Dual WAN/Internet Router – Load-balance or Failover using two Internet connections

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Image credit: Al Wilson. This picture is published under this creative commons license.

What is a Dual WAN/Internet router?

There are situations when our Internet capacity is not sufficient or our Internet connection is unstable. If you need access to the net continuously, you might consider getting two Internet lines.

But, most of the routers/modems allow you to connect only one WAN/Internet connection. If you need to connect two Internet lines, you need to buy two routers. You need to connect computers individually to each of the routers. Or, if you connect both routers and all the computers to a single switch, you have no control over which packet is sent to which router.

As you can see, this will create a lot of confusion. If you plan to have two Internet lines/connections, it is better to go with a single router that supports two Internet lines/connections.

These routers not only allow you to connect two WAN/Internet lines, but they allow you to load-balance or fail-over between them.

What is load-balancing?

When you have one Internet connection, the data packets are sent through a single line. So, there is no confusion. But when you have two Internet connections, who decides which packet should go via which line? Simple – No one! The packets are sent through one of these connections quite arbitrarily. This not only creates confusion but it also has the potential to choke one line while the other is relatively free.

Load balancing essentially splits the data packets (Internet traffic) between the two lines equally so that both the Internet connections have almost the same load. It uses simple algorithms like round-robin to determine which packet should be sent to which line. Load balancing prevents one Internet connection being over-used while the other is relatively free. So, both the connections are equally utilized. Do check if a router supports load-balancing with Internet connections from a single service provider or multiple service providers, if you decide to buy one.

What is fail-over?

When you have one Internet connection and it fails to work (or is unstable), it becomes difficult for everyone who are dependent on that Internet line for their work. Bigger companies have Internet Leased Lines and ILL’s come with a certain minimum uptime guarantee. So, the Internet down-time is less, for bigger companies. But smaller companies may not be able to afford Internet Leased Lines. Still, they need a reliable/non-stop Internet connection over broadband to work efficiently.

So, smaller companies can buy two broadband lines (from different service providers) and connect them both to the same router, that supports dual Internet/WAN connections. One of these connections can be made primary and will be active (normally used for Internet connectivity). The other is generally passive and it becomes active only when the primary Internet line fails.

The fail-over (or switch-over) to the secondary Internet line generally happens automatically, without user intervention. Normally, it takes a short time for the fail-over to happen once the primary line fails. Sometimes, the fail-over can happen even after a minute. There is no point in having two Internet connections from the same service provider and configuring them for fail-over because it’s highly probable that both of them will be down at the same time.

Normally, with routers it may not be possible to use both load-balancing and fail-over together. Only one of them might work at a given point of time and hence it is better to check before buying. Of course, they do support all the router features. There are specialized load-balancers and applications delivery controllers that can do both, but they are more expensive and generally meant for larger companies.

You can set-up load-balancing or fail-over in your small business or even at your home if Internet connectivity is very critical to you.

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UTM/Firewall for a Small Business : SonicWALL TZ 100/200/210

What is a UTM?

A UTM (Unified Threat Management) device is actually similar to a firewall, but it has certain additional features to protect your small business/home premises. For example, UTM comes with (optional) gateway level anti-virus for filtering virus laden mail attachments, URL filtering for blocking websites of certain categories, VPN for secure remote access, Intrusion prevention to prevent hackers, anti-malware functionalities to keep unwanted programs like spyware, away. All these security measures are applied at the network entry-point so that your systems inside the network are secure.

Does a small business need a UTM/Firewall?

Considering the amount of viruses and malware on the Internet these days, especially for windows based systems, it might be a good idea to buy a UTM appliance that can secure all threats at the place where it enters – The network perimeter.

Most people think that UTM devices are expensive and small businesses can’t afford them. This is true to a certain extent, as the basic device cost is low but subscription costs for various services (like anti-virus, anti-spyware, content filtering, etc) are quite high. Besides, these charges are recurring in nature and users need to renew them every year.

But, with the amount of protection (through continuous signature updates, etc) provided by them, it might be better to be safe than handle corrupted systems/data loss later on. Besides, many UTM companies have come up with specific models (with limited capacity) exclusively targeting small businesses. These models are quite inexpensive and offer all the security features/functionalities of the enterprise grade UTM’s.

Is there a difference between client based anti-virus/firewall and gateway based anti-virus/firewall?

Yes, they are different. The anti-virus products that you get in the market are mostly client based. So, they get installed in your PC and scan the PC regularly for any known threats. It’s the same with software firewall – Windows Firewall is built into the computer.

But gateway level anti-virus/firewall sits next to your Internet connection and blocks virus/malware and other security threats right at the gateway, before they actually reach your computer.

These two are sort of complimentary, because client based anti-virus is still required to scan external devices like USB pen-drives, etc connecting to your computer.

What is URL filtering?

Well, you don’t want to give access to all the websites to your employees, do you? With the content/URL filtering subscription module provided by the UTM, you can block certain websites based on their category. For example, you can block users in your office network from accessing all websites categorized as sports or porn. At the back-end, all new websites are categorized appropriately and continuously added to the list (by a team of personnel). That’s why there is a recurring yearly cost to this service.

What is VPN?

Many times, your users might want to access a computer/server inside your network from a remote location, over the Internet. A VPN module encrypts these communications so that data/files are secure and malware from external networks/Internet cannot get into your network easily. A VPN can be browser-based or client based (pre-installed on a PC).

If you are a small business, you can consider the SonicWALL TX 100/200/210 series UTM.

Highlights of the SonicWALL TX 100/200/210 UTM Series:

  • Gateway level anti-virus, anti-spyware, Intrusion prevention, URL filtering, Anti-spam (Optional modules in certain models)
  • Application control, visibility & Bandwidth prioritize (TZ 210)
  • Secures both inbound and outbound network traffic
  • Load-balancing and fail-over between a primary Internet connection (Internet Leased Lines, cable modem, broadband modem, etc) and a secondary Internet connection (USB based 3G data cards) (TZ 200 & TZ 210)
  • Some models come with a wireless adapter to provide a wi-fi connection and they support up to 8 virtual wireless access points
  • Support for IPSec and SSL VPN for encrypting office to office connections, office to PC connections and mobile phone to office connections
  • GUI based configuration utility, Centralized policy management
  • Unrestricted node connectivity (there are no licenses for the maximum number of computers that can be connected through it), but each device supports a certain maximum bandwidth (for each module), and certain maximum connections
  • Dynamic DNS support for accessing home based devices from anywhere (over the Internet) using a simple to remember domain name
  • Protection against Denial of Service attacks and scanning attacks
  • 5 x 10/100 Mbps interfaces (TZ 100, TZ 200); 5 x 10/100 Mbps + 2 x 10/100/1000 Mbps interfaces (TZ 210)
  • USB ports: 1 (TZ 200); 2 (TZ 210)
  • Stateful throughput: 100 Mbps (TZ 100, TZ 200); 200 Mbps (TZ 210). Individual module (like anti-virus, for example) throughput varies for each module and each device

The SonicWALL TZ 100/200/210 Series UTM is built for small businesses and comes at a small business pricing. Customers can buy it as a basic model or along with TotalSecure security package (recommended). It can be bought with the wireless adapter or without it.

Though it is generally recommended for offices and small business, it can also be used at highly networked homes. Installation requires some knowledge of installing network devices, but can be managed if sufficient time is invested in exploring to learn. A GUI installation/management interface is also provided to make it easier.

Where to buy: If you live in the United States (US), you can buy the SonicWALL TZ 100/200/210 UTM/Firewall appliances Online from Amazon. Click on the following links to get the pricing and other details.

1. SonicWALL TZ 100 with TotalSecure.

2. SonicWALL TZ 200 with TotalSecure.

3. SonicWALL TZ 210 with TotalSecure.

4. SonicWALL models with wireless feature.

Video introduction for SonicWALL TZ UTM Series:

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Why you should buy an inexpensive Laptop

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Image courtesy: SeptemberWoman. This photo is published under this creative commons license.

I don’t understand the reason why people buy expensive laptops, especially when there are nice inexpensive alternatives available to them. Think about it. There are a lot of disadvantages of buying an expensive laptop and there are a lot of advantages of buying an inexpensive laptop. Some of them are given below.

1. A laptop with ‘advanced’ configuration just three years back is now available for a much cheaper price. People would have bought the same laptop at double the cost then, but they don’t buy it for half the price now!

2. Most of us use normal applications like watching movies, browsing the net, playing some basic games, listening to music, etc. For these mundane applications, the cheapest laptop available in the market is probably an over-kill. Of course, serious gamers (whatever that means) and Auto-CAD users might want to buy more powerful laptops (I am sure that the same thing was said three years back, too!).

3. What is the life one can expect out of a laptop? Can the expect anything beyond 3 years – 5 years (max)? No. When it is clear that laptops are going to be kept for such a short time before throwing it and buying a new one, why not buy an inexpensive one now so that you don’t feel guilty about changing the laptop in 3-4 years?

4. Most of the laptops come with a 1-year warranty. Just imagine the cost of Annual Maintenance Contract or the cost of spare parts (if the laptop is not covered by service contracts), if anything goes wrong with the laptop after a year.

5. Since laptops use proprietary parts/components for the most part, there is little/no spare-parts options. We need to buy all parts from the same company that manufactured a laptop and more often than not, the cost of spare parts is very high.

6. If we buy a more expensive laptop, we not only end up paying more for its maintenance, but we are also reluctant to dump it and change it for a newer one.

7. Laptop configurations improve/become better, very frequently. The latest configurations are obsolete in less than a year, most of the time. It makes a lot of sense to dump a laptop every three years and buy a new one, instead of maintaining an old laptop with an outdated configuration. It’s easier to dump a cheaper laptop than having to think about dumping a more expensive one.

8. The resale price of a laptop is very less. So, the loss incurred while trying to (read: not being able to) sell an old laptop is much lesser for an inexpensive notebook, than an expensive one.

9. Since many applications are available on the cloud (Internet-based services), processing is done at the server end using powerful cloud server processors. For example, YouTube has a video editor that allows one to edit videos using their cloud infrastructure, once the videos are uploaded. Heck, Google cloud offers up to 5 GB of free online storage for data/files, Online.

10. There are specific specialized computing devices available for niche applications. For example, it might be better to go with netbooks/chromebooks/tablet computers as a second computer, if you plan to travel a lot. This is cheaper and a better option than buying another expensive thin/sleek laptop model just for travel.

11. I use Linux Mint as my Operating System. I have been using my laptop with this cool operating system for more than 2 years now. I am able to manage with a free OS that saves me quite a chunk of money (as my laptop never came with any pre-loaded OS) instead of being dependent on expensive proprietary operating systems. If I can, you can too. Once you throw an old laptop, the pre-loaded commercial OS is gone with it too!

Basic configuration laptops have decent specs, these days. For example, let us consider the Toshiba Satellite C655D-S5540 notebook. Here are its specs:

  • AMD E-Series 1.65 Ghz Dual-Core processor with 1 MB cache
  • 3 GB SO-DIMM RAM (Max: 8 GB)
  • 320 GB 5400 RPM Hard disk drive
  • 15.6″ Laptop Screen (monitor), 720p native resolution
  • AMD Radeon HD 6320 Graphics card
  • 5.56 hours of battery life (6-cell battery)
  • Windows Home Premium
  • 8x Super Multi DVD with Label flash printing support
  • Support for 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Built-in speakers
  • 2 x USB ports; 1 x VGA port; 1 x RJ-45 (10/100 Mbps); 1 x Card reader; 1 x headphone/mic ports

Ok, these are not exactly show-stealing specifications but for the price, isn’t this configuration good enough? I don’t see why an average laptop user might want to buy anything better than this (Of course, there are exceptions). Generally, people end up buying over-sized laptops that are two or three times the cost of a laptop like this and then waste all the excessive functionalities present in them.

Under-utilization not only puts a hole in our purse but it also encourages the vendors to aggressively pursue manufacturing the so-called laptop with ‘highest specs’ and hence wastes a lot of national/international resources. Remember: “There is always everything available to fulfill the needs of people, but not their greed”. Be a responsible shopper/consumer. Here are some more low-cost laptop models to consider.

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Ten things you must know about a Notebook Cooler

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Photo credit: Astonbreak. This photo is published under this creative commons license.

If you work on your notebook/laptop for more than a couple of hours continuously, you would have noticed that the notebook can get quite hot. When I was younger, computers were always used in Air Conditioned premises. Back then, they were so expensive and hence no one could afford to lose them to heat or dust.

But these days, computers and notebooks are used just about everywhere. Heck, people sit in their lawns and literally sun-bathe themselves and their notebooks!

But many people don’t bother to maintain their laptops. If certain precautions are taken, you can expect your notebook to not only give a longer life, but be relatively trouble-free during that period.

One important maintenance activity, that can be carried on without user intervention is cooling a laptop while working on it. People often underestimate the important of this activity. Why work on an oven which might auto-shut down if operated continuously? Heck, why is there a sensor in the first place to make it auto-shut down?

It is there to reduce the amount of heat generated by a laptop due to the CPU, hard-disk, etc. This heat can damage other components inside the laptop and can rarely burn a finger or two. I hope you haven’t experienced the latter, because you would have already bought a notebook cooler, if so 🙂

Let us look at Ten things you must know about a Notebook cooler:

1. There is no standard notebook cooler. There are various types, and some of them are made for certain applications. For example, there are notebook coolers with fans and without them, there are laptop coolers that can be placed right below your laptop or placed on side (external). There are laptop coolers that can only be placed on the desk but some of them can be placed both on desk and your lap.

2. Every notebook cooler is best suited for notebooks of certain sizes. Many notebook coolers support common models (up to 17″ screen size) but they are rated for certain sizes.

3. There maybe one, two, three or more fans within the notebook cooler. Some of them allow you to control the speed of the fans in order to reduce the speed and hence the sound, which can be audible when fans operate at high-speed.

4. Some notebook coolers come with adjustable placement of fan modules so that maximum cooling can be focused on certain hot-spots in the laptop. Every laptop is different and hence they can get hot at different places, depending on where the heat generating components are placed.

5. Some laptop coolers come with an On-Off switch. It’s comfortable because fans can be switched off without removing the USB cable every time. Some laptop coolers even have an LED indicator to let the user know that it is running. It can double up as a cool gizmoish night lamp. Just kidding 🙂

6. Laptop coolers need to be connected to one USB port of your notebook (they get powered that way). But since many notebooks have limited number of USB ports, it is better not to lose one USB port exclusively for this purpose. Some notebook coolers have two USB ports, one of which can be used to connect to the laptop and the other can be used to connect external USB based peripherals.

7. A notebook cooler allows you to operate your notebooks for a longer period. It is useful when you want to play games, stream video, play movies or use Wi-Fi connections as these things generate more heat. But since most of us use our laptops only for this purpose, you might now be clear on why a laptop cooler is very important!

8. Some notebook coolers have a designated area for mouse. So, if you normally use an external mouse, this type of laptop cooler might be very useful to you.

9. Some laptop coolers come with adjustable height settings. It offers a better view and makes typing more comfortable. But laptops might slip, as they are placed over a slope. So, its important to have some rubber grips to hold the laptop in its position and most notebook coolers come with them. But it’s still better to check.

10. If you want to carry your laptops around, you might want to use a portable notebook cooler that is easy to carry. Some of them are bulky and meant only for desk use, but some of them are light weight/thin and can be carried around. You might want to have both, if you travel frequently.

Whether you have a laptop/notebook cooler or not, it is important not to stare at the laptop monitor for long time. If you take breaks (after every one hour, for example), its good for your eyes and it also prevents the laptop from getting over heated.

Some notebook cooler models to consider (when you plan to buy):

1. Cooler Master Notepal X2 Master Cooler (Dual purpose – you can place it on the desk and your lap)

2. Xpad Slim (Fan-less and slim, good choice for travel)

3. Cooler Master Notepal U2 Notebook Cooler (This one comes with movable fan modules that can be positioned anywhere below the notebook)

4. Thermaltake Mobile Fan 12 External USB Cooling Fan (This one is stand-alone cooler and can be placed at sides/anywhere. It is useful for cooling desktops and other electronic equipments that can’t be cooled from below).

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Network Attached Storage for Small Business – Synology DS1511+ 5-Bay (Diskless)

If you are looking to buy a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device for your small business, you might want to consider the Synology DS1511+ 5-Bay Disk-less NAS box as one of the options. While there are cheaper options available, the Synology DS1511+ is a business grade NAS appliance with a lot of quality factors/redundancy factors built-into it. You don’t want to store/back-up your files in a home grade Network Attached Storage unit, do you?

The Synology DS1511+ NAS is a 5-bay appliance that can hold up to five 2.5″ or 3.5″ hard disk drives or solid state drives in the hot-swappable slots. The unit itself doesn’t come with any drives and they need to be purchased additionally. But what it does come with, is a 1.8 GHz processor, 1 GB DDR2 RAM and input/output ports (Gigabit network ports, USB ports and eSATA ports).  The Synology DS1511+ supports a maximum drive capacity of 20 TB, expandable up to  45 TB (when used along with two DX510 units).

The key differentiator in the DS1511+ is the software capabilities of this appliance. This NAS appliance can integrate with Windows Active Directory and Windows ACL so that you can easily group and allocate appropriate access controls to individual files and folders. It is possible to create a private shared folder that can be accessed by a large number of users, irrespective of which OS your users/client devices are running. It is possible to share files and folders over LAN and Internet.

Applications: Centralized storage and back up (File server), Mail server, Web Server, Centralized IP Surveillance storage and monitoring, USB-Printer sharing, Live media (video, audio, multimedia) streaming (DLNA, UPnP support). Have a look at this video from Synology website to get a better understanding of what else you can do with this appliance.

Important features of the Synology 1511+ NAS appliance:

  • 5-Bay disk-less NAS device
  • 165.91 MB/sec writing; 200.31 MB/sec reading
  • Active Directory/Windows ACL integration
  • 1 GB DDR2 RAM (Expandable up to 3 GB)
  • Internal drive capacity: 20 TB; Expandable up to: 45 TB
  • CPU: Dual Core, 1.8 GHz
  • Hard Disk Drives (HDD) and Solid State Drives (SDD) support (2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA2)
  • 4 x USB ports; 2 x eSATA ports; 2 x Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • RAID 0, 1, 10, 5, 6 support
  • Model: DS1511+
  • 3-Year limited warranty

You can find more technical information, data sheets, installation/user guides, download softwares/add-on softwares,etc in the official Synology 1511+ web-page.

Advantages:

  • High read/write capacity, high storage capacity
  • Integration with corporate directories like Active Directory, LDAP & Windows ACL
  • iSCSI support for storage/backup of virtual servers
  • Hot swappable HDD/SDD
  • https support, encrypted FTP and firewall for security
  • Connects with add-on modules DX510 using high-speed eSATA ports
  • The network ports support link aggregation and fail-over
  • Easy to use browser-based management software that can be accessed over the net
  • Quiet operation
  • Many add-on functions like LDAP server, Syslog server, etc
  • Wake on LAN/WAN for saving power

Limitations:

  • DDR3 RAM, which is the latest standard, is not supported
  • USB 2.0 (present in this device) is slower than the latest USB 3.0
  • The included surveillance station camera supports only one IP camera. Additional licenses (at additional cost) are required for managing and monitoring multiple cameras from a centralized location. Have a look at the list of supported IP cameras from here.

Optional Accessories:

DX510 Expansion unit to increase the storage capacity of the Synology DS1511+, by pairing with it.

Camera License Pack (1 additional license) to monitor and manage additional IP surveillance cameras from the DS1511+

List of compatible hard drives for actual storage of data (not included with 1511+)

Where to buy: If you live in the United States (US), you can buy this Synology DS1511+ 5-bay disk-less Network Attached Storage appliance online, from Amazon.

Alternatives to consider:

Synology has come up with a newer model – DS1512+ NAS appliance, which has better technical specifications than the DS1511+. At the time of writing this review, one batch of 1512+ seems to have some issues with device restart. Please check the Amazon reviews (linked above) and if the latest reviewers have not reported this issue, it maybe better to buy the newer version.

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Axis M1031-W Wireless Day/Night Indoor Network Camera for Home/Shops

The Axis M1031-W is a wireless enabled day/night indoor network camera that has microphone/speakers to allow two-way audio communications, has LED illumination to view clear images during night and a PIR sensor for detecting movement in the night (and day). Below is a short video clip taken with this camera (YouTube video).

The Axis M1031-W IP Surveillance camera is mainly targeted at homes or small business locations like shops. The VGA resolution doesn’t give HD clarity but the video quality is still sufficient for many normal applications. More importantly, that saves a lot of bandwidth (transmission, storage) and keeps the overall cost of the camera moderate. The H.264 compression further reduces the amount of bandwidth required while retaining the quality of the images.

This camera has impressive day/night capabilities and can even detect motion/movement during night-time. On detecting movement, it can do things like record the event, turn the microphone/speakers on, send text alert and photos to your email address, play a recorded message (like ‘this shop is under surveillance, leave immediately’ to scare thieves), etc. See the motion detection capability of this camera for yourself, in the below (funny) video:

Important features of the Axis M1031-W Wireless Day/Night Indoor Network Camera:

  • VGA resolution (640 x 480 to 160 x 90); 30 frames/second
  • Wi-Fi connectivity (802.11b/g) or Wired connectivity (10/100 Mbps)
  • PIR sensor (Passive Infra Red) and LED Illumination (built-in)
  • Microphone + Speaker & Two-way voice
  • Multiple H.264 and MPEG-4 data streams
  • Open API (Application Programming Interface)
  • https encryption, password support and user logs for safety
  • QoS support
  • Image sensor: 1/4″ progressive scan RGB CMOS
  • Warranty: 1 year limited warranty

Included items: Axis M1031-W camera, power supply, clamp, stand, installation CD with tools and recording software.

More technical information: You can get more technical information, specifications, data sheet, installation manuals, user guides, etc from the Axis page for M1031-W.

Advantages:

  • Both wireless and wired network connectivity available
  • Day-night operation with video motion detection in the nights, as well
  • One can talk to people near the camera, from their monitoring station over the network due to the built-in speakers and microphone in the camera
  • Decent video quality at an affordable price
  • Rotating text/image overlay and privacy mask (to block certain areas of the image from being seen)
  • Audio detection
  • Active tampering alarm
  • Alarm notification via email (with picture), http and tcp.
  • Upon alarm trigger, it is possible for auto-activation of LED illumination, audio, audio clip play-back
  • Memory buffer of 16 MB (within the camera) to record pre and post-alarm events
  • Easy to use web-interface for set-up and monitoring
  • Low bandwidth requirements (both for transmission and storage)
  • Can use PC/mobile phone browser to see camera output over Internet (DDNS is supported)
  • Selective areas in the video can be excluded from motion sensing (open window, for example)

Limitations:

  • No POE support on the wired port. So, power and data cannot be sent using the same cable
  • No I/O ports to connect external devices
  • No High Definition (HD) video format support
  • Maximum range of PIR sensor is 6 meters

Optional accessories: If you buy multiple cameras, you might want to have a look at Axis camera station – Video management software for viewing and recording images/sound from multiple cameras simultaneously.

Where to buy: If you live in the United States (US), you can buy the Axis M1031-W wireless day/night indoor network camera from Amazon.

Alternatives/Other products to consider:

Axis M1011 IP Surveillance Camera – Features are similar to the above model, but there is no audio, no LED illumination, no wireless network support.

Axis M1011-W IP Surveillance Camera – Features are similar to the above model, but there is no audio, no LED illumination.

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You can use a Wireless Range Extender to get better Wi-Fi coverage over long distances

Wireless router owners sometimes complain that they are not able to get a good wireless signal strength at certain locations of their home/office. These locations may be at a considerable distance from the wireless router or there may be too many obstructions between the router and wireless clients (like walls, partitions, etc). In such situations, the wireless network may have to be extended using additional devices.

The most common way to extend a wireless network is to buy a network switch, connect it to one of the wired ports of the router using a Cat 6 cable and place the switch somewhere near the area where signal is weak and connect a wireless access point to another port of the wired switch over there. But as you can make out, one needs to take a long cable from the wireless router to the target location and buy a network switch & access point.

This solution not only increases the cost, but in certain locations it may just not be feasible (or plain inconvenient) to take a cable across the house/office. In such situations, using a wireless range extender might be an option to consider.

What is a wireless range extender?

A wireless range extender is a physical equipment that can extend the range of a wireless network to places that do not receive enough signal strength from a wireless router (already present). A wireless range extender creates a wireless connection between itself and the wireless router (using one radio) and provides wireless connectivity to clients (like laptops, ipad, etc) using another radio. In technical terms, this is called a wireless mesh connection.

This eliminates the requirement of running any cables around the place and extends the wireless network coverage over the wireless medium. Some wireless range extenders even have a wired port to which you can connect a PC or a network switch and create a wired network locally.

How/where can a wireless range extender be used?

If you have a wireless router at one end of the house (maybe because your broadband modem is located there), and you want better wireless coverage at another end of the house, you can place the wireless extender somewhere in between the two places. Alternatively, if you have the wireless modem in the ground floor and want wireless signal coverage in the second floor, you can place the wireless extender in the first floor.

These are just suggestions and individual placement locations might differ based on individual user requirements and site conditions. Some vendors offer a software range verification program with which you can initially place the wireless extender at different places and verify the actual signal strength in the target location, before fixing the wireless range extender permanently somewhere.

Things to note:

1. If your wireless router supports high speed wireless N connectivity, check if the wireless extender also supports the same.

2. Using a wireless extender will reduce the bandwidth to a certain extent, even though it provides a better signal strength.

3. This is not a stand alone product and you need to have a wireless router with which you can pair it (establish a wireless connection between the two). The make of the wireless extender can be different from the make of the wireless router.

Wireless range extender product (example): Cisco Linksys RE1000 wireless N range extender.

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How to upgrade your computer to 450 Mbps Dual Band Wireless N?

There is no point in buying the latest wireless router that supports dual band 450 Mbps connection, if your computer adapter does not support the same. Many computers do not come with wireless adapters and even if they come, they have some lower version of the adapter that supports lesser speeds (like 54 Mbps, 150 Mbps, etc).

That’s where external USB based wireless adapters like the TRENDnet 450 Mbps dual band external USB adapter, comes into the picture.

A dual band wireless adapter supports both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz operation. The 5 Ghz band is relatively interference free and hence provides better performance and gives higher throughput. If you want your wireless router/access point to give a higher distance coverage, the 2.4 Ghz band might be a better option.

If your access point and wireless client adapter supports both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz frequencies, it is possible to select the 5 Ghz operation for performance demanding applications like HD gaming, HD video, multimedia, graphics, etc. One might still want to  select the 2.4 Ghz band they want their wireless range to be higher (If Wi-Fi signals are expected even in second floor and ground floor, when the wireless router is kept at the first floor, for example).

Since computers have many USB ports, connecting the wireless N adapter to one of the USB ports should be simple and easy. Besides, an external USB adapter can be carried around and used with multiple PC’s (at different times). 450 Mbps is a lot of speed and you may not feel the kind of delays that you might be used to with slower wireless adapters. The price of these high-speed 450 Mbps wireless client adapters (and routers) have decreased a lot in recent years.

Of course, you cannot get the rated 450 Mbps of speed but the actual performance can be near to that value if your computer and wireless router are quite near to each other. The speed of wireless systems always decrease with increasing distance. The speed of wireless systems can also decrease due to other factors like interference, building materials, network traffic, etc.

One more advantage of using 450 Mbps wireless adapters/routers is that, even if multiple computers connect simultaneously to the router, each system can still get a substantial amount of bandwidth. Remember that bandwidth in wireless systems is always shared.

It is good if you can set the WMM (Wireless Multi Media) and Data prioritization parameters in both the wireless adapter and wireless access points to suit the type of application you want to give priority over others. If you run more video/play more games, try giving higher priority to video/audio/multimedia files.

Most of these high end wireless adapters and wireless routers support older technologies like 802.11 a/b/g and hence even if the wireless adapter wants to connect to an older access point, it can still connect.

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Wireless Landline Phone Headset – Plantronics CS540 and HL10 Remote handset lifter

A lot of executives and their secretaries often find themselves attending phone (land-line) calls very frequently and for a long time (especially during conferences). A wireless land-line phone headset allows them to not only work on their computer, during those long conference calls, but also lets them roam around the building freely (to make a coffee for themselves, for example) while talking on their phone. Want more? They can lift the headset to pick-up calls, even when they are away from their desk!

People are used to pairing bluetooth headsets with their cell phones. It works with cell phones because they have bluetooth adapters on their cell phones and the limited range offered by bluetooth is sufficient as the cell phone is expected to be in their pockets. But what about land-line phones? This Plantronics CS540 DECT based wireless headset allows people to make hands-free calls with their land-line phones.

There is a base unit that acts as a charger for this convertible headset model and also connects to the land-line phone handset. The CS540 headset and connection to the land-line phone can be seen in the below embedded Youtube video.

Unlike a cell phone, the handset of a land-line phone needs to be lifted before a call gets connected. This can be done in two ways – Either physically, using HL10 remote handset lifter or electronically, using an electronic hook switch. The electronic hook switch is specific to phone models and is shown in the above video. The HL10 remote handset lifter is common to all phones and its working is shown in the below embedded Youtube video.

Important features of the Plantronics CS540 Wireless headset & HL10 Remote handset lifter:

  • Wireless DECT operation at 1.9 Ghz
  • Pick-up range: 350 feet
  • Built-in battery; 7 hours talk time for every recharge
  • Remote handset lifter & Remote ring detection (HL10)
  • Remote call handling – Call pick-up/end; Volume up/down, Mute (HL10)
  • Convertible headset – over the ear, over the head and around the neck (optional)
  • Weight: 21 grams (headset)
  • Magnetic headset docking station and charger
  • Warranty: 1 year
  • Electronic hook switch (optional)

Additional Technical Information: You can find additional technical information on the CS540 wireless headset from this Plantronics web-page.

Advantages:

  • Hands free talking for land-line phones
  • Pick up calls from anywhere (HL10) – Don’t miss land-line calls while away
  • 350 feet wireless range allows people to roam around the office comfortably, while talking on their land-line phone
  • DECT is a separate private network (1.9 Ghz) and does not interfere with Wi-Fi signals (2.4 Ghz, 5 Ghz)
  • Lightweight/comfortable
  • Noise canceling microphone for good quality voice capture
  • Convertible headset – Can be used as a ear-piece, over the head or around the neck

Limitations:

  • It is possible to receive land-line calls from a remote location, but it is not possible to make outgoing calls remotely
  • No on-call indication (available as an accessory though)
  • The headset needs to be charged for 3 hours, almost on a daily basis

Accessories:

1. Electronic switch hook cables instead of the HL10 remote handset lifter is available for certain phone models. For Avaya phones, have a look at this electronic switch hook cable.

2. D-100 USB adapter connects the CS540 to a PC and can work with certain VOIP soft-phone models.

3. Optional neck-band for holding the wireless headset from around the neck.

Where to buy: If you live in the United States (US), you can buy the Plantronics CS540 wireless land-line headset from Amazon. You can also buy the HL10 remote handset lifter from Amazon.

Other options to consider: Plantronics Savi W740 3-in-one wireless headset system – A single wireless headset to pick up calls from PC, land-lines and mobile phones.

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Polycom Communicator C100S USB Speaker Phone for Skype – Review

The Polycom Communicator C100S is a speaker phone that allows you connect to your PC/laptop (using the USB port) and make hands-free VOIP calls over the Internet via Skype (among others). This phone is optimized for Skype and you can expect to get good voice quality with it. It even has direct Skype launch buttons, volume up/down buttons and call pickup/terminate buttons. The Polycom Communicator C100S is a small/portable device that does not require any batteries (it can be powered through the USB cable).

Polycom is the leader in manufacturing enterprise audio/video conference systems and you can be sure that they have brought some of that technology to this device. The Polycom Communicator C100S is a full-duplex speaker phone that provides wide-band voice quality (22 Khz) that is enterprise grade. It also supports echo cancellation, which is crucial with VOIP systems as one can expect some echo when voice is transmitted over the Internet. There is a headset port which allows you to make private calls using a headset and it can even route your computer audio to external speakers, when connected.

Applications: Its specified seven feet voice pick up range is a good option for audio conferencing among small groups on either side. People can use this to make hands free VOIP calls (especially with Skype) over the Internet. Please note that you cannot directly plug in an analog phone line with this (unlike the triangle polycom soundstation2 phones) and you cannot plug this phone to the network port (it is not a stand alone device, it needs a PC to work).

Important features of the Polycom Communicator C100S USB Speaker phone:

  • Hands free USB speaker phone
  • 3.5mm Stereo headphone support
  • Two cardioid microphones
  • Buttons for: Launching skype, making/receiving calls, volume up/down, mute
  • Full duplex, Polycom echo-cancellation technology
  • Polycom HD Voice Technology
  • Audio pass-through
  • Range: Up to 7 feet
  • Skype Certified
  • Dimensions/Weight: 5.25″ x 3.24″ x 0.85″ / 5.4 Ounces
  • Warranty: 1 Year

You can get more technical information about the Polycom Communicator C100S from the Polycom Web-page.

Advantages:

  • Integrated and optimized for using with Skype; Skype certified speaker phone
  • Polycom HD Voice; Wide-band (22 Khz); Polycom echo-cancellation technologies gives enterprise grade voice quality
  • No need to connect it to AC power/change batteries. It gets powered through the USB cable connected to the PC
  • Its small size and light weight makes it extremely portable. You can take it with you while traveling
  • Desktop speakers can be plugged in for audio pass-through
  • The seven feet pick up range enables a few people to sit around and participate in small audio conferences

Limitations:

  • Quality of VOIP communications (over the Internet) depends on external factors like latency, packet drops and the quality of hardware at the other end
  • The provided USB cable is small and you might want to order an USB extender cable
  • Try not to wind/unwind the USB cord attached to this unit anymore than what is necessary, as it is difficult to put it back in its original position

Tips:

  • Try to use the provided stand (which gives it a 40 degree inclination) for best acoustic performance
  • In the Skype ‘Options’ menu, set the ‘Audio settings’ to ‘Polycom Communicator’ for best user experience
  • Download the latest Polycom software drivers/software from the site, if the included CD contains an earlier version

Alternatives: Polycom SoundStation2 series audio conference phones, if you want to plug in an analog phone line directly (or) Polycom SoundStation IP series audio conference phones, if you want to connect it directly to the network port and use it as a stand alone IP audio conference device.

Where to buy: If you live in the United States (US), you can buy the Polycom Communicator C100S speaker phone online, from Amazon.

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Digium Single Span 1-Port PRI/E1/T1/J1 Card in United States

The Digium single span/ single port PRI/E1/T1/J1 card can be inserted into a Computer/Server loaded with a VOIP soft-switch like Asterisk, Switchvox, Trixbox, etc. It is used to connect PRI Lines like T1 in the United States, J1 in Japan or E1 in rest of the world directly to the VOIP server/soft-switch, to enable anyone with an IP phone (registered to the soft-switch) make outgoing calls/attend incoming calls.

T1, J1 provides 24 channels (incoming/outgoing calls using a single line), E1 provides 30 channels. A single Digium single span/ single port PRI/E1/T1/J1 card supports all of them.

There are basically three popular models for Digium Single span/ 1-port cards:

1. 1TE121PF – Single port, PRI/E1/J1/T1, PCI Express 1.0 compatible half-length slot

2. 1TE121BF – Single port, PRI/E1/J1/T1, PCI Express 1.0 compatible half-length slot, With hardware echo cancellation module

3. 1TE122PF – Single port, PRI/E1/J1/T1, PCI 2.2 compatible slot (3.3V or 5V)

The Digium single span/ single port card can be used to connect one digital line (E1/T1/J1) to an IP telephony server. It occupies one PCI/PCI-Express slot, depending on the model selected. So, users need to consider their expansion capacity before buying this card. If they estimate to connect two or more PRI lines in the near future, higher capacity Digium cards (2-port, 4-port) are available for the same. But if their requirement is to connect only one PRI/T1 line, users can use this card by inserting it over a PCI/PCI-Express slot in their server/computer.

The second option (1TE121BF) includes a hardware echo cancellation module and it is highly recommended to use them in order to avoid/cancel out echo generated in the line (VOIP systems are susceptible to echo). Even if you choose to buy one card among the other two options, the echo cancellation module can still be added later on. It is possible to do echo cancellation in software, but that will consume additional server CPU resources.

Before buying one of these cards, check if your server PCI expansion slot is compatible with these cards. Also check the form factor of the server/available space to check if the cards can be comfortably placed inside them. Have a look at this Digium web-page for more technical information.

There are multiple applications for Digium cards. One can use it with their IP Telephony server/Soft-switch/IP PBX to connect the organization with the external world and facilitate incoming/outgoing land-line calls. Or, it can be used with stand-alone IVR servers, meet-me audio conference systems or as VOIP gateways. Both data and voice can be received by this card and channeled appropriately.

If you live in the United States (US), you can buy the Digium cards online from Amazon. You can check the best price for single span/ single port Digium cards from these Amazon pages – 1TE121PF, 1TE121BF, 1TE122PF.

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Wireless Solar Keyboard – Logitech K750

We know about wireless keyboards, but wireless solar keyboards? Well, the Logitech K750 is a wireless solar keyboard for you! Generally, wireless keyboards require batteries and they may need to be changed/recharged regularly. But these solar keyboards work using over-head light and the sun-light that comes from windows. Add concave shaped keys, ultra-thin profile, programmable function keys, Wi-Fi and other nice keyboard features, you get the Logitech K750 wireless solar keyboard!

Video introduction to the Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard:

 

Important features:

  • Solar powered keyboard that can be charged by any light source
  • 2.5 Ghz wireless operation
  • Tiny logitech wireless receiver for your PC (USB based)
  • Concave key cap design
  • 1/3 inch thick
  • Dimensions/Weight: 7.9″ x 1.4″ x 19.1″ / 2 pounds
  • 3-years limited hardware warranty
  • Integrated number pad
  • Programmable/enhanced function keys

Where to get more information: Logitech official web-page for K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard

Advantages:

  • No battery recharging/changing hassles. No need to frequently connect to the wired USB port for charging
  • Even your overhead room lights/study lamps can charge the keyboard
  • Works for up to 3 months in complete darkness, if required
  • Concave key cap design for comfortable, easy typing
  • Sleek construction, light weight
  • 128 bit encryption between the receiver and the keyboard to secure keystrokes sent over wireless
  • Works with windows based computers
  • There is a keyboard on-off switch, just in case you want to switch it off for a while
  • Separate keys for launching email/browser/calculator
  • Download solar app to see if enough light is available and the amount of charge contained in the keyboard
  • Comes with cardboard package (green) with fully recyclable materials
  • The wireless receiver works even in non-line of sight conditions

Limitations:

  • No back-lit keys, difficult to see in the dark
  • It is not ergonomic/wave shaped. There is no specially designed space for hand rest
  • No Caps Lock indicator light on the keyboard, but caps lock can be identified with a monitor indication that comes on the right hand bottom on the screen

Optional Accessories:

Since this keyboard is a part of Logitech unifying receiver technology, one can use the same receiver to connect a Logitech compatible wireless mouse to the computer. Try the Logitech Mouse M705 or Logitech Mouse M570.

Alternatives: Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard – K800.

Meant for/Applications: This wireless keyboard is meant for anyone who wants to reduce the clutter of cables on their desk, stop worrying about battery recharges, charging over wired USB cable and connect their keyboard wirelessly to a windows based computer (mainly). For high end gaming applications, one can look at a wired keyboard. For every other application, this keyboard is the perfect choice. Do your bit to make this earth a little greener by supporting solar technology.

Where to buy: If you live in the United States (US), you could buy the Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 online from Amazon.

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Product review – Dlink DAP-1522 Extreme Dual band Wireless-N Bridge/Access Point

The Dlink DAP-1522 Extreme Wireless N Bridge/Access Point is a dual band access point that works both in the 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz spectrum. It supports the latest IEEE 802.11 ‘n’ standard and hence one can expect speeds up to 300 Mbps and twice the range (distance coverage) of older 802.11 ‘g’ access points.

The Dlink DAP-1522 can act as an wireless access point or wireless bridge.

When it is acting as an access point, the DAP-1522 can either be connected to the wired port of a router or the wired port of a network switch, connected to a router. Access Points are primarily used to create a wireless network and do not have any WAN ports to connect to the Internet. So, you can buy a wireless access point instead of a wireless router, if you already have a router in place.

An access point is also used to extend a wireless network. For example, if an area in your house (like the first floor) is getting less coverage (as your wireless router is in the ground floor), you can run a cable from a switch port of the wireless router to the first floor and connect an access point there in order to get a better coverage for devices connecting over wireless (Wi-Fi), from there.

A wireless bridge mode is basically to create a high-speed wireless connectivity between your wireless router and wireless access point. This is useful if you don’t want to run cables around your house. Of course, you need to run cables between the 4-gigabit ports of the Dlink DAP-1522 and the devices that connect to it.

The connectivity architecture diagram for Dlink DAP-1522 in both Access Point mode and Bridge mode is given below:

Dlink DAP-1522 Access Point and Bridge Connectivity Architecture DiagramImportant features of the Dlink DAP-1522 Extreme Dual band Wireless N Bridge/Access Point:

  • IEEE 802.11 ‘n’ support (backward compatible with older wireless standards like 802.11 a/b/g)
  • 4-Port gigabit switch (bridge mode)
  • Dual band – 5 Ghz and 2.4 Ghz operation, user selectable channel
  • Internal antenna
  • Security: WPA2, MAC filtering
  • Push button for Wi-Fi protected Access (WPA2) set-up
  • Dimensions: 5.7″ x 4.4″ x 1.3″
  • Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Model No: DAP-1522
  • Warranty: 1-year limited warranty

What’s included: DAP-1522 AP/Bridge, Ethernet cable, Power adapter, CD-ROM (Operating instructions)

More information: You can get more information/support resources about the DAP-1522 from the official Dlink web-page.

Video introduction and how to set up the wireless bridge mode:

 

 

Advantages:

  • Works as an access point/wireless bridge
  • Dual band support (2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz). You can connect to 5 Ghz spectrum to get better performance/more non-interfering channels, if you have a dual band client adapter in your laptops/desktops
  • Internal antenna – Looks neat with no antennas hanging around
  • Push button makes it easier to enable Wi-Fi protected connectivity in the bridge mode
  • Gigabit ports and Wireless ‘N’ technologies give higher bandwidth (Up to 300 Mbps – theoretical)
  • Can be used to extend the wireless network of the router to the interference-free 5 Ghz band, if the wireless router does not have dual band capabilities
  • It has inbuilt DHCP server for assigning IP addresses to wireless clients automatically
  • QoS capabilities enable real time applications like voice/video/multimedia to be transmitted with a higher priority, over the wireless network

Limitations:

  • The advertised speed of 300 Mbps is a theoretical maximum value and the practical speed of connection will be lesser than that. However, the speeds will be better than 802.11g and 10/100 Mbps wired connections
  • The speed of connection between the access point and wireless clients decreases with increasing distance between them
  • If you connect two wi-fi access points in close range (on the same channel), there could be wireless interference
  • The bridge mode might be little difficult to set-up for non technical users, do refer to the above embedded video

Tips:

  • Try to keep the access point in a central location from all your wireless clients. This will enable a better wireless performance for all the clients
  • If you are connecting two access points in close range, make sure that they are in different channels, to avoid wireless interference
  • Select ‘Invisible’ mode under ‘Visibility status’ to prevent broadcasting of the wireless SSID (network name) to everyone within the Wi-Fi range (people on the street, etc)
  • Try to place the AP in a location where the number of walls/ceilings to cross, while connecting to wireless clients are less
  • You can access the configuration page of DAP-1522 by typing 192.168.0.50 on a web-browser, after connecting the device directly to a switch port of the router

Accessories:

A dual band wireless access point cannot work in its rated high speed capacity unless there are dual band client adapters in laptops/computers, connecting to it. Check if you have dual band wi-fi adapter in your computer, if not you can consider buying one of the following:

Asus Blackdiamond Wireless N dual band USB adapter – It can be plugged into the USB port of laptop/desktop and hence it is an external client adapter. Pro: It can be shifted between multiple devices. Con: It occupies one USB port and this might be an issue if a computer has limited USB ports.

Cisco-Linksys Wireless N dual band PCI adapter – It can be mounted on an internal PCI slot of a laptop/desktop and hence it is an internal client adapter. Pro: Doesn’t occupy USB slots and conveniently sits permanently inside the laptop (but antennas are still outside). Con: Cannot be shifted between different devices easily.

Where to buy: If you live in the United States (US), you can buy the Dlink DAP-1522 Wireless N Access Point/Bridge online from Amazon.

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Apple Airport Extreme 802.11n – Best Wi-Fi router for home/small business?

Is the Apple Airport Extreme 802.11n Wireless router, the best option for home/small business? It depends on what you are looking for. There are definitely cheaper Wi-Fi routers available in the market that support many more features than the Airport Extreme. But the Airport Extreme does stand out for certain reasons like dual radio 802.11n operation, USB connectivity for sharing a printer/external hard disk, separate guest access network, 3 gigabit ports and many more such features.

More than everything else, it’s from Apple and it is the best wireless router released by this vendor, yet. The Apple Airport Extreme is intended to be used in both homes and small businesses for creating a wireless network (Wi-Fi) to which one can connect their laptops, desktop computers, ipad, Wi-Fi enabled phones, Wi-Fi music systems, Video streaming players, etc. Among other applications, you can share the Internet, printers, home/business server, hard-drive/NAS appliance and share files/music/video with all users over the wireless network.

Video Introduction (Unboxing, Set-up):

Main features of the Apple Airport Extreme Wi-Fi router:

  • Supports the IEEE 802.11n Wi-Fi standard and is backward compatible with 802.11 a/b/g
  • 1 x USB port
  • 1 x WAN port (RJ-45, gigabit)
  • 3 x LAN ports (RJ-45, gigabit)
  • Number of recommended simultaneous connections: 50 (max)
  • Model No: MD031LL/A
  • LED indicator for connection available/not-ready
  • Dimensions/Weight: 6.5″ x 6.5″ x 1.3″/1.66 pounds
  • Radio output: 20 dBm (Internal antennas, nominal)
  • Security: 802.1x, RADIUS authentication, WPA2, MAC address filtering
  • Router features: DHCP, NAT, PPPoE, DNS proxy, IPv 6 to 4 manual tunnels, VPN pass through, SNMP

Further Information: Further information (features, technical specs) are available from the Apple web-page for Airport Extreme.

Advantages:

  • Simultaneous dual-band (2.4 Ghz, 5 Ghz) operation with automatic selection
  • Backward compatibility with 802.11 a/b/g
  • Separate guest network which provides only Internet access to the guests and keeps the local machines/external hard drives on a different network
  • USB based printers (supported models) can be connected directly to this router and shared with all the laptops/computers connected to it over wired and wireless medium
  • 2x range (coverage distance) and 5x throughput (bandwidth) when compared to older 802.11g network
  • Up to 50 people can simultaneously connect to the Airport Extreme
  • Compatible with both Mac and PC
  • An external hard disk can be directly connected to the USB port of this Wi-Fi router and shared with all the users of the network. It can also be accessed remotely over Internet using VPN
  • Sleek and stylish look, Royal white color
  • Simple and easy set up with Mac based devices (iMac, notebooks, ipad, iphone, etc)

Limitations:

  • The connectivity speed decreases with increasing distance between wireless router and wireless clients. It also decreases if many clients are connected simultaneously with the router. But this is common to all wireless routers/devices
  • Limited support for QoS features
  • To mount an external hard-disk with the Airport Extreme, one needs to format it with Mac based devices so that it is formatted with one of the supported file systems
  • This device does not come with ethernet or USB cables

Accessories (Optional):

H-squared Air-mount for Airport Extreme – It is better to mount the Airport Extreme to the wall or ceiling, for both reducing the clutter on the desktop as well as getting a more even coverage. This air-mount from H-squared is a quality product manufactured exclusively for airport extreme and is a must have for people wanting to mount it.

Tips:

1. If you have a dual-band wireless (Wi-Fi) adapter in your laptop/computer, you can get better performance when it is connected to the Airport Extreme. 5 Ghz is a cleaner channel and offers less interference/more performance than 2.4 Ghz.

2. There is only one USB port. But, you can connect a USB hub to extend the number of USB ports and to connect printers/external hard-drives simultaneously.

3. Use it with Time Machine and external hard-drive in Mac to get regular, automated backups.

4. You need to use the Airport utility software in Mac to configure this device. You can download this software for Windows machines, as well.

5. In case you are not able to configure this device from Windows machine, try to borrow a Mac device from someone (just for once), so that you can configure it easily.

Where to buy: If you live in the United States (US), you can buy the Airport Extreme Wireless Router from Amazon.

Other options to consider: Apple Airport Express Wireless Router;  Apple Time Capsule (storage + wi-fi router).

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