Melting the Wi-Fi

The canal in Birmingham

Back in the early noughties I remember attending edtech conferences and the wifi failing to cope with the number of delegates. That wasn’t surprising, they were often using a single wireless access point and when sixty plus edtech delegates hit the event with their laptops and PDAs it wasn’t much of a surprise to find the lone access point failing to deliver any wifi.

Even today I have been to events where the wifi struggles as delegates with their laptops, iPads, smartphones connect to the wifi. It is partly about the number of devices, it is also about how they are using the connection, refreshing twitter, uploading photographs, streaming video like Periscope. I also think that some people may take advantage of the fast connection (sometimes inadvertently) to download updates, podcasts and video.

The canal in Birmingham

At the recent UCISA Spotlight on the Digital Capabilities event in Birmingham, the conference centre wifi, which in theory could cope with 250 wireless clients, failed to deliver a stable consistent wifi connection. I found that if my laptop was connected to the wifi, it not only took time to get a connection, but every so often the connection would drop. I would say that when I had a connection it was fast and consistent. I felt lucky that I could still tweet and upload photographs using my phone on my Three 4G connection. I was getting over 60Mb/s on that connection in the main auditorium. I was quite pleased that the seats in the auditorium had tables and power sockets.


The thing is, a conference with delegates from the edtech world are probably going to melt the wifi as most conference centres don’t plan their capacity on the extremes. For most events it probably works just fine. Personally since those early days I have come less and less to rely on the conference wifi, using a 3G dongle, 3G tethering, a 4G WiFI Hotspot to my current 4G tethering. This means that not only do I not worry so much about melting wifi, but it frees up the bandwidth for somebody else, and I think I might a pretty heavy user of bandwidth!

Upgraded the Airport Express

After having a few problems with the Airport Express, usually resolved by unplugging it and plugging it back in again, I took the plunge and upgraded the firmware to version 6.3

I was having issues with it failing too often. Though most of my Mac hardware and the iPad run off my 802.11n Airport Extreme, I still have some hardware that can only use 802.11g and that is what I was using the Airport Express for. The iPhone is one example, but as it has 3G it was less noticable when the Express failed and the wifi didn’t work. However my Canon printer also connected to the 802.11g Express network and when the Express fell over, no one was able to print!

I generally don’t upgrade unless there are security issues or as in this case I am having problems with the hardware. The upgrade went fine and it would appear after a few days now to have solved the issue. The Express has stayed up without falling over, so I am keen to see if this will continue.

If it keeps falling over then I may need to get a new one, of course it would have to be the AirPort Express 802.11n model.

Crack down on unsecured wireless networks

In Australia

The Queensland Police plans to conduct a ‘wardriving’ mission around select Queensland towns in an effort to educate its citizens to secure their wireless networks.

Once found…

When unsecured networks are found, the Queensland Police will pay a friendly visit to the household or small business, informing them of the risks they are exposing themselves to.

Read more

Can’t connect, won’t connect

Good article from Bill Thompson on wireless issues.

The BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, must be hoping that his neighbours don’t decide to have a larger family.

He recently spent ages setting up a high-speed wireless network (wi-fi) at home, documenting the whole tortuous process on the BBC Technology blog, but all his hard work could apparently be ruined by a single baby listener.

A197XP Issues

I mentioned back in July that I was having problems with my (quite old now) Sony VAIO A197X. Back then I considered re-installing Windows, but never got round to it.

I don’t really want to abandon it, as it does have a lovely 17″ screen, 1920 x 1080 resolution, which makes it great for watching video.

Sometimes the DVD player does not work as expected sometimes.

Tonight I was watching BBC iPlayer, I watched Doctor Who and that worked fine, but trying to watch Being Human and it decided that was too much…

I think it may have got too hot.

The video froze, despite restarting the browser, I couldn’t get the video working.

In the end I turned it off and watching iPlayer on my Mac.

I think I will now need to reinstall Windows.

Now here’s a good reason for securing your wireless network…

I have mentioned wireless security on the blog before and I am talking about real security not “feel good” security; at the very least you should be using WPA and preferably WPA2.

The Register reports on the consequences that have happened to a poor American expatriate living in India who just so happened to run an open unsecured wireless network.

Indian police raided the Mumbai home of an American expatriate after someone used his open wireless network to send an email that took responsibility for a bomb blast that killed at least 42 people.

Kenneth Haywood, whose internet-protocol address was included on an email sent just prior to the blasts, spent much of Thursday answering questions by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad officials. Police seized his three computers, as well as the machines of several neighbors, and are examining them as part of an investigation.

This story demonstrates a rare but real risk of running an open wireless network.

You’re starting to annoy me…

My Canon MP600r is starting to annoy me.

Every time I try to print from my iMac, the printer can not be found on the wireless network.

If I power cycle the printer, it “magically” appears and I can print!

The same more often then not for scanning.

Now I have no real idea what the problem is, whether it is a wireless, printer or some other issue.

I do need to do some further testing. Things I may do including connecting the printer by wire to a wireless WET54G and see if it is a printer issue.

If it is a wireless issue I may connect the printer direct to the iMac by USB and share it across the network.

Canon MP600r

More soon…

The Cloud “killed” my iPod

Okay to say that a Cloud wifi hotspot killed my iPod is exaggerating somewhat, however it did kill Safari for a while and certainly wasn’t easy to sort out.

iPod touch

I had used my iPod touch at a free wifi hotspot which used the Cloud network.

I had signed in and used the web and no problems.

A few days later I wanted to use the web again on the iPod, but regardless of which site I tried to use whether it be entered manually or through a bookmark, Safari on the iPod just reverted back to the Cloud login page!

I couldn’t log out as I was not connected to the Cloud.

So I switched the iPod touch off and no luck, it still revered to the Cloud login screen.

Now I was getting annoyed.

I knew it wasn’t a connectivity issue, as I could use e-mail and other internet functions on the iPod, but could I use Safari? No I could not!

In the end, I worked out that if I managed to stop the Cloud page from loading, I could get Safari working again.

It was a really weird error that would  not be resolved easily, but at least I resolved it without needing to restore the iPod which is where I was going.

Should I be running a hidden or closed wireless network?

So should you be hiding your wireless network? Should you be closing your Airport network? Should you be not broadcasting your SSID (service set identifier)?

Some people do this to make their network invisible.

Should I be running a hidden or closed wireless network?

Most people are not aware that hiding your SSID or “closing” your network, does not in fact make your network invisible.

All it does is stop broadcasting your SSID (network name).

Your network is still broadcasting and therefore detectable.

I have a (modern) Sony VAIO which can pick up closed networks without any extra software – the ability is built into the latest intel chipsets.

As well as your network still broadcasting your network will also “broadcast” your SSID everytime a client joins your network.


Well you want to join the network, so you tell the router that you want to join.

You tell it the SSID, it says okay and lets you join.

When you told it the SSID, this was broadcast in the clear and can be easily picked out by “sniffer” programmes.

Exactly the same process can be used to sniff out the the authorised MAC address if you use MAC address access control.

Unfortunately “Closed” networks, MAC access control lists, and reduction in transmission power are all more “feel good” security rather than real security. All these various approaches are dated and mistakenly lead to overconfidence.

They’re like putting a brown paper bag over your wireless router to “secure it”, it may make you feel better, but adds no security whatsoever.

WPA is your friend if you value wireless security.

Photo source.

Wireless Network Tutorials

Apple have posted a nice couple of video tutorials on wireless networking and setting up a wireless network at home.

For seasoned techy geeks like myself who have been using wireless for the best part of a decade, we sometimes forget how magical and fantastical wireless is to people new to it.

“You mean I don’t need to connect any wires to connect to the internet!”

So nice and simple tutorials like these from Apple are useful and can set the groundwork for people to enter a wireless world.

Wireless basics

Setting up your wireless network