Bring Your Own Device

A hot topic these days is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), which speaks to how people are using personally-owned devices in the workplace.  The challenge lies not with people simply bringing their own devices into the workplace but then wanting connectivity for each device. 

According to a recent survey from Cisco, there will be nearly 18.9 billion network connections by 2016 – almost 2.5 for every person on the planet – compared with just 10.3 billion in 2011.  Also by 2016, the skyrocketing use of video will translate to about 1.2 million video minutes to travel the Internet every second.  In the business world today, the average number of devices in the has grown to 3.5, with at least one laptop, smart phone and tablet per person, according to the Mobility Workforce Report released by mobility services provider iPass.

All of these numbers illustrate the inherent challenges with the BYOD movement: new technologies and the exploding use of mobile devices are accelerating the demand for connectivity and bandwidth.  This bandwidth demand is outpacing enterprises and service providers’ abilities to handle volume at affordable prices.  Moreover, companies must worry about not just bandwidth demands but also greater management and control of these devices and the need for enhanced security for their network.

According to Nomadix Chief Commercial & Operating Officer Fred Reeder, “Like any resource, Internet access needs to be managed.  The more demand for the resource, the more management is required to ensure each user gets fair access to bandwidth, the network is secure and the quality of connection is optimum.”

To solve the BYOD challenge, companies should focus not on the devices themselves but in enabling those devices to easily and securely connect to the Internet through the provisioning of bandwidth to ensure fair sharing and secure connections.

Where In The World Are You?

At the beginning of every new year, the buzz ramps up about everything gizmo, gadget, and mobile at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  CES brings the best of what’s new in the world of consumer tech and Wi-Fi has clearly taken center stage in many of the products and services on display.  Among the many exhibitors at this year’s CES was the Wifi Alliance.  The Wifi Alliance is a non-profit organization founded in 1999 by a group of visionary leaders with the goal of driving the adoption of high-speed wireless local area networking.

Much of the seamless access and high-capacity throughput we enjoy in airport Wi-Fi solutions, convention Wi-Fi solutions, stadium Wi-Fi solutions and other Wifi solutions for densely populated environments is a direct result of efforts by the Wi-Fi Alliance.  In a recent article by PC Magazine,

Wireless mobility is undeniably the “killer app” for social media.  No other technology has done as much to enable the anywhere, anytime availability that gives social media such real-time presence.  But social media and its related applications are beginning to move beyond mere availability to a true sense of presence by adding a spatial dimension to the conversation.  That dimension, specifically location, brings a broader, richer and much more personal on-line experience.

Knowing your specific location along with that of your friends and colleagues enables you to discover what’s around you, hook up and navigate more easily and effectively.  Location awareness also speeds and enhances your search for goods and services close to your present location and can be a life saver when seeking emergency assistance.  The addition of a location dimension to our wireless mobile communications is rapidly changing the face of universal mobile connectivity, dramatically affecting how we live, work and play.

So, how exactly does this happen?  Not every wireless device is equipped with GPS.  Also, a fairly unobstructed view of the sky is required for GPS to function properly.  This is certainly not always the case with mobile devices as more time is likely spent indoors at the office or at home, or roaming the concrete canyons of metropolitan areas.  At the forefront of delivering a comprehensive wireless mobile location solution is Skyhook Wireless, a Boston-based company that has developed a technology for determining geographical location using Wi-Fi as the underlying reference system.

Using the MAC addresses of nearby wireless access points coupled with proprietary algorithms, Skyhook’s Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) can determine the position of a mobile device within 10–20 meters.  It provides service similar to GPS without relying on GPS hardware but can also integrate with GPS-enabled devices to provide hybrid positioning.  Skyhook Wireless claims sub-second time-to-first-fix with 10–20 meter accuracy and near 100% availability indoors and in dense urban areas.  Skyhook’s database is gathered through “wardriving” and includes more than 250 million Wi-Fi access points covering 70 percent of population centers in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and selected Asian countries.

But there are potential drawbacks. The service is dependent on a dense deployment of Wi-Fi. So the technology is inherently better suited for urban areas than sparsely populated rural areas where Wi-Fi is not deployed at all or where access points are deployed too far apart from each other.  Also, some Wi-Fi Internet providers and critics point out that Wi-Fi routers do not necessarily stay in one position forever like satellites or cell towers do. People often move and take their Wi-Fi routers with them.  However, Skyhook’s software is able to detect when a Wi-Fi access point has been moved and makes note of the change in its database.  In addition, the company plans to update the database annually, taking to the streets repeatedly to search for new Wi-Fi signals.

To learn more about wireless location and Skyhook, check out

Wifi Takes Center Stage at CES

At the beginning of every new year, the buzz ramps up about everything gizmo, gadget, and mobile at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  CES brings the best of what’s new in the world of consumer tech and Wi-Fi has clearly taken center stage in many of the products and services on display.  Among the many exhibitors at this year’s CES was the Wifi Alliance.  The Wifi Alliance is a non-profit organization founded in 1999 by a group of visionary leaders with the goal of driving the adoption of high-speed wireless local area networking.

Much of the seamless access and high-capacity throughput we enjoy in airport Wi-Fi solutions, convention Wi-Fi solutions, stadium Wi-Fi solutions and other Wifi solutions for densely populated environments is a direct result of efforts by the Wi-Fi Alliance.  In a recent article by PC Magazine, Samara Lynn caught up with Edgar Figueroa, CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance, at CES to discuss the organization’s predictions for 2012.  Here’s what Samara had to report:

“With shipment of Wifi devices reaching nearly 1.1 billion in 2011, the organization responsible for promoting and standardizing wireless technology, the Wifi Alliance, is busier than ever.  Member companies of the Wifi Alliance are developing new additions to Wifi capabilities that include a new certification for Wifi display applications, making it easier to share media content between devices without the need for a traditional Wi-Fi network. In addition, Wifi Alliance interoperability programs for 60 GHz (802.11ad ) and Very High Throughput (802.11ac) are in development. Finally, the Wifi Alliance will launch Wifi Certified Passpoint in 2012. Devices with this certification will allow users to easily connect to hot spots and improve the overall user experience.”

Recent research data shows that shipment of Wi-Fi devices is expected to double by 2015. Growth in home wireless networking devices—including TVs, media players, and gaming consoles is anticipated to reach 35 percent by 2016.

Other predictions for Wifi from 2011 to 2016:

  • Wifi is expected to grow 109 percent by 2016 in automotive applications such as infotainment systems, navigation and traffic monitoring.
  • Wifi is expected to grow 39 percent by 2016 in health, fitness, and medical applications.
  • Wifi is expected to grow 25 percent by 2016 in smart meters and automation products.

“Each year in our industry is more exciting than the last,” said Figueroa, CEO of the Wifi Alliance. “We continue to enable new use cases for Wifi where it enhances the user experience. The future has never been brighter for Wifi.”

Therefore, whether you’re deploying small restaurant Wifi solutions or large airport Wifi solutions, the Wifi Alliance will continue to be there to insure your infrastructure components will continue to seamlessly integrate and deliver the best user experience across the many disparate, Wifi enabled devices available.  Check them out:,2817,2398594,00.asp

Sometimes Less is More

In a world of universal mobile connectivity, the Wifi Internet provider is faced with serving population densities far exceeding those of the past.  Many of these  venues serve large groups of open, public or wireless guest access clustered in areas such as airport terminals, subways, train terminals, stadiums, hotels and other populated venues.  With so many users grouped so closely together, the potential for co-channel or adjacent channel interference is dramatically increased.

With multimedia emerging as the primary content of interest, controlling such interference becomes a major factor in maximizing available Wifi channel capacity to meet the traffic’s required bandwidth and latency demands.  Key factors for managing interference are the ability to control Access Point (AP) and client power levels.  While AP power has been managed and controlled effectively for quite some time now, the client’s power is set manually and not negotiated with the AP as is common between cell phones and their associated base stations.

For most clients, their Wifi’s power level is set by the device’s operating system software drivers to maximum, then forgotten.  When the Client’s radiation, be it on-channel or on an adjacent channel, reaches another AP to which it is not associated, it can cause interference to that AP’s channel, degrading its throughput.  In many cases where the Wifi infrastructure has been deployed casually without regard to power or channel management, the interference is so poor that it shuts the AP down.  Clients physically close to each other on the same channel but associated with different AP’s can also interfere with themselves and create channel contention to one another.

There is good news on the horizon for the Wifi Internet provider. The Wifi Working Group for 802.11k has developed what are called “Cooperative Control” mechanisms between the AP and its associated Client. These are direct and positively acknowledged conversations that among other things, will allow the AP and Client to negotiate power levels to optimize performance while minimizing interference. Here is a summary of relevant 802.11k features:

  • Beacon Report – The Client reports Beacons that it detects to the AP.  This gives the AP and its associated controller more information about the environment seen by the Client.
  • Neighbor Report – The AP sends a list of neighbor AP’s to the Client.  This is used to reduce scanning.
  • Power Constraint Element – The AP instructs the Client device to change (typically reduce) its transmit power.
  • Link Measurement Request/Report – The AP can ask the Client to report the link quality it is seeing.

Once integrated into the Wifi Internet provider’s infrastructure and the Client’s operating system’s Wifi device drivers, these controls will go a long way to minimizing or preventing interference that can reduce or cripple channel capacity.  To learn more about the power of “Cooperative Control”, check out the 802.11 webpage:

Don’t Be Denied

The bane of the Wifi Internet provider is a threat known as the denial of service or a DoS attack.  The concept is simple:  Create massive interference to the Wifi infrastructure or public access gateway until the network crumbles and users are totally denied access.  With today’s insatiable desire for universal mobile connectivity fueling public venues ubiquitously sporting Wifi, there is ample opportunity for hackers to cause a major service disruption while hiding anonymously behind the crowd.  As such, Wifi can be extremely vulnerable to a DoS attack.  With today’s dependence on wireless as the primary mode of access, the consequences can be costly.

There are two major scenarios for a Wifi DoS attack.  The first is the least sophisticated, taking a “brute force” approach by blanketing the entire Wifi radio frequency (RF) spectrum with strong RF signals that literally over power all radio communications within that spectrum.  Such an approach denies both the Wifi Access Point and its associated Wifi clients from communicating with one another.

The second approach attempts to flood the network with so much traffic that intended communications is slowed to a crawl or blocked entirely.  Dummy packets are generated by the hacker in such volume and at such a high rate that the the Wifi Internet provider infrastructure and public access gateway become saturated, stopping the flow of all intended traffic.  This threat may not only come from within the local Wifi infrastructure but can be created or controlled from the Internet outside the public access gateway.

The only way to completely eliminate DoS attacks is put all the people who want to communicate in an “RF sealed” room and deny any access to the Internet.  Not a very practical approach for a highly mobile society desiring ubiquitous mobile connectivity.  Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to mitigate the threat of a Wifi DoS attack.  The public access gateway can be steeled against attack from the Internet by deploying behavioral detection algorithms in addition to common firewall methodology.  This approach searches for patterns or behavior of the traffic outside the norm then blocks that traffic from entering.  These same algorithms can be applied inside the Wifi infrastructure to detect rogue machines controlled from the Internet then block their access to the WLAN.  In addition, diligence in updating client and Wifi infrastructure with security patches will go a long way towards minimizing any potential “holes” through which hackers may enter.

To thwart RF threats, the following steps can be taken to lessen their impact:

  • If interior walls are using metal studs, make sure they are grounded.
  • Install thermally insulated copper or metallic film-based windows and /or use metallic window tint instead of blinds or curtains.
  • Metallic-based paint can be used on walls and doors to block unwanted RF penetration.
  • Use directive antennas on Wifi access points to minimize access from outside the room or building.

Ubiquitous mobile connectivity is a wonderful thing.  Don’t let it be denied!

Peering Over the Horizon

The recent growth of personal mobile devices has been nothing short of phenomenal.  A large part of what makes these devices so enticing is the universal mobile connectivity provided by Wifi, in which the capacity to deliver video and other bandwidth-hungry content is available.  Once relegated to the home, the Enterprise campus and the occasional “hot spot”, Wifi is blossoming into a full-fledged, publicly-accessible, ubiquitously deployed utility.  While not yet as fully integrated or seamless as the cellular networks, public Wifi can be found just about anywhere.  Airport Wifi solutions, restaurant Wifi solutions, convention Wifi solutions, stadium Wifi solutions; it’s all happening and it’s everywhere!

Unlike cellular deployments and expansion which are highly planned and controlled by a few carriers, Wifi growth has been an asynchronous, bottoms up approach from numerous uncoordinated individuals and groups relying on a shared, unlicensed spectrum.  With more and more mobile Wifi devices being deployed daily coupled with emerging demands for HD content, greater Wifi capacity will be required.  So where will the capacity be found to meet our seemingly insatiable demand?

Not betting the farm on new frequency spectrum allocations happening anytime soon, there are three standards looming on the horizon promising to fill the void.

The first is 802.11ac.  This effort targets increasing Wifi data rates up to ten times or about 1Gbps.  Operating in the 5 GHz band, it achieves this capacity increase through high-density modulation of up to 256 QAM across 160 MHz channels while leveraging up to eight MIMO spatial streams and multi-use MIMO.  Taking advantage of recent improvements in signal processing technology, 802.11ac is proving to be not only faster but more robust with better resistance to multipath fading.  This will mean significant improvements for airport Wifi solutions, stadium Wi-Fi solutions and other venues looking to deliver HD content in densely populated environments.  The finalization of this standard is expected in late 2012 with full production deployments in 2015.

The second effort, 802.11ad is being developed to deliver even higher data rates from 6 Gbps to 60 Gbps.  To achieve such high rates of throughput, developers are looking “upstairs” to the unlicensed green field spectrum at 60 GHz.  Unfortunately, the laws of physics come into play, restricting the distances in which such high bandwidths can be delivered.  While limited to 20 feet or so, this technology still promises significant advantage to restaurant Wifi solutions, convention Wifi solutions and other closely populated venues.

The third effort, known as White-Fi, is 802.11af.  Readers of this blog will be familiar with its strategy of using “white space”, the unused spectrum or guard bands between existing TV channels.  While not offering the high data rates promised by 802.11ac and 802.11ad, White-Fi’s strategic advantage is delivering additional capacity at much further distances.  This is due to the characteristics of the UHF frequency spectrum used by 802.11af which enables beyond line of sight communications not possible in the existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHZ unlicensed microwave spectrum.

Wifi is rapidly becoming a ubiquitous public utility.  While new efforts to increase capacity are forthcoming, the challenge is to develop new technology to allow the integration, coordination and control necessary to merge these disparate Wifi communities into one seamless virtual public network.

Coloring in The White Space

Back in 2010, the FCC Commissioners voted to release the unused television broadcast spectrum sandwiched between each TV channel for use in wireless networking.  Known as “white space,” this spectrum was originally allocated as a guard to prevent those channels from interfering with one another.  Recent advances in RF Digital Signal processing has ushered in a new generation of “software defined radios” (SDR) that have the precision and agility to dance within and between these spaces, fully exploiting their available capacity without causing interference to existing TV channels.

The FCC’s ruling will put this emerging SDR technology to work opening up significant portions of new Wifi bandwidth that in turn will create significant expansion opportunities for the Wifi Internet Provider.  As compared to existing, line of sight Wifi systems operating in the 2.4GHz microwave spectrum, SDR based white space systems utilize spectrum in the VHF and UHF regions where signal propagation mimics that of TV broadcasts; traveling for several miles beyond line of sight with excellent penetration through walls and other obstructions that would normally stifle traditional Wi-Fi signals.

This will allow the Wifi Internet Provider to extend its reach towards the roughly 14 million unserved rural citizens currently denied Internet access due to lack of available and cost effective connectivity.  In addition, white space spectrum can provide for Public Access Gateway backhaul to network access nodes currently beyond the reach of traditional Wi-Fi or wired backhaul.  This Wi-Fi expansion will also do its part to spur the economy by creating new jobs for installation, operation and maintenance of these deployments.

According to a related article in PC World (1), “Rice professors Edward Knightly and Lin Zhong are likely to be among the first to put the FCC’s new rules to the test thanks to a $1.8M federal grant to establish a white space test bed in East Houston.”  The five year project calls for Rice and Houston-based non-profit Technology For All (TFA) to add white space technology to a wide spectrum Wifi network they jointly operate in Houston’s working-class east end neighborhood.  Not to be left behind, Microsoft and Google have embraced deployment of white space technology within their own campuses as well.

Investments in white space exploration and emerging frequency-agile SDR technology enable the possibility of opening up other portions of spectrum.  Ultimately, SDR technology holds the promise of allowing all frequency spectrum to be shared by everyone, utilizing highly agile SDR’s to continuously scan for available spectrum, dynamically reserving then releasing that spectrum as required.  Allowing radios to manage our precious spectrum means much less wasted space and much greater access to needed capacity more rapidly than regulation and politics have brought.