Thursday, March 31, 2016

Using Dialpad with a Ubiquiti UniFi Phone for VoIP Over Wi-Fi!


At CTIA Super Mobility 2015, I met a great group of people in the Startup City area called Switch. A longtime fan of Uber Conference, and their previous service Grand Central (now Google Voice), I wondered how they had such a small booth at such a big show, for such a remarkable company (they've raised $119.75m, Rich Miner, Android Co-Founder is on their board, and you *KNOW* that Alphabet is all over their product.)  After getting some info on the service and a handful of UberConference stickers, I signed up for the demo that night.

When I got home, I wanted to see if it would work with some of my devices, but it was still too fresh of a service to have any support of devices that weren't pretty specific. Fast forward to today, they have re-branded to call themselves Dialpad and they are able to work with most SIP devices, including their hand-selected ObiHai phones (which I am not a fan of and don't support Wi-Fi), and the Ubiquiti UniFi Android-based phone, which I am a huge fan of. I love this phone because it's inexpensive, POE powered, it's pretty much what you would expect of an Android desk phone, and this being a wireless blog, it works extremely well over Wi-Fi. Add power and a service provider and you can take it just about anywhere.


So, naturally I started poking away at the touch screen to figure out how to get it configured, and now that I can successfully place and receive calls, I thought I'd share it with y'all.



About Dialpad

From their site:
Communications for the modern workplace
Dialpad is the people-first phone and meeting system that allows businesses to be more productive when and where they work best.

More from a blog post by the CEO:
We designed Dialpad to fit the real-world needs of today’s workers and the modern enterprise. It provides an easy-to-use, unified dialpad for access to voice, video, text messaging, and meetings across any device—and within other applications, including Microsoft Office 365 and Google for Work.
And yes, we’ll continue to provide UberConference—that’s not going away either.
Our mission is to make using the phone fun, easy, and productive again. It all starts with a dialpad, but it definitely doesn’t end there.

From me: It's an inexpensive, fast, flexible, and fantastic service. Coupled with the inexpensive and awesomely-Android-based handset that Ubiquiti has cranked out, it's a great system.

Setting up Dialpad

Now, this is assuming you have a Dialpad account. If you don't, they offer a free trial, but stand warned, it will totally sell you on the product. Just so you know, it's $15 a month, so it won't break your bank, down't worry.

Now onto the config:

Log in to your Dialpad account at http://dialpad.com/settings


Scroll down to Your Devices and look for the link to "Add a SIP phone"


Please note, if you're an older Dialpad user like I am, and you've added a device or two over time, you might have to get in touch with support to get that link to appear. Not a big deal though, and if you know Dialpad support, you know that they are extremely responsive and very easy to work with.

Type in a name for your phone and hit next.


The credentials that you are offered are what you're gonna need when you fire up your phone. I'm not gonna post a pic of that for obvious reasons :)

Setting up your UniFi phone

I aplologize in advance for the color of the blinds in the office next to mine. I can't figure out how to get a screenshot on the UniFi phone so I resorted to a traditional screen shot: a picture of the screen.

On the UniFi phone, when you first boot it into the app, it has a quick little welcome screen that you can swipe past. What you are looking for is the "Go To Settings" link on the bottom of the screen.



Tap that and then tap on "SIP service," then "SIP accounts," then lastly "Add account."


Now grab that info from above and pop it in the settings on the phone.


Under server, use the info from Dialpad in the "Domain" section and add port 7060 to the end of it. Check it out: ubervoice.ubervoip.net:7060



Scroll down to Display Name and feel free to put something in there (like the name of the person using the phone) or else you will have your username from Dialpad (the long string you have to type in) show up there! Also, plug something into your Display extension (like the number assigned to the phone) to make it nice and perty.



IMPORTANT STEP: Scroll down to "Registration Expiry" and put the value 180 in there. That way if you change devices, updated the firmware, or software on the UniFi phone, it won't lock up your Dialpad account.



That's it!

Not much to it but a few steps and it works very very well.

Conclusion

If you are a looking for a cost-effective way to setup a phone system and you love your life being wireless, this is a great step for you. If you have a traditional wired infrastructure, obviously this will work in that environment too. When you start to dig in to how a service like Dialpad can integrate with your office and allow you to effectively communicate, you'll be really stoked to see how much time you can save and how efficient you can be. I love it and I hope you do too!

Thanks for reading!

PS: I'm looking into how to get the voicemail component setup right now, so as soon as I get that figured out I'll update!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Interop 2016: Behind My Excitement for the Event

There are few events that I have been following since my teenage years and some of which have changed or are not around anymore. As a young nerd I grew up with the sole purpose of going to COMDEX, but I never got the chance. It was this behemoth of a show where, freebies aside, you got to be a part of the industry and see what was going on.



After 2003, the last year of the COMDEX conference, things seem to split into two groups: You had CES for the consumer stuff and Interop for the infrastructure and tech stuff. Effectively, the people who made the stuff work and the people who used the stuff.


The first time I got asked to speak at Interop was through Broadband Wireless World in 2005. I had a session to describe a deployment of this crazy technology, the yet-to-be-name WiMax. It wasn't just about the presentation, it was about being wrapped up and involved in the industry and being able to be more than attendee at one of these large shows. I remember the standing-room-only, 9AM session, vividly well. I worked my way through the hour-long presentation and was greeted with a line of attendees questions afterwards.

At that same show, years later and because of that presentation, I was offered a job (on the escalator at Mandalay Bay) that would take me from a local integrator level to working in the industry at a national level.


From COMDEX, to my first big presentation in Vegas, to a great job, Interop has always been a place where things happen for me.  Aside from the exhibitors, the interactive InteropNet experience, the amazing sessions, and the phenomenal seasonal lemonades at Border Grill, it has also been a place to network. The relationships that can be built at this event, focused on getting 1's and 0's to work together effortlessly, can do the same for the attendees. For example, if you're lucky, you might get to know these knuckleheads too!



When I got asked to be a part of the event, I was stoked. And totally intimidated.
I tried to assemble what *I* would want to see at the event. I read through a ton of submissions to see what fantastic things people were doing and coupled that with what I was seeing in the wild.



In the end, I think we have a fantastic offering that canvases the wireless spectrum. From Wi-Fi and wireless services to real-world applications and usage. From point to point and multipoint wireless to retail analytics, it's in there.

I encourage you to attend. I encourage you to interact. And I encourage you to come up and say hi to me. If your job is asking you to go or if you're on the fence about it, come find me. Let me show you why I love this show and am so excited to be a part of it!

See ya in Vegas!

P.S. to read more about Interop, please visit http://www.comdex.com ;-)



Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Explosion Proof Wi-Fi for Hazardous Locations

One of the more interesting projects that I have been working on throughout the last 2 years has been providing Wi-Fi in hazardous locations. We’re talking explosion proof Wi-Fi.


Yeah, it's a little scary. Seeing me in coveralls that is.

While trying to blend into trees and hide underneath ceiling panels conceals your equipment from viewing, Class I Division 1 (commonly called “Class 1 Div 1” or C1D1) or Class I Div 2 specifications hide them from the elements. Not just water and liquids, but fumes, vapors, dust, and anything combustable. 

What Defines a Hazardous Location?


According to OSHA standard 1910.307 a hazardous location as follows:
Hazardous locations are areas where flammable liquids, gases or vapors or combustible
dusts exist in sufficient quantities to produce an explosion or fire.



The National Electrical Code (NEC) defines a hazardous area as the following:
An area where a potential hazard (e.g., a fire, an explosion, etc.) may exist under normal or
abnormal conditions because of the presence of flammable gases or vapors, combustible
dusts or ignitable fibers or flyings.

Either way, bad news. 

Hazardous locations are generally defined in different classes:
  • Class I locations are those in which flammable vapors and gases may be present.
  • Class II locations are those in which combustible dust may be found.
  • Class III locations are those which are hazardous because of the presence of easily ignitable fibers or flyings.
Once you get in a Class, it’s broken up into 2 division according to NEC article 500 or CEC section 18.
  • Division 1
    In which ignitable concentrations of hazards exists under normal operation conditions and/or where hazard is caused by frequent maintenance or repair work or frequent equipment failure.
  • Division 2
    In which ignitable concentrations of hazards are handled, processed or used, but which are normally in closed containers or closed systems from which they can only escape through accidental rupture or breakdown of such containers or systems.
So, when you’re dealing with Class I Div 1, you’re looking at some pretty serious business. Like in the middle of a petroleum or chemical facility in this case.


What Does it Take to Get Wi-Fi in a Class I Environment?


First of all, guts. Not every customer is willing to jump into providing Wi-Fi in such a harsh environment. After all, it’s not just the wireless access points they are dealing with, they have to be thinking about the devices that will be using that wireless. Intrinsically safe tablets, valves and sensors that meet C1D1/2 standards, and more. 

It also takes some pretty rugged gear. 
There are 3 things that it takes to create an explosion:


  1. Fuel
  2. Oxygen
  3. Heat or Ignition Source
So, you have to protect your equipment from causing or reacting to these. There are bunch of ways to do this, and they are in categories. Check it out:
  • d - Flameproof
  • m - Encapsulation
  • e - Increased Safety (Hermetically Sealed)
  • i, ia, ib - Intrinsically Safe 
  • o - Oil Immersion
  • p - Purged & Pressurized
    (px takes C1D1 and makes it non-hazardous, py goes from C1D1 to C1D2, and pz from C1D2 to non-hazardous)
  • q - Powder Filled
If you want a full write-up check out this great sheet.

The customer I am working with and I looked at the options that were available for what they were doing in a large outdoor campus and then what it would take to do that within the Class 1 Div 1 standards. 

Our Solutions Always Start With Modeling & Engineering



As with our standard practices we modeled the entire facility in an RF planning tool so that we could predictively determine where the best placement of the devices were to meet the needs of the project. 
By hand-drawing and planning for 243 coated steel and milled steel tanks, from 159 to 12,719 cbm, with over 1 million total cbm of storage capacity on-site, was not an easy task. In the end though, the engineering proved to be accurate and gave us a great tool for future growth while providing a fantastic visualization of our coverage.



Equipment Selections


We went with i/ia enclosures from PCTel and wireless access points from Ruckus Wireless. This was one of the first C1D1 deployments for Ruckus, and so we took our time selecting the right components and making sure it all worked together well. From the antennas to the vapor proof bulkhead connectors, it was quite a challenge.





These things were no joke. They were heavy-duty in every aspect of the words. The APs we chose were the Ruckus Wireless 7782-E’s to utilize external antennas and capable of supporting just about everything we could throw at them. 



The combined feature set of the Ruckus Zone Director 3000 and a forklift upgrade to some of their internal areas with new indoor APs was a hit. We engineered and built out a solution that met the customers needs and provided a fantastic pilot project for industrial Wi-Fi for the customer.



We racked the ZD in their central US NOC to supply access across North America when the time came to rollout more sites.


Why Deploy Wi-Fi in a Hazardous Location?


The undertaking for deploying wireless technology in a hazardous environment can be time consuming and tedious, but very rewarding. 

By moving to a wireless infrastructure in a facility, you can limit the amount of time that humans are in the area. This increases the safety of metering and monitoring sensors and flow valves that carry hazardous materials while improving accuracy over written records and overall record-keeping. By digitizing your data immediately an increase in workflow can be seen with accuracy levels that are second to none.



In this case the pilot project proved to open up other unforeseen opportunities for the customer. Now, we are moving into another phase of the deployment to further the advantage of the customer in the marketplace and help their overall push to continue their outstanding safety practices, increase their efficiencies, and help the world run a little smoother. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Deploying Outdoor Wi-Fi in RV Parks

Having a background in building city-wide wireless network deployments doesn’t really give you many business advantages on a day to day basis. One place that it does come in pretty handy is when you get a call to design a network for a mini-city. Luckily I live in a placed that’s teaming with these.



Along the Rio Grande river in beautiful South Texas, our little corner of the world is known for amazing tacos, a bountiful citrus industry, expansive ranch land, a gorgeous beach on the Gulf of Mexico, and a stones throw from the wonders of Mexico. During our warmer Winter months, it is also home to a migratory species known as the “Winter Texan.” These inhabitants of places North of Texas, travel by RV, car, and plane to reach our are to sweat out the Winter in a more equatorial climate. 



Leaving their kids, grandkids, and day-to-day doldrums behind, they venture South for a 4 month party. They bring with them a $700 million dollar a year influx of restaurant reservations, tee times, and a helluva appetite for square dancing. With them also comes laptops, mobile devices, wireless TVs, and a demand for always-on, high speed, bullet proof wireless internet access. 



Here comes the part where my experience building wireless cities makes sense.

As you can imagine, our area has pretty large amount of RV parks. These Winter homes have usually between 200 and 600 spaces for temporary residents and a handful of homes that are for the permanent residents who have made a permanent commitment to the Rio Grande Valley. They are mostly laid out the same way: an area for the permanent residents, tons of slots for visitors, a clubhouse / hall, a main office, shuffleboard courts, pool, tennis courts, etc. They are essentially mini-cities. 




From an RF point of view, you better believe these things are nightmares. Have you ever seen an RV? The construction materials vary from model to model, year to year, and personality to personality.

So, how do you design a Wi-Fi network to feed thousands of hangry users, in various faraday cages, and keep them smiling? Honestly, it’s pretty difficult. Aside from sound technology, a very well engineered product, and a thorough and professional deployment, I start with expectations.

Design Principal 1: My Wi-Fi Expectations Speech

Probably one of the most important things I do. Instead of just engineering the network, a bit of social engineering is necessary in these types of deployments. 

One of the the things that sets me apart from others in the industry that provide these types of services is my willingness to stand in front of the firing line and talk to everyone in the park that cares to show up; and there’s a bunch of them. From retired engineers to retired phone guys, to masters of every universe, you better believe there is an obscene amount of smarts in each room I stand in front of. They all want to know the how’s and why’s of what we are doing. 
I single out the HAMs first, being an amateur operator myself. They're usually more interested in understanding the network than complaining about it. They get it, they understand wireless sorcery so they usually come up afterwards and want to get hands-on. 

So back to my speech, I am very clear about what to expect from the wireless network. I deploy a few different types of networks depending on the environment, here are two examples: 
There’s the big beefy network that runs in the 6 figures per park. Hardcore Wi-Fi that the larger corporate types are mostly interested in. Streaming video, rich content, etc. The carrier-grade stuff that “just works” and averages about 5% of the residents who have unique issues. 

There’s the cost-effective network that distributes the heavy-lifting across more, less bulkier, APs, to users that are setup to do your basic web-browsing, email, banking, etc. This type of network is the most common for parks that run from 100-300 slots. Not too big, not too small, but nevertheless in need of something that does a great job, isn’t plagued with issues, and has the capability to stretch into the homes of the permanent residents and those who are heavier users.

I set the expectations depending on each of those networks: Can you expect it to work for Instagram of your grandkids on the john? No. Never. Can you expect it to work in the common areas of the park? Always.

I use big examples to define APs and clients. I talk about receive levels, signal to noise and the ability for you to hear my access points, but my access point’s inability to hear your tiny device. I make sure that everyone has a pretty firm understanding of what to expect, and I set those expectations pretty low. I want to make sure that when it works well they feel like they’re getting something they shouldn’t and when it doesn’t work they understand why.

Having worked a bit in the industry, I find that generally end-users really don’t give a shit about RF. They could care less about their signal level or why they can attain a modulation level decent enough to maintain a HD video feed on Skype. They just want stuff to work. If I stand in front of these groups and hit em with science, they’ll all lose interest, fall asleep and miss the point of me being there.

I know this is a wireless blog that is usually pretty technical, but I think it’s important to always balance that out depending on the group you are talking to. I think it is one of the things that has lead to some of the success I have had, and I encourage you to find creative ways to describe RF so that you can sneak in a propagation concept by comparing it to when a group of drunk people walk into a restaurant.


Design Principal 2: Over Engineer the Network

When putting together the design for a network like this, here’s what I do:
Fire up a tool like Ekahau Site Survey, and get to work drawing a bunch of squares. 
Define each and every RV slot. Assign an attenuation value to all those squares you just drew that will be more, rather than less, close to the real-world value. 
Find what you can mount your access points on that won’t get obscured by a Prevost or Winnebago, virtually place the APs, and get to work adding, moving, and removing APs until you get your desired fill. 




Keep in mind capacity (in RV parks you’re looking at 2 mobile devices, 2 tablets, 2 laptops, a TV, a printer, and an Apple TV per unit), the duty-cycle of those devices, how and when they’ll be using them, and then go back and redesign it because you forgot that their grandkids show up after 2 months and stay for a week and need Wi-Fi for whatever devices they and their parents bring.

Once you get that figured out, spec in a few spares, run a final model on the signal, and see how close to a match of the expectations of the residents you get. 
This is the part where every park says it’s too much money and out of budget.
You have 2 options here: 
  1. help them understand why your model is accurate and it is the right thing to do, or 
  2. settle with them and trim your network to meet their budget or phase it in.

I have done both. Let me tell you, if you are thinking about option 2, stop reading right now, take your right hand and slap your face as hard as you possibly can, tell your wife she’s fat, ride your tricycle on the roof, and then go run with scissors. 

If you cannot justify to your customer what you are doing and why it is necessary, walk away. Let someone else look terrible trying to service them. There are plenty of other providers that will pave the way for you by convincing the customer and themselves that they are indeed wizards who the laws of physics do not apply to.

If you are a park manager or owner and you are reading this, please know that if you have dealt with people who make things sound too good to be true, they usually are. If you think you can get away with providing reliable service to visitors in a 200 slot park for less than $10,000, you will remember reading this at some point and say “damn, I guess he was right.”

Design Principal 3: Keep Customers From Tripping Over Their Own Toes

“The Wi-Fi is slow.” Easiest thing to say, hardest thing to troubleshoot. No matter what happens in a park, it’s the Wi-Fi’s fault. The fiber optic connection to Time Warner goes down? It’s the Wi-Fi. The custodian unplugs the router to charge his iPhone? It’s the Wi-Fi. No matter what it is, it’s the Wi-Fi. 

The roughest thing about these deployments is that NO ONE CARES WHAT THE NETWORK LOOKS LIKE. It’s the Wi-Fi. As the “Wi-Fi guy”, that means it’s always my fault.

So how do you get around that?
After setting expectations and over engineering it, you can take another precaution: put in devices that mitigate your risk of the end-user affecting you and each other.

As a Fortinet partner, I rely heavily on their devices. In places like MDUs, parks, hotels, etc, I rely even more on them. The ability to knock down threats, prevent infected computers from destroying others experiences, malware infested laptops from eating up capacity on the wireless network, and all the while allowing me to dedicated capacity for services, these things are lifesavers.




When a new visitor rolls in from another park and they jump on an obscure porn site filled with spyware and malware and they blow up their computer, that’s where it starts. The next part is where they come to the front desk and blame the Wi-Fi for slowing down their browsing experience. The clerk can’t say, “Hey Jerry, you did it to yourself” without ol’ Jerry getting all defensive. But the UTM can. It can stop those dirty bits from getting to that machine by popping up a big red page that says “You’re about to seriously mess up your computer” and let them know we’re looking out for them; even though we are honestly looking out for us being blamed for their inability to decipher the good from the bad.

Part 2: RV Park Network Deployment

Now that we’ve figured out how to design the experience around the user, let’s talk about deploying these networks.

Deployment Principal 1: Do it the Right Way, the First Time

When you have the option to do it the right way or do it the way that it will work, do it the right way. That extra foot of cable for the drip loop will make sense down the road. The extra cost in strapping material tools will show itself when your equipment stays in place after a storm. The correct enclosure can make all the difference. Don’t skimp on the stuff that holds the gear in place of that the network relies on. 




Take the time to do your job the right way and it will make it worth it. Start by staging and prepping your gear on the ground, where you can, when you can. It's easier to work with someone when you're not up in a lift and you can level and check it for a DOA before being out in the field.

Or don’t. If you like burning service calls and paying visits to customers to fix things that should have been done correctly, then by all means be my guest. 

Deployment Principal 2: Avoid Daily Trips to Home Depot or Lowe’s
Depending on the style of network purchased, the toolset can vary from one network to the other. Either way, make sure you have all the right tools within arms reach for your deployment.




I like to purchase toolsets for each large project to make sure that whoever is working the deployment for me doesn't have an excuse and is always taken care of. Its a little costly, but it gets the job done quicker and gives me piece of mind. Leveraging your relationship with distributors and vendors gives you the ability to acquire these tools at a smaller cost than having to run to Home Depot every morning and throughout the day. My advice is to take advantage of that and build your tool list out and then put an order in.

Secondly, by consumables in bulk. Figure out what you need, order ahead of time, and make sure you stay well stocked. We move pretty quickly on the job site and nothing enables that more than having everything we need right beside us. I purchased a storage big with a bunch of little areas for screws, bolts, end-connectors, etc. Each crew has access to one and we keep it replenished to make sure they’re set. Zip ties by the thousands, lag bolts by the hundreds, and Band-it by the 100’ spool. It’s totally the way to go,

Deployment Principal 3: Follow Your Engineering

If you spend as much time on the engineering as I do, you should probably use it for more than a proposal. Use it as your guide to deploy your network, and stick to it. 

If you have to call an audible, run it through the software first. Understand what you are doing and it’s impact on the overall network.

Troubleshooting the network after the fact is way easier if everything lines up in the documentation, and since you’ve already drawn it all out, stick to it! 


Bonus Tip: Recycle


All these vendors send their stuff in tons of cardboard packaging. Do your part to be a good citizen of the Earth and earn some nods of appreciation by recycling everything you can.



Hey Vendors, now would be a great time to launch some type of promo for sending back your old cartons for a credit. Just saying.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, and at the end of the deployment, you want to make sure you have a working product. Selecting the right equipment and engineering can only go so far in deployments where you have such a large human element in such a small space. Don’t underestimate the interaction component of engineering your network. Sometimes a smiling face, an explanation, and just being there to listen can go a long way.

I’m not saying I have the perfect recipe for doing these types of deployments. There are so many different ways to skin a cat that this could just be one or two of em. As with every project, no two are exactly the same, but they all are the same in the fact that they produce an opportunity to learn. Take that and move forward to the next one!


Thanks for reading!