Thursday, March 23, 2017

Don't Do Dumb Stuff. My advice to High Schoolers at the 1st South Texas Idea Fest!

When I was asked to give a talk at the first South Texas Idea Fest, I had no idea what I was going to talk about. Technology, how to build a business, how to produce events, ways to give back to the community .. I had no clue. When it was all said and done, I wanted to tell the group of enthusiastic high schoolers what no one ever told me .. at least not anyone other than my parents.

Don't Do Dumb Stuff.

So, I put together a talk about how to find yourself, find your passions, and change the world. I tried to sprinkle some truth in there and a little bit of humor, and I think it came out OK.
Give it a view if you're interested! Thanks for watching!


About the South Texas Ideas Festival

The South Texas Ideas Festival, or STXi, will cultivate active young citizens. Serving as an exposé about the life and resources of the Rio Grande Valley, STXi will be a platform for an audience of young adults to engage in a Culture-Community-Identity dialogue.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Building a case for Community Connectivity: The Frontera Colonia Project


Growing up in South Texas, it was sometimes difficult to understand that there was an entire world outside of our neighborhoods. I'm sure this is the same for every city and town across the world, as perspective is only gained through experience. 


No one captures the Rio Grande Valley of Texas like Gabriel Salazar - http://www.gabrielsalazarart.com/

I was fortunate enough to be raised in an area that was void of a lot of the outside distractions that other children my age had. Our family grew up in a small house, on a dirt road, in a South Texas colonia where we were the only house in the neighborhood with indoor plumbing. As a kid, I didn't know that my neighbors out houses weren't something cool and different, I just assumed that maybe their dads were a little bit more creative. I like to tell everyone that my first Internet was a brown set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. All of our homework, all of our research, and all of our information came from the encyclopedias and the National Geographic World Atlas whose pages were bent and torn from over use. (I always loved the flag section). 
We were also fortunate enough to have family that we could go visit outside of the area, so our perspective was always widening on what the world could be. 

The information that we had access to was not same that other children in our neighborhood had access to, even though some of them, in my childish and naive view, were lucky enough to travel once or twice a year to places like Iowa. As a 6 year-old it wasn’t my time to understand the toll it took on their families as migrant farm workers.

As I grew up and grew out of this area, I've never lost sight of where I came from, especially because of the fact that there are still so many neighborhoods, and kids, in these parts of the world, even here in the United States, that have never made it out of last century. There are over 2,000 colonias in the United States with more than 1,800 of those in the State of Texas alone.




I live in Deep South Texas in an area known as the Rio Grande Valley. I say Deep South Texas because when I say South Texas most people say San Antonio or Houston or Laredo, not knowing that there's an entire other community three hours south of the furthest thing that they can think of. The largest city that we are close to is Monterrey, Mexico, which is about an hour shorter of a drive then going to San Antonio. 

This little strip of the world is torn between two countries, two cultures, and left behind in the information age. A study, as reported from the Center for Public Integrity, showed that our broadband adoption rate was the absolute lowest in the country, at 37%. When you combine that with the number of households below the poverty line, and statistics after statistic about the number of families that earn less than $15,000 per year, it paints a very somber view of our community. 


Data from the Texas Tribune.

When terms like the "digital divide" and the "homework gap" are thrown around throughout the rest of the United States I smirk because the places where it matters the most, at least to me, is in places like this that are so impoverished they generally don't make the radar for what people think about when they think about those types of neighborhoods in the United States. You have what the majority of the U.S. considers tough living conditions, then you have the reality of how worse it can actually be. There may be more similarities between our area of the world and Mexico than there are between us and the United States.

While programs exist to try and push gigabit access to schools, 25 Mbps Broadband connections at home, and tablets or computers into every students hand, there is still an overlooked and significant part of our country that struggles with things like streetlights, paved roads, in-home sewage, and electricity. In addition to this you have a group of working-class parents that are pretty disconnected and may not understand why their kids need access at home. 
For so many in communities like this, broadband access is a luxury that few can afford, however, in order to complete assignments in school and keep up with the other students, it is a necessity. The schools push the students to digital learning, but don’t offer the resources to the community to follow through with every student. In some areas there is no test score for keeping the students connected, so it doesn’t get the attention that other pieces of paper on the superintendent’s desk do.

In an effort to help usher in a new age of information into these neighborhoods, I have always tried to find a solution that would work best to provide connectivity to those students that are getting left behind in the classroom because their families can't afford a connectivity solution at home. Whether it's because food and clothing are more important than Internet, or because the parents don't understand the importance of it, the students are the ones that are unfairly suffering in this push to move everyone over to a device based educational system.

Now that Wi-Fi has been somewhat commoditized, the price points are dropping lower than ever, and there is enough capacity on educational networks to afford some room, we've reached a point where connecting everyone in is no longer just a pipe dream. For people who are trying to help rural America and other parts of the world that have been left out of the connectivity race, there is some light at the end of tunnel.


My local City Commission meeting

Still, what we find holding some of these projects back is far less tangible than a piece of equipment, a place to mount it, or something to plug it into. The political back-and-forth games that are played sometimes hinder the ability for communities to move forward even though they have all the pieces of the puzzle sitting right in front of them. Whether it's because they quantify that the socio-economic impact of this is as significant as it is, or they simply don't understand the benefit of it to the students and the community, more times often than not a simple no can deflate an entire program.

Luckily, with as much exposure as we’ve given this topic in our area, whether through my business or my nonprofit, we've been able to reach a few communities that are willing to let us help them out. One of those communities happens to be the county in which I live, Hidalgo County of Texas. A commissioner who is the current County Commissioner for Precinct 2 of Hidalgo County, Eddie Cantu, believes in creating a level and equal playing field for everyone in the district. I’m not saying others don’t, I’m just saying he’s doing something about it when no one else is. 




This part of the county is a unique area. On one side he has some of the most wealthy people in the county and on the other he has the absolute opposite end of the spectrum. The haves and the have-nots are both over-represented in Precinct 2. From the country club to the colonia, Precinct 2 presents a unique opportunity to do something about a problem that plagues communities across the United States.

Coming together to support the project

Leveraging the partnerships that I've been able to forge with elected county officials and the local school districts, we've all come together to come up with a way that we can help solve the problem with resources that, of the most part, are already available. One of the larger projects that has been successful in Hidalgo County has been a Colonia Streetlight project. It's difficult to imagine growing up in the neighborhood that doesn't have streetlights, but when you combine a lack of proper lighting, a high-level of crime, a high level of poverty, and a low level of education, it makes for a pretty bad recipe for community. Lupe, La Union Del Pueblo Entero, has been able to make significant strides in helping counties and cities recognize the need for something as simple as appropriate lighting in their neighborhoods. 


Why are these streetlights in colonias important to connectivity?

Well, it gives us a place to mount the equipment that doesn’t cost us monthly fees, while providing power. An added benefit to these streetlights: they are all solar powered. They're not operated by the local electric company or co-op, they are powered by the sun and installed using county government funds. From the Wi-Fi perspective, this makes them an absolute godsend. No contract with utility providers, and no per month fee for electrical service. 
Granted, I recognize that this is a unique situation, but a solar powered streetlight can solve more than one problem; providing adequate lighting coverage as well as a mounting assets for wireless networks, security cameras, and any other network connect a device that would benefit the community. 

Our project gains momentum

So, we have the vertical assets, the light poles, that we could use to mount equipment and we have a stake in the project from the county commissioner. That's a huge chunk out of the way for a project like this. Again, sometimes the hardest thing is getting someone to just say yes to a project.

Next, we needed a way to tie the network back into the internet and the local school district. The goal is to provide student access to the school network, maintained and operated by the ISD, and provide public access through the local community resource center. You see, E-Rate won’t let us use e-rate funded assets and service to provide general service to the public (without going through a bunch of hoops for usage based models and other hurdles), and that’s fine. But how do you identify and segment who’s a student and who’s not when you are trying to provide access to everyone to increase the overall education level of the community? This, again, is where having a community partner that is willing to handle that segmentation on their network is a huge asset.


Working with the school district

Instead of over complicating the connection, I approached the local school district and asked them for a simple switch port on the POE switch, the same that would provide a connection to a single wireless access point. The only difference is that this would enable an entire neighborhood for connectivity instead of a single AP. 
Skipping past the political route and going straight to the decision-makers in the information technology department, proved to be successful. I didn’t want what we were trying to accomplish to get lost through meeting after meeting and conversation after conversation. If we went that route, but the time it got to the IT department they’d think we were trying to get them to do all the work and build out a community network. Again, knowledge is power, and the people that hold the knowledge about how something like this would actually work are sometimes the people that immediately say no, because of fear of the scope of the project and not understanding a simplified way in which it can work. In this case, a little understanding, education, and a white board with multiple colored markers went a long way.

Keeping tabs on where we are

Now, we had the political buy-in, the mounting assets, the electrical, and the network connection. Add to that my role as a technology consultant providing the designing, engineering, and building out networks of this type, and we're off to a pretty good start. All we need now is some equipment to type this together.

Why hasn’t this been done before?

The problem with legacy wireless equipment is that it has traditionally been a bit cost prohibitive to think about deploying 20 to 50 wireless access points in a neighborhood. With price tags upwards of $1000 per unit, going into an area that had little or no funding, it was easy to understand how this would never work. However now, our industry is getting down into lower price points for quality equipment making the hardware and overall solutions attainable. 

Choosing the right equipment manufacturer

Through my experience in the industry, building out wireless ISPs to connect rural markets to the Internet and to serve places that were unreachable by cable or fiber, one product brand has always stood the test of time. It started as the Motorola Canopy product and ushered in a new way for Internet service providers to provide access. With thousands of deployments across the globe, the Canopy product was synonymous with providing reliable, robust, and instant connectivity to markets that didn't have the infrastructure or were too far out of the city's reach. 

As more and more deployments of Canopy equipment popped up, other manufactures started to recognize the need for a solution such as this. So across the past 20 years, this industry is a thriving one, with point to multipoint and point to point wireless driving hundreds of millions of dollars per year. 


As times changed and products weaved in and out of this segment of products, the Canopy line was eventually split off from Motorola and Cambium Networks was established. Now, in 2017, The product lines that they are offering include the e500, which is an affordable, outdoor, IP 67 rated, access point. 




With their strength in their legacy point to multipoint product lines, including the addition of their affordable and market driven production of the ePMP line, they now present a complete holistic solution to solve problems like those we have in hidalgo county.


What is the cost of something like this?

Now that we are able to properly identify the equipment that it would take to establish the infrastructure and create a network that would support what we are trying to do, the last leg, and sometimes the most important, is funding. We can have every intention, approval, mounting location, and functioning design, but without the funding for something like this, it’s all just a great idea. The good thing about a network like this is while it used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce, over the last few years, that price is now dropped to a much smaller amount. In our specific area where we're talking about our project, we're looking at around $50,000 to complete. From a funding perspective, it’s easier to find $50k than it is to find $500k.


How are we going to pay for this?

While there are a number of avenues to go down as far as funding, I'd like to highlight a few that may work, depending on your environment.


New opportunity arising: Financial Institutions through CRA

Jordana Barton (@JordanaBarton) with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has created a way to increase a financial institutions' community reinvestment act score, while giving their local community the resources to build out of network like this. Her entire handbook and all of her research can be found online here
It's a great way to get financial institutions more involved in the infrastructure of this type of service that is so desperately needed. I’m not totally sure of how it all works, as banking really isn’t my thing, but I would imagine that local financial institutions could provide a way to fund these projects across a handful of years for municipalities. That way, the municipalities get what they need for their citizens, the community gets the connectivity they need for their students and economic development, and the banks get that gold star for reinvesting in their communities. Sounds awesome.

Driving Economic Development

Economic Development Corporations, which are generally funded by the city sales tax, are also a place that can at least start to build the foundation of one of these networks through independent funding. As EDC's try and bring more businesses in, either through offering incentives or by following the example of cities like Mission, Texas, and developing the workforce to be more technically minded, it shows that changing the educational attainment level of the citizens of the community can help drive economic development. When trying to attract businesses to a market, having a solid workforce of students and community can mean the difference between landing a large business and not. 

Think about it. Think about the company you work for and say you had to make the decision to open new office. Would you relocate YOUR business to: 
A. a community that is one of the least connected where students are receiving no applicational education of technology devices or
B: a community with a path to provide a broadband solution for every student and citizen of their community?


Wait, what about E-Rate?


Unfortunately, there isn't any good news for E-Rate. I could be wrong, and I welcome the feedback if I am. While there have been some major developments and changes in the way that funds are made available, it still only covers students for half the day. I still struggle to understand how districts are funded to only provide. 

I still struggle to understand how it makes sense for E-Rate to provide access to schools, but all of that infrastructure, access, and connectivity is not allowed to be used after hours.

E-Rate does a great job from 8AM to 4PM, but what about from 4PM to 8AM? There’s got to be a better way and I can’t wait to see someone take this on. If the citizens of the community are paying into USAC for E-Rate equipment and services that are available 24-hours a day, why can our students only use it during school hours? That’s a pretty bad investment. 
Imagine if we could only use our highways and federally funded roads from 8AM to 4PM? No would would stand for that, whey do we stand for it with broadband access? Grrr.

To achieve our solution, we are simply extending the network into the community using equipment and services that are paid for through a different source. We’re not using E-rate equipment or transport for anyone other than students, and the students are required to use their district issued credentials on district approved devices to gain access to the ISD network. 

Where does that put us? 

In our situation, we now have all of the components ready, except the equipment.
The County is providing the vertical assets, the power (via solar), the broadband connection for non-students, and as much equipment as they can for installation to reduce cost.
The School District is providing the off-load for student connectivity via the single POE port we asked ‘em for.
My company, Frontera Consulting, is engineering and overseeing the build-out of the network and overall functionality of it. Now all we need is the equipment.

"The man who asks a questions is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life." - Confucius.

Seeking a partner in this project and to help prove out the case of how this type of network can impact communities across the globe, I decided to ask Cambium Networks for their help. I did it by using this video:




Cambium Networks has now committed to helping us build out this project by providing the equipment and licensing necessary to make it happen. I cannot explain how grateful I am. Its not even about being grateful for the ability to work on this project as much as it is being thankful for those who have no idea that we are even doing this. 



While we may have an idea about the number of students that this will directly impact the first day we turn it on, there is absolutely no way that we can measure what the impact of this project will be on day 2, or over the course of its lifetime. All we know is that we are doing something right by our community and by the world by helping out. 

Now, with a proven model, it’s time to get to work. 
There are hundreds of thousands of places like this around the world. While we may not have all of the pieces of the puzzle in each of them, we have the knowledge of where to get them and how to get them. Let me know if I can help you build the puzzle - drew@gofrontera.com


-drew

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Using Sensors for Client-side Wi-Fi Troubleshooting


Building wireless networks is something that, with the right amount of engineering and experience, can be simple to do for the right people. Choosing equipment, locations to mount that equipment, and choosing how that equipment operates are essential elements to wireless network design. They are also things that we can control. But what we can't control are our end users. We cannot control what type of device they use, when they use it, what they use it for, or how often they use it. 

When troubleshooting wireless networks there are essentially two sides to the process: one side is from the network equipment and the other side is from the client. 


While there are thousands of tools available to assist in monitoring, managing, and manipulating the way the wireless networks work from behind the access point there are very few good tools that are built for collecting data, analyzing data, and automating the troubleshooting process from in front of, or on the client side of, wireless networks. This is one of them.


Enter a New Breed of Tools: Wi-Fi Client Devices as Monitors

A few years ago a new set of equipment and tools started to make its way into the market that would help give a better holistic view of a wireless network to administrators and support staff monitoring in maintaining wireless networks. As sensors for all types of devices have become more common, they stand to change the way we interact with almost every aspect of our jobs. Now, wireless network engineering is no different. While some of the tools that tried to take this on have fizzled out, a few have made their way to the top of that marketplace.

One of the early groups with a viable product for the market, NetBeez, a graduate of Y Combinator, continues to provide a fantastic product that can operate on standard equipment, something as simple as a Raspberry Pi. It's dashboard is simple and straight forward and gives you great information about the networks the NetBeez sensors are connected to. You load the software on to the Pi or buy one of the devices pre-loaded, and fire it up. It connects back to the cloud data collection service, and you are set!


A benefit to the NetBeez product is that the Wi-Fi adapters are external to the Pi hardware which allows you to change out the adapters to work with new technology (assuming the drivers support it!) 

As a presenting product at Mobility Field Day 1, we got to learn all about what their product does, how it works, and why they built it. Watch more below:




As NetBeez continues to innovate their software, another entrant into this segment appeared, manufacturing it's own hardware and including a slew of new features as a result of self-manufacturing. 


One of the early innovators in that segment was a company called Asimmetric. Asimmetric gave you the ability to set up a client on an existing wireless network and that client would report back a number of different measurements and metrics to let you know how the wireless network was behaving from the client-side perspective. Founded by a group from Cape Town South Africa and funded by some North American VCs (including Bolt who seed funded one of my favorite products for non-profits - DipJar and Highway 1 who backed this year's must have Christmas gift - Loop) this product has now been re-branded Cape Networks. In late 2015, the first commercial production run of their sensors were sent out to a few very lucky people in the industry. I just happened to be one of 'em :-)

About the Cape Networks Client-side Wi-Fi Sensor 



At 6" x 6" and about 2 inches tall, the Cape Networks sensor looks like a small form factor access point. It is very low profile, statically pleasing, and ships with a number of different mounting types to allow for a simple installation. It supports up to 802.11a/b/n and both 2.4 & 5GHz frequencies. 

Installation and configuration 

There is not a lot to the installation of this product, you can either supply power over Ethernet, or a combination of power and Ethernet, or simply plug the device into a power source for it to get online. Wait, power only? Yup.



One of the key differentiators of this product is that it has a built-in chip set to support T-Mobile so that it does not need a network connection in order to transmit it's data back to the Cape networks cloud service for you to review. To me that's pretty awesome and also takes a very commonsense approach to a sensor like this: how is it supposed to monitor the network and report that the networks down if the network is down?


Once able to communicate with cape's cloud services, it uses its unique identifier that is assigned to your account to pull its configuration from the cloud and associate to the wireless network it's supposed to be looking for. It immediately starts monitoring and reporting that data in real-time back to the cloud dashboard.

What the Cape Networks Sensor Monitors & Measures


Simple measurements such as RSSI level, SNR, which frequency and channel the client is on, as well as which access point The client is associated with are obtained, stored, and graphed. Values like jitter are calculated while latency, round-trip time, and throughput to public sites like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Dropbox are measured from the client side.


All of this is reported back in a very easy to understand webpage complete with graphs, spark lines, and measurements that are synchronized as you move your mouse across the timeline of events. An event log on the left-hand side shows you what events are taking place and as your mouse over them it shows you where on the timeline that event took place, which usually coincides with the network event such as a channel change, frequency change, or an access point change. All in all, it makes seeing what's happening on your network very easy to see and understand as each event and it's related effect are captured and correlated in real-time. 

How Cape Networks Sensors Monitor Client Wi-Fi 

One of the things that I like the most about the platform is it's interface. I have been hoping for years that someone would come up with a wi-fi experience index; a way to have a number from 1-10 that would be an all-encompassing statistics letting you know what the client experience is like. This is almost like that, except it uses the traffic signal system: red for bad, yellow for functional but issues, green for good.


With a quick glance you can see how your clients are viewing your network. 
What happens behind the scenes is the magic component that makes this solution some thing awesome. By combining the massive amounts of real-time data and crunching it together a score or indicator value is produced. I'm not sure what the exact formula is, but something like slow DHCP address assignment can make a user unhappy, therefore give you a yellow face. When combined with poor signal or low SNR, that's definitely a "red face" situation. 


So what happens when the power goes out? This is pretty cool: they call it last gasp power. 4 built-in supercapacitors maintain power to the device for about 40 seconds so it can figure out if power is down on the Cape monitor, the AP, or both to let you know why it lost a connection. Pretty smart.

What are the Benefits of client-side Wi-Fi Monitoring?

There are a few. From a VAR / Integrator / Managed Service Provider perspective it is blatantly apparent: you get to see the network you're monitoring from the end-user's perspective.
When a customer tells you "the Wi-Fi sucks", now you can quickly and easily understand why they say that. Even if it's not the Wi-Fi.
This helps you know where problems are by giving you a complete 360 degree view of your customer's deployment.  When there are issues that arise, even though everything looks good from the top down, this is a fantastic tool to give you the visibility you've been missing from the bottom up.



From the customer's perspective it helps you hold your MSP to the flame while giving you statistics about how your network is functioning in addition to validating all your crazy claims of "the Wi-Fi isn't working".  A tool like this can be an asset to an enterprise environment looking to streamline troubleshooting while being proactive about network issues. It's robust enough for the I.T. team and simple enough for management to see what's working and what isn't.

Final Thoughts


So, all in all I love where this space is headed. These devices are providing vital visibility into wireless networks that can impact the way networks are built, maintained and administrated.
The Cape Networks sensor is sleek, simple to use, and does exactly what it's supposed to do. It has saved me money, made me money, and made me look great all at the same time.

No matter which side of the fold you're on, customer or integrator, it can be a view into your network that you would be foolish not to take advantage of. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The HomeworkGap Shrinks. FCC Lifeline Reform & Internet for Everyone!

It's December 2016. Merry Christmas to everyone. Especially a whole bunch of Americans who now have a better way to connect and learn!

Something I have been following for a while is the Lifeline reform that the FCC had embarked on changing earlier in the year. I am a huge advocate for this, partially because I live in an area of the US that is deeply affected by the Homework Gap, inside the Digital Divide, and whatever other name you want to call our area.

Hidalgo county is one of the most economically challenged areas in the United States and our broadband adoption rates are ridiculously low compared to the rest of the US, coming in at right around 37%.

So, when Lifeline reform came around and one of my favorite FCC Commissioners Janet Rosenworcel spoke up and took the #HomeworkGap under her wing, I was all ears. After finding out the best way to get it done and pushing hard to make it happen, on March 31st 2016 it passed.

What do the new rules cover?

Stand-alone broadband, bundled voice-broadband packages - either fixed or mobile - and stand-alone voice service. The reform even covers text messages as part of lifeline communication. One of the neat things, I think, is that if a provider is offering a device, it has to include hotspot functionality. However, nothing I have seen yet covers the cost of the actual device, only the service.
For community organizations, "Aggregation projects" will allow for community-based organizations, housing associations, and institutions to aggregate benefits. Think about Boys & Girls Clubs coordinating this. It could be incredible.

But what does that mean, and what does it mean for places like Hidalgo County, Texas?

Well, check it out: $9.25 per month for eligible low-income subscribers.

How do you know if you're eligible?

Here's info from The FCC Lifeline program site:

To participate in the program, subscribers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines  or participate in certain assistance programs. You can see if you are eligible with the Lifeline Eligibility Pre-Screening Tool on the Universal Service Administrative website at www.lifelinesupport.org.
or:
Following is a list of assistance programs that qualify a participant for Lifeline:

Who is offering this service?

Here are a few that are offering the service as of the latest approvals. To see a full list of the applicants and their status, visit this website.


  • Spot On
    Available in:
    New York Only

    Details:
    Fixed wireless broadband offering with speeds of 20 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, with no usage limits at a price of $9.75 per month.

  • Boomerang Wireless
    Available in:
    Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, including the Tribal lands within Boomerang’s service territory.

    Details:
    500 MB of mobile broadband internet access services (BIAS) at 3G speeds and 100 units for voice or text services to Lifeline subscribers on non-Tribal lands, and 750 MB of mobile BIAS with unlimited voice and text, to Lifeline subscribers on Tribal lands, at no cost to the consumer after applying the Lifeline discount. Uses the Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile networks.
  • FreedomPop
    Available In:
    Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, , Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia. Additionally, FreedomPop seeks to serve Tribal Lands in Oklahoma and Hawaii.

    Details:
    A selection of mobile BIAS plans at 3G speeds, the basic offerings include 500 MB at no cost after applying the Lifeline discount. Uses the Sprint network.

  • KonaTel
    Available In:
    Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas including the Tribal lands within KonaTel’s service territory.

    Details:
    Two non-Tribal mobile BIAS plans: (1) 500 MB of data at 4G or 3G speeds, unlimited voice, and unlimited texting at a cost of $9.95 per month after the Lifeline discount; (2) 2 GB of data at 4G speeds with unlimited 3G/2G access after usage allotment, unlimited voice, and unlimited texting at a cost of $19.95 per month after applying the Lifeline discount. KonaTel will also offer an unlimited data at 4G speeds, unlimited voice, and unlimited texting plan to eligible Tribal consumers at $19.95 per month after applying the Lifeline discount.

So, how do you sign-up?

It's not clear yet as each company will have their own ways of getting setup.

What about AT&T, Spectrum, etc?

Well, they've been doing it for a while! It's not free, but it's very low-cost and will probably be a part of this larger program at some point.

  • AT&T Access
    Eligibility:
    at least 1 person in the household has to qualify for SNAP benefits.

    Details:
    $5 per month, 3 Mbps. $10 per month 5 Mbps & 10 Mbps
    Limited to 600GB transfer per month (nice!)
    No activation fees and includes a free wireless router
    Qualifying families can get a computer for $149.99

    Sign-up:
     https://accessatt.solixcs.com/#/home
  • Spectrum Internet AssistNews Release
    Eligibility:
    A student in the School Lunch Program and/or Seniors 65+ who receive Supplemental Security Income.

    Details:
    $15 per month, up to 30Mbps down / 4 Mbps up
    No data caps
    Wired service
    You must not have had an account within 60 days of enrolling or owe them any money.
    Not available everywhere (unfortunately not in South Texas yet)

    Sign-up:
    https://www.charter.com/browse/content/spectrum-internet-assist
    844 525-1574

Those are the two that affect the area that I live in. For a great and comprehensive list, the folks over at cheapinternet.com have been doing a tremendous job keeping up with this:
http://www.cheapinternet.com/low-income-internet

For more information 


Keep up to date with the USAC page:
https://usac.org/li/tools/rules-orders/2016-lifeline-order.aspx

Follow the list of providers who are petitioning to be a part of this:
https://www.fcc.gov/lifeline-broadband-provider-petitions-public-comment-periods



Friday, September 2, 2016

Update on Wi-Fi Stand: Looking Forward & Looking Back

I just wanted to post a quick update to the Wi-Fi Stand project. We've shipped to half a dozen countries, worked with a handful of different manufacturers, been spotted in the wild and a few awesome places, and have been able to stay on top of our orders keeping our customer smiling! We launched the painter's pole adapter for legacy APoAS (Access Points On A Stick) survey kits, and kept our costs down by producing 'em ourselves!

Since we launched in July it has been a really fun ride and we're looking forward to what the future of this can bring! Thinking about the future got me thinking about the past and I wanted to take a second to say thanks for all the hard work and creativity that got us up to this point by everyone on our team and everyone who has helped along the way.

A photo posted by Wireless Nerd (@wirelessnerd) on


When I first saw this bracket at Interop, it was the all the buzz of all the wireless guys at the show. When we found out that Sean (@GotWickedWifi) had made these in his garage specifically for the show, it represented a great moment where we could take something that was being done by hand and figure out a way to put a process behind it, while creating something of our own out of a great idea. After reaching out to him and moving forward on our own, we still hope to collaborate on future projects.

Knowing how much time I have invested in the details of this to make it fit what I needed it to do, and what I hope the industry needed it to do, I truly appreciate Sean in his garage trying to figure out the right configuration for it. I imagine it's like the person who made the first shelf or coat hanger; something simple yet powerful. Picking up where he left off and figuring out how to make something unique out of a great concept, although difficult in and of itself, all started with his labor trying to tweak it. 


Early size comparisons of our design of the WiFi Stand
Since then, we've enlisted the help of people across the industry to help us figure out what the best way to produce this thing. After trying so many different configurations with all kinds of shapes, sizes, weights, and materials, we finally solidified our design. I can't thank everyone enough for the feedback, the attempts to break it, the drop tests, and the hours in laptop bags to make this what it is today.

Once we had our design, thanks to Eric and his mastery of Solid Works and relationships in manufacturing, we had to get the materials right, round out all the edges so it would travel well, and finally carve our name into it.




Now, with the adapter and a few great ideas to move forward with, we hope to help everyone in the industry find some simple ways to help hang some great equipment in an easy to use and quick way! Mario definitely has his hands full taking care of orders!!




If you'd like to help us out, please order today and let us know what we can do to change it to make it better serve you! Thank you so much for all of your support!

Also, this just proves that shows like Interop are way cooler than just the exhibits, sessions, or people you meet. You'll never know what you'll find at industry events! See ya there!



Monday, July 11, 2016

Launching the Wi-Fi Stand and wifistand.com



Having been involved in the tech industry for my entire career, with a stint of going full time in the entertainment industry, I have a huge appreciation for simple products that create solutions for common problems. I recently saw such a unicorn in the form of a bracket to suspend and place wireless access points at Interop 2016. There were a series of brackets placed throughout the Mandalay Bay convention area that Shawn Lucas, @GotWickedWifi, had built in his garage and provided for public display at the show. Inspired by this and with a goal of creating something different (i.e. lighter, more transportable, and out of a different material, etc) we set out to see if we could bring a product to market that could be what we wanted.

This basic product serves to provide a simple solution for a common problem that can be an Achilles heal for the Wi-Fi industry: Mounting temporary Wi-Fi Access Points.


Reaching out to the community

In an effort to make the best product possible and to create a combined effort, I made sure that I identified and reached out to anyone and everyone that I could find who was currently producing a bracket like this. After some research and determining that there was no existing, cost-effective, way to take it to market, I jumped on the challenge to make it better, cheaper, easier to transport, and widely available. 

I consulted with friends and other professionals in the wireless industry to tweak and tune the design. Today, I'm pleased to announce that  we are launching the website and the product for our Wi-Fi Stand.



The Wi-Fi Stand is an easy and quick way to deploy wireless access points and other equipment specifically when and where you need it. Typically when you're in an environment that requires additional or temporary access points, it also requires someone with a spool of cable, a ladder, and a map to choose where to mount those Wi-Fi access points.



With the Wi-Fi Stand product, you simply attach the bracket to the top of a standard pole or tripod that supports the standard 1/4" #20 connection, run a length of Ethernet down the pole secured with a fastener, raise the pole to the desired height, and you're done! 






There have been many attempts to create a bracket for hanging wireless access points. At every show, at every event, and everywhere one of these devices goes up, the pictures are posted to Twitter and Instagram applauding the effort of that bracket. The problem with most of them, at least the way I see it, is that they are big and bulky and seem to cost a little too much time and material to produce.

When we set out to make our Wi-Fi Stand, we looked at the problems with every other bracket on the market today, whether it was for wireless or not. We took what they were all good, which was a small list, and then looked at what they were all bad at, which was a much larger list. We focused on creating a product that was good at all the bad things while remaining great at all the good things.



The result is an 8 x 10" molded and machined piece of industrial grade PVC, reinforced and accented with pure aluminum materials and stainless steel fasteners. It's 1/4 inch thick and gives you a clearance window of 6" x 10" for even the bulkiest access points, Wi-Fi, and BLE products. 



We tested out the thickness of the product starting with 1 inch and working our way down to an eighth of an inch. We threw it up in the air as high as we could and watched it crash down on the concrete, dropped it off balconies, and twisted it until it broke. We ultimately chose a thickness that made it easily transportable, lightweight, and still resilient and sturdy enough to hold even the heaviest of access points.



I hope that you will enjoy using our product and help us find new and exciting opportunities to make it better. If you have ideas, please reach out. 

ReseIllers and Distributors

If you're interested in reselling or distributing the product, we'll make you some money. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A look at the Mist Systems Wi-Fi & BLE solutions



I had the fantastic opportunity to get a walk-through of one of the latest wireless technology companies to come onto the scene. Mist systems, founded by a handful of well-respected industry vets and some fantastic data scientists, offers a new take on big data and analytics in the Wi-Fi space. The goal: to create a proactive medium for personalized mobile user experience. Sound cool yet?



It's not so much about the hardware. 

Instead of focusing on the hardware aspect of a wireless access points, Mist puts all of the features up in the cloud through a $250 per year premium package that gives you not only access to all of your metrics and analytics, but a really impressive way of how to gauge client satisfaction.
That isn't to say that they are not manufacturing hardware, their hardware is as equally as curious and impressive. The board that I saw contains eight BLE beams with matching antenna elements to provide a virtual BLE beacon service. There wireless access point hardware has the BLE radios built-in and they offer a BLE only version of the hardware. Pretty cool for existing Wi-Fi deployments that you want to start to transition over.



My immediate impression of Mist is that it has finally done what so many different devices have strived to do. Namely, managing the wireless experience from the end-user's perspective.  Gauging the end-user experience has always been difficult, but absolutely the most important thing on any wireless network. To most customers, it doesn't matter what hardware you have, what cable you use, what technology is in the access point, or how many spatial streams it can support. When it all comes down to it, the only thing that people purchasing equipment care about is the user experience. 

Once the equipment purchase is complete, the majority of the time spent by wireless nerds like me has us in reactive mode. We're called up to fix existing problems, troubleshoot bad or improperly deployed networks, and find problems with someone else's work. Tools like this give MSPs and Network Admins the ability to be proactive in their wireless services. The ability to have the visibility into the network and user performance analyzed give us unparalleled ways to perform troubleshooting before the user even knows what's happening. 

A Packet Capture Black Box?

A great feature I saw identifies when events happen and starts a packet capture when those events occur. You can then go back to that event and have the packet capture ready for download, specifically at the time of the issue. This saves time by eliminating the need to duplicate the issue, setup the packet capture, and then wait for someone bad to happen. It's like having an audio recorder in your car that's always on, so when it makes "that noise" you can play it for the mechanic instead of trying to explain it. 

One of my buddies, Lee Badman, wrote an article for Network Computing that discussed a little bit about his experience with Mist as well. Everything that he said was right on, but I wanted to give a little bit more detail into one of the components that I thought was truly fantastic: the ability to measure the client experience.

Calculating the Client Experience

Part of the Mist secret sauce lies in how the client experience is calculated. What is defined as “user minutes” seems to be a concoction of signal level, throughput, and connection quality, averaged over time. For example, if I have a signal level of -68 and SNR of 29, and I am pushing a large amount of throughput through my connection, that could be perceived as a good signal. However, if those statistics only happened for 10 seconds out of a 30 minute span, then I have a terrible connection quality. 

I'm not sure how accurate of a description that is to how it actually works, but that's at least how I thought about it, and how it made sense to me. 


Basically, instead of looking at snapshots of how well a client is connected, it's spans it over the length of time that the user is connected to truly determine if they are having a decent user experience or not. With an easy-to-read color-coded metric, you can see what percentage of users are having a good or bad user experience.



Once a determination is made if a client is having a good experience or a bad experience, then you can start to drill down into what factors may be negatively affecting their communications. DHCP or DNS server response time, captive portal response time, active directory authentication time, so on and so forth. By looking at the complete communication conversation from start to finish all the way through from association to DNS probe request, it gives you a good and accurate view of how what steps are taken in order for a client to get online. 

Understanding More Than Just the Wi-Fi

After sitting through mobility field day earlier this year, we got to learn a lot about companies like Nyansa and NetBeez that give you different views of the network and the transactions that take place in order for clients to get online. There seems to be this trend that people are finally realizing where the client and user experience is the most important thing. This technology allows you to monitor and understand those transactions and that experience through a more simplistic and absolutely fun to look at interface.

vBLE? Say Bye to Physical Beacons

The second part of my walk-through dealt with their use of virtual Bluetooth low-energy, or BLE, beacons. I've been watching the space for a little while now and after having done a successful deployment with Aruba Meridian, I love to think about where it can go and the applications that it can serve. 

The thing that sets the Mist experience apart is that it does not use any physical beacons. Instead it uses an array inside the access point, or available as a separate BLE only device, that allows you to draw multiple zones as “beacon zones" across the property. 

For example you could have one AP with an integrated BLE inside of a convenience store. You could draw polygons to define the beer section, the candy section, the soft drink section, and the restroom, on the floor plan. You can name them and have them set up as their own independent zones. 
The statistics and analytics that you can glean from each one of the zones is second to none. How many devices entered, how many devices left, how long they stayed, who went from one zone to another, so on and so forth. The power in this isn't just in the ability to rapidly deploy beacons, but in the effort and time reprogramming them, changing their batteries, repositioning them, or trying to find lost beacon devices. If the floorplan is reconfigured, all you have to do is use the AP management feature and rename or redraw the zone. Another added benefit? It completely eliminates the need for expensive and time consuming BLE site surveys!


I will admit that I was a bit skeptical about the technology before it was discussed. Thankfully a large amount of the time I spent on the webinar today was in live demo mode. It really hits home when you can see the different RSSI levels that the BLE AP sees each one of the client devices at, and see who the device “sees” the client.

This type of transformational product gives you the ability to deploy as many beacons as you wish without actually ever having to deploy any equipment other than the AP. For those of you that are interested in location-based services, this takes that game to a whole new level.


I'm pretty excited. 

Overall the product, platform, and user experience via the cloud dashboard are exceptionally well done. I think this speaks volumes as to where the industry is going. The trends are there and in retrospect they stand out remarkably. I'm excited to see what this product can do and how the industry will transform based on this push to user-centric solutions.

As usual I had a few comments here and there about how I would change it, what I would add, and how to tailor it specifically to my use cases. But overall it is extremely good. I am excited to see something creative and innovative in a space that is starving for unique innovation. Radios do what they are supposed to do on the ground; the cloud is doing what it’s supposed to be doing above that; it looks like it’s time for the Mist to introduce some great new tools in an undefined but definitely welcomed area.