Mamma Don’t Want No Network Manager


There are many reasons that SOHO and home networks are lagging so far behind the technological capabilities of the underlying hardware. Significantly that industry has been over burdened with a lack of commitment to standards (or most likely a proliferation of differing, partially implemented draft standards), complex installation processes, poorly implemented interoperability and a general lack of support for the ongoing operation of a SOHO network.

Standards, standards, who’s got the standards?

About a year ago a friend of ours was involved with this market and in conversation with us advised us that there were more than 25 bodies vying for a part in the establishment and evolution of standards.

Earlier today we noted an announcement by ATIS suggesting that once and for all they were going to solve this problem. Given, that over 25 other groups have attempted, this we think this is a good idea, but found their strategy left us incredulous.

Just make it work

In a related article in telephonyonline journalist Carol Wilson reported;

…the new ATIS Home Networking Forum hopes to bring some order to the process of standardizing networks within the home, according to its convener, Gale Lightfoot of Cisco Systems. In addition, the new forum will approach home networking from the service provider’s view, as a managed service.

The emphasis in the quote is our own. We laud the ATIS for trying to corral the standards, but suggesting that it be moved to a “managed service” is laughable. We’ve written before about Service Providers offering technical support. Why in the world would anyone consider a managed service for a $100 wireless network? What ATIS needs to develop, in standards, is a networking process that eliminates the need to “manage” any SOHO network. Further ATIS would be better off developing standards for Service Providers to manage the part of the network outside of our office. Why not make SOHO networks like electricity–you connect, it works!

6 Things

If anyone is listening over at the ATIS here’s six things you can do to make SOHO networks better:

  1. We’ve plenty of experience with SOHO networking equipment. Most equipment has tons of options to configure, spread over pages of administration screens. In all of our work with the stuff generally you need less than about ten options. Get those right, on one page, and make it obvious what effect these setting have,
  2. Get rid of draft standards—or can the industry not make a commitment?,
  3. Ensure backward compatibility on devices and make it easy to auto-configure this, not doing this often frustrates users with older equipment using earlier standards,
  4. Set verifiable standards on the implementation of security modes. Why is WPA not WPA? Manufacturers historically are unable or unwilling to fully implement the security standards and as such most routers are set down to the lowest common acceptable standard (WEP, 10 hex digits) if at all.
  5. Define a standard for transmission that is measurable in real life situation. All too often manufacturers claims of transmission coverage is grossly over stated.
  6. Develop routers with a bit more peripheral intelligence. These devices should know if the provider link has gone down, if a particular internal IP is in trouble, if and where errors are occurring. In the absence of this, users are routinely overlooking root cause issues and being forced to power down—which might resolve the problem temporarily but usually does not get at the root cause.

SOHO networking should be a completely painless and transparent process, but it will only be that way if you start from that assumption.

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