Monday, June 18, 2018

Hands-On With the Cambium Networks Outdoor e700 Access Point

Nestled in the heart of McAllen, Texas along old US highway 83 is a food truck park that houses delicacies from across the world. The work of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, local Chefs, the City, & South Texas food enthusiasts culminated in this park a few years ago. Visitors stop by for a quick bite during the week and head over to enjoy the outdoors and the park with their families on the weekends.
When Cambium Networks announced the new e700 series outdoor AP and we got our hands on one, we thought what better place to test it than down at our food truck park. Quick installation ensued on the rooftop of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, adjacent to the food truck park.
Once a month during the Summer, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce hosts a highly regarded karaoke contest at the food truck park. I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but people really get into it!
Speakers, mic stands, and bleachers are set up for the participants and spectators. The only problem is, the food truck parks sits in a bit of a bowl with there is weak cellular service and no Wi-Fi available to use. Each month the chamber has had to figure out ways to get online to stream the songs that are requested by the performers. By implementing a Wi-Fi solution, we give them quick and immediate access to all the resources they need.
Image credit: McAllen Food Truck Park Facebook —
We installed the Cambium Networks e700 on an existing non-penetrating roof mount, connected it to a UV-rated, outdoor Ethernet cable back to a switch inside the Chamber of Commerce, and from there out to the world!
Now we are able to offer free Wi-Fi to the visitors of the park and a prioritized feed to the Chamber of Commerce employees to get the karaoke contest going!

A Pretty Cool Use Case

Even though it sounds simple, think about it:
The primary user is streaming high-definition audio and video and hundreds of users are recording, Snapchatting, posting, and streaming the performances via periscope, YouTube live, Facebook, and more. If there is any hiccup amongst these live performance fans, we’ll definitely hear about it!

About the Cambium Networks e700

The e700 access point doesn’t have any large drastic differences from the e500 other than the expected tech upgrades, but once you open up the box it’s apparent that a little bit more work was put into it then it’s predecessor the e500.
The mount that is used to hold the radio to a pole or wall has an upgrade. Recessed, form-fitting plastic is used to hold the tilt mechanism in place. Very cool, very durable, and probably way over engineered. This bolt / nut combo looks like it will hold a heck of a lot more than the AP. Better too much than not enough though!

A large plate of heat dispersing fins on the back of the unit gives it a more rugged look while helping keep the components of this 4 x 4 radio at the appropriate temperatures. The molded case also has a new wall or pole mounting bracket design. The mount bracket fits into two slots at the top of the heatsink, and then the bottom of the mounting unit is fastened to the radio.

The version that we had required us to use a Torx 25 bit that was not included in the packaging to attach the mounting plate to the radio. I’m not sure if this will change in production version, but I hope it does. Not everyone carries one of those tools :-)
There is also a small chain on the back of the unit but it is not referenced in any of the documentation, so I’m still pretty unclear what it is for.

Vital Stats of the Cambium Networks e700

· 802.11ac wave2 supporting standards based beam forming on 5 GHz
· IP67 housing
· Integrated 8 dBi Omni antenna on 2.4 and 5 GHz,
· 512 clients, 16 SSIDs
· 2x2 on 2.4 GHz and 4x4 Tx arrays on 5 GHz
· EIRP: 33 dBm (2.4 GHz) and 36 dBm (5 GHz)
· Comes with BLE radio — future proof for roadmap plans for collecting presence information and installation procedure assistance
· Operating temp range: -40°C to 65°C
· Best RX sensitivity = -99dBm

A Different Approach to Configuration

Contrary to most configurations serving large crowds, we left both 2.4GHz access and 80 MHz channels enabled in 802.11ac. We wanted to see how, at factory default, client connections would perform in an open environment. Normally we would follow best practices and drop to 20 MHz channels while disabling 2.4 and none of the OFDM data rates, but we wanted to simulate a traditional situation where the person installing this equipment isn’t a wireless professional, but a normal Enterprise or network user.

So Far, It’s Great!

The results that we have seen over the last two weeks have been encouraging and flawless. We are using Cambium Networks free cloud management tool cnMaestro to monitor and maintain the equipment and wireless connectivity. There is no captive portal to access the network, so it is a straight shot once they associate to the WiFi. We are processing DHCP and DNS from the network through the 2 SSIDs being broadcasted.
As the summer months creep up on us in the Rio Grande Valley with Fall ready to follow, more and more people will be getting outdoors to enjoy the food truck park. Now, they can enjoy great quality Wi-Fi service as well, delivered via Cambium Networks e700!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The NetScout AirCheck G2 Test Accessory Adds Practicality to Your Toolkit

A few weeks ago I got a nice surprise in the mail: a package from NetScout with a sample unit of their Test Accessory for the AirCheck G2. Since recieving it, I have put it to use in a number of networks to test, measure, and validate temporary and permamnent Wi-Fi installations. It's proven itself useful just about every time I've used it. Here's the video:

The AirCheck G2 is Awesome, You Should Know That

Now, it's no secret that just about every Wi-Fi pro has pretty much standardized on the AirCheck G2 as a go-to and a must-have for their toolkit. Anyone that's looking to troubleshoot, test and prove out Wi-Fi networks has got a friend in this device. Now, I'm not going to  dive into the G2 as it is it's own amazing piece of gear, but instead I want to focus on the valuable addition that NetScout has added to this set.

The NetScout AirCheck G2 Test Accessory can be connected to your network via POE to power it up and begin testing immediately. If POE is not an option you can use 2 AA batteries to provide the juice and plug it into any standard network port. Once it finishes a boot cycle, it negotiates a link, recieves an IP address, calls out to the NetScout cloud service and is ready to go. Now that you're ready, the next step is to connect your G2 to a wireless network and get testing!

Why the Test Accessory Makes the G2 Better: Practicality

The imporatant gap that I think this tool fills for the AirCheck G2 and the network engineer using it is  the ability to give your client results that they will actually understand. I have yet to meet a manager or decision maker who is having prooblems with their wireless network care if they are using 20 MHz or 40MHz channels, 802.11n, ac, wave 1 or wave 2. What they care about is something that they understand, and in this case, the Test Accessory serves that up on a platter: throughput. If they can't measure their network in "bars", they will want to measure it in capacity. A lot of times network engineers tend to over complicate explanations to problems or solutions, and this provides a level of practicality that can see and understand.

Here's how it works: Once the AirCheck is booted up, you choose an access point on the network you are testing and you associate the G2 to it. Once the connection is successful, you will see an option on the bottom of the screen to start the throughput test. When pressed a list of the Test Accessories found on your network appear and you are able to select the one that you would like to begin testing your throughput to and from.

With the tap of a finger you are able to see the PHY data rate that is negotiatied and the upload and download speeds that are you able to obtain.

It's a simple and quick as that. One of the things that makes the AirCheck G2 such a great tool is it's ability to boot quickly getting you online and testing immediately. You get the full ability to look at the network from an RF perspective, the conenctivity and persepctive and now you get the network capacity as well. Well done NetScout!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Economical UPS Systems for Outdoor WiFi Stability

I want to share a bit about a solution that we're putting together for one of our outdoor WiFi customers. Here's a video going through it and below is the blog post for more info!

We do a lot of outdoor Wi-Fi. Whether it's a construction site, an RV park, or for hospitality outside of a resort, we get involved in a lot of projects that require outdoor Wi-Fi coverage.

One of the problems that we run into are pretty frequently is power. It's not just about having power where we need it, it's about the quality of that power. We find ourselves dealing with GFCI's that are tripped all the time, wiring that shuts down out of nowhere, cabling that you don't really want to plug anything into, or brownouts. As an example, when someone comes in and parks a large RV at some of these parks it causes an immediate power drain at the post that can be enough to make a finicky WiFi access point reset.

The more of these outdoor environments we get into, the more important clean and reliable power is. We've always been on the hunt for a battery or a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) or battery back-up solution that gives us the ability to keep our Wi-Fi equipment online through those brownouts or even if there's a short power outage.  Nothing has ever really been too cost-effective but over the holiday break we saw that the 425 model of the APC UPS had a dip in price and dropped it down to about $30. We were able to pick some up on Amazon and thought it would be a great opportunity to test em out and share the results with you all.

 The APC 425 has six three-prong ports on it. 4 of those are battery backed up and surge protection, the other two are surge protection only.

We are going to be testing this out using the Cambium cnPilot 3500 and the Cambium PMP450b Subscriber Module on the same battery. We will see how much run time we can get out of the battery and understand what to expect in a park or outdoor Wi-Fi deployment!

After about 30 minutes the battery went dead. I was expecting it to last a little bit longer, to be honest, but that's plenty of time. When I ran the numbers on each one of these pieces of hardware, I calculated the access point at 8W, max peak of 12.95W and the subscriber unit at 5W, max peak of 10 watts; between 13W and 22W on average. At that draw, the specs on the battery box say that we should get about an hour out of this. I didn't run a power meter to see what the draw was, but I'm guessing it was on the higher-side of the two :)

All in all, I think it's a great product for under $50 to provide at each AP location in a high-demand environment for outdoor Wi-Fi. At the rate we paid for it, it's about a buck a minute that you're paying for to keep these things online. Either way, it should be enough to hold over the wireless gear through a brownout or short power outage!

If you know of any other solutions that are more cost-effective and offer the same run time, drop a comment below!