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!