Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Temporary Wireless Installation

We were asked, rather last minute, if we could provide wireless coverage for a manufacturing conference. One of the stipulations was that they didn't want to spend any money(!). What we expected to be a job that took a few hours though naturally ran into nearly a full week.

Day 1

We found where they were erecting the venue, worryingly, on a patch of wasteland. Not only was half the marquee not yet erected, there was also no power.

The nearest building was all brick walls and fire exits. No windows or doors that we could use to run services our of temporarily. We found access to the roof, but then had the problem of no data connections nearby.

We thought about using a point-to-point solution but there was nowhere flat or secure at the 'tent' where we could put the remote end.

We eventually found a plant room with data we could use, but this was well over the 90 meters cable length we specify, and probably another 90 meters to the cab. We therefore decided to put some active kit in the plant room and another switch, this time PoE, at the conference end. 

Back at the office (as the generator was not yet on site) we put ends on the cable at around 190 meters and tested it running four wireless access points. Not ideal, but all worked, even if only at 100Mb rather than 1Gb.

Day 2

Department meeting in the morning so only a bit of time in the afternoon to get set up. Spent the afternoon running cables around to the positions we would like the access points.

The generator was not working so couldn't test everything on site.

Day 3

Hooray! The generator is working. We finished running the cables out, as we now have beams where we would like all the access points, and tie-wrapped the access points to the beams.

We deployed four Cisco 1142 access points (2 per tent) and checked for full coverage. We have two SSID's, one for staff and one for guests. As we used a little less than the 190 meters we tested in the office we actually got a gigabit connection.

We did carry out some proper tests, but I also took the quick screenshot on my phone below.

Day 4

An early start to run the cable out and find some tubing and boards so nobody tripped over it (we didn't have a pickaxe to dig a trench and the ground was too hard for the hammer).

Thankfully no problems with any of the kit, and soon after we were set up we saw upwards of 80 users connecting.

At this point we left them to it to get back to the day to day jobs. Informing the staff on site about passwords and locations. 

Day 5

Clean up and pack away.

I wonder if people realise how much work goes into these things?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Wireless & lamp posts

We have been looking at alternative solutions to digging up the roads to install fibre in order to get services to properties belonging to the University that may not have had connectivity before. In particular there are a number of University-owned houses that would like access to the eduroam wireless service.

It is particularly difficult (and expensive) for us to dig up nearby roads as we are situated next to a number of hospitals and, therefore, important emergency routes.

One solution we went to have a look at yesterday was an outdoor wireless mesh network that made use of the power available from existing street lights.

As you can see it was a rather grey day, but atop the lamp post is a point to point wireless link back to campus and using PoE off that is a Motorola outdoor access point with one 802.11a radio antenna connected to a mesh of other AP's as well as an 802.11b/g/n radio antenna providing wireless access to the houses nearby.

The basic idea is:

If the council aren't amenable to having us install on street lights (as an alternative to digging up the road) we already have a CCTV pole there that we could make use of and install the mesh AP's on the chimneys instead. All we would have to do is get power up to the chimney stacks.

There is a huge cost saving not having to install fibre, data cabinets, cabling and building level switches and access points in every, or almost all, of the 46 properties.

It is a solution we haven't really thought much about before, although we have used a few point to point links previously and still having one in use. The numbers of access points in the mesh would depend on the results of the pre-installation survey and, at least if we do install them on chimneys, we have more locations to choose from.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

iOS 8 - android? is that you?

It was Apple's WWDC yesterday, and instead of watching it I decided to do something else and check the announcements on Twitter. What seemed to me to be coming out of the presentations was a list of features previously available on android.

So what were the new features of iOS 8?

  • Third party keyboards - Swype et al have been on android for years
  • Predictive keyboard - So it will now be like most android keyboards
  • Widgets - Was there ever a version of android that didn't have widgets?
  • Actionable notifications - android 4.3
  • Cloud drive - Google Drive...but Google gives you 15GB for free, not 5GB
  • Family sharing - android tablets have multi-user support and music can be shared for limited listens
  • Share and copy between apps (such as a web link to an email) - On android since the beginning
  • Choose which apps to use following certain functions (for example using Google Maps instead of Apple Maps when tapping on an address) - android did it?
  • Health apps and integration with fitness tracking devices - Hello Samsung Galaxy & Gear Fit
  • Homekit (integration with smart home products) - Like Nest, that Google has been selling
  • Photos with auto- backup - Identical to Google+ photos, apart from Google gives you unlimited storage
  • iMessage improvements - Basically it is now includes Snapchat/WhatsApp functionality
  • You can now launch Siri by saying "Hey Siri" - "OK Google"
  • Siri can listen to TV and movies and integrate with Shazam - So Google Now then?
  • Watch videos of apps before you download them - Already available on the Google Play store
I don't intend to start arguments, it just looked to me that the major features the Apple fan-boys on Twitter were going mad for were imitations of what Google have already been doing...despite some cheap shots at android during the day.

Apple will do things in their own way and ideas will be built upon and developed by both companies.

I suppose imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery.