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Spread Spectrum Modulation Techniques

As an ex military satellite communications engineer I certainly remember working with spread spectrum modulation and also frequency hopping technology in the 1980's. Wireless Local Area Networking technology today exploits a technology which was thitherto mostly hidden inside this shadowy domain of military communications and radar. This technology comprises a collection of ideas which are termed Spread Spectrum Techniques (SST). Spread Spectrum techniques have some powerful properties which make them an excellent candidate for networking applications. To better understand why, we will take a closer look at this fascinating area, and its implications for networking.

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What on earth is making my home network so slow! (Part 1)

networkLet's face it, we've all been there. Sitting wondering why on earth a network connection that, up until 5 minutes ago had been working just fine was now all but useless. Less tech savvy individuals may just shrug their shoulders and try again later but anybody else is left wondering why. As a reader of this blog post that fact automatically places you in the latter category. So, to the problem. Could it be that somebody else in the house has started a large download? If that's the case its the easiest to solve just by asking around but the plethora of devices that are in our houses today make the job a lot more complex. For me it was a long forgotten mobile phone owned by my son, left on charge under the bed and set to auto update its code and apps that proved the final straw and drove me to come up with a solution to this problem.

Lets look at the problem in the round first of all. Homes nowadays usually have a router which connects off to the cable company or to the telephone line. These routers allow all of the devices in the house to connect to the net whether on the wireless or the wired side of life. Its not uncommon for a home network to support 10 to 20 devices not all of which will be known about by every other member of the household. Any one of these devices has the potential to bring the network to its knees for hours at an end by starting a large download. Of course the possibility also exists that somebody else on the outside has gained access to your network and it's important that this is not overlooked.

The first step in getting a handle on the situation will be to take control of your home router and secure it so that it cannot be manipulated by anybody else. Most home routers nowadays have a small, cut-down, webserver running on board which allows a management user to access the management web page. By using this web page clients can change all of the settings on the device. The page is usually accessible by both the wired and the wireless network. If you are using a Windows machine the easiest way to establish a connection to this page is to do the following:

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  1. Click the pearl button and in the box which says "search programs and files" type cmd and press enter. This should bring up a window which looks like that shown on the right. Inside this window, type the command "ipconfig". The output should also resemble that shown on the right showing among other things, the address of the default gateway. Take a careful note of this address. (192.168.1.1 in this case)

  2. Open up a browser, type this default gateway address into the address bar and click enter. If your router is new or poorly configured you should now be looking at the control page for the device. If the device is configured properly you should now be looking at a login prompt page.

  3. Once logged in you will then be able to control the settings of the router.


This post is not written to be a guide for any specific router so I will keep any further instructions necessarily wide in scope.

The following bullets will link to posts that will be made available soon which examine the different aspects of this problem. Check back soon to see them when they become available.

  • Who is connected? Checking to understand which devices are connected to your router on WIFI and wired networks and establishing whether or not they should be.

  • What are they doing? Most routers show a basic table of transferred bandwidth as a part of their reporting. This can be used to examine the usage on your network and ascertain which devices are consuming most of the network.

  • Securing my router. As touched on previously, the router should be configured appropriately so that only those users whom you wish to have access are able to access both the network and the routers management page.

  • Customising the routers code. Home routers purchased off the shelf nowadays have woefully inadequate firmware that is frequently shown to be buggy at best and insecure at worst. Consider replacing this firmware with a fully customisable open source router such as dd-wrt or tomato.

  • Open source router management. (Wireshark and SNMP) Want to take the control of your home network to the max. Consider implementing network management, bandwidth management and device management.


I hope this post has proved informative as an intro to controlling your home network. Check back soon for further updates.
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The rise of the Network Plumber

As the worlds journey through the second industrial (Internet) revolution carries on apace, todays businesses face an emerging challenge. Unless your company has its own "in-house" network professionals it is likely that the demands the Internet places on your business, whilst clearly a massive opportunity are also the source of what can seem like spiralling overhead costs in terms of personnel and knowledge.

 

Back in the mists of history during the first industrial revolution, the electric light bulb was causing a stir. The new technology was clearly a fantastic opportunity for business of the time to increase productivity and improve working conditions. It was basically a new fangled technology which could enable businesses to "work smarter".  Now where have we heard that before?

The first electricity installation companies were small bands of highly educated and highly paid technical afficionados who were evangelists of the technology rather than being more akin to the matter of fact electricians of today. The technolgy has nowadays moved from invention to commodity to utility and that process probably took 10 to 20 years to fully complete. There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between that revolution and this one.

Heres one cast iron fact. Businesses today need networks. Whether it is to connect their towering office blocks in each corner of the world into one great corporate network or just to connect their office computers to their printer and the internet to read their emails, they all need their networks. We have tried to think of one single business that wouldnt put itself at a disadvantage in todays world by ignoring everything related to the internet such as emails and websites and we have failed. From the sole trader window cleaner to the corporate giant, all of them now need their networks.

 

 The technology is now moving into the realms of utility rather than being "a great new invention". Nowadays your average Granny in Scotland is just as likely to switch on the laptop as they are to switch on their central heating. Ok thats a dubious fact I'll concede but you get the picture. The world has changed forever and the Scottish business community as well as the residential community now need their networks. The technology is now thought of more like a central heating boiler than the hubble telescope to the average consumer. They just want it to work.

Todays networks now need plumbers. Todays Scottish businesses now need network plumbers and not the techie evangelist types of the last 10-20 years. They need matter of fact network tradespeople who they can call upon to get things working properly when they arent. They dont need an inhouse plumbing enthusiast who does plumbing for a hobby and thinks theyre a bit handy with a pipe bender and they certainly dont need a plumbing department full of plumbers in their overalls ready to fix a boiler at a moments notice. 

 

Ok weve stretched the plumbing analogy a little too far here but I believe the point is made. When it comes to network plumbing and you need the system to just work. When you need a no nonsense expert in the trade to advise you on the best systems for your requirements or just to make your existing systems do the job that you need them to do for you, day in-day out, give us a call at Rustyice Solutions. The network plumbers.

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How Wi-Fi works

If you want to know how to fix your Wi-Fi, first you need to understand how it works

Before you set about fixing your Wi-Fi, it helps to know how the technology works.

That way, you can make an informed decision about the equipment you need to solve your issues, or whether a change of settings might help.

It’s a complicated subject, and we won’t attempt to cover everything (such as packet data, TCP/IP, or the ins and outs of wireless security), but by the end of this section, you should have a firm grasp of Wi-Fi’s fundamentals.

Signals and spectrum

Wi-Fi’s core premise is pretty simple – routers and adapters send and receive data using radio waves. It’s the same basic technology that’s used by radio and TV to receive terrestrial signals, mobile phones to make and receive calls, as well as video senders, baby monitors, and all sorts of other wireless devices.

In effect, all a wireless router or adapter does is translate the data it receives into a radio signal, which is decoded back into data at the other end.

Specifically, wireless routers use frequencies of 2.4GHz (or the range 2.412GHz-2.484GHz to be more precise) and, in the case of more expensive dual-band routers, 5GHz (4.195GHz-5.825GHz) to send and receive information.

But there’s far more to it than simply slinging streams of data to and fro. Each of these bands is further divided into channels, of which your router can use one or two simultaneously (when two are used simultaneously, it’s called channel bonding – see below for more details). In the 2.4GHz band there are up to 14 channels available, and up to 42 in the 5GHz band.

The idea is that by using different channels, neighbouring networks avoid stepping on each other’s toes. In an ideal world, for maximum performance and stable operation, your router should be running on a channel that no other network in range is using.

In reality, the true number of available channels is lower than these theoretical maximums, depending on where you live and which router you’re using.

In the UK and Europe, you’re legally allowed to use only channels 1 to 13 in the 2.4GHz space, and you’re restricted to 18 of the 42 in the 5GHz space. A Netgear router we use in our office, meanwhile, makes only four channels in the 5GHz space available for use.

This is compounded by the fact that when your router transmits on each channel, the effective width of its signal is about 20MHz, which, in the 2.4GHz space, means it can overlap up to eight neighbouring channels.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that when more than three wireless networks are in close proximity to one another, co-channel and adjacent channel interference can become a problem.



Channel bonding (the ability some routers have to group two channels together, doubling the potential throughput) makes the congestion even worse – with several 40MHz wide channels hogging such a narrow spectrum, it’s like trying to squeeze several 21-stone men into a small lift.

Why 5GHz?

There is a solution to hand, however – 5GHz wireless. The advantages it holds over 2.4GHz are threefold. First, it’s far less congested. Fewer people own dual-band 5GHz routers and devices, so the chances are you’ll be able to set up your network on a completely congestion-free channel, which you perhaps wouldn’t over 2.4GHz.

Second, since the channels are further apart than in the 2.4GHz band (with 20MHz between each, compared with 4MHz or 5MHz) there’s much less opportunity for adjacent channel overlap. Even in the unlikely event that many 5GHz routers and devices are in close proximity to each other, maintaining a steady signal should be much easier.

Finally, and potentially the biggest bonus of all, there are relatively few non-networking devices currently using the 5GHz space.

Where users of 2.4GHz must contend with all manner of domestic interlopers, from microwaves to cordless phones, 5GHz networks are comparatively clutter-free.



Physical barriers

It isn’t all rosy in the 5GHz garden, though. Since the signal is of a higher frequency than 2.4GHz, it deals less well with walls, windows and floors, and this hits its ability to transmit and receive speedily at long range.

In Rustyice tests, we’ve routinely seen routers perform well over 2.4GHz, flawlessly transferring files wirelessly at a distance of about 40m, with two walls in the way.

When tested in the same location over 5GHz, most suffer a significant drop in transfer speed and weaker signal reception. Some fail to maintain a solid connection entirely. That means the more objects blocking your signal path, the worse the reception in the 5GHz band gets. It isn’t only building materials that get in the way – everything from humans to heavy rain can attenuate a wireless signal.

Choosing a 5GHz router

Restricted range isn’t the only problem afflicting 5GHz routers. Many devices, such as smartphones, internet radios and games consoles, don’t send or receive signals in that band.

It’s really only laptops and PCs with premium wireless cards that will take advantage of the 5GHz band.

That’s why high-end routers typically offer the choice of 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but you should take care when choosing a dual-band router.

Some routers can transmit on both bands simultaneously, while others require you to manually flick between the two. Needless to say, the former is the better choice.
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Wi-Fi security luddite? The ICO is coming for you!

The Information Commissioner's Office today published new guidance for home Wi-Fi security after a YouGov report found that 40% of home users did not understand how to manage the security settings on their networks.

The survey also found that in spite of most ISPs now setting up and installing security on Wi-Fi equipment, 16% of the people surveyed were unsure whether or not they were using a secured network, or were aware they weren't, but didn't give a toss either way.

The new guidance includes information on managing encryption settings and how to think of a secure password. Top tip? Don't use pa55w0rd.

Giving people unsolicited access to your network could reduce connection speed, cause you to exceed data caps, or allow hordes of criminals to use your network for nefarious purposes, said the ICO.

Welcoming the move, D-Link's Chris Davies pointed out that there was no excuse for being caught out.

"There is no doubt that in the past setting up security on wireless networks could be tricky," said Chris. "But this is no longer the case with most wireless products.

"Security can be set up wiin a couple of minutes with no prior technical knowledge required. We've also been working with ISPs to help them ship products to consumers with security pre-configured."

Let's just hope the ICO doesn't start fining home users for data breaches. Or maybe that would be the kick in the butt some of them need?
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