Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Sky is Falling!!

 My Brother-in-law sent me an email the other day that made me wonder about how WiFi is progressing with most folks at home.

For me WiFi is my occupation and my hobby. I get a thrill that most people would find unbearable out of debugging wireless network problems and analyzing layer 2 management frames. But I sometimes forget that most folks just want their WiFi to work. Take note that my B-in-law is no slouch at solving networking issues. As a developer of WebBased applications via Linux and as the maintainer of a (as he puts it), "3-tier, cross-platform application development framework, written in Python atop the wxPython GUI toolkit" I am pretty sure he can handle a couple of wireless packet issues. Here is the email:
Bruce, Of late, it seems all my neighbors are getting 2Wire/AT&T DSL wifi routers.I think their signals are interfering with mine. What channel should I put myself on given this list I just got from kismet, although I've seen the number of devices at almost twice this list:
Channel AvgSignal SSID 1 22 2WIRE365 1 18 2WIRE341 5 19 2WIRE248 6 18 pete 6 18 2WIRE675 9 28 2WIRE219 I've also seen devices on channels 3, 10, and 11. I'm currently on channel 8 (previously on 3) and 8 seems better, but still not great. I'm going to be wiring fast ethernet wired connections to [name omitted]'s office and my office, but it would be nice to be able to wander around the house without the connection dropping sporadically (I watch my wifi signal go from 5 bars to 0 bars, stick there for 5 seconds, and go back to 5 bars, and 10-20 seconds later, the same thing happens). Then several hours may pass with no incident. Maybe someone's microwave or cordless phone is interfering? Any ideas other than putting ugly repeaters all over the house? Thanks!
I feel for him. This is a common problem. 2WIRE and other manufacturers of consumer grade access points don't really get WiFi. If they did they wouldn't have the devices auto-choose interfering channels like channel 5 or 9. I do not mind that they sample the air and select an unused channel but please select a non-overlapping channel instead. I also have had my share of issues in my 120 year old home in San Francisco. Normal 802.11b/g doesn't like old fashioned plaster and lathe walls. It also doesn't like the 40-60 APs on my block all vying for the same airspace and sure as heck hates my 15 year old 1200 watt microwave oven.
Then I read about one of my favorite technology writers, Andy Intakho suggesting we go back to wires. I saw the first post at Glenn Fleishman's WiFiNetNews site and followed the link to Andy's. It is an amusing read but I am a little perplexed. Andy does not share the steps he tried to solve the issue. He doesn't share the equipment he was using that gave him such frustrations. We have no sense of why he made what is, IMHO, a rash decision to abandon the future for the past.

Glenn Fleishman has it right when he suggests,
"Andy, maybe you need a working 802.11n router and some modern hardware? Or maybe your apartment building is simply being bombarded by untoward RF interference.
Don’t get me wrong: I like my copper Ethernet wiring, too, especially when I’m moving big files around my network. But with Draft N, I’m more likely to have a gating factor at my Internet gateway or a particular computer’s ability to shoot files over a given protocol than I am by the network’s raw speed."
As a former Apple loyalist, I would have suggested the Apple Airport Extreme with both 2.4gHz and 5gHz 802.11n (and a ton of other high-end features). It is easy to setup, easy to use and goes really fast!
However, I also see both Andy's point and that of my Brother-in-law. It shouldn't be this hard. The average home user should not have to worry about "RF Interference" this and "Channel Congestion" that. It should just work.

So whose responsibility is this? The manufacturers? The IEEE? The WiFi Alliance guys?

Maybe I am limiting my future as a WiFi engineer but I would like to see it fixed. If a groundswell of disaffected WiFi users starts now, with WiMAX on the horizon, 3g-4g cellular becoming really popular and iPhone users now having the same bandwidth as the DSL in my last apartment, we might see the sky falling after all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cease and Desist!

My ISP (Speakeasy) sent me a nice letter recently informing me the Eurpopean Union's copyright infringement division was displeased with me. The said that based on these allegations, I would be in violation of the Speakeasy Acceptable Use Policy. "How can that be?", thought I. I buy my music on iTunes, I do not partake in bittorrent, limewire or any other version of the now dead Napster (old school version not the new subscription based system) music/file-trading system Hell, I pay for stuff!. I have encoded all my purchased CD's and boxed them away but I keep them to myself. In fact I am a true supporter of "legitimate" digital music use via iTunes or any other service that, in some way, supports the artisits that create the music I love. This includes freely distributed music a la Radiohead.

So why was the European Union comin after me? Speakeasy's Tech Support and Security groups were very helpful in pointing out to me that they could track streams of file sharing originating at my IP address. So I thought deeply about this (for 2 seconds) and arrived at the most logical conclusion. My neighbors were connecting to me via Free The Net, the Meraki based San Francisco free wifi network and uploading/downloading music to their hearts content. I have 2 repeaters on my roof and 4 others in houses nearby providing firewalled access to the Internet. This made me sad. I was very pleased to provide an un-asked for service to my neighbors who may not have - or may not be able to afford - Internet access. I wrote to Meraki explaining my dilemma and asked of there was someway to restrict my neighbors from conducting file trading on my network.
People in my hood are sharing music over my wireless network and
abusing my speakeasy acceptable use policy. Speakeasy.net has warned
me that any continued abuse will result in disconnection of my
service. Therefore I must inform you that unless you can lock it
down so only port 80 is being used I will have to disconnect the
Meraki repeaters and access points from my network.

I am very sorry. This seems like a real shame. I was very eager to
participate in "Free the Net" but now I am a bit saddened that folks
are abusing it.

Please get back to me and let me know if there is anything you can do
on your end.

They replied back with...

Hey Bruce,

grr. that's really irritating. but actually what's surprising is that
we haven't had to address this issue so far. as far as blocking
everything but port 80: I don't think any of us would be happy with a web-only Internet connection, so that doesn't seem like a good answer. to me it seems the real solution here would be to figure out who the culprit is and block them.

I looked on your gateway and didn't see anyone transferring an
inordinate amount of traffic. do you happen to have any idea who it is? do you know if it is bittorrent they are using? maybe they are using a different gateway at least part of the time (probably mine, hehe).

next week I guess we can figure out how to set up the right counters on your gateway so that we can figure out who it is (any insight or additional info you can provide would obviously be super helpful). hopefully Speakeasy can wait that long. if you need to unplug, we understand, but leaving your repeater plugged into power would at least soften the blow.

So far they have found no way to track or stop the activity and I love my Speakeasy service. So I have no choice. Until such a time as I can trust my neighbors not to conduct activity that the European Union deems as illegal or until Meraki finds a way to filter this traffic out, I must disconnect my network from "Free the Net". I still have repeaters on my roof but they are no longer connected to my network, file traders now siphon off some other guys pipe or tube or truck that backs up and unloads Internet.
Comments and suggestions, as always, are very welcome.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Al Gore: New thinking on the climate crisis

Probably somewhat off topic, but I am a fan of Al and I aggree we are at a crisis crossroads. Time to get busy.