Category Archives: WiFi

Hopes and Fears for Xfinity WiFi

Have you experienced Xfinity WiFi? Maybe positive, maybe annoying, but if you touch it once you will need to deal with it. At first I saw this WiFi SSID named xfinitywifi as intriguing, I tried to connect not knowing my Comcast account info at the time and for a period there after I dealt with xfinitywifi popping up all the time, and it was persistent enough to really annoy me. Well I removed it from my WiFi list and forgot about it for a while, until my consulting activity uncovered a possible use for it. If you are not up-to-date on what Comcast’s Xfinity Public WiFi is all about I suggest you view this short video.

I am engaged as a CIO consultant for a large retirement community, CCRC. One of our goals is to improve their overall WiFi options throughout their community. This community offers bulk Comcast Cable TV and the residents get to upgrade to Internet service or premium channels if desired. This has worked out well for all involved. Now the CCRC is interested in expanding and improving their common area WiFi coverage both for business and for convenience. There are opportunities where a more pervasive WiFi coverage could facilitate business transactions such as Point-of-Sale or allow more effective monitoring of residents for health or access control reasons. However, institutions such as this are typically dealing with large rebar heavy cement buildings that are terrible for conducting a WiFi signal. We can deploy a solid WiFi infrastructure in the more open common areas, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could depend on connectivity anywhere in the community. Placing our own WiFi APs throughout the residential area does not make sense both financially or technically. But wait, we already have all of those buildings wired with coax carrying Comcast service.

In a multi-tennant installation Comcast basically carves out a few channels to be used for Internet delivery or maybe a public TV channel. This offers some potential for independent services, maybe your own Internet, but in the bigger scheme of things it is probably best to let Comcast do what they are good at. There in lies the opportunity to possibly leverage the xfinitywifi hotspots to enhance your overall local common area WiFi service. You can’t rebrand xfinitywifi to your own public SSID but you could help your community understand how to take advantage of it. So there in lies the good I see for xfinitywifi.

WiFi SSIDs on my iPhone

WiFi SSIDs on my iPhone

What about the concerns we might have for xfinitywifi? We are talking about a huge customer footprint that is now using residential WiFi modems to distribute public xfinitywifi hotspots. I live in a high density relatively high tech area near Portland, OR, and I can walk anywhere without losing connectivity to xfinitywifi. Of course I have implemented my own secure certificate on my iPhone with their Xfinity Secure App, but what about the normal Joe who has no desire to understand this Comcast Xfinity Wifi business venture. It is most definitely built upon a serious business plan to be a major player in public wifi access. And if this happens on the backs of their customers modems, is that OK? That is a much larger topic that I am sure Comcast is being extremely careful not to over step their bounds. I believe Xfinity Public WiFi is a good thing, but it will create issues. Everyone should be aware of adding a secure VPN type connection if you plan to use their xfinitywifi. And above all we will need to monitor Comcast to insure that they are not misusing their access to our connection information.

Get Ready for WYOD

I kicked off the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): A Summit for Decision-Makers (summary article) as the keynote speaker last week in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This Summit was put on by Merit, who provides the network service needs of higher education, K-12 organizations, government, health care, libraries, and other non-profits for the state of Michigan. It brought together public and private sector technology and security leaders, as well as experts from academia and a wide array of vendor sponsors, to discuss hot trends for employees who are bringing their own devices to work.

Keynote Address for BYOD Summit

Keynote Address for BYOD Summit

I was interested in presenting on this BYOD topic because I understand the concerns but I also feel we need to put the issue into proper perspective. BYOD is officially defined as the practice of allowing the employees of an organization to use their own computers, smartphones, or other devices for work purposes. This is the valid concern which causes us to question our preparedness for dealing with bandwidth and security issues associated with BYOD. But the acronym has become synonymous with challenges relating to the explosion of mobile internet access devices which tend to pressure our network management more than security risks. My Keynote entitled, BYOD: We just need to keep up, focused on the emerging concerns from Wear Your Own Device (WYOD) and the evolution of The Internet of Things (IoT).

Wearable devices today are not really pressing our infrastructure or security concerns, however, that is the calm before the storm. The focus for these wearables today typically points to some form of activity or health monitoring. Interaction with the Internet or local WiFi is minimal now typically because of power consumption issues. However, the stage is set for these small useful devices to interact with our personal Internet space. And the most significant use will evolve out of the NFC based authentication made popular by the Apple Pay entry for transacting purchases. The key here is the validation of mobile devices, typically today’s smartphones, as authenticators of our personal identity. Replacement of the credit card swipe for retail purchases will lead the way, however, we in IT will get to explore and support all of the other uses that will play off this technology. For us in higher education we will see this become our student’s ID Card for building access, attendance and even remote test proctoring. The technology challenge is not daunting, however, the shift of our support mentality may be difficult. We will need to protect the effectiveness of these activities along with ensuring the security. It will mean a lot more technology responsibility on our plates.

Redesigning our Wireless Network for BYOD

I’m giving a presentation next week at a technology conference for higher education technology leaders entitled “Redesigning Wireless Networks for the Proliferation of Multimedia Enabled Mobile Devices”. What will be valuable about my presentation won’t be details about wireless network technology, although some details will be used to seed the conversation. No, the value will be the open discussion about what we are doing with our wireless networks and why we feel we need to do it. A discussion that invariably takes us to how we will deal with the influx of BYOD, Bring Your Own Device, to our campuses.

The BYOD buzz is helpful to the vendors and consultants to generate concern about this proliferation of wireless personal computing devices on our campuses. We may just deal with this as a policy decision of (Not Allowed) hoping to maintain control of our network. But we will eventually need to deal with this. However, our infrastructure may not be ideally designed for the challenge. The solution is now pointing to a new version of Network Access Control, NAC. Not the NAC of virus quarantine days but a NAC for designed for wireless network management.
Timeline of NAC
I believe that our wireless network has become the primary network access. This means we can’t wait to negotiate authentication and provisioning back at the network core, we need to make those decisions at the point of access. There may be wireless devices that we do not want on our network and there is enough information to make that decision before any access is granted. Our user classes are no longer just employees and guests, we need to offer role based policy management. Wireless service is now about seamless handoffs as one moves across campus and bandwidth allocation from multiple access points with multiple antennas. Responding to these wireless networking requirements is not just about a financial investment. The correct strategic decisions are more critical then ever as we try to position ourselves for the next wave of innovation destined for our campuses.

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