Thursday, November 1, 2007

WiFi Enabled Bag!

OK, Admission. The previously lauded WiFi enabled Shirt SUCKED! It had this big plasticky velcro'y patch on the front. I just couldn't wear it. I thought it would be more integrated. So...

My wife the genius (BTW, she is a geek, too. She really wanted me to order her one. So I did). She takes one look at her shirt and says, " I am not going to wear this but I have an idea."

She tears the shirt apart and buys herself a new bag/backpack/purse. She cuts a hole in the front of the bag for the cable. Sews the felt backing used to secure the velcro to the front of the bag. Puts the battery pack and cable into an internal pocket and away we go. WiFi enabled bag!!!

This is way more cool than the lame shirt. Now she carries this to work proudly, letting all around her know if they can surf via WiFi or not.

Friday, October 5, 2007

WiFi enabled shirt?!!!

As if some geeky clothing designer and an Uber-RF-Nerd had a dorky lovechild, ThinkGeek has launched the first WiFi enabled SHIRT!!!

I am not kidding. this a a wearable WiFi detector that illustrates the strength of the WiFi signal with glowing bars and antenna and the words, "802.11" underneath.

I cannot wait to wear this to the next, "I can't get a date with nobody/Star Trek/D&D/comic book/video game/networking convention"

Look, Drool and count the days till it is released.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

WLAN IDS and the bizarre world of security exploits

If you make security software (or any software, for that matter) sooner or later you will create what I technically refer to as a booboo. A security vulnerability in your software that raises the ire of your customers and make you feel foolish and sad. Not to worry, mateys, this happens to all software manufacturers. The important thing to remember here is how you handle it. Are you going to be a Pro or a shmuck? Recently, AirDefense (why no dot com?), a WLAN IDS manufacturer had just such and incident. Is this uncommon? Relatively so. Is it dire? Not really. Are you just sniping at your competitor? Kind of, but in the interest of disclosure, we had an incident a long time ago as well so, dear friends, I feel their pain.

Let's talk about what happened first. The vulnerability as explained here happens when you send a specially crafted HTTPS request, which will cause the HTTPS service on the system to crash. It appears from my quick glance as if you need to authenticate first and also be on the segment from which you can administer the system. So what is this? Granted it can bring down the sensor but actually it appears to be a "tempest in a teacup". You need to be the admin or snarf the admin login in order to cause a denial of service to one of probably many tens or hundereds of sensors. Unlikely at best.

So how was this handled? Professionally, in my humble opinion. AirDefense contacted the people who reported the exploit and directed them to a patch for it as reported here, "Solution: Update to the latest firmware version"

AirMagnet had a similar experience Last October. And we handled it the same way. Here is our official response to the problem from back then:

Re: Airmagnet management interfaces multiple vulnerabilities
AirMagnet vendor response below -
(1) The vulnerabilities are tested against an over-a-year old AirMagnet Enterprise product,
(2) Some of these vulnerabilities have been patched and fixed in AirMagnet Enterprise version 7.0.x,
(3) All vulnerabilities are now completely fixed by AirMagnet Enterprise version 7.5 build 6307 and later.
(4) AirMagnet customers can download patches from MyAirMagnet support web site (
So to summarize, there are a lot of security professionals out there who are trying to make a name for themselves and do it in an industry, like the WLAN industry, that is going places. They spend all their time looking for these exploits and I, for one, am glad they do. They keep us honest and ensure that we are doing our very best to protect our customers. Are their motives pure? Debatable but mostly. Do they sit down afterwards and talk amongst themselves about what l@m3rz those software guys are? You bet! Should I take it personally? Nah.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Myth of the Self-Monitoring WLAN

Recently, as you all probably know by now, Duke University had a WLAN meltdown. The CIO, Tracy Futhey (Comment here) and the assistant IT director, Kevin Miller (Comment here) have put to rest the notion that the Apple iPhone caused it. Cisco has issued an advisory to the effect and Apple assisted in the effort.

I am not going to go into the details of what happened or why. Suffice it to say that mobile handhelds of all types, not just iPhones, send a lot of ARP traffic and the Cisco infrastructure was not ready for it. The quote at Network World explains that, "The advisory finally makes it clear that the iPhone simply triggered the ARP storms that were made possible by the controller vulnerabilities. Any other wireless client device, moving from one subnet to another apparently could have done the same thing."

What I will point out, however, is the problem we in the Wi-Fi community have today with the following simple delusion, "Your WLAN infrastructure as a cohesive, integrated, single-vendor solution is all anybody needs. It is self monitoring and self healing." I talk to a lot of people about which WLAN solution they are going to purchase and implement and I am always surprised by how many believe that the AP and controller vendor has all the answers. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of this type of solution. Central management is critical for even medium sized organizations of 50 or more APs, much less larger ones that may a few hundred or even thousands. Manually changing the configuration of each AP is not a viable solution in these cases. The Admin needs assistance. And the story sounds so great, "Implement our solution and it will fix itself when it breaks and protect itself when security policies are breached." Who wouldn't want that?

But the truth is a little more complicated. As we have seen from previous posts, sometimes the solution doesn't behave the way your business practices need. Similarly, sometimes there are security problems within the infrastructure itself. So what to do?

This will sound like an advertisement for the company I work for and I apologize ahead of time but there is a very good reason I continue to work there. Mainly, I believe in the message.

When the Duke network went down and the Assistant IT director looked at his WLAN infrastructure dashboard, what did he see? I have not spoken with him directly but my guess would be it said, "hey man, it ain't me. Everything looks good from my end" So what did he do? he pulled out a sniffer and got to work. With packet traces in hand and assistance from Cisco and Apple he solved the problem. Did the infrastructure fix itself? Did it correctly identify the problem and solution? No. A patch is now needed to keep this from happening again.

One should not blame the infrastructure for not getting this right at the outset nor should one blame Mr. Miller. He was correctly reading what the controllers were telling him. But it shows how important it is to have a separate, 3rd party solution also available to get down to the bits and bytes or even spectrum analysis (if the problem should be something other than 802.11 protocol madness.)

There are a few great WLAN security vendors out there and they make 3rd party, best of breed solutions for monitoring the security of your WLAN (one of which recently got snatched up pennies on the dollar and will probably be rolled into another integrated, self-healing, self-monitoring role; against my better judgment.) There are an even smaller number who both monitor your security and your connectivity and performance and give you great troubleshooting tools built-in (insert shameless plug here). These should be your trusted advisor's when things go wrong. I am in no way suggesting that they would have identified the problem and cause and given a solution at Duke either (although I think they at least would have shown alerts for denial of service and strange traffic behavior.) What I am suggesting is that with them in place you now have a set of tools to assist in solving the problem. Remote packet and/or spectrum analysis. Alarm thresholds that can be set by the admin and will continue surveillance. Reports. System-to-system notifications. Graphs of speed and traffic type. Lists of who is connected to what and how. All the things you would need to get to the bottom of any problem in that invisible Luminiferous Ether.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cisco Ripples - DCA and RRM - Help is on the way

Since I first published " The Ripple Effect" back in February I have heard from many folks who have validated the effect but to my chagrin, I have had no solution to offer. Well thankfully there are smarter people than me out there and solutions have started to appear.

I was alerted to the fact that Medical Connectivity consulting recently put Cisco in their sights and quoted my blog with regard to Dynamic Channel Assignment and RRM causing issues. The Web, being the great time waster that it is, lead me on a journey. As I read the article I clicked here and there and next thing I knew I was looking at a forum at Cisco that was talking about this exact phenomena.

One of the forum posters had some great suggestions to eliminate this problem in the future. Bruce Johnson at Partners Healthcare offered this solution,
"We saw the majority of DCA events were triggered by Interference from Rogue APs. After we disabled Foreign AP Avoidance the number of channel changes dropped by an entire order of magnitude (1000s to 100s). We disabled Cisco AP Load Avoidance and this reduced the number of DCAs within an order of magnitude (100s less).

DTPC will power-up APs to max levels to provide a 3-neighbor -65 RSSI coverage "grid" and 7921s will power up to follow suit (up to their max Tx Power). Other clients with higher Tx power may send the APs to max power causing a mismatch with IP phones.

You can decrease the tx-power-threshold so the "grid" won't be as hot (default is -65, change to -71 or -74):

config advanced 802.11a tx-power-control-thresh <-50 to -80>
config advanced 802.11b tx-power-control-thresh <-50 to -80>

and reduce the coverage hole detection threshold (reduce Min SNR level in RRM Thresholds) to suppress the power-up activity."
Bruce seemed on track with this fix. the problem is that it isn't a fix. It shuts off the RRM and DCA so that the WLAN would remain stable. So where is the benefit of a controller based system?

He does note that a fix is forthcoming from Cisco, "They are revamping the behavior of RRM in the WLC 4.1 Maintenance release." Which is later confirmed by a Cisco employee, Saurabh Bhasin a TME,
"With the 4.1 Maintenance Release(MR) due out on shorly, many improvements based on such feedback have been brought into RRM's algorithms ? improvements aimed at allowing administrators to fine-tune their RRM-run WLANs where desired. These enhancements will allow for greater control over both the channel and power output selection algorithms, so administrators may assist RRM in being either more or less aggressive in such decisions, depending on application and network needs. Additionally, enhancements have been made to the management and reporting of all RRM information and configuration alterations to allow for better tracking of RF environmental fluctuations and to assist in keeping track of RRM activity. Further technical detail on the inner workings of these enhancements will be available very soon in an update to the above-mentioned RRM Whitepaper."
The paper he references is found here and explains a lot of what we are all seeing. (here is the PDF version)

(NOTE: Since publishing this post, Cisco has moved the link. Here is a more recent version. Please double-check with Cisco that you have their latest information)

So here is to hope that WLC 4.1 Maint. Rels. fixes it. As an aside, Bruce Johnson is skeptical,
"Its all well and good to make things work for Intel and the CCX/CCKM compliant crew, but if you have any of the other brands of WLAN NICs (like those made by medical device manufacturers, who won't subscribe to fast roaming features until they're adopted by the IEEE) you are best keeping RRM disabled until it delivers on its promise as stated in the following 802.11TGv Objectives draft:

Service and Function Objectives

Solutions shall define mechanisms to provide the service listed below.

[Req2000] TGv shall support Dynamic Channel Selection, to allow STAs to avoid interference. Solution shall be able to change the operating channel (and/or band) for the entire BSS during live system operation and be done seamlessly with no intermittent loss of connectivity from the perspective of an associated STA. Solution shall not define algorithm for channel selection."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Review of Nokia N800 for Wireless LANs

Bruce asked if I'd write up a review of my experiences with the Nokia N800 - here you go...

Earlier this year Nokia released an updated version of their popular Nokia N770 Internet Tablet. The N800 excels at being a small, light-weight, device capable of WiFi as well as Bluetooth access to the Internet.

I could go on an on about how this little device has changed how we access the Internet in our home. Instead of lugging around laptops, we have a couple of N800s that the kids access for Internet queries, (just what High School did ‘King James’ go to – while watching the playoffs), to googling, to streaming music, conducting mulit-user IM sessions, to just about anything you’d want to use the Internet for – but in a very small package.

The screen resolution is amazing! If the iPhone has this screen, I’ll be in line to buy one. Even though I’m so old now I have to use bi-focals to read the small stuff – I’m comfortable with the N800’s little screen – the resolution makes it possible to fit so much in a little package.

But for the interest of this Blog I’ll move on to the use of the N800 in a wireless analysis mode.

I saw an announcement for a new piece of wireless security gear – called a Silica. This software/hardware bundle puts the intelligent penetration attacks and exploits of Immunity’s Canvas software in a small Nokia. It looked WAY COOL and I *wanted* to have one. But the $3,600 cost felt a bit prohibitive.

I’ve since had a chance to play with a Silica – and was suitably impressed – I still haven’t parted with the $3,600 but here’s a bit of a review of the tool.

This is a customized version of the Canvas tool – shoehorned into this small form-factor Linux device (Nokia N800) It is VERY easy to use. Just turn it on and click the start scan…

It will run through a series of scans of the local wireless networks, then attempt to penetrate using a variety of currently known exploits to find and exploit holes in your wireless LAN. It’s like having a little team of hackers sitting in you hand.

I’ve found it to be easy to run with the Nokia in your pocket. Very unobtrusive! – but in reality it takes up to 20-25 minutes to do a full attack against a single AP. Not like while doing a real penetration test you’ll have an excuse to ‘hang aro
und’ a specific area waiting for the attack to finish. (Though you could easily hide the device and come back to pick it up later – but that $3,600 cost will probably make you think twice about leaving it outside of your view)

The reports it gives are in HTML format – you can just e-mail them to yourself, or copy them off onto the SD cards used by the N800

It does a pretty cool thing when attacking a MAC-Filtered AP – it automatically finds an associated STA and spoofs it MAC address to get associated.

It doesn’t do ANY WEP Cracking or WPA cracking, or anything but the exploits that are in Canvas.

Ok, now for the less expensive, yet still fun stuff using a Nokia N800. As part of our Wireless LAN Security Assessment Toolkit course development. We came across the N800s, fell in love with them, then re-arranged and re-wrote many of our course lab exercises to specifically use the N800s. We added wVoIP, video over IP, as well as catching IM traffic, web browsing, and other conversations sent over wireless to use the N800 as our client of choice when ‘watching’ the open Wireless LANs and re-constructing conversations via packet capture.

Then we thought, “is there anything more we can use the N800s for”?

Since the N800 is just a little Linux computer… we added SSH, Terminal Shell, VNC, FTP, etc. to the system. Then once we got that running, it was a quick couple of steps to get Kismet and Metasploit running!

So just using Open Source software we were able to take the little $400 Nokia N800 and make it ‘like’ a Silica!

Just slip this little ‘bad boy’ in your pocket running kismet and go WarWalking to get all the APs in your area, including finding ‘hidden’ SSIDs. Or, start Metasploit and let ‘r rip – attempting whatever known exploits are available for Metasploit.

(By the way – this is NOT a fast device for Metasploit – but Way Cool to have running)

On the other hand – it makes a great Kismet platform!

We’ve got ours running the classroom with GoogleTalk and Gizmo Project for wVoIP and IM – but you have to have a Wifi access to use it, so this wont’ take the place of your cell phone. (It is possible to pair this device via Bluetooth to a cell phone running G3 speeds – but the easy way is with Wifi)

One more thing that is just *fun* to use the Nokia N800 and Wireless LANs – and I found this out by accident. I was testing in our offices a new access point – so I had the N800 associate to this new AP and started a ‘Hitcast’ session listening to some Internet Radio station. I kind of liked the station and so put the ‘radio’ in my pocket so I could have some tunes with me as I finished up writing up the analysis of this new AP. I checked my watch and realized the mail would have arrived, so I went out to the mailbox – down a long flight of stairs, outside the steel-sided building my office is in, and across the parking lot to the community mailbox to check the mail.

It wasn’t until I was heading back up the stairs and a co-worker commented on my choice of music that I noticed this little wonder continued to stream music the entire way. Thus was born the Audio Site Survey! Just associate, then walk till the music drops… Simple easy and leaves your hands free to work on other things while doing a fairly decent site survey. Cool!

There you go – a quick review of the Nokia N800 and how one might use it with Wireless LANs – if you want to see more about our Wireless LAN Security Assessment Toolkit class, check it out over at - as part of Bruce’s Blog you can use the discount code ‘Bruce1071’ to get $1,500 off the class.


Keith Parsons - Managing Director

Institute for Network Professionals

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Ripple Effect - Redux

This article is out of date.

Early in the year I posted an article about how the Cisco WLAN controller system may behave strangely in some conditions. I got some email from some folks that had major issues with it. One poster said that, "Before Cisco purchased the technology from Airspace, they had already put dampeners in the RRM so the hysteresis you describe wouldn't occur." This is just plain wrong. Cisco wants to sell more switches and routers and they found out if they purchased the Airespace system they would do just that but they did not make this significant change before releasing it with their name on it. And they are still changing the behavior of the WCS today because this problem still exists.

Did I lose you? As a refresher for those who did not see the original article it is posted HERE.

Since I published that comment back in early February I have spoken to quite a few people who have seen the same effect in their environments in recent months. One network engineer wrote, "I can vouch for having observed this recurrent DCA behavior, also in a hospital environment (12-24 channel changes per day across 10 floors of APs, as you depict in your example). The architecture is not alerting us to this being the result of interference or noise (no WLC or WCS events of either type), and the RSSI of rogue APs is above the threshold required for triggering DCA (neg 85dB)."

I was asked by the nay-sayers what Cisco told it's customers to do and here is what that same engineer said, "We have been told by Cisco that the 100mW AP neighbor beacons, used to determine the picture of the network, does not get input into DCA. Cisco claims these 100mW beacons are used only for dynamic power control, which we hold static -- do you think this voids the dynamic algorithms? Other docs say the RSSI of neighbor APs is the most important criterion in DCA behavior! In lieu of noise and interference alerts we can only surmise its the APs themselves that are the cause of their own DCA ripple effect."

This is just one example. I also have spoken to other folks who say that the Aruba system they are running does not do this. They say it is much more stable and after the original "learning" time it settles down and stays that way as long as the network is in use. I think this makes sense, why change the whole network because of one interferer? Better to be alerted to the fact and deal with it yourself.

I am collecting comments on this and would like to post more testimonials about this effect. If anyone wants to support this claim publicly, please feel free to drop me a line to or comment to this post. My goal here is not to raise hysteria but get things fixed and level the playing field. The infrastructure vendors tend to pitch the idea that they offer a panacea for all wifi woes and I feel that that is just a flavor of "Kool-Aid" I am unwilling to drink.

Meraki - Staunton, VA

Another great grass roots wifi project is being lead by a group of folks out in Staunton Virginia. With 19 nodes up as of today, the 3rd of May, it looks like it is doing well.

Again, I must say, citizens and grass roots efforts beat out commercial or governmental efforst all the time. Less bloat, less waste. These efforts are similar to the way we as world citizens take it upon ourselves to act responsibly on the road, or by taking the effort to recycle our bottles and cans. It is also parallel to the user created content wave sweeping the Internet. Not only do we want to get news and opinion our own way we want to get services our way too. And just like we don't mind spending some of our time to create that content we do not mind spending some our time and bandwidth to add wifi services.

Drop in on Staunton VA and take a look at and let them know what a great job they are doing!

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Meraki Mesh Node - Update

Meraki is a pretty cool company. I don't say that just because I am some bleeding heart liberal (even though I am) and they have a rather humanistic desire to get inexpensive Internet connectivity out to "the next billion people". Nor do I say it because they like to be polite network citizens and not go for the capitalistic jugular. But also because they have their head in the right spot and treat people decently and still make money doing it. nice. Liberals want to get rich too!

Not long after getting the free (as in "beer") Meraki node set up I purchased two new minis. I purchased these to learn about how they work and for fun and to "hack-on". I mean, heck, they were pretty inexpensive. Soon after I put these nodes up using the same SSID as Meraki's project so they would associate to it and I gave them to my neighbors. At this point Meraki contacted me. I guess they were monitoring the "Free the Net" WLAN and they sent the following note...

Hi Bruce,

We noticed that you ordered a couple of Meraki Minis and have set up your own network with the name "Free the Net". We are very psyched that you're so motivated and excited to help out with the project, and we'd love to help out. :) For starters, you definitely don't need to spend your own money, we'd be delighted to provide Minis for any of your neighbors who you can get involved. We would also really love to have the repeaters in the "Free the Net" project be in our existing network in Dashboard, so that they'll all show up on our one network map and we can see the aggregated usage numbers and all of that in one place. I totally understand that as a WiFi guy you'd probably like to play around with Dashboard some yourself -- could we offer to send you a couple more Minis to play with, and let us add your neighbors' repeaters to our existing network?

Thanks a bunch, and again, we appreciate your help with the project!

What great folks! A few days later 2 more nodes showed up and now I have two to "Play" with and two that will soon be migrated to the "Free The Net" project. I have all four up now on a new SSID and when I attach my laptop to them I get a nifty splash page from Meraki. This is of course because my new mesh of 4 (lets call them "Unchained") automatically saw another Meraki node ("Free The Net") and linked to it. as an aside, I think, if I plug one of my "Unchained" nodes into my Internet connection they will dis-associate from "Free The Net"

Now here is the real surprise, After you click the, "Take me to where I was going" link you get a new bar at the top of your browser window that scrolls advertising for local businesses. Now, I have no idea if these businesses are paying for this. I assume they are, but who knows. But think of the revenue opportunities.

The bar is very discrete. Thin and lean. the rotating text ads are very low key and I didn't even notice it for quite a few days. Also there is a request for input in a box if you click the "?" icon.

Lastly, there is a "search local" box that allows you to search for businesses and other stuff in your local area based on your Latitude and Longitude (actually, the Lat Long of the node you are associated with). Very hip.

The Result then takes you to a Google Local page. Nice.

All in all, when you add this idea and the strategy to get a percentage of money that Meraki makes off of your monetizing you own mesh hotspot, the large orders of nodes going to other cities and countries desiring a quick and easy way to get their citizens connected to the Internet and the fact that Google buys Meraki nodes to extend their mesh into peoples homes and businesses, Meraki is poised to pay off that Sequoia investment in nothing flat.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I have been "Geeked"

I got this last week but was too busy to post it. Dennis Smith of such famous blogs as Jobgeeks and wirelessjobs has "Geeked" me. Thier site has this as it's tagline, "...the Job is what gives a Geek his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." (Original quote from Alec Guinness during casting interview for role as Obi-Wan Kenobi). Or not."

Here is the initial email that made me famous:

Hey Bruce - just wanted you to know that you've been geeked.

Well, sort of.

I author a few blogs - is my main blog, but I also keep up a blog called And I recently started a new weekly posting called, "JobGeek O' the Week."

Unfortunately for you : ), you've been dubbed this week's geek.

Hope the pending fame and fortune doesn't go to your head.

Take care,

Dennis Smith

Personally, I think they are selling themselves short. I fear the outcome of this potential flood of traffic as previous award winner, Jeremy, seems to have had quite the deluge. Here are quotes from their site:
I hope you fair better than last week's Geek.

I hear Jeremy has since had to buy a new server (the crash was pretty severe due to the increased traffic), and, he's had to escape to the underground blogging community (where all A-Listers eventually go so they can blog, shop, and simply walk the streets in peace - far away from the masses vying for their attention link-love).
Well, what can I say. I would like to thank all those that made this possible. My mom, My beautiful wife, Lisa, without whose support this wouldn't have been possible, my kids, my agent, Morty...

WiFi on the highway: Avis to offer 3G-to-802.11 bridge

Start-up Autonet Mobile and car rental giant Avis are partnering to offer renters a device that will provide laptop users with WiFi access on the road. You can take "on the road" literally in this case, as the device is designed to create a WiFi hot spot accessible from within

read more | digg story

So I am driving down the road. I have my Bluetooth headset "un-wired" to my Blackberry (I know, I should've gotten a Pearl but I am waiting on the iPhone). I am receiving email on that same Blackberry and answering it, of course. I have my iPod plugged into cigarette lighter and tape player with an adapter and I am selecting music to accompany my travels and sometimes watching the strange conclusion to Battlestar Galactica season 3.5 (Damn! next episode is in 2008). I have a GPS talking to me and showing me where to go for my next appointment at the latest geek-fest. And now I have a rolling 3G/WiFi hotspot allowing me complete access to the web so I can blog about the experience. Of course my Homies are riding shotgun so we start up a LAN party and start blowing each other away in CounterStrike. Wooooeeee! Maybe we should play Full Auto(tm) 2: Battlelines?

Man, I am in sensory overload and I haven't even looked up to see where I am going yet.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Meraki AirMagnet Stats

Some folks have requested more technical details on the Meraki nodes so I am uploading some AirMagnet Laptop Analyzer images for your perusal. Let me know what you think.

(Click an image to enlarge it)

Here, for example is the AirMagnet Start screen showing the 3 nodes I have up

And here we have the Infrastructure page showing how they are viewed.

But the details that most folks have been asking for is here on the Channel Page (notice the bytes and frames. Very good data speeds for the most part. Since the beacon interval is set to 500ms I have the channel scan time set to 750ms)...

...and here on the main portion of the Infrastructure page. I also had the Spectrum Analyzer integration enabled. For this image I selected the main "root" node to analyze.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Meraki - Dallas freenet

Entrepenuership in action. If you want to see how another mesh deployment is going, cruise on over to and see how they are doing. they have a great wiki and a node map up and running. So far they only appear to have 5 nodes up and running but I could see this going big. Support them by laying out a measeley $49 bucks for your own node and go to town!

Meraki Node - Management Details

The Meraki mesh node I got has been up for a week now and here are my thoughts. Well, first of all, It is pretty neat. 'nuff said. I had some questions that I posed to Ben Chambers of Meraki and here are the answers.

The first thing I wanted to know was why it beacons every 500ms instead of 100ms. Twice per second did not seem very much and considerably off the norm. Ben stated that, "As far as the beacon interval goes, the reason is basically that if you have a fairly high number of repeaters (say, 20) within range of each other, 10 beacons per second per node gets pretty excessive." This makes total sense to me.

The next question was whether there was a way to configure the node or at least monitor it. I was told that because it was a free node belonging to the Meraki "Free the Net" project I would not be able to configure it but I would be able to monitor it in a variety of ways:

1. I can see if it is up by associating with it and browsing to where I would see a splash page. Click on each image to see a larger version of the image.
2. I can Select the "Advanced" link in the upper left and get a page that lets me run a throughput test to the internet.

3. I can select another link on the advanced page that allows me to set a static IP and some other functions.

4. I can also get to a page that is just for my repeater at which looks like this:

5. I can also get more data from a more public view of the Meraki network from this URL which shows me connected to another mesh node way over in Potrero Hill, at least a mile away.

6. I was also pointed to a site where there is XML data for Google earth. . You must save the source as a KMZ file on you hard drive and open in Google Earth.

After which, it now looks like this in Google Earth. Notice the mesh links (I made them yellow, the better to see them with.)

Which now allows me to go down to sea level and see the line of site to the other link

Pretty impressive. My next step would be to get some Meraki Minis and connect them to the mesh and see how they work out. More fun for next time :-) Talk to you then.

Monday, March 26, 2007

My Own Mesh Node - Meraki comes through!

Here is the view from my roof of downtown San Francisco. Looks like a good place for a Mesh Node!

Last Thursday, Ben Chambers and Jessica showed up on my doorstep from Meraki Networks with APs in hand. I was psyched! We were about to hook up an outdoor node to the Meraki San Francisco trial.

They brought over a Meraki outdoor AP, a toolbox and a lot of cable and got right to work. We went up on the roof to check it out and find a spot to put it. Then we went indoors and talked about how/where to bring the cable in. The unit is powered by a proprietary POE (Power over Ethernet) injector which I plugged and hooked up to my switch.

Ben went back up onto the roof and connect the AP to a plumbing vent pipe. It came with what appears to be a 12dbi antenna (I will check and get back with the details).

It got link and pulled a DHCP address from my home router and started broadcasting the SSID FreeTheNet and we were done.

We chatted awhile and then they left. The were super nice and obviously loved their jobs. Later the unit started upgrading itself and is now running a newer OS than what it originally had. I checked that evening and found I was up on the website at but unfortunately none of my neighbors had a Meraki node close enough to attach to mine. I am going to drop in on Ritual Coffee later this week and get them to join the network as well as some of my neighbors.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Meraki Wireless Repeater Makes Extending WiFi Easy!

Meraki is now offering a great way to extend you WiFi network. Inexpensive repeaters. The Meraki Mini is a $49 (there is also an outdoor model for $99) AP you just put in your window and connect it to a MuniWiFi network or your own internet connection and then, according to their site, you just add more repeaters to make a mesh, "The more Minis that are out there, the bigger the network. And you can plug right into the repeater instead of going wireless."

I like this idea a lot. So much, in fact, that I use something somewhat similar myself. But is has a few drawbacks that are not mentioned on the website.

In my house we have one AP/Basestation/Router at the DSL D-marque and 3 WiFi repeaters throughout the house. I use the Apple Airport system so I have one Airport Extreme connected to my DSL router and 3 Airport Expresses connected using WDS (wireless distribution system) which mean none of my Airport Express units need a cable drop. It works really well, I can connect to any of the APs and surf the internet and I can stream music from my desktop or any connected laptop to any of them using Apple's AirTunes, even my Dell. The drawback is that every hop from the repeater reduces the bandwidth considerably as each device, with only one radio, has to spend half it's time talking to your laptop and half forwarding the signal. Wikipedia states, "...throughput in this method is inversely proportional to the number of "hops", as all traffic uses the same channel. For example, client traffic going through one relay station before it reaches the main access point will see at most half the maximum throughput that a directly connected client would experience." For me, this is fine as I only have 3Mb/s internet access but for larger mesh networks it begins to be a problem. Meraki suggests, "To boost the signal, connect every tenth one to the Internet." It is unclear from Meraki's documentation if the use separate channels or radios for the back haul.

The system also has a really great web-based management application called Dashboard which they give away for free. Dashboard allows the Network admin to monitor the network, change it's configuration and it has a built in billing feature if you wish to setup a hotspot or be your own neighborhood service provider.

The last really great thing about the Meraki solution is the ability to repeat the relatively weak MuniWiFi signal and project it into your home. This will allow users of these networks, especially one's in older homes with Lathe and Plaster or Stucco and chicken-wire construction to get a lot more signal strength and thus increased speeds. In fact, Meraki is already working in San Francisco to implement a Mesh network in and around my neighborhood. I have signed up for it and we will see where it goes. I will blog about it as it happens. Check it out at

Anaheim Muni-Fi and Earthlink ready for Wi-Fi Phone Beta Testing - We need details!

The New Earthlink VOIP service is now ready for beta testing. Users in Anaheim may sign up now and get a free handset with the service during the tsting period according to Glenn Fleischmann over at WiFiNetNews

Good news for those of us watching the VoWLAN emergence but I have some questions:

It appears as if the service is tied to their phone. There is this quote in the release, "'What separates our Wi-Fi phone from others is its ability to work over EarthLink's municipal Wi-Fi networks,' said Steve Howe, EarthLink's senior vice president of voice."

  • Does this mean that other SIP phones or dual band phones will not work?
  • Is this an attempt to control the hardware and service.
  • Has anyone tried using a different phone over the Anaheim network?
If this is true and we are locked into an Earthlink/Accton solution, it could spell doom for rapid adoption and raise the hackles of the "Free the Airwaves" folks.

Later on it also mentions that the Accton system is and ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) based system. This would be similar to Vonage's home adapter. Again, more questions, can you use the handset while roaming about the network or just when in range of your own ATA base station?

Lastly (and in my opinion, most importantly), is it encrypted or are folks going to be able to sniff my call and play it back with VoiPong or something similar? Why do people always think of security last?

There are many questions we still have no answers to. If you know any, drop me a line.