Retiring my 5 GHz SSID

As many people know, the 5 GHz WiFi band is going to provide better performance and is less crowded than the 2.4 GHz band. I have always tried to get my devices on 5 GHz. Most WiFi access points/routers broadcast the same SSID for both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz allowing devices that support both bands to pick which band it wants to use. Unfortunately the devices sometimes prefer the 2.4 GHz band. Apple seems to have acknowledged this shortcoming of devices by providing an option in the AirPort Extreme base station for the user to set a separate 5 GHz SSID.

I’ve used a separate 5 GHz SSID for many years and have had devices that could use 5 GHz use it. While this has worked, once I got to the edge of the range my devices dropped off and I’d have to manually switch to the 2.4 GHz network. This didn’t happen often but it was enough to be annoying and the devices wouldn’t switch back to the 5 GHz network.

One of the features of the UniFi line of access points is band steering which is supposed to push devices to go to 5 GHz if possible. Since I was working on my network anyway I decided to see if I could have one SSID for both bands and if the devices would prefer the 5 GHz network.

The first thing I did was enable the Advanced Features in the UniFi controller:

Screen Shot 2017 09 20 at 1 43 17 PM

Screen Shot 2017 09 20 at 1 43 28 PM

After enabling the Advanced Features, I went to the configuration for each of my access points and turned on band steering to prefer 5 G.

Screen Shot 2017 09 20 at 1 44 04 PM

To finish off the configuration I set the transmit power to high for 5 GHz and medium for 2.4 GHz just to help devices think that the signal is a bit stronger on 5 GHz.

Screen Shot 2017 09 20 at 1 44 04 PM

I tested this configuration for a few days by forgetting the 5 GHz SSID from my devices and watched in the UniFi controller which band the devices chose. Without fail, all the devices including an Apple TV, iPad Pro, iPhone, Amazon Echo, and MacBook Pro chose the 5 GHz network. That was enough to convince me to retire the separate 5 GHz SSID. Today I removed the 5 GHz SSID and if all goes well no one in the house will notice a difference and devices will continue to operate at peak performance.

Getting Better WiFi

As I’ve written in the past, I replaced all my WiFi equipment with Ubiquiti’s UniFi gear. For my relatively small 1600 square foot house, I’ve gone overboard and have 3 access points. The house is a tri-level house so ideally I’d put once access point on each level. Unfortunately, due to convenience, I didn’t do that.

I set up one access point in my networking closet near my office on the ground floor, one in the garage in the hopes that it would cover up (yes, I know it points down) and one behind the TV on the mid level (wall mounting is not a great option). While WiFi coverage was adequate, I’m always looking at ways to improve my network. A few weeks ago, I decided to put the access points where they belonged. Since I have attic access above the mid level and second story, I just had to get a Cat6 cable up there. After several hours of trying to get 2 wires through a hole in the garage (I have about 6 other wires through that same hole and didn’t want to make a new one) I managed to pull the cable and wire things up.

The result can be seen in these pictures; the access points pretty much blend in with motion detector and the smoke detector.

The coverage is now very consistent throughout the house and my wife hasn’t complained about the access points on the ceiling!

IMG 6403

IMG 6407

TV Analysis Paralysis

When I started to see rumors about the 4K Apple TV, I decided that I wanted to jump on the 4K/HDR bandwagon. While there is nothing wrong with my 4 year old Vizio TV and 5.1 soundbar system, I enjoy watching TV and wanted better picture quality (yes, I know I need content and will pay an additional $2/month for Netflix 4K). Since I have been generally pleased with my Vizio M Series TV, I was looking at getting the new M Series that did 4K and HDR. With that decided, I wanted to move to a slight annoyance I have with my current setup.

This annoyance is minor and has to do with controlling sound. Since the Apple TV and my TV support HDMI CEC (consumer electronics control), I can turn the TV on and off with the Apple TV remote. Furthermore, the Apple TV remote can control the volume on the soundbar via IR. This setup works, but requires that I aim the remote at the soundbar to control the sound and sometimes takes a few tries because something is in the way. I had heard about HDMI ARC (audio return channel) which would let me plug a soundbar into the TV via HDMI and route all the audio that way. In addition to just routing the audio, this would give me CEC for the soundbar bringing my dream of one remote to control everything. Off I went to look for a soundbar that met this criteria. I picked up the Vizio SB4051-D5 at Costco and it appeared to meet my needs. I was able to control everything from one remote and was even able to change the volume using the Apple TV remote app on my phone or iPad.

My joy faded fast when I started looking at putting 4K/HDR into the mix. The Vizio M Series TV has 4 HDMI ports, put only HDMI 1 supports HDMI 2.0 which supports the latest 4K/HDR standards. In addition, only HDMI 1 supports ARC for audio. OK, no problem I thought; plug the Apple TV into the soundbar and the soundbar into the TV, all via HDMI. This works fine for HD, but once I got down into the specs, I realized that the soundbar would have to pass the 4K/HDR video signal to the TV. None of the Vizio soundbars do this today. Soundbar goes back to Costco.

Now I’ve resigned myself to waiting for better options. However, in the meantime, I started looking at a company I’d never heard of, TCL and their P series TV. With 3 HDMI ports that support HDMI 2.0 and 1 of those supporting HDMI ARC, it looks like I still may well be able to realize my goal of 1 remote; the Apple TV would plug into HDMI 2 and a soundbar into HDMI 1. In addition, the TCL has Roku built in; I used Roku prior to the Apple TV and was generally pleased with it, so that’s a bonus.

Where do I stand? Well, I’m going to take a closer look at the TCL TVs and just sit tight for awhile before I make a purchase. I am still going to look at a new soundbar after I get a new TV.

Any advice on new, budget 4K/HDR TVs?

Writing Enterprise Software

Up until a few years ago, I spent most of my career writing software that was used by consumers. This was very satisfying as it was easy to explain to others what I did and in many cases, they’ve heard of the software such as Eudora, PayPal, or eBay. With the rise of the smartphone, everyone and his dog is learning to write software and hopes to strike it rich on the App Store. Many developers, it seem, think that the exciting software to write is this type of software where the developer can earn a name for herself or himself.

Through a few changes in my positions at a company, I started working on retail software that would be used by store associates and would never be seen by consumers. At first this seemed pretty boring as enterprise software is typically very utilitarian and doesn’t get to use many features of modern smartphones. Now that I am fully immersed in enterprise software, there are some key advantages to it over writing consumer software.

  • All devices running the software get the same app version using MDM (mobile device management); no worrying about people running old software.
  • Limited number of users makes it easier to train people to use the software.
  • Bugs can be fixed and features added very quickly without App Store approval process.
  • No one writes reviews of the software that hurt your feelings!
  • You don’t have to worry about marketing a $0.99 app and the race to the bottom in pricing.

With more and more iOS devices being used in enterprise, there are huge opportunities for development. It may not get me fame or fortune, but it is currently my path to a decent living!

Credit Card Fraud

I’ve had a credit card since I was in college; when I first got one, my dad instilled in me that a credit card is basically cash and that I should never spend more than I have. Credit cards, to me, have two main advantages over cash; first, I don’t have to carry much cash and second, there is a little consumer protection in that I can dispute a charge if there is something wrong with the goods or services. Given that, I use my credit card for almost every transaction I can both online and in stores (it doesn’t hurt that my current card gives me cash back and has extended warranty protection).

With the amount that I use my credit card, it really didn’t surprise me the first time a fraudulent charge appeared on my statement. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to be on the merchant side of credit card processing and have seen how credit card numbers are mishandled.

In the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about credit card processing from my work at PayPal and now my work on retail systems. As part of my work, I had to create test credit cards to run on the processing equipment; I used numbers that passed the Luhn algorithm and wrote the numbers to mag stripes on blank white cards (they couldn’t be mistaken for real cards). This process taught me how easy it is to take a real credit card number and burn it onto a card so that it could be used in a store. The chip technology now in cards is designed to prevent this type of fraud.

The most recent time my card number was compromised was last month when I got an alert about several charges in New York at a restaurant and a hair salon. These charges were done in-person where the card number was written to another card. The merchants did a manual swipe and didn’t bother looking at the card to verify the last 4 digits matched the imprinted digits.

The only way to put more of a dent in in-person credit card fraud is to completely stop processing swipes; the problem with this is certain cards such as prepaid cards don’t use the chip. This, of course, doesn’t help online fraud. Banks have gotten much better at detecting fraud early but unfortunately by that time the damage has already been done.

Cellular Data Speeds

When I worked at QUALCOMM over 20 years ago, I was introduced to cellular data. Everyone was excited about being able to get stock quotes on the 4 line display of the phone; remember Unwired Planet? Data speeds were a whopping 9.6 Kbps on the digital network. This speed was enough to stream Real Audio, get email, and do basic tasks. I was even able to hookup a laptop and “browse the web”.

Fast forward to today where the mobile hotspot I use is able to get 20 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up! These speeds are significantly faster than the 5 Mbps down I had on my cable modem when I worked at QUALCOMM. I know that I shouldn’t be surprised at the advances, but trying to explain to my son about what we could do back then makes me think how far technology has come in that time. Today’s cellular data speeds are at least 2000 times faster than what I used 20 years ago and there is no end in sight to how fast the connections will get. Of course, there will be a limiting factor that the connections to the other parts of the Internet won’t match the air link, but the speeds still amaze me.

6 months after fixing Internet woes

About 6 months ago, I wrote about how I replaced all of my dad’s networking gear with Ubiquiti products including the USG, Cloud Key, and a pair of UAP-AC-LRs. While it didn’t completely cure his Internet issues, we were at least sure that the router and access points weren’t the problem. His cable provider kept doing work on the connection and eventually he replaced the cable modem with an ARRIS 6183. I don’t believe that the cable modem was the problem, but I wasn’t going to argue with it working (we had already swapped out the cable modem with a different SB 6141).

The gear has been rock solid; one of the access points wasn’t touched since the day we installed it; the USG was rebooted when the cable modem was replaced and my dad had to reset the other AP when he did some wiring changes in a closet.

Screen Shot 2017 08 02 at 9 24 14 AM

Ubiquiti has been putting out regular updates to the equipment, but I decided to just leave it on older versions as everything was running. Yesterday I went ahead and performed the upgrade remotely which was quite scary as any firmware upgrade could render a device useless. Luckily upgrading all components went smoothly; the Cloud Key took a little longer than expected and I almost panicked when it didn’t come back online.

I asked my dad if he’s had any problems with the Internet and he said no; this was news to my ears. Prior to installing the Ubiquiti equipment, the family’s solution for any time they had a problem was to reboot the cable modem and router. This no longer happens and everything just works.

As much as I’d like to recommend this type of setup for the average household, the separate components make it intimidating. For anyone with a little networking knowledge that has to handle an Internet connection for someone else like a family member or a small business, I’m not sure that you can beat Ubiquiti for the features at the price point.

Yes, I know I sound like an advertisement, but the more I use their hardware, the more I keep looking at reasons to get more and see what it can do.