Looking ahead to Mobility Field Day 2

This week I am attending Mobility Field Day 2, taking place in San Jose, CA! This is my seventh event with Tech Field Day and I am excited for what the week has to offer.
As an attendee at Network Field Day 8 and 9, the focus in networking was towards Datacenter and WAN. During that same time, my personal career was arcing towards wireless. I was reading, thinking, and practicing a lot of wireless for a major global manufacturing company. I left from those events feeling amazed at all that was happening within the realm of networking, but also feeling like an imposter.
I wasn’t worrying much about SDN WAN, I was too focused on designing and deploying high density wireless in a manufacturing space. I wasn’t thinking about data center, but I was instead providing coverage to warehouses in the million+ sq/ft range.
A lot has happened in my career since those events, and I have made myself at home in the realm of wireless. I continue to learn and grow as a wireless engineer, and Mobility Field Day is another step in my development. More importantly, I’m at an event that speaks to my passion. Tech Field Day events are always incredibly informative, but this one just resonates!
We have some great presenters this week, including Cape Networks, Mist Systems, Mojo NetworksNetscout, and Nyansa.
Aside from the presenters, Mobility Field Day 2 has some awesome delegates, many of whom I consider friends. The opportunity to exchange ideas, ask questions, and participate with them is very exciting.
Speaking of participation, my absolute favorite part of Mobility Field Day is that everyone can participate. Nearly all of the sessions are live streamed. You can watch with us live, send tweets or DM’s, and be part of the event yourself.
Please feel free to send me your questions on Twitter. I will be happy to ask them as time allows and you too can participate in what looks to be another great Tech Field Day event!

Geek Tools – Installing Spectools on WLPC Odroid

spectoolsscreenOne of the maker sessions from WLPC was setting up an Odroid for use as a network tool. It was a great session and I hope to see more of these at future WLPC’s. Once the videos are posted, you will be able to find the link here.

The first thing I wanted to try was installing Spectools on my Odroid to use with my Metageek Spectrum Analyzers. I have two Metageek Wi-Spy DBx’s and thanks to the 2017 WLPC bag, one Wi-Spy 2.4x.

The Wi-Spy 2.4x analyzer is supported in a much older version of Spectools. If you only own that one analyzer, simply run the following from the CLI:

sudo apt-get install spectools

On the other hand, if you want to use Spectools with a DBx, you must compile from the latest version. This takes a bit more work as it must be compiled from the source code. After fumbling around with it along with Jerry Olla we were both able to get it successfully installed and working.

Here are the directions which worked for both Jerry and I.

  1. Install the required prereqs:
sudo apt-get install libgtk2.0-dev libusb-dev build-essential

2. Clone the Spectools package:

git clone https://www.kismetwireless.net/spectools.git

3. Change to the Spectools directory:

cd spectools

4. Now, the fun part. The included config.guess will not recognize the Odroid. However, the distribution installed on the Odroid includes a MUCH newer version that will, so we need to copy it to the spectools directory:

cp /usr/share/misc/config.guess config.guess

5. Now we can follow the standard process to compile Spectools to operate on the Odroid.

./configure
make
make install

And with that, Spectools should now support the Metageek dbx. Install VNC, and you have an easily deployable sensor.

Up next, installing Websockets for wi-spy

A Public Apology to Fluke Networks

In February I traveled to Phoenix to attend the Wireless LAN Professionals Conference (WLPC). It was an excellent conference with a ton of useful information and resources. One of the remarkable aspects of WLPC is that there are no corporate sponsors. All conference expenses are covered by attendees, and while vendors are encouraged to include items in the conference attendee bag, they are no booths, booth babes or trolls. I am certain some attendees would rather run booth to booth grabbing tchotchkes and attempting to avoid getting their badges scanned. I find the WLPC model refreshing.

At this years conference the organizers tried something new. Once the conference was done for the day, they opened the conference rooms for vendors to host attendees. Dinner or drinks were usually provided.

It was during one of these events that I overstepped an invisible, but clearly present line of professionalism, and I recognize that I owe a public apology to Fluke Networks. During their evening session, when things became slow for a moment, I took the opportunity to ask a question. I don’t remember the conversation verbatim, but my question was something like: “When will the Mac client be released?”

A simple question right? Only, the answer I got somehow exposed some raw emotions, and those emotions fueled my responses. I managed to completely side-track their session by asking for attendee participation in straw poles:
“Raise your hand if you want a Mac version.”

I mocked their walking man pointer used during surveys as a waste of CPU resources, when all I needed was crosshairs, and I continue on ranting and raving for a few more minutes. I acted like a drunk heckler, only I can’t blame alcohol.

As soon as my rant slowed, I realized I had fueled the crowd, and as other people began to chime in, I watched them reinforce my points and I sat there feeling vindicated; feeling great about delivering a bit of honesty and a big dose of reality. Their session never got back on track, but I will say the Fluke Networks team handled it with aplomb.

I now recognize that I needed a big dose of humility in that moment, not vindication. 

I’ve thought about that discussion a lot since it happened, which is what led to this blog post. Ultimately, that was the wrong venue for the conversation that I forced on them. I sat there with a belly full of food that they had graciously provided, and I completely derailed their conversation. My apologies to the Fluke Team in attendance. My apologies to the other attendees who might have been sitting there hoping for the very product walkthrough that Fluke was providing.

My blog IS the correct venue for the discussion. My passion for technology, networking, and specifically wireless fueled the rant and I plan to outline some of my frustrations in an upcoming blog post. The response I received that fueled my rant was one of disconnect. “Why would you want that?” Again, certainly not verbatim, but that was the message. I hope to start a conversation rather than rant into the void. With that in mind, I will lay out the case, and then I will put this to rest.

GeekTools: SolarWinds Wireless Heat Maps

Ever changing environments are the biggest problem that wireless engineers face. A new site can be surveyed, and based on that, an ideal wireless design can be created for the space providing perfect signal, overlap, and SNR; the wireless engineer leaves the site, SolarWinds NPM Wireless Heat Mapsmoving on to the next assignment, and that perfect design last through the weekend. Now the engineer is located in a different state, working on a different project, and is getting calls from the customer.

“Hey, we have problems, and I need you to fix them.” the customer says.
“Ok, can you describe the problem for me?” the engineer ask. Secretly, the engineer is shocked the customer is calling for any reason other than to laude the engineers talent, foresight, and general awesomeness.
“None of our customers can connect in the waiting area.” states the customer with disapproval.

Generally, troubleshooting this type of problem is straight forward. A quick look for interferers, a check to ensure all equipment is still functioning, and a general eye for anything that has changed. As a nod to the possibility of a changed environment, a simple question is asked.

“Has anything at the site changed? the engineer queries.
“Of course not” is the answer the customer provides, voice now dripping with disappointment.

Thus, the engineer continues to dig further.

Large enterprise organizations who deploy Cisco hardware generally keep maps for each facility in Cisco Prime. Smaller organizations without the budget or time to assign to Prime can find themselves looking for a different solution.

SolarWinds has a new solution that is part of NPM 11.5 and it is worth investigating. They now offer wireless heat maps. The simplicity of setting up the heat maps makes it easy for under-staffed shops to use the tool effectively. Import the floor plan, set scale, and then drag the AP’s supplied by the Cisco WLAN Controller onto the map into the correct locations. Once the AP’s are placed, the software makes a best-guess of wireless coverage. This is a standard but flawed practice.

The issue lies in physical placement of the AP’s within their environment. The AP’s are all at ceiling height, above cube walls, water features, whiteboards, and many other sources of signal degradation. The clients are on a much lower plane, and therefor see a different footprint.

SolarWinds solves this issue by allowing an engineer to place known clients on the map, and then use those to further improve the heat map. This provides a tool that can be used to understand what is happening at standard client heights, where signal matters.

“Oh look, now I see a huge null in the coverage.” the engineer says. “Are you sure there haven’t been any changes near the AP I placed by the receptionist desk?
“Oh, that’s right. We hung the sign this weekend” says the customer.
“That large metal sign that was in the shop area last week?” ask the engineer.
“Yeah, that’s the one, We suspended it from the ceiling right over the receptionist. It looks awesome. That wouldn’t cause this problem would it?”

The engineer proceeds to bang his head against the desk with a dull thud, thud, thud.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those responsible*

Watch SolarWinds discussing their wireless heat maps at Network Field Day 9 here: (Heat map discussion starts at 19:40)

-I participated in Network Field Day 9 as a delegate. As part of that participation, the cost of all travel and accommodations were covered. Additionally, some companies chose to give delegates small gifts for their participation. These accommodations do not in any way constitute a requirement for coverage, good or bad. In short, I am an opinionated jerk,  I was invited despite that, and anything I write is purely my own opinion. Special thanks to Tech Field Day, for the service they provide to engineers and vendors. If you would like to be a delegate at a future event, you can learn more here.  

Hey Apple, Help Us, Help You!

When the iPhone debuted on the AT&T network, AT&T was clearly not expecting the demand that was created. They were caught off-guard by the influx of customers, and more importantly they were surprised by the data consumption of users, who had purchased a device created to consume data. Problems were reported at a ridiculous rate, and rumors abounded everywhere within the Tech blogs that Apple was threatening to take their ball phone and go home to Verizon if AT&T didn’t do something fast.

In the mean time, Apple began working on ways of optimizing the iPhones use of the carriers network, and kept pushing AT&T for improvements. It took AT&T a couple years, and a LOT of money to build their network up. Some people will argue that if the iPhone had not been made available on other carriers that AT&T would still be having issues.

Apple studies, lives and dies by user experience. They knew that a poorly performing network would reflect on their device. It was not enough to simply blame the network. If the network wasn’t available, then features of their phone weren’t available either.

With that in mind… Apple DOES NOT provide developer access to wireless API’s in IOS. Troubleshooting WLAN issues for IOS devices can only be accomplished from the infrastructure side. Without jailbreaking an iPhone, there is no way to access RSSI, SNR, or other WLAN statistics.

Which device is best for troubleshooting iPad connectivity issues on a WLAN? If you answer anything other than “another iPad”, go directly to jail, do not pass go, and do not collect $200. This is an oversight decision that Apple needs to quickly reconsider.

Apple, we are the network. Without WLAN Engineers, iPads and iPhones won’t function correctly on corporate networks. Without the proper tools, WLAN engineers cannot support IOS devices when there are issues on the WLAN. Without tools, our network problems reflect on your devices. Help US, help YOU.