Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Why Wi-Fi is Polite and Where It's Going Next - Community Broadband Bits Episode 410
In this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we get an introduction to what this week's guest calls "the most Southern of protocols" — Wi-Fi. Here to guide us is Heather "Mo" Williams, Manager of Solutions Engineering at Ruckus Networks, Wi-Fi engineer for Black Hat conferences, and co-host on the podcast This Week in Enterprise Tech.
During her conversation with Christopher, Mo shares her background with Ruckus Networks and her family's personal experience with poor connectivity in rural Texas. Then, Mo and Christopher discuss the history of Wi-Fi, the basics of how it functions, and what it means to operate over unlicensed spectrum. Mo explains how network congestion and the proliferation of Wi-Fi-enabled devices challenge engineers.
Christopher and Mo talk about the overblown hype around 5G technologies. They also dig into the Federal Communications Commission's wireless policies, and Mo commends the agency for it's recent decision to open up more spectrum for Wi-Fi, calling it a "game changer."
This show is 51 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Heather "Mo" Williams: I like to describe Wi-Fi, the protocol for it is 802.11. It is the most Southern of protocols because it's polite.
Jess Del Fiacco: Welcome to episode 410 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Jess Del Fiacco, Communications Manager here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. In today's episode, Christopher talks with Heather Williams, also known as Mo of Ruckus Networks and the show This Week in Tech at the TWiET Network. Heather starts off by talking a little bit about her work and the history of Ruckus Networks. Then she and Christopher discuss all things Wi-Fi, its unique characteristics, how it's evolved over time, and how the recent FCC decision to open up more spectrum is affecting the ability to provide Wi-Fi. Here's Christopher talking with Heather Williams of Ruckus Networks.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in my St. Paul office in my home. I'm here talking to Heather Williams, who's more commonly known by Mo, who is a manager of a solutions engineering group at Ruckus Networks, which is now a CommScope company. Welcome to the show, Heather.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Hey, thanks for having me.
Christopher Mitchell: I already forgot. I should've called you Mo.
Heather "Mo" Williams: It's all right. I have four kids, I answered to anything.
Christopher Mitchell: I'm sure they respect you enough that it's not anything.
Heather "Mo" Williams: I don't know about that either. I was a pretty snarky mom. I'm going to have to take what I dished out.
Christopher Mitchell: Some of the people that are listening, I think their ears are already perked up to hear Ruckus Networks. Can you just give us a little bit about the history of Ruckus? I know it's now in CommScope, but it had its own story tradition.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah, it did. I started my career at Nortel, and so I got in on the ground floor of Wi-Fi, funnily enough, before we had the alphabet soup. Then I joined Ruckus, I like to say I was employee 101. I'm not sure exactly what, and we weren't even counting back then. So we were a small, scrappy startup company when I joined them in 2010. Nothing worked, about working for Nortel, a big behemoth of a titanic, prepares you for going to work for a scrappy, snarky startup. Ruckus really, the name, the logo, it all started as ... We had a couple of brilliant engineers, a mathematician, and one of the guys who helped invent Multi-user MIMO. We're at the core of it, and then you had a bunch of just really hardworking, get or done scrappers, and we were out there to make a ruckus and shake things up.
Heather "Mo" Williams: We had some really distinctive technologies and we had a pretty distinctive attitude to go with it. It's been a fun ride.
Christopher Mitchell: That's Ruckus. What do you do?
Heather "Mo" Williams: Well, when I started with Ruckus, I actually was the training department. I didn't start out to be the training department. I had people who hired me. Over within a couple of months, they sort of got off the startup rollercoaster ride, and I ended up being the entire training department for like the next three years. When I started, they said I was going to travel 10% to 25% of the time, and it ended up, the last year that I was in the training department, I set records for wheels down to wheels up measured in hours. I would be gone across Europe, Asia, and Africa for four to six weeks at a time. That in and of itself was a great experience, but it also exemplifies just the attitude that we had at Ruckus. Whatever it took to get things done.
Heather "Mo" Williams: I moved from the training department. I got hired in by just the world's best boss. She was the first female SE at Aruba, and then she was the first female SE at Ruckus, and she hired the second female or SE. I took care of the national accounts across North America. I had the distributors and CDW, any partner or bar that had a nationwide footprint. I'd like to say I quit traveling as much. It's just that I stayed in, just three time zones, instead of all of the time zones for a couple of years. Ruckus has had quite an acquisition story. We've gone through Brocade Erase, and now CommScope. Somewhere in there we broke off and started the solutions engineering team. We basically span the divide between the engineering PLM and the field sales guys and SE. We sort of bring all of those pieces together. We do a lot of white papers and things like that. We're the nerds.
Christopher Mitchell: I think you could have just stuck with, we're the nerds. I like that. I want to mention, we're going to talk about Wi-Fi a lot, about really exciting developments, but I think it's also worth noting. You have great sound. You're a cohost on Enterprise Tech on the This Week in Tech, the TWiET Network, one of the frankly, in my mind, the birth of podcasting in terms of making it popular, exciting and cool, but also, you're coming from an Oasis of decent connectivity in a part of Texas that doesn't have very much of it. I just wanted to know if you want to give a shout out to the WISP you're working with.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah, I absolutely do. Working with TWiET guys, I feel like most of my life, especially my professional career has been just one sheer dumb luck coincidence after another. I was the Wi-Fi engineer for Interop, and that's how I met Padre and Brian. G. That's how I ended up later on becoming involved with TWiET, but we have moved from ... I raised four kids in suburbs of Dallas. The last of them went off to college and we moved out here to, what we thought was going to be our retirement home. We now live in a 900 square foot log cabin on the Lake. My husband's a network engineer. He teaches for Global Knowledge and he's not on the road as none of us are now.
Heather "Mo" Williams: He's teaching using a web based platform. I had to jury rig the ever loving heck out of what the possibilities were for out here. I stitched together, we had a cell booster to get decent signal into this cabin. I had a satellite back haul that I used very parsimoniously for emails and things like that. Then I also have just an outrageously expensive data plan on the one cell provider that I could get decent signal for out here. We lived like that for about two years. I was always on the lookout for other options especially during the spring, rainy season when the satellite was just out for days at a time. It's because of that I got to understand a lot more about WISPs.
Heather "Mo" Williams: It's funny, until I moved out here, I really just did not understand the plight of rural America. It's 96% of the landmass of the US and the challenges out here are incredible. WISPs are truly the superheroes of, especially for broadband equity and rural connectivity. The WISP that I'm working with is very thin margins, mom and pop place called Next Wave. It took about a year to ... we had to do site surveys and then they ended up putting in a tower. But now I'm in a neighborhood of probably about 200 households that live out here full-time. We're basically a fishing village that's outside of town, maybe a third of the owners out here actually live out here full-time. Now we have as good or better connectivity as anybody in the entire county.
Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. Let's turn to Wi-Fi. I actually gave a broadband basics webinar today. I was saying I think, I chafe a little bit whenever I hear people, often elected officials confusing broadband with Wi-Fi as other interchangeable words. I was thinking about this interview and talking about where Wi-Fi is going. I was recollecting on just how amazing it is. You have this technology that was given this junk band of spectrum that microwaves and others, there's all kinds of interference potentials, all kinds of reason to think that it wasn't very valuable and created just all of this value of the ability to connect devices. I think Wi-Fi is one of the biggest success stories of computers and inter-networking. But I'm curious, just broadly, what do you think of when you think about Wi-Fi?
Heather "Mo" Williams: You've summed that up quite nicely. I think that it was sort of ... the FCC went out on a limb back in like '97 when they did this, and they just gave this all this spectrum, and with really wide channels compared to where the licensed spectrum is, the way it's allocated. I'd like to think that they were being prescient, and they knew what they were doing, but I think, like my career, it was just a sheer dumb luck. It accidentally worked out, and has been a huge ... it's really driven a lot of economies. It's allowed so many things to occur. I don't know that anybody could have predicted it. Until this most recent decision, I'd say that that decision in '97 was the single best thing that the FCC has done.
Heather "Mo" Williams: I can't overstate, and yes, you're right. When people say Wi-Fi, oh, the Wi-Fi here is bad. Well, did you get an IP address? No. It's not the Wi-Fi. Yeah, I have these conversations all the time and I have what is the quintessential cliche of a mother when it comes to technology. She can't tell that when she's using data cellular versus on the Wi-Fi. Yeah, I frequently cringe, although I think I've become inured to it when people say things,
Christopher Mitchell: I think most of us have, just sort of one of those things you're like, am I going to fight this battle now? No, not right now. You mentioned the prescient decision in 97, I think it's worth just discussing the fact that this is Lasix exempt spectrum that basically anyone can use it. Could just explain that to someone who might not be very familiar with it.
Heather "Mo" Williams: For those of you who don't know me, you probably can figure it out from my accent. I was not born here, but got here before I could talk. I live in the South and I like to describe Wi-Fi, the protocol for it is 80211. It is the most Southern of protocols because it's polite. It's an unlicensed spectrum, so everybody gets to use it, and the goal and built into the protocol, you have to basically create that four way stop sort of rules. Who gets to go? How do we make a decision? Who gets to transmit? Who gets to receive? How do you nicely share the spectrum with everybody else because it's there for everybody. It's not licensed. Your neighbor turns on an access point. They're allowed to do that. You're not allowed to tell them that they can't. You have to build into the technology itself, a way to enforce and ascribe this Southern politeness. Basically, we all have to get along.
Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you mentioned is that you have all these different devices that are then talking and figuring out when to listen, but they're not made by different manufacturers. I didn't realize how special it is that Wi-Fi operates in that way, and certainly Bluetooth does. There's other protocols that do. But when I learned about the GPON, the gigabit passive optical network standard, and the fact that you can't just rip and replace gear from different vendors because it's a standard. I thought I knew what that word means, but it doesn't really act that way in a lot of ways, it seems like, so a Wi-Fi does.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah, it does. It's because, at its heart, it was the way it was rolled out and developed. When we first started with Wi-Fi, we didn't actually have any letters after it, so it was 80211. We had absolutely no speed, but it didn't matter because you weren't using it for anything. Gasp, there wasn't YouTube, there weren't all these things that ... When I tell my kids that I'm older than Google, they don't actually know what to think about that. The use case was you wanted to get from your desktop to be able to email without having to stick a cable in or be able to walk down the hall to a conference room and just be able to email.
Heather "Mo" Williams: It just really wasn't that big a deal. We also didn't worry about roaming because you weren't walking down the hallway to that conference center and trying to stay connected. We then pretty quickly started getting the amendments or changes. We had the b and then a, they actually came out in that order. That gave us two different frequencies. We have now, today, most enterprise access points will operate on two different radios. The laws of physics says they're completely separate from each other, and you can use one radio or the other. We went from a to b, then g, then n. n was really the game changer, 80211n because it introduced Multi-user MIMO. It made big changes in how we had to deploy insight surveys and everything.
Heather "Mo" Williams: But more importantly, it helped drive the use of that second radio, the five gigahertz radio and AC did even more to push the adoption of that radio that gave us so many extra channels. The important thing that I'm getting to with that one is that we had to share parts of the five gigahertz range. They're broken up into U-NII-1, 2 and 3, so this is the unlicensed spectrum that the FCC defined.
Christopher Mitchell: When you say U-NII, that word comes up a lot. What is U-NII?
Heather "Mo" Williams: I actually made sure that I had that pulled up because ... We use these acronyms so often that even we forget and don't necessarily always remember. That's actually Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure. That's in the five gigahertz range. We have channels at the lower end are in U-NII-1, and then U-NII-2 and U-NII-3. We get to use U-NII-2 a and C. It's just part of that spectrum, but it has incumbents. We have people that have access to that space and that were already there, and they're pretty important because it's the Doppler radar, some of the military radars and everything. Built into the protocol, we had to figure out a way to share that space and to give precedence.
Heather "Mo" Williams: We have to listen on those channels. If we're trying to use those channels and we hear somebody who takes precedence or an incumbent user, we have to vacate it. We have to have, and by we, I'm the access point at this point, and I have to be able to tell my clients that are on the same channel, "Hey, y'all, we're leaving this channel. Meet me over here on this channel." Boom. That's it. That's important because the same kind of methodology and also some methodologies that have been proven to work with CBRS is going to be used in the new frequency that's been opened up.
Christopher Mitchell: You also said MIMO a couple of times, and I'm sure that's one of those acronyms that people have heard frequently. What is MIMO?
Heather "Mo" Williams: MIMO is multiple user multiple access, so you can go in and out. Here's the thing. Think of Wi-Fi as though it's sound because the radios are listening to each other. Now think of it like if you're in a military unit and you need to talk to each other across these radios. There's protocols for talking to each other that way. You have to say clear channel. You have to end the conversation with roger or out. I obviously have no military background.
Christopher Mitchell: We've all seen movies though.
Heather "Mo" Williams: But you have to be able to announce. Yeah, I've read a few books. You have to be able to say how we're going to talk. Before 11n, one of the worst things in Wi-Fi was something called multipath. If you go back to your eighth grade science classes that everybody remembers the terminology of, right? We have this sound that's going out, and now we're going to think of it like light going through a prism. As the sound goes out, it's going to bounce off of highly reflective surfaces like glass and metal. It might be scattered through other surfaces like say a wire fence. But all of that is going to affect these ripples of sound. Now I'm going to use ripples in a pond analogy. I tend to throw them all in there.
Heather "Mo" Williams: If you're in a building or you're in a room and you're broadcasting to an access point and the signals bounce off, you get basically echoes. It can actually degrade the quality of the sound, as you can imagine. The entire point of doing a network design or trying to figure out how to deploy Wi-Fi pre Multi-user MIMO is basically stuck the access point in the middle of the room and hope for the best because it broadcast out in this 360 degree range and you just hope to minimize the MIMO. What happened with 11n is that these scientists, these engineers sat down and looked at antennas and said, "Look, there's no way to mitigate this. Let's figure out a way to make it work for us."
Heather "Mo" Williams: Now, instead of it degrading the sound, what they've figured out to do is to be able to listen and make it an additive effect. They can pick the signal that's the strongest of the clearest. There was some ideas a long time ago about beam forming to see if we can make an additive effect and time it so that the sound gets there at just the right offset so you can add it. That doesn't work out so well, it turns out, but it's okay, we try.
Christopher Mitchell: They can't all be winners.
Heather "Mo" Williams: No. This is the other nice thing about Wi-Fi, and you were talking about the interoperability and how you have all of these client devices, just talking about Android phones. Holy cow, how many different Android Wi-Fi drivers are there because they're all different. Then you have Apple devices, then you have all the laptops in different operating systems, and they all have different drivers. Yeah, they all use the protocol and they all work, but they all work a little bit differently. As a Wi-Fi vendor and as the Wi-Fi Alliance has worked with making amendments, tweaking, continuing to innovate, a good part of our time and energy is figuring out how to mitigate bad client behavior.
Heather "Mo" Williams: We're doing it without knowing exactly how those clients work. We can see the effect, but we don't get a look under the hood because there's no way that these vendors are going to open up the curtain and let us look behind as Wi-Fi vendor. We just have to guess. You saw things early on where like Apple clients, we would call them sticky. You would walk into a room, say a big conference room, and your device would associate to the access point, but then you didn't stay there. You walk to the other side, way over to the other side of the room because that's where the bar was. But your phone stays connected to that first access point, and so you get further and further away, you get weaker and weaker signal, but the apples were just the most overly committed girlfriend you've ever seen. They're like, no, I can make this relationship work. I'm going to stick it out.
Christopher Mitchell: I see a much better signal over here, but I'm not going to go to it.
Heather "Mo" Williams: No, no, because I am faithful. There was a Wi-Fi amendment that was designed to help mitigate that, where we could say, well, the APs are going to share information about their neighbors. As I see you moving away and getting a weaker and weaker signal, I know that that other AP is offering a better signal. I'm going to introduce you. The access point is always the man in this analogy, because the client is the one that makes the decision. Women are in charge of the relationship. They make the decisions. The men just try to help us make better decisions. Right? You walk over to the bar, the access point 1 says, you know, I just don't think this is working out between us, but I have this cousin over here, I'd like to introduce you. On paper, that sounds like a great idea. In reality, a lot of the Apple devices reacted the exact way you would think a woman would react. Oh, wait a second.
Christopher Mitchell: I was going to say, it seems very reality. Yeah.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Wait a second. You're breaking up with me and you're trying to pawn me off on your cousin, so the hell with both of you. I'm blacklisting both of you for 15 minutes. That was a very rude awakening for Wi-Fi vendors to figure out how to ... Okay, we were trying to be nice. It was just sort of like every time we come up with a new way to innovate or try to improve a user experience, especially as use cases evolve of the various client devices and driver behaviors, or they just say, hold my beer, I found another way to challenge your life.
Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned channels a couple of time also. I think it's worth noting in this again, prelude into the discussion about recent developments, but what is the channel, and why does it matter whether it's big or smaller, how many there are?
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. Basically, a channel is, think of it as a lane on a highway. In the 2.4 gig radio channel space, we actually have, depending on what country you live in, 11 to 13 channels. But the way the channels overlap, we basically have three distinct non-overlapping lanes so that you don't have to worry about somebody swerving into your lane. It's a three lane highway. Everybody can go there. The problem is that there are a lot of clients that are 2.4 and all of the legacy clients are 2.4 only. The influx of all of these new IOT devices are mostly 2.4, and so there's a lot of congestion.
Christopher Mitchell: Particularly in an apartment building. People that are in big suburban homes might not see this as much, but if you're in an apartment building, you have hundreds of radios that are all trying to use those three channels or three effective channels.
Heather "Mo" Williams: MDU, multiple dwelling units, and density environments like say Black Hat, which I'm the Wi-Fi engineer for that. You will see on the expo floor, for example, at any given time in 2.4, I've seen 1200 radios. If you've got 1200 radios all trying to talk across only three channels, and invariably, you've got that one jackass printer that's trying to sit across two of those channels. It never fails. I've never been at a conference where I didn't see something like that. So yeah, it's very congested. You talked earlier about interference. There's other devices, non Wi-Fi devices. In addition to all of the legacy and IOT devices trying to cram onto that spectrum, you also have all of the things that interfere with it.
Heather "Mo" Williams: At one point, we had handsets. I now live in an area that has no landlines, so I don't have to worry about that. But wireless telephones, the baby monitors microwave, things like that can cause some real problems with 2.4.
Christopher Mitchell: Fortunately, a lot of the baby monitors are moving into an IP space where they can be viewed from Ukraine or Russia or China.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. By the way, that did actually play a big role in my very careful search for a WISP. I talked with several of them, WISPs, I've called them superheroes, and I stand by that statement. God love them. I don't like to get on a step ladder anymore. I'm not climbing up to a water tower or a green tower to try to fix it, a radio that's got the heck knocked out of it by a wind storm, as happens out here. But they also operate on very, very thin margins. A lot of their decisions on what technology to deploy, it has to be an economic one. There are some technologies out there that are from iffy or vendors that I've had to talk pretty carefully about with them. I won't name some of the vendors, but there's a supply chain problem with some of those. I'm not saying that the NSA hasn't shoved something into Cisco routers because we all know they have. But yeah, I don't feel the need to port my data all the way back to China, the Ukraine, Russia.
Christopher Mitchell: I interrupted you on the channels, but in general, we're moving toward bigger channels, I think, right?
Heather "Mo" Williams: I know that a lot of people are very excited about wider channels. As somebody who primarily-
Christopher Mitchell: It's a very nice gentle correction.
Heather "Mo" Williams: I have a slightly skewed viewpoint because I live in two very weird worlds. I live out here in the middle of nowhere where I can ... I'll take 160 megahertz wide channel, which is the entire spectrum on the five gig right now. I don't, but I could, because there's nobody else out here. My neighbors are so far and so few of them actually have Wi-Fi. This is as close to a Greenfield deployment as you're going to see, short of going to Mars. Actually I think Mars may have more Wi-Fi at this point. I'm the Wi-Fi engineer for Black Hat. When we're in Vegas, I'm fighting, not only all of the stuff that the vendors are bringing and trying to run, the house infrastructure is sitting on all of that spectrum.
Heather "Mo" Williams: I'm trying really hard to be a good neighbor and use Wi-Fi. In those density environments, we still like to use some 20 megahertz channels, even at the five gig because for me it's about channel reuse. Again, if you remember that a channel is like a lane on the highway. If we're all on channel 36, which is the first channel in the five gigahertz, if I'm the only one there, I get a hundred percent of the airtime. If there's another client out there, we split it, we get 50%. For every person you add, you're cutting, you divide that channel use fairly equally. There are some mitigations in there. For me, it's about channel reuse for the most part in high density environments, and especially like in an MDU environment like where you were talking about. I'm old enough and I've been in Wi-Fi long enough that I can remember, and it was just a Herculean effort to get client devices that were five gig.
Heather "Mo" Williams: To get them off of the 2.4, and use this nice new shiny spectrum that we had that nobody was using very well. The encouragement was to get everybody onto five gigs so that the legacy clients, the devices that could not use it, we were clearing up those 2.4 gigahertz radio channels for the three of them. Then what happened after 11ac came out. Now we have to learn all new names for these. I know that a lot of people like this, but the new naming convention.
Christopher Mitchell: I was going to say the Wi-Fi 6 seems like it's when the nerds lost and we just went to a...
Heather "Mo" Williams: I know.
Christopher Mitchell: There's so much excitement. You mentioned before, you just mentioned with the channel size is one of the enthusiastic responses about Wi-Fi 6, I think, is that the radios can create, I want to say smaller channels, but I feel like you're going to say narrower or something, which is a proper term. But for devices that don't need a lot of transferring, Internet of things, devices and things like that, that's one of the goals I thought of Wi-Fi 6.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. So Wi-Fi 6 is 11ax, the previous amendment was 11ac, and that's what we are now calling Wi-Fi 5. You're right. I've lost that battle. I feel like ...
Christopher Mitchell: Don't worry, we'll get there soon enough.
Heather "Mo" Williams: I feel as sorry for myself as I would feel for my doctor who has to dumb 12 years of learning down to explain to me what my test results are. Okay, fine. We're going to call it Wi-Fi 6, 5. The nice thing about Wi-Fi 5, which was 11ac, that was five gig only. It did not apply to the 2.4 gig channels. They stayed at 11n. The other nice thing about Wi-Fi that we haven't mentioned is that it has been manically attached to backwards compatibility, but we've even taken some performance hits at one point to make sure that we were bringing everybody along and playing nicely with the older devices.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Just because we innovate on the access point side or on the technology side, we're not going to leave no client behind sort of attitude. With 11ac being five geek only, was finally we got the new client devices had to come along and be dual band. That's when you really saw five gig channel space start getting all cluttered up the same way the 2.4. We've finally started reusing that. I know that my first couple of years at Black Hat, remember, I told you, in five gig, we have U-NII-1, U-NII-2 a and c and then U-NII-3. Well, the U-NII-2 is the band that we had the incumbents and you had to play nicely. It's called DFS. It's dynamic frequency selection.
Heather "Mo" Williams: We had to be able to announce a channel change. Long time vendors, either didn't support that channel. I know the Mandalay Bay in particular did not use U-NII-2 channels. That meant they had left this entire set of ... All of these channels that were there for me and me only, and they were awesome. Then I think it was two years ago, they did a forklift upgrade and they're sitting on all of the channels. But it was nice while it lasted. It was really nice. Yeah, with five gig, we got, how many? 25 channels. We got the ability to channel bond, which is where you were going with being able to make these wider channels. Instead of 20 megahertz wide channels, we get 40 megahertz wide channels. There's a really nice way of understanding what the benefit with that is.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Aside from being able to be more efficient because you have less, clear to send less acknowledgments, or fewer, because you're able to send more, bigger chunks of data. Again, go back to the highway lane analogy. Now instead of having this one lane that has a set car width wide, is now twice that width, which means I can now more safely go faster because I don't need to worry about whether I'm bouncing along in just in that one narrow lane. That's the best analogy I've been able to come up with why we're able to do that. It also explains why on a three lane highway, like 2.4 gig radio is, you don't want the printer sitting into those lanes, that's just not Southern.
Christopher Mitchell: Let's fast forward that Wi-Fi 6, a lot of exciting changes. I feel like has now been overshadowed by what might be one of the best FCC decisions ever. Tell us about what the federal communications commission recently decided.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. I'm just going to take the gloves off. You could've then knocked me over with a feather because the number of good decisions coming out of this FCC in the last three or four years have been none, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not saying that this is an acceptable ... a mere culpa that makes the things like the loss of net neutrality go away, but I will say this is pretty exciting. We have a Wi-Fi 6, the 11ax protocol. What the FCC has done just recently, like two weeks ago now? It feels. Time has dilated.
Christopher Mitchell: It could be three weeks by the time this show airs.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Okay. Well, it doesn't matter because January was five years ago now. The time dilation effect has been astounding. Yeah, just a couple of weeks ago, what they've done is they have opened up a huge amount of spectrum. I mean, huge. We went from 2.4 to five gig and were able to start using that, we went from three non-overlapping channels to 25, and we were all just giddy as school kids about what we were going to be able to do with this. I don't think any of us at the time were even catching on to what IoT was going to do to our lives, let alone Wi-Fi calling, and things like that.
Christopher Mitchell: Just briefly, IoT being Internet of Things, just a proliferation of devices, and in particular perhaps cheaply made devices that don't have very good security practices and all kinds of other problems, but nonetheless are innumerable now.
Heather "Mo" Williams: We could do a whole nother show on IoT security because, thanks to all of the time I've spent with my Black Hat friends, I am now paranoid. This new spectrum that they have, just a massive chunk. It's 1200 megahertz of space that they're giving us. It's going to give us, not 25 new channels, but 59 new channels, and it's going to use the same 11ax. The Wi-Fi Alliance in their wisdom has decided arbitrarily to call this Wi-Fi 6E. The E stands for nothing, but that's okay because Wi-Fi doesn't actually stand for anything either. It's just a made up marketing term. This Wi-Fi 6E is basically taking 11ax, that's already operating in 2.4 and five gig, and now it's adding a third band at the six gigahertz level. I told you, I don't think that I'm overstating it when I say this is a game changer, and I think it's even a game changer for the group of people that I have an affinity for the rural and the underserved areas, that got downright ugly with a few people occasionally.
Heather "Mo" Williams: I think I did it even on TWiET once, when we were talking about the 5G revolution, and if I hear one more person tell me about how 5G is going to just replace Wi-Fi, I may actually get violent.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I was at an event, and I think it was T-Mobile people who were there and they were making this case to MDU and owners of apartment buildings and things like that saying basically, "Oh, you got all these Wi-Fi problems, let us come in and manage it with 5G. It's going to be so much better. In my head, I was just thinking, why in the heck would anyone want to do that? If you have a sense of what it might cost you to go to a solution like that, I would assume T-Mobile will be charging so much money, whereas Wi-Fi is effectively free to use.
Heather "Mo" Williams: There's that. Obviously some sales and marketing people just lost their minds over that and thought they had struck oil in the candy shop or whatever you want to call it. Because first of all, in order to use 5G, which is a cellular technology, you need to have a SIM card. How many things that you own have a SIM card?
Christopher Mitchell: Too many, and it's just one.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Now, are you going to drop that SIM card and the attributed data plan associated with that into all of your devices that are right now basically Wi-Fi, or are you just going to make everybody go get a SIM-based access point, for example, and use the five G for the back haul and then you still have Wi-Fi as the last foot, the last several feet? Bottom line is it's going to be a wireless technology that is the onboarding, the on ramp onto these highways, no matter whether it's cheap on or CBRS or Wi-Fi, or whatever your WISPs is using to get it out there. It's either going to be Wi-Fi or Zigbee or BLE. You've got to be able to get it onto the network, onto the back haul. You're not going to put a SIM card in absolutely everything. That's first.
Heather "Mo" Williams: We haven't even gotten to the part where the whole bait and switch because out here, and I've explained to you a couple of times, I do not have dead spots of cellular coverage out here.
Christopher Mitchell: You don't have live spots.
Heather "Mo" Williams: I have, ACs of coverage. For instance, I was actually surprised that I could get a text message in here because inside this building a hundred yards from my house, I have actually no cell coverage usually. We must be bouncing off on the ISP correctly today for some reason. By the time I get to my yard, the back part of my house, I've got cell coverage, and then there's a cell tower somewhere across the lake. That's the one that my cell booster, that antenna is pointing at. But as soon as I walk out, it's half a mile to my mailbox and then it's another two miles to a water tower, and that water tower is where I can start playing Harry Potter again, if I'm riding in the road because I have no cell coverage.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Don't tell me that 5G is going to solve all my problems. I'm still waiting for 4G, and a lot of rural America is. It's simply not going to be the game changer. However, Wi-Fi 6E is going to provide the performance that 6G has promised, but will be years before it delivers out into a rural area. But you're going to get the faster throughputs, and more importantly, you're going to get the low latency. For rural America, that means that you you're going to be able to do things like telework and hold conference calls and things like that, that I am one of the few people out here. I have the technology and the knowhow and also the wherewithal to afford a couple of different options for so that I can patch work my connectivity together. In urban areas, this low latency is going to be a huge game changer in terms of things like the self-driving cars and things like that. 5G and Wi-Fi 6E are going to be huge.
Christopher Mitchell: Something that sometimes gets lost on people, is they forget that one of the great things about Wi-Fi is it's on our side of the D mark between us and the ISP. Even if you like your ISP, I like having a D mark in which my network is my network and the ISP really can't see into it. It strikes me there's a vision of having 5G devices more and more. Well, it's just giving someone I don't trust vision into my network, into my things.
Heather "Mo" Williams: That's a really good point because the interesting thing is that Wi-Fi has suffered very early and has still not really shaken the perception that it's an inherently insecure technology. Part of the problem is that the first encryption algorithm web was wired equivalency protection privacy.
Christopher Mitchell: And there's no wired ...
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. Oh my God. Who the heck named it that? It's wired equipment. Well, the truth in advertising because you had the same privacy on the wires you did with web because that obviously was cracked, literally from almost the get go.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Well, someone who didn't understand the ethernet standard, that's for sure. The goal behind ethernet being everyone's shouts what they're trying to say to everyone else on the network, basically.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Well, like you said, they're not all winners. But because of that, and that really was a black eye that we had to live with until we got WPA, and then WPA-2 was the replacement. That black eye followed Wi-Fi for a while, especially in the enterprise where the IT departments knee jerk reaction was, no, we're not going to have Wi-Fi in the building because it's insecure. They spent their time hunting down rogue access points that people were bringing in and sticking under their desks, and of course, I don't advocate doing that. You still have people who ... In fact, I sat in a Wireshark training class in 2016, and the instructor said, "Yeah, don't use Wi-Fi. It's just not secure." In 2016. I don't know how many people here have an RJ45 connector on their laptop at this point. Since I use a Mac, I haven't had one in years.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, but you can buy one for $75.
Heather "Mo" Williams: I know. I have been assimilated. I have all of the dongles. There's an appearance that Wi-Fi has a security problem. We've obviously gotten much better at it. With Wi-Fi 6, we also, simultaneously got WPA-3, which has brought in basically military grade encryption. There are some things that are wrong with WPA-3. If anybody wants to look at, there's a great white paper that was written, I believe he called it dragon blood WPA three is based on a protocol called dragon fly. There are some things that are wrong with it, and the Wi-Fi Alliance is going to be addressing those. I'm expecting something later this year. I guess they're a little busy with some other things right now, but later this year they're going to reconcile some things we are seeing greatly improved security on Wi-Fi.
Heather "Mo" Williams: The same cannot be said in ... I know that cellular, there's this myth or this idea that cellular technologies are much more secure. As somebody who's been stung by a scorpion at Black Hat and I've been deauthed off of my phone, I can assure you that cellular technology is not as inherently secure as people like to think that it is.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I was thinking that along the lines. It strikes me that I've always been stunned when I hear some of the security updates. I listen to actually Security Now. That and TWiET, I started listening to 14 years ago. Steve Gibson comes across every now and then and does remind people that the 4G LTE has just shocking vulnerabilities in it. I guess, we all get used to those.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. There's the adage that a hacker is going to hack. I never say that anything is 100% secure. I think that every vendor out there that has claimed this is not hackable has lived to regret uttering those words. There will always be a way to find a way around it. The whole goal is to make yourself secure enough that, what's the saying? You don't have to be the fastest one trying to outrun the bear, you just have to be faster than the slowest one.
Christopher Mitchell: That's right.
Heather "Mo" Williams: You just have to make yourself unattractive enough to the hacker that somebody else's is a better target.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. The other thing is understanding your attack surface. You can't be perfect in all directions. You need to have a sense of what you're trying to secure yourself against. I think you and I should talk about that more in a different show.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yes. Because then I'll go on my WIDS and WIPS rant. I would be glad to have that conversation.
Christopher Mitchell: As we rack up really quickly, what's the timing? When is a normal person going to see this, and is their interface with it just going to be faster experience?
Heather "Mo" Williams: It's always true that the consumer grade access points and products, so you'll see something in Best Buy, places like that, before you'll see them at the enterprise grade like a Ruckus AP. It's possible that you'll see them by the end of the year. Since the world is still trying to get restarted, I don't know if that's going to have much of an effect. The better question is when are we going to see client devices to be able to take advantage of that. That is again, I think that in the economy that we have now, that's sort of a crap shoot. I don't know. I do know that the adoption rate has been faster and faster. When we rolled out 11g, 11n, 11ac, we saw client devices out there faster at each iteration.
Heather "Mo" Williams: It seems to be logarithmic. There's a point where it's just not going to be able to keep getting faster. I'd say that by next year you're going to see client devices. This one is so groundbreaking in terms of the capabilities that I think that we're going to see it even faster than 11ac and 11ax, I really do. The other thing that you're going to see, and I know that at the consumer level and some enterprise grade vendors, you've seen maybe tri-band access points. Basically, what that is, is for the most part, that's a 2.4 gig radio and then 2.5 gig radio's, not a fan. There's a reason why they're called the laws of physics. There are some things that you can and can't do.
Christopher Mitchell: Not the suggestions of physics.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. Again, it's eighth grade science, or what should have been eighth grade science. I think that going forward what you're going to see is actual real tri-band, and even better. You'll have access points that have 2.4, access points to have five gig, now the six gig. Also CBRS has come out. CBRS is also, I think going to be a big game changer for the rural community. I'm really looking forward to that. I think this is going to be a big game changer, and for anybody who's in the middle of, or approaching a refresh, I would caution that you need to take a good hard look at your access switches and switch ports because up until now, you could make a pretty good case for one gig, 30 watt of power over ethernet capabilities.
Heather "Mo" Williams: With great power, comes great responsibility. With these tribe and bigger access points, they're going to need the power. The switches that are coming out now, the multi gig switch ports, you're actually going to see legitimate use because you can, just the six gig radio alone, will be able to tap out a one gig connection. We are now to the point where the wired side is going to have to work hard to be able to keep up with the wireless capabilities.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, I really hope we see the SoHo 10 gig port connections come down then.
Heather "Mo" Williams: Yeah. I've been looking around just for my own home upgrades as I'm trying to figure out how to wire things and whatnot. But that's a conversation we can add on to in the future. Mo, thank you so much for taking time today to share with us the background and the exciting future.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Jess Del Fiacco: That was Christopher talking with Heather Williams of Ruckus Networks. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at email@example.com with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this and the other podcast from ILSR, Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and The Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Comments. This was episode 410 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thanks for listening.