Wireless

Should I upgrade to the new 802.11ac wireless access points? Some considerations to think about.

This year Pakedge introduced its 802.11ac based wireless access point (WAP) lines – the WK series and the WX series. The WK series is designed for residential and light commercial use, while the WX is designed for commercial use.

A common refrain we hear from our customers and resellers is “Should I upgrade from 802.11n to 802.11ac?” This blog will provide you with some things to consider as you make this decision.

What is the current wireless technology being replaced?
In terms of performance, there is a big difference between 3rd generation (802.11g), 4th generation (802.11n) and 5th generation (802.11ac).

  • 802.11g or “G” – There is no compelling reason not to upgrade from G technology. This technology is over 10 years old and is insufficient for many of today’s applications and services for a variety of reasons, including:
    1. It has a maximum theoretical speed of 54 Mbps and in real world situations, you will get less than half that. Many people have Internet services faster than G’s wireless transmission speeds.
    2. Multiple users streaming video will max out its capacity.
    3. It only operates on the congested 2.4 GHz band and is susceptible to interference, especially in an urban multi-tenant office environment or a multi-dwelling residential building.
  • 802.11n Single Band (2.4 GHz) or Single Band N – Unless there are very specific single purpose applications or that the local environment is interference free, there is no reason not to upgrade from Single Band N. Its main shortcoming is that it only operates on the congested 2.4 GHz band, and is subject to interference and degraded device performance, especially for those that are streaming high bandwidth and low latency content.
  • 802.11n Dual Band (2.4 and 5 GHz) – The decision to upgrade depends on the applications. The biggest difference between AC and dual band N lies in the performance and capacity of the 5 GHz band. AC is 5 times faster than its N counterpart, while supporting twice as many client devices (per WAP), and having a longer usable range (i.e. the coverage profile stays flatter longer before dropping off at the edge of coverage, thus providing you with higher throughput further out than N before dropping off). Consider upgrading if these are important to you.

Are you in a high interference environment?
The number one factor affecting wireless performance is interference. Most of the interference occurs in the 2.4 GHz band because many devices still use it. Legacy devices, still in service today, only operate in this band while other newer devices choose to operate in this band because of its longer range. In addition, the 2.4 GHz band has only 11 channels, of which 3 (channels 1, 6 and 11) do not overlap.

If you live and work in an dense urban area, you are in a high interference environment. This is easily verified by performing a site survey using a tool like inSSIDer or a built in application within your WAP (for example, you can use the site survey function in our W6 and W7 WAPS). In addition to interference sources within your own network, it is likely you have as much interference from your neighbors as well.

If your environment does not have a lot of interference today, there is a strong possibility that will change in the future as the 2.4 GHz band is only going to get crowded. Your microwave, cordless phones and any wireless cameras/monitors are potential sources of interference. In addition, many of the automation devices (wi-fi enabled and Zigbee enabled shades, thermostats, and appliances) operate on the 2.4 GHz band. As more and more of these IOT or connected devices become mainstream, and you or your neighbors buy and use them, the limitations of the 2.4 GHz band on performance will become clear.

We recommend upgrading to AC if:

  • You live and work in a high interference environment
  • You use a lot of high bandwidth low latency applications (e.g. streaming video, VOIP telephone service)
  • You have a large number of 5 GHz compatible devices that you use to consume high bandwidth, low latency applications
  • You wish to futureproof your network against a local RF environment that is likely to get more congested in the near future

What types of applications are you running?
The applications you use will be a major consideration in the upgrade decision process. Are you using your network to stream video? Are you using it to stream audio, to do internet surfing (reading), to print or data transfer? To do VOIP?

Some applications are sensitive to performance. High bandwidth/low latency applications, like HD/UHD video streaming, high resolution audio, VOIP, videoconferencing or AVB applications, require high performance whereas data transfer or print applications don’t have the same performance requirements. Even if you don’t use a lot of high bandwidth, low latency applications today, you may do so in the future as more and more content is being delivered in the form of video.

For these high performance applications, you want to be on the uncongested 5 GHz band whenever possible. If you use this band frequently, the decision to upgrade is based on your requirements. As stated previously, AC is 5 times faster than its N counterpart, while supporting twice as many client devices (per WAP), and having a longer usable range.

We recommend upgrading to AC if:

  • You use a lot of high bandwidth low latency applications (e.g. streaming video, VOIP telephone service) on the 5 GHz band
  • You have a large number of 5 GHz compatible devices that you use to consume high bandwidth, low latency applications
  • You wish to futureproof and scale your network against growth, both in the number of devices supported, as well as usage of high bandwidth, low latency applications
  • You want to maintain 5 GHz performance at long distances without having to buy additional N access points to make up for the performance coverage gap

What types of devices are in the network?
If you have a lot of 5 GHz compatible devices, they should always operate in that band instead of the 2.4 GHz band. This allows them to operate in the uncongested band, while freeing the 2.4 GHz band for the 2.4 GHz only devices and reduces performance robbing devices from the spectrum.

If you have a large number of 5 GHz devices, then the decision to upgrade is based on the applications you run. Coming from G or N single band, you should upgrade to N dual band or AC. Specifically, we recommend upgrading to AC if:

  • You use a lot of high bandwidth low latency applications (e.g. streaming video, VOIP telephone service) on the 5 GHz band
  • You have a large number of 5 GHz compatible devices that you use to consume high bandwidth, low latency applications
  • You wish to futureproof and scale your network against growth, both in the number of devices supported, as well as usage of high bandwidth, low latency applications
  • You want to maintain 5 GHz performance at long distances without having to buy additional N access points to make up for the performance coverage gap

What is your current ISP service?
Many users still have low speed service (10 – 25 Mbps) with no plans to upgrade. However, as more and more high speed Internet services are rolled out, many of the existing service plans are being upgraded for free. For example, Comcast has been upgrading its customers with 25 Mbps service to 50 Mbps, and some 50 Mbps service to 100 Mbps service. Even if you are at 25 Mbps today, you will find that many service providers are now routinely upgrading its customers to the next higher speed level at no charge (as long as their infrastructure can support it).

Consider upgrading to AC is this is happening in your local service area, or if high speed services are coming in the near future and you utilize a lot of cloud based streaming services.

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What About Band Steering? Follow Up to “Three Best Practices for Maximizing Wireless Network Performance”

Since posting our piece “Three Best Practices for Maximizing Wireless Network Performance” the other day, we received a few emails and a comment asking us “What about band steering?” and “Why all the hassle? Isn’t that what band steering is for?”

Well, we are happy they asked.

It’s a common misconception that band steering is a miracle solution for wireless optimization. Band steering – a common function found on wireless controllers  – discovers which devices are 5.0 Ghz compatible and  signals the access points to move the device to the 5.0 band. It is helpful, but its effectiveness of this is limited by the sophistication and quality of the wireless coverage.

This is why points #1 and #2 from our Best Practices for Maximizing Wifi Performance post are so important:

Assign different names for your 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz SSIDs

Using SSIDs to differentiate between the 2.4 and 5.0 GHz bands allows for more transparency and control of the wireless experience. For example, if the SSIDs were named Skynet2.4 or Skynet5.0, users and integrators would always know which band they were connected to.. Such differentiation in name would also empower users giving them then ability to choose between the bands if they wished to manually do so – this is not the case if the bands are masked by having the same SSID. Design your wireless network around the smaller range of 5.0 GHz band

Designing your wireless network around the smaller range of 5.0 GHz band is crucial if band steering is expected to work properly. If the wireless topology was designed around the 2.4 GHz range, then you can expect there to be drops in coverage on the 5.0 band. Designing around the 5.0 GHz band  will ensure that the fast 5.0 signal strength is seamless and won’t be overpowered by the strong, but slow 2.4 band. The 2.4GHz range can always be tuned down to minimize overlap, but you can’t really boost the 5.0 range with out compromising signal strength and speed. While the 5.0 GHz band is faster and less congested it’s range is not as long, nor is it as able to penetrate walls and dense objects as well as the 2.4 signal.

If you missed our Three Best Practices for Maximizing Wireless Network Performance we suggest you check it out. We also suggest you make sure your firmware is up to date on your wireless devices – on Friday (7/10/2015)we released updates for our WK-1 access point (v1.1.05) and our C36 controller (v3.17 ), please make sure you check for the updates on our dealer portal.

Keep Your Network in Top Shape with an Annual Maintenance Checkup

checkup

The network has become a critical part of the business and home infrastructure today. Professional IT managers understand the importance of the network infrastructure in daily business operation and invest significant time and resources to maintain their multi-million (and multi-billion) dollar network systems.

Just as you visit your doctor for an annual health physical, your network also needs an annual checkup to ensure that it is in tip-top shape. When was the last time you made a “house call” and checked on the health of your customers’ networks?

The Pakedge Technical Support team has compiled a list of network maintenance best practices and checklist to help you protect your customers’ networks and keep your customers’ Pakedge networks in top health.

Perform an audit of the current network installation

  • Review inventory against last recorded list of equipment. Verify brand, model, serial number, MAC address and IP address (if known) of equipment.
  • For equipment added since your last visit, record brand, model, serial number, MAC address, IP address (if known).

Check and update firmware on equipment

  • Review the list of latest firmware versions available on the Pakedge dealer portal (for Pakedge network equipment only)
  • Check firmware versions on equipment and update as necessary
    • Pakedge Wireless Access Points (WAPs) W6 or W7, must be updated in steps:
      1. W6 – if current is below v1.7 then update to v1.7 prior to v1.8 or v1.9
      2. W7 – if current is below v1.6 then update to v1.6 prior to v1.8
      3. After firmware update to v1.9, please factory default APs.
    • Pakedge WK and WX series access points, as well as the RE and RK series routers, can be updated from the cloud through the unit’s management menu. If you are not able to do so, please log in to the Pakedge dealer portal, go to the specific product, and then go to the Firmware tab to find the latest firmware version. With this, you can then update firmware manually.
    • For other products, including the K60D and R10 routers, the SX and SK series switches, please log in to the Pakedge dealer portal, go to the specific product, and then go to the Firmware tab to find the latest firmware version. With this, you can then update firmware manually.
    • For the C36 wireless controller and NP36 BakPak appliance, these can be updated directly through the unit’s management interface.
    • If you have the NP36  in your network, you can also update firmware for all the switches, routers and WAPs directly from the BakPak profile without having to go into each unit’s management menu.
    • If you have the C36 in your wireless network, you can also update the firmware for all the WAPs directly from the C36 management interface without having to go into each unit’s management menu separately.

Review device logs for messages and errors. Review any logs from BakPak Cloud Management System (if used) and logs stored in your network devices. Look for recurring messages and address any problems as necessary.

Check condition of wall ports and unused ports in network equipment. Verify no damage, no dust or other foreign materials (contamination), and check continuity. Check condition of fiber optic and copper cables – verify no broken tabs, exposed cabling, and other physical damage.

Perform wireless system performance optimizations

  1. Perform site survey to determine if there have been changes in the surroundings that clients or technicians are unaware of
  2. Verify if there have been added devices on the jobsite that utilize 2.4GHz as this may affect wireless connection if near WAPs.
  3. Check channels (pending amount of wireless traffic onsite and offsite – recommend channels 1, 6, and 11 since they do not interfere with one another for WAPs on 2.4 GHz band). Use results of the site survey to see what channels neighboring WAPs are operating on, and change channels as appropriate to mitigate interference.

Update network configuration settings. Review new equipment added to network since your last network inspection. Install any new devices (if any). Update network and device configuration settings.

Security

  • Usernames and Passwords. Review User Administrator Profile information on devices (routers, switches, access points) and update your security on your devices (i.e. username and password information)
    1. On 60C and/or 60D router models: verify that User section only has needed User Profiles set up for SSL & PPTP access
    2. On WAPs – update passwords as needed
    3. Guest networks (wired and wireless) – update guest network username and passwords
    4. Update VPN policies and passwords (as needed).
  • Verify devices connected to the correct VLANs. For networks with VLANs, verify that current and new devices have been assigned to the correct VLANs. Verify that previously connected devices are still connected to the right VLANs.
  • Verify devices connected to guest networks. Confirm that devices meant for guest usage (desktop computers, terminals, televisions, etc.) are still connected to the designated guest ports. If those devices have changed locations, it may be necessary to reassign the ports or update the wiring connection at the switch to the guest ports.
  • Review firewall configurations and reports. Re-subscribe to existing anti-virus, intrusion protection and other security management services (if needed).
  • Update website access control lists (whitelists, blacklists) as necessary.
  • Block unauthorized devices. Scan and identify wireless network for “rogue” devices and block access to network.
  • Update port forwarding. Review, add and remove devices that require port forwarding as needed.
  • Update Dynamic DNS (including Pakedge DNS) as needed.
  • Update Demilitarized Zones (DMZ). For routers with DMZ capabilities, review and update any devices to be placed in the DMZ.
  • Perform security audit. Perform other tasks on the network security audit and checklist.

Power Schedules. If there are network devices, or devices connected to the network that are on an on/off power schedule (through PoE ports or PDU control):

  1. Check to see if those schedules are still active, or if any changes need to be made.
  2. Add any new devices to the schedule
  3. Remove any devices from schedule (as needed)

Verify proper network failover operation

  1. Failover paths of existing equipment (if so configured)
  2. Redundant equipment connected in network
  3. Spare or backup equipment not yet connected to network

Create backup configuration files for all devices (including those devices that do not require any configuration updates) so as to be able to restore if necessary. (this does not apply if updating firmware and then trying to re-establish settings)

Check batteries and proper backup power operation. For devices connected to backup power or UPS sources, check battery condition and verify proper operation in fail-over mode.

Verify unobstructed airflow around vents. Check to make sure ventilation slots on network equipment and network racks are clear. Verify that there are sufficient clearances around equipment for adequate airflow. Remove dust with compressed air. Change out any dust filters.

Inspect for damage. Check equipment and racks for signs of any corrosion or other damage.

Check with the local Internet Service Provider (ISP) to see what services and upgrades are available

  • Contact the ISP to see what service speed tiers are available, or what new services/speed tiers are being offered, including any free speed upgrades
  • Perform a speed test (through a wired connection) to see what current speeds are and to see if ISP has upgraded customer incoming service speeds (either free upgrades or paid upgrades). If current speeds are not consistent with the subscribed service tier, the modem may need to be reset.
  • Verify modem compatibility with higher speed services that may be offered by the local Internet Service Provider.
  • If customer has upgraded service levels, determine if any equipment or network configuration settings need to readjusted.

Discuss network upgrade needs with customer, including:

  • Is there any consumer grade equipment in network that may require upgrading for better and scalable and performance, security or increased reliability?
  • Any plans to upgrade to higher speed services?
  • Will the site be expanding in the next six months? Any construction planned?
  • Will the network be supporting more devices in the next six months?
    1. Upgrade switches from 10/100 to the 10/100/1000 switches.
    2. Upgrade higher port count switches at the edge or in the closet
    3. Upgrade to a higher performance router
  • If there have been more wireless devices being used, consider upgrading to later model WAPs to support the increased wireless connectivity needs.
  • Project may need to utilize multiple VLANs – evaluate a change to managed switches if there is multiple home automation systems and devices integrated into the network.
  • Discuss if any network redundancy requirements have changed – determine if any new equipment to be added to the failover plan.

Discuss network health maintenance needs and planning with customer

  • Review checkup results with customer
  • Discuss any network monitoring and maintenance needs, including any automated monitoring needs (with BakPak Cloud Management System)
  • Develop and update network monitoring and maintenance plan.

 

Pakedge Heads to CEDIA

CEDIA EXPO 2014 where you can see, touch, and be changed by the products and trends driving the residential technology. At CEDIA EXPO you will find the right type of advanced and fundamental training on home tech to help you conquer and profit from changes in the industry.

And guess who is going? You got it! Pakedge is heading to CEDIA again this year. Booth #820.

If you’re in the area, and want to come visit our booth, contact sales@pakedge.com for a free exhibit pass!

CEDIA 2014

Check out some Dealer Testimonials from CEDIA 2013.

Not your old school PoE switches – five things you can do with our new innovative PoE switches

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Thought you knew or saw everything on PoE switches? Think again – Pakedge has brought a new series of innovative PoE switches to the AV market. Moving beyond the traditional “PoE Out” switches, our lineup now includes the Powered by PoE switches (S8Wpde, S5Wpde, S8Mpd) and the new PoE pass-through switch (SE-5P2-EP). More information about our innovative switches can be found here.

The introduction of Pakedge PoE pass-through and Pakedge PoE Powered switch technology provides new levels of versatility to networks – but how can you use them in real life? Below are five practical places to use PoE passthrough and PoE Powered switches to enhance your A/V network setup and make your job easier.

In an Entertainment Center
Switches that are powered by PoE – like the S8Mpd, S8Wpde, and S5Wpde – are ideal for use away from a user’s main rack. Entertainment centers often have multiple devices that require internet connection – TVs, game consoles, media streaming devices, and more. By utilizing a smaller switch directly at the point of use, users can avoid the difficulty of running multiple Ethernet cables throughout a home to the main switch rack – and by using a PoE powered switch, users can avoid taking up yet another power outlet where so many power-hungry devices already reside.

Attics, Basements, and other rooms without power outlets
PoE Passthrough switches are ideal in retrofit situations that require the installation of an access point, a security camera, or other equipment powered by PoE – but that don’t have easy access to power outlets.  By utilizing the power provided by a PoE+ switch elsewhere on the network, multiple devices powered by PoE can be placed in areas without easy power access without the need for power outlets or costly and time-consuming rewiring.

Extending the length of a PoE cable run
PoE (And Ethernet in general) has a maximum length of 328 feet – a length that can be constricting in larger installations. If a main rack or PoE switch is located further than that from the device you intend to power, it will have to be run through an intermediate switch to “renew” the connection strength. By adding a PoE passthrough switch to the network as an intermediary stopgap, it’s possible to double the length one can run PoE – allowing devices to be powered much farther from the original power source.

At a Desk
A PoE passthrough switch is an ideal way to bring network connectivity to the devices used at a desk while also providing power to devices like VoIP phones. A single cable run from the main switch rack can provide internet connectivity to printers and PCs while powering and providing a network connection to the phone at your desk. Convenient screw-mounts and a tiny form factor allow for easy mounting to the wall or bottom of the desk.

Space constrained areas
Sometimes, you just need a way to add ports to your network – but there’s no room to work with. PoE powered and PoE passthrough switches (particularly the upcoming SE-5P2-EP) are small enough to fit almost any available area and, can be mounted almost anywhere – making them ideal for space-constrained areas. Because they’re powered by PoE, you don’t even have to find a wall outlet.

5 Ways to Make Your Day Easier… with BakPak

The BakPak Cloud Management system is an incredibly powerful way to control and manage networks – but we find that without hands-on experience, integrators have a difficult time putting exactly what it can do into real-world terms. “How will this make my job easier?”

Below, we look to answer exactly that, with this list of 5 ways to use BakPak to make your day-to-day job easier – and one bonus feature geared toward making your business more profitable.

  1. Remote configuration – With BakPak, dealers can remotely configure any device on a network – even non-Pakedge devices. It’s easy to view every device on the network, select the one you’d like to configure, and enter the device’s native User Interface – all directly through BakPak.
  2. Receive Alerts – It’s not easy to keep track of every device on the network of every customer. With BakPak, not only is every device mapped and easily visible – but should a problem arise anywhere on the network, an alert can be sent directly to an integrator’s phone or e-mail – allowing pro-active maintenance.
  3. Basic Device Maintenance – Devices on a network can have problems for a multitude of reasons – and most of those problems can be solved with a simple reboot. Before BakPak, integrators would have to take time out of their busy schedules, send a technician to the job site – and flick a power switch off, then back on. With BakPak, this process is simple – like it should be. Power to any device controlled through a PDU or PoE switch can be cycled directly through the app itself – and device connectivity will update within the BakPak app in real time, letting you know that everything’s up and running.
  4. Take notes – Let’s face it, no matter how you try, any given network won’t always be worked on by the same technician. To make life simpler, notes can be added to each device on the network as they’re updated and managed – enabling technicians to document problems and how they were fixed, and making it simple to isolate common problems or devices that exhibit problems intermittently.
  5. Check device statistics – Ever wonder how long it’s been since a device has had an issue? How long it’s been since you last performed maintenance? Need to know a MAC or IP address for network configuration, but can’t access the device because, well, you don’t know its MAC or IP address? Want to see the problem devices on a network? BakPak makes it easy by putting all of a device’s statistics in one easy-to-view place – making BakPak your one-stop shop for networked device information .

Bonus: Recurring Revenue – One of the biggest areas for growth in any dealer’s business model is recurring revenue – the ability to go beyond the one-time payment structure of sourcing and installing products – and to instead transform that installation into a monthly source of revenue you’re able to count on for years to come. With BakPak, network maintenance and management can become a service you provide your customers for a recurring fee – allowing you to provide better customer service, and your customers to enjoy a hassle-free, truly transparent network infrastructure that just works.

As BakPak grows, Pakedge intends to focus on providing more robust tools to enable dealers to manage and maintain their recurring revenue streams well into the future – so stay tuned for exciting updates on this front.

It’s Steve… from Pakedge!

In March of 2014, John Sciacca wrote an article about the day “Pakedge Steve” became his Network Tech Support Jedi Master. (click here to read it) Last week, on the Pakedge Twitter account, AV Awakenings bragged about the tech support they received from Karla. One thing we always hear at Pakedge is “Your tech support team is awesome!”, and we certainly agree.

Operating out of Pakedge’s Huntington Beach office, a fun team of 6 spend their days providing the best possible support to Pakedge dealers and re-sellers. They provide detailed technical advice before and after your purchase.

Are you uncertain about how to set up your C36? Do you have questions about which of our routers you should use for your next project? How do you configure your products to get the desired result? Anyone who has ever installed and configured a network system has encountered similar issues. So it’s nice to contact someone reliable and professional to help.

Our team will support you every step of the way. Our service is built on the education and rich experience of our long-time employees and our fostering of teamwork and maintenance of our internal knowledge database. The best part of all of this? It is absolutely free for all of our dealers.

Today, we would like to put faces to their names. Behold, your Pakedge Tech Support Team!

Our Tech Support Team From Left to Right (top): From Left to Right (bottom):

Our Tech Support Team
From Left to Right (top): Iris, Rachel, Steve, Shereena
From Left to Right (bottom): Cody, Danny