commiserate with one another.

Here's what I'm driving towards:

BYOD is fundamentally an employee reaction to poor IT service delivery!

Whoa! Shocking statement, right?! Let's take a step back at the purpose of technology within the organization. It's my opinion that many IT departments get so caught up in running an IT organization, fielding requests, and being order takers, that they lose sight of their responsibility - to partner with the larger organization to deliver services that meet business objectives. Let's face facts, many individuals within IT are seriously hampered by lack of communication skills with business partners, have trouble interacting with non-technical staff and translating business objectives into sound IT strategies and solutions, and this turns into a large case of "group-think" whereby the IT organization keeps it's head down and drives incremental technology updates without understanding or delivering solutions that are best for the business.

I think this is bore out by the dissatisfaction of most employees with the end-user computing platforms deployed by corporate IT departments. Corporate laptops run slow because of layers upon layers of software that undermines usability of the system to the point that employees stop using them.

It's my belief that employees and business teams turn towards BYOD because it's a tangible solution to very real problems they experience every day - namely the dissatisfaction and poor performance of current end-user computer platforms in the workplace which undermines employee productivity, and the lack of appropriate enterprise mobility solutions being delivered by the internal IT organization which prevents business flexibility and new operational capabilities.

And let's get real, IT organizations are not only seeing this trend in the end-user computing space. Developers are turning to outside SaaS solutions for development platforms, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is maturing fast, and cloud services, while mainly private clouds for large organizations today, will begin migrating to hybrid and public cloud solutions in the near future. Now not all of this can be attributed to poor IT service delivery, but don't kid yourself into thinking this isn't at-least part of the reason (if not a very large part).

What corporate IT organizations need to do about enterprise mobility and BYOD is straight forward but can be a tough pill to swallow - focus on IT service delivery that aligns with business capabilities! This may mean that many IT departments take a critical look at themselves and acknowledge that gaps exists. Some IT organizations are fast on this migration path, whereas others may not have even started.

Bill hits the nail on the head in his article when he says:
IT needs to engage with the business to keep them abreast of concerns. Open dialogue with the business will help ensure technological expectations meet some sort of equilibrium between what IT feels is appropriate and what the business feels is necessary.

Consider the following:
  • Understand that some business processes can be better-served with mobile solutions
  • The fundamental "ask" by business teams is to enable mobility within the organization
    • BYOD is largely a by-product of evolving business needs intersecting with dissatisfaction of current solutions delivered by the IT organization
  • Prioritization of business processes that will most benefit from mobility should occur
    • Mobile-everything is not realistic, at least not right away. Focus on adding value to core business capabilities through the tactical use of mobile solutions where it makes sense.
  • An approach to mobile endpoint, software, and applications need to be defined that best matches the business use-cases
    • This could be corporate-liable, personal-liable, or a hybrid approach for endpoints
    • The application development approach will be critical to success, requiring close integration between mobile applications and business processes, not simple migrating existing applications to mobile platforms or standing up VDI workarounds.
  • Business processes will need to be re-designed with mobile workflow in mind
  • IT organizations must better understand core business capabilities by partnering with business teams and become an integral participant in solution definition
    • The fact is that most business teams and individuals outside of IT are now tech-savvy and are defining their own solutions without the aid of the IT organization because of frustrations surrounding lack of IT agility, flexibility, and delivery time, and the delivery of solutions that do not meet business needs.
    • Many IT workers don't have or want to develop business skills, according to fellow blogger Matthew Norwood (@matthewnorwood). This is okay! Technical roles exist to define and execute technology strategy, not business strategy. These skills are still tremendously valuable. However, the IT organization as a whole must have business skills, and IT leadership must be cognizant of filling both business consultant roles and technology architect / engineer roles within the skillsets of their teams.

This should be a wake-up call for IT organizations, which are being required to shift into a service delivery organization to meet modern business requirements. We must adopt a mindset that focuses on providing strategies and solutions that meet business capabilities / requirements first and meeting non-functional requirements second. If we can't deliver the fundamental capabilities the business teams need, they will look elsewhere (as they are already doing in many instances). It doesn't matter if we build the most technically elegant mouse trap that kills mice with 100% reliability, if it doesn't solve the infestation problem then it's a failure.

Does Your IT Organization Have An
Infestation of Mice?

That's my 0.02¢ (okay maybe 0.05¢).