Geek Tools – Ventev VenVolt

Any wireless engineer who has spent time completing AP-on-a-stick (APoS) surveys has probably used the Terrawave MIMO 802.3af POE battery. It was a heavy lead-acid battery in a metal case, which promised six hours of use before needing a recharge. Most days it did deliver 6 hours when powering an AP with a single radio enabled. However, I often found that if you ran both AP radios, it would regularly give you less; usually running right around 5 hours with a charge during a meal break.

Did I mention it was heavy? Travel through airports and the TSA was a lot of fun too!

Now, Ventev has a new battery, the VenVolt. It’s sleek, orange, and much lighter. The VenVolt has a bunch of new features which make this an essential addition to any wireless engineer’s toolkit.5132514

  • The battery is now a lithium iron phosphate. That’s the weight savings that makes this thing easy to take on the road. It also ensures plenty of power delivery when needed and long-term stability of that power. Additionally, LiFePO4 battery chemistry is known for higher cycle life and better stability, which should relieve any concerns of a Samsung Note 7 style battery fires.
  • Better power delivery allows the VenVolt to efficiently deliver 802.3at power; a requirement for 802.11ac access points.
  • If 802.3at power wasn’t enough, Ventev includes a three amp, 15 watt, USB power port. That port can be used to trickle charge a laptop, or it can power my favorite tool, an Odroid, which I always use when surveying.
  • That power port wouldn’t be nearly as exciting for me without the final major upgrade, ethernet passthrough.

There are lots of “little” updates that should be mentioned as well:

  • A single switch! No more guessing which switch combination was needed for charging.
  • An LCD screen that shows charge status, voltage, and gives you some guess of the available runtime.
  • The case is ruggedized and has been drop tested to ensure reliability.

Let’s talk through my “new normal” setup with the VenVolt. I connect the AP to the “802.3AF/AT Out” port. There is no difference between that and the old heavy battery.
Next, I connect an ethernet cable between the “Ethernet In” port on the VenVolt and the ethernet port on my Odroid.
Finally, I connect a micro-USB cable between the Odroid and the USB port on the front of the VenVolt.
The magic happens due to the flexibility of my Odroid. A few jobs it runs:

  • iPerf, HTTP, Ping endpoint for any throughput/active surveys that I need to run.
  • TFTP Server – This is where I host boot or firmware files for the many various AP’s that I might use for surveys.
  • DHCP/DNS Server – Makes it easy for the TFTP Updates, client connections, etc.
  • Encrypted File Storage – This is where I store backups of survey files, any building drawings that I am given, or any specifics that I might need at a location.

One final note. The VenVolt is labeled “MK1”. To me, this is a suggestion that updates will come in the future, rather than the “one-and-done” approach of the Terrawave Battery. While I’m excited to see what may come in MK2, this is an excellent upgrade and a definite requirement for anyone who spends time doing APoS surveys.

There was an excellent session at WLPC, where Ventev employees Dennis Burrell and Mike Parry, along with Sam Clements discussed the development process for the VenVolt. It’s worth watching:

Relevent Links:

Ventev VenVolt

Ventev Infrastructure

Ventev Infrastructure supplied me with a VenVolt for testing and provided me the ability to give feedback. All written content provided here is my personal opinion, and has not been manipulated in any way by Ventev. I appreciate all companies who welcome constructive feedback!



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.

Supporting Apple devices on the WLAN

Since the iPad was released, it has received a mixed welcome within Enterprise environments. While a lot companies have at least some plan to move forward with iPads, these drivers are usually coming from the business side, instead of IT. In-fact, most IT shops are being dragged into IOS support with strong reluctance.

The broad questions which are causing resistance can be summed up in one word: SUPPORT. IT departments must figure out how to support the device in multiple areas. Information integrity and control, end-user support, and connectivity support all must be dealt with. Since this is a networking blog, I want to deal with the last one; and will do so in the next two articles.

Supporting iPads on the network is more complex than connecting them to an SSID and providing login credentials. If we look at the standard iPad user in most organizations, we see a highly mobile user, users who also have laptops. Most of these users requested an iPad after having a positive experience with their company issued iPhones. That translates to a user having three wireless devices at there desk at any given time: their laptop, their iPhone and their iPad.

To understand the problem this creates, let’s look at how we survey for a wireless network. There are two considerations: coverage and capacity.

Wireless Coverage
A survey can be  based on square footage, and provide a certain RSSI from wall-to-wall. This is a perfectly acceptable way to survey if everyone has their own office. However in Cube-ville, a single AP may cover 100 desk or more. If each desk has one wireless device, you now have a physical medium (the channel or airspace) that is incapable of supporting all of the connected clients.

Wireless Capacity
The other way to perform a wireless survey is based on capacity. In a high capacity environment, the wireless spectrum, not the AP is the bottleneck. More on this later…

In a capacity based scenario, a number of desk are chosen, lets say 25. For every 25 desk, there is an AP. Those AP’s are placed based on coverage area, and in to minimize channel overlap. For the same 100 desk in Cube-ville, you now have 4 AP’s. Since there will be channel overlap, the radios are turned way down, and in general, the physical medium is now capable of handling the number of clients.

Taking this environment to the next step, each desk gets an iPhone, and a few months later, 1 in 4 request an iPad. We can safely assume that complaints will begin coming into IT about the wireless network. The AP airspace that was previously servicing 25 clients now contends with 62 per AP. Time for another wireless survey and at least twice as many AP’s!

Now we can see the problem that many companies are facing. The i-devices are here, and businesses seem to love them. The network team must begin planning and building now. I would like to make a few suggestions which might keep network teams from finding themselves behind the eight  ball.

  • Budget to begin surveying your high density environments now.
  • Develop a plan for support, complete with timelines and cost. Present this to the highest management level you can reach, so that it can be considered as the business begins planning device deployments.
  • If your company has a charge-back system for devices, be certain a cost is associated with each IOS device to support the wireless network going forward.
  • Be certain to include a survey and additional equipment as a cost of any iPad rollout projects, make certain the business can see the total cost of deploying iPads and iPhones.
  • Finally, be first in line to get an iPad if you don’t already have one. You can’t support what you don’t understand; besides, it really is a great device.

I realize that there are other options out there other than the “i” devices. However, I haven’t heard of, or seen, a single enterprise level roll out. However, these rules apply to the world of Android and Windows too. More devices per square foot equals more demand on the wireless network.