FEATURE REVIEW – Orbi Router

Wireless mesh networking is the latest thing in the world of Wi-Fi…

Introduction
I live in a two story home in suburban Chicago. The home is about 20 years old, and that puts its manufacture date just a few years before the introduction of Windows 95 and the public “release” of the internet.

Yes, yes… Of course, you’re right… Services like AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe were available long before that and had been giving folks access to the internet for a while. To many, that service, its UI, and everything it offered WAS the internet. However, the internet really didn’t start to heat up until 1995; and really didn’t start being made part of the standard single family home build with CAT5 cabling, until the early 2000’s.

For those older homes or those without network cabling in their walls, the easiest way to get internet access in your home has been with Wi-Fi. This is either done with a wireless access point, or more conveniently with a wireless router or cable modem/ router. Suddenly, you can get internet access all over your home… provided you have adequate signal.

And with Wi-Fi, that’s always been the big problem – adequate signal strength between your router or access point and your wireless device. No matter what you do, you’re going to run into signal interference from something in your home, whether it’s a wall or floor with wood or metal framing, copper, brass or PVC piping, electrical wiring and conduit… something is going to get in the way of your super strong, super-duper wireless router and will interfere with your access to the internet and all of its wonders.

Is the Netgear Orbi the wireless Wi-Fi router for me…? for you…? Let’s take a look at what it provides and see if it makes the cut.

Problems at Home
I’ve been in my current home for about 10 and a half years. During that time, I’ve been through 5-6 different wired and/ or wireless routers. For some reason, and I don’t know why, I seem to be on a 2-3 year cycle of replacing what appears to be “perfectly good” electronics because one day they’re workin’ just fine, and the next, they’re suckin’ up the joint.

I’ve tested the power coming into the outlets near where I have my cable modem hooked to the service cable coming into the house. Everything tests out just fine. I have no idea why I have to replace internet routers so often; but it appears that I do, as they just seem to “wear out.”

In following up with this problem, I’ve also contacted Comcast, my internet service provider, or ISP. They took one look at my cable modem and told me that my model was no longer supported. After some very frustrating and flawed, circular conversations on sending me a newer, supported model – and who was going to pay for shipping – I’m getting a new cable modem sent to me, absolutely free of charge, with Comcast covering the shipping. Its scheduled to arrive on 2016-02-03

Mesh Networking
Wireless mesh networking, or Wi-Fi systems as they are being marketed, are all the rage right now. They provide a stronger, wider reaching coverage area than traditional wireless networking solutions. The technology used here is similar to installing and using a signal repeater, a wireless access point or simply putting an additional wireless router in bridger mode; but with some very subtle, but important differences.

What makes these little bad boys better than an access point or other wireless router is the way that it repeats the signal. To understand why that is, we need to understand what mesh networking is and how it works.

Wireless access points and signal repeaters do just that – broadcast or forward on a wireless network signal; and that’s all. A mesh network Wi-Fi signal is different because in a mesh network the wireless signal is strengthened and sped up with each and every additional network node that is added to the network. The more nodes, the stronger and faster the single becomes. The denser the signal field, the better.

In a mesh network, only one node in the wireless mesh network actually needs to be directly wired to the Internet. That wired node is usually the wireless router or base station; and it shares the Internet connection wirelessly with the nearest cluster of nodes. Other wireless nodes share the signal with the node or node cluster nearest to them, etc.

Each individual node doesn’t need to be wired to anything. It only needs a power supply such as traditional AC plugs, batteries, etc. Nodes can also provide Internet connectivity to any type of internet device – wired or wireless devices – including VoIP phones, video cameras, servers, including desktop and laptop computers using traditional wired connections.

It’s this flexibility and strengthening and density of the internet connection that is making mesh networking or Wi-Fi systems so popular right now. They’re easy to setup and manage; and they provide internet connectivity to nearly any and every internet aware device – regardless of connection type.

Orbi Setup
To be very honest, this was surprisingly easy.

I’ve been using routers for home internet service since I got my first @Home internet service account back in 2000. I have a little bit of experience with these, and they are not always as intuitive and straight forward as one would hope; especially for noobies. Non-experienced users have traditionally had a great deal of trouble configuring and setting up wired and wireless routers, even in the more recent years with products that have been labeled “easy to configure.”

Home based, mesh networking is new technology (see above), and I really thought that setting up this product would be a lot different than what it turned out to be.

This was perhaps the easiest networking product I’ve ever setup. This was even easier to configure than my Apple Time Capsule.

When you get your Orbi Home Wi-Fi system, use these instructions to set it up.

  1. Connect the Router to your Cable Modem
    Unplug your cable modem and pull the backup batter so that it completely shuts down. Unplug and remove your old router (if you have one). Put the battery back in your cable modem. Wait 15 seconds and then plug your cable modem back in. Allow it to reregister on your ISP’s network.Plug an Ethernet cable from your cable modem into the yellow internet port on the back of your Orbi router.

    Plug in your Orbi router. The power LED on the back of the router should light green. If the LED doesn’t come on, press the on/off button. The LED on the TOP of your Orbi router should turn white.

  2. Position your Orbi Satellite 

    Your Orbi router should have a coverage area of at least 2000 square feet. When considering a spot for placing your Orbi, you need to consider more than the square footage of your home (mine is 2300 square feet…). You also need to consider the height of your home and how many floors you wish to provide wireless service to.I have 3 floors in my home. I have the Orbi router in my basement next to my Comcast cable modem. I have my Orbi Satellite on the opposite side of the house, in my family room, on the main floor of my home. This type of configuration blankets my entire home with Wi-Fi coverage on all three floors.

    The one thing that you have to keep in mind when positioning your satellite is that you must think in three (3) dimensions. Radio antennas provide coverage to either side of the unit as well as above and below it.

    When you plug the Orbi Satellite into an AC outlet, the power LED on the back will turn green. If it doesn’t, press the power burn. The Orbi satellite’s LED power ring will turn white and then a light magenta. It will remain a light magenta for about a minute while the satellite attempts to sync with the router.

  3. Confirm the Router Connection
    After about a minute or so, the LED power ring will turn either blue or amber.a. If the LED ring turns Blue
    The connection between the router and the satellite is functioning as intended and you’re good to go!

    b. If the LED ring turns Amber
    The connection between the router and the satellite is weak. You need to find a better place to position your satellite so that you get a stronger connection between the source of your internet connection (the router) and the satellite.

    c. If the LED ring remains Magenta
    If the LED remains magenta and you’ve already moved the satellite closer to the router, you may need to force the sync between the two units. Send someone down to the router and have them push the Sync button on the back of the router. After they’ve done that, you should press the Sync button the back of the satellite.

    If the Orbi router and satellite find each other and have a strong connection, the satellite’s LED ring will light white, then turn blue, and then turn off.

  4. Connect your Computer to the Orbi 

    Once you’re Orbi devices are setup and broadcasting a signal, you need to get in and configure them. Turn on Wi-Fi for your mobile device (phone or tablet) or your computer, and find the default Orbi network name (SSID) in your network list. Grab the box and check for the default password and then authenticate.Open your computing device’s web browser and surf to http://orbilogin.com. You will be presented with instructions on how to configure your device for the first time.

    During this time you MAY see the LED ring on your Orbi router or satellite turn back on. It may not… If it does, it should turn off once setup is complete.

Performance
I have the 75Mbps service offering from Comcast in suburban Chicago, IL. The service guarantees download speeds UP to 75Mbps and upload speeds UP to 20Mbps. Since installing the Orbi High-Performance AC3000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi System, my download speeds have been consistently well above that. I’m hitting download speeds of anywhere from 88Mbps to 92Mbps.

I’ve had a few instances of signal dropping or a complete lack of service, but that’s been confirmed to be an issue with either the service that Comcast has been providing or with their cable modem. In fact, I have a new cable modem from them that I need to install and activate. However, the signal provided by the Orbi has been strong and readily available on every floor of my home since it was brought on line.

The one issue that I need to work on with this setup is that ALL of my devices seem to be connecting to the base station and not to the satellite. I noticed this after I upgraded the firmware both devices immediately following installation. I’m not certain if that’s because I upgraded the router first and then the satellite, and everything grabbed a signal from the router instead of being more evenly distributed between the router and the satellite; or if there’s now an issue with the satellite due to the firmware flash.

I should have this all straightened out this weekend when I swap out my cable modems. I will provide an update later on this issue.

Conclusion
Make no mistake. This wireless networking system is expensive.

The Orbi High-Performance AC3000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi System retails for $399.99 for the base station and one satellite; and I’ve not really seen any real discount on this, even at Amazon. Its only $20 bucks cheaper there. It should also be noted that Amazon has the 3 node system (one base station and two satellites) for $599. Additional satellites are $249.99.

So far (when I know I have a good external service connection) this thing is smokin’ fast (and it better be for $399.99). All of my devices, including my smart TV’s and DVR’s – which historically have dropped their internet connection more than they’ve held on to it – don’t have any issues holding on to the wireless signal provided by the Orbi. I’m very pleased.

Setup was very easy, though for some reason I had a very difficult time checking for firmware updates. Uploading updated firmware to both the router and satellite was also, initially a bit problematic. I’m still having connectivity issues in the house, but I’m more convinced than ever that it’s not my equipment and is either the cable modem provided by Comcast (the old one that I need to swap out for its replacement) or is a DHCP/ DNS related issue on Comcast’s part. If the new modem hardware doesn’t resolve this, changing DNS servers within my network setup may.

Unfortunately, Comcast is the only service provider I have access to. Google has slowed down the implementation of its Google Fiber service; and unfortunately, it decided to skip Chicago anyway. My address also doesn’t qualify for AT&T Fiber; and their standard U-verse internet service simply sucks. Their plans max out at 12Mbps; and Comcast, even on a bad day can provide download speeds much, much higher than 12Mbps.

Do you have wireless internet service in your home? Do you have a separate wireless router and a cable modem, or does your cable modem also include a wireless router? Are you renting your cable modem from your ISP or did you purchase it outright? Do you have even Wi-Fi coverage in your home? Do you have weak or dead Wi-Fi spots in your home? Have you replaced your wireless router recently? Do you need to and are looking for a good replacement candidate?

I’d love to hear from you on these and other networking issues you’ve experienced lately or over the years. I’m very interested in understanding how many times you’ve had to replace a wired or wireless router in your home, especially if your cable modem does NOT provide wireless internet services. Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below, and give me information on what you’ve got going on for internet at your place..?

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Get a handle of what apps are on your company’s computers with WinAudit

Get a handle of what apps are on your company’s computers with this important Windows app.

WA-01

Networking is the heart of computing today. Most everyone that has a computer has internet access and most everyone with internet access in their home has a home network of some type. Everyone with a home network has computers on it, most likely, a number of computers, depending on the number of people living in the home and what they are doing with those computers. Keeping your PC safe from dodgy programs that are potentially malware ridden is important, and its why I like apps like WinAudit. It’s a security app for Windows networks.

WinAudit identifies the hardware and software installed on Windows based computers. The app identifies every aspect of your computer is examined. After the app examines the computers on your network, it generates an inventory report. The report is displayed as a web page, which can be saved or printed in a number of standard formats.

You can e-mail the inventory report to your technical support staff or even post the report to a database for archiving. When used in conjunction with its command line functionality, you can automate inventory administration at the network level. WinAudit supports the remote desktop and pre-installation environments.

This app is great at what it does, but its not for everyone. Most home networks aren’t going to be as restricted and monitored as a corporate network is. This app would be perfect for small businesses looking to get a handle on what is connected to the network that all of their proprietary data is accessed and stored. The price is certainly right; and if you do decide to use it at home, it will certainly do a good job for you, though at this stage of consumer computing development and use, while EXTREMELY beneficial, its likely overkill.

Download WinAudit

 

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Lessons Learned from a Would-Be Cord Cutter – Part 2: It ain’t that easy…

Getting a free TV is easy. Making it work without subscription services isn’t.

cordcuttingA few weeks ago, I published an article on what I was doing to get broadcast video content without subscribing to any kind of cable or satellite service. I’ve heard from some people that it’s easy. I’ve heard from others that it can be challenging at best.

In short, I’ve learned a few interesting lessons and I thought I would pass them on. If you’re thinking about cutting the cord – cancelling your cable or satellite subscriptions, or simply going without them – there are some burps you’ll need to get around if you want to have the best experience. Here’s what I found out.

You’re GONNA Need an Antenna – The Leaf Ultimate (and Placement is Everything)

Large_antenna

Many local TV station affiliates – NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, etc. – broadcast their content over the air. Besides the majors, there’s also a few other public access or personal interest stations that you might find available as well depending on your geographic location. In order to pull these stations in, you’re going to need a digital antenna.

Thankfully, you will NOT need one of those big, motorized metal monsters that you’ve seen strapped to the side of older homes or older homes with chimneys. However you will need an indoor antenna. The best one that I’ve seen – and the one that I ordered – was the Leaf Ultimate. It comes with an amplifier and is small enough that you can put it just about anywhere near the TV, though it is highly recommended that you locate it near a window.

The antenna is flat and looks like a laminated or plastic coated piece of paper. It connects to your TV’s coax connection and setup is easy. Provided you have the right kind of tuner (see below), all you’ll need to do is connect the antenna to the amplifier, connect the antenna to the TV and set the appropriate video mode for the coax input you attached it to. After searching for channels, you should be good to go.

Placement of the antenna is very important. Depending on what you’re trying to watch, you may need to move the antenna slightly now and again in order to pick up specific channels you want to watch or when the signal is pixilated due to inclement weather or weak signal reception. You can then put it back in the spot where you have it permanently mounted. The antenna is inconspicuous enough that it can either be mounted to a wall or bookcase with either included Velcro pads or pins. I’ve not experienced any reception issues with it, and it’s been functioning well. The Leaf Ultimate Indoor antenna lists for $89.99, but can be purchased for about $70.

Digital Signal Requires a Digital Receiver

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Back in 2009 when the US converted OTA TV broadcasts from analog to digital signals, there was a big push to get everyone a digital tuner. Most cable or satellite service users were not affected by this, as the cable or satellite box handled any required conversion. That made it easy for those folks to ignore the requirement and just watch TV.

Since being a cord cutter means staying away from either or both cable or satellite, using a TV manufactured prior to the digital tuner requirements put in place around 2007 and enacted in 2009, makes watching OTA TV impossible. In other words, you need a digital converter box.

I was able to obtain a decent Sony 720p/1080i TV for free. All I had to do was pick it up. The only issue I had in watching OTA digital broadcasts was that the TV was in 2002, and therefore had an analog tuner. I had to go to BestBuy and purchase a digital converter box. That cost me about $60 bucks.

The converter box is actually a digital tuner that bypassed my analog tuner and pushed the signal into the AUX port on the TV via coax, instead of the TV antenna port. The TV now displays all three local, major network affiliates plus other public broadcast and access channels. In all, I get about 20 channels.

I’m finding that I usually stick to the majors – NBC, ABC and CBS. The other channels, like ME-TV, The CW, etc., are nice, but I’m not finding a lot that interests me there. I like waking up to the news on weekdays. I now drive to work and finding out what weather, traffic and road conditions to expect always make the commute much easier to get through.

Next Page

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Get hold of the best defence in the war against online surveillance

Tor is free software that works to defend a user’s personal system against privacy-invading network surveillance measures, which criminally limit online freedom, reveal confidential matters and monitor private business relationships. It works in an intelligently crafted way – “bouncing” your activities around a network relay which is operated by a number of online volunteers.

Installing this software makes it impossible for Internet “invaders” to monitor which sites you like to visit, and prevents sites that you frequent from uncovering your specific location. It doesn’t really matter what you do; whether you’re a journalist, a blogger, a soldier, a human rights worker or just another citizen, Tor becomes a valuable tool.


The really fun bit about Tor is that the more the user base expands, the more the user’s level of security grows. Though the software doesn’t just automatically encode all Internet activities, the user’s security will continue to increase based on the number of volunteers that decide to help operate these relays.

This piece of software is Open Source, meaning it is completely free of any political involvement, a great way to hide your IP address, overall great proxy to achieve personal privacy on the Internet.

When it comes to achieving the basic right to personal privacy online, this software is certainly the way to go. Once you get the hang of Tor — used alongside additional tools – it becomes the best way to achieve ultimate anonymity and data sharing freedom.

Download Tor

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Free Mobile Broadband with FreedomPop

If you live in The States and you’re looking for cheap mobile broad band, I’ve got good news for you…

I got an interesting email the other day from a new company called FreedomPop. They provide free mobile broadband. All you need is a compatible web stick or hot spot.

FreedomPop is currently in beta.  You have to get an invite to participate.  Mine came out of nowhere, and I have to admit, I bit on the line and signed up.

FreedomPop provides 500MB of free, unrestricted, unthrottled bandwidth.  All you have to do is put a deposit down on either a 4G web stick ($50 bucks) or a 4G hot spot ($100 bucks).  The device arrives via FedEx, and all you have to do is either plug it in or let it charge and turn it on. The device jumps on the network, and away you go.

The web stick works with both Windows and Mac machines with a USB 2.0 port.  The hotspot allows up to 8 devices to surf; but with only 500MB of bandwidth on the free plan, you may want to watch what you do. If 500MB isn’t enough data for you, on FreedomPop’s pay as you go mobile broadband network, they do have plans available for purchase.

FreedomPop offers the following plans:

Data Plan Details Most per Month (US Dollars)
Free 500MB 500MB

$0.02 per MB overage

FREE

Basic 1GB 1GB

$0.01 per MB overage

$9.99

Casual 2GB 2GB

$0.01 per MB overage

$17.99

Premier 4GB 4GB

$0.01 per MB overage

$28.99

Premier 5GB 5GB

$0.01 per MB overage

$34.99

Premier 10GB 10GB

$0.01 per MB overage

$59.99

The cool thing is that these are all pay as you go.  However, if you don’t use it, you lose it.  This isn’t like AT&T’s roll over minutes. You lose what you don’t use at the end of your 30 day cycle, so the point here is don’t buy more than you need. Only buy 10Gb if you know you’re going to use (nearly) 10GB of data every month.  Suburban Chicago is sufficiently covered, so I should be good to go. I’m giving the free plan a shot and will upgrade as necessary. You can also buy “swing loan” bandwidth to get you over a hump on those months that you use more than you normally would.

I’ll let everyone know how things go after my hot spot gets here. If the speeds are decent and the coverage is worthwhile, then you may way to check for availability in your area and sign up.

 

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The New Face of [Windows] Networking

Mobile computing is starting to make its influences felt beyond smartphones and tablets and is starting to influence the way desktop computers work. Here’s why this paradigm shift is important:

My first home was new construction in Murfreesboro, TN, a small bedroom town 35 or so miles south-southeast of Nashville. My wife and I purchased it in early 2004. The house had wired networking ports throughout the house. This was a big deal, as it made it easier to put computers and networked devices just about anywhere.

When we moved BACK to Chicago in 2006 when a job transferred us, we bought an older home that was not hard Ethernet wired. It made computing in different rooms a bit difficult in the new Chicago house until I found and installed a wireless 802.11g access point (802.11g was the fastest thing going at the time; and I already had a 4 port wired router and didn’t want a wireless router…the location of the cable modem wouldn’t allow a wireless signal to get to all parts of the house). But then again, this was almost six years ago. The face of computing has changed since then. This is no more clearly evident than in the acceleration of smartphone and tablet use throughout the world.

With today’s more mobile computing, computing devices have to be more adaptable, have to be smarter, have to be able to understand what they have built in, connected to them, etc., and be able to adjust how they work to provide the consistent performance regardless of what they have and where they are. Both 3G/4G/LTE smartphones and tablets do this very well. They provide a consistent computing experience regardless of the type and kind of networking radio they have on or are receiving an internet signal from. They can reroute IP traffic from their cellular radios to a Wi-Fi radio without missing a beat should a known Wi-Fi network come in range while the Wi-Fi radio is on.

We’re seeing this kind of networking intelligence in laptops now. Mac OS X has been doing this for a while now. I’m a Mac, and run Windows 7 via Parallels Desktop. I have a Henge Dock docking station for my Early 2011 15″ MacBook Pro. When I work in my home office, I put the laptop in the dock, which has permanently connected cables for all available peripherals, including a wired network connection.

When I’m on the go, I use the PC’s Wi-Fi adapter to go online. When I’m at home in my office, I use wired Ethernet. My Mac is smart enough to drop the IP address held by the wireless adapter when it finds an active, wired Ethernet connection. The Wi-Fi adapter will acquire an IP address when the wired Ethernet is unplugged. This is managed at the OS level, and like (most of) the rest of OS X, just works.

Windows 8 also seems to have this same level of intelligence built into it at the OS level. With its improved battery life methods and processes built in, users don’t necessarily have to turn Wi-Fi on or off to either conserve power, or to prevent the PC from “getting confused” over which adapter to use for networking traffic.

This development is important, because I’ve noticed that its becoming easier to order a desktop PC with a Wi-Fi card in it. Many of the (perhaps) iMac inspired, all in one, touch based PC’s, from Dell or HP for example, come with both wired and wireless networking built in. Of course, laptops have had both networking adapters in them for years; and Microsoft is going to make Windows 8 the default OS, not only for the 30+ tablets due out this Fall, but for all Windows hardware. Users aren’t going to want to worry about turning things on and off (airplane mode aside) just to insure that they can get online without “confusing” their PC.

So, I’m off to rebuild my Windows 8 PC… Stay tuned to Soft32 for continued Windows 8 coverage.

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Monitor network devices and services with NetGong

Nearly everyone with internet access today has their own network.  If you’ve got more than one computer hooked into a cable/DSL router at your house, you’ve got a home network. Many with a home network often share printers, share drive space and other devices. This is why I like NetGong. It’s a networking tool for Windows.

NetGong is a powerful, personal network monitoring tool. It allows users to tailor it to their particular area of responsibility, from a single server to a small-office LAN to hundreds of devices within a large corporate network. Corporate network managers can use NetGong to distribute responsibility among IS staffers and complement existing network management systems. Small businesses can employ NetGong for monitoring critical e-mail and Web servers.

Keeping your network resources up and running isn’t always easy. Having the right kind of monitoring tool is important to keeping running at peak efficiency. If things do go wrong, you’ll get the appropriate notifications.  This way, you’ll be able to get the right repair action done as quickly as possible.

In a home network environment, knowing if a shared printer or NAS is going bad is important.  Getting notification of the failure allows you to plan out the replacement cost so it doesn’t negatively impact your home budget.

download NetGong

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Everest the complete auditing tool

Everest is a system information utility and auditing tool designed for home users. The product has been around for some time and development on it stopped several years ago. The product is effectively discontinued. However, do not be discouraged by this: it has useful functionality.

Everest can analyze and present through a helpful ‘windowsy’ hierarchical file interface information about your pc. This includes computer, motherboard, display, multimedia, storage, network, DirectX and devices. It will collect a good amount of information, and is a useful way of finding out what is available on a PC, for example, it detects hard drive controllers.

This information can be output to local disk, network share, e-mail or ADO database connections in text, CSV, HTML or XML formats. It has a ‘Favourites’ tab to which you can add those things you are most interest in. It is also useful if you need to benchmark one PC with another – it enables the collection and comparison of data such as memory reads, writes, latency.

If you are persistent enough to be able to stay in control in the face of unexpected error messages you may get some benefit from this tool. It has grown up and pay for siblings (now at FinalWire Ltd) which will do everything Everest does and more, and are up to date with new drivers, devices etc., however the point is that Everest Home is free. It is a good starting point for collecting PC information and is worth an initial look.

download Everest

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