Cisco Mobility Express

Cisco recently announced a solution capable of bringing controller functionality to access points, bringing new options to your small to medium deployments.  The solution, Cisco Mobility Express, allows you to convert an 1830/1850 access point into a Mobility Express AP.  In this mode you are able to control up to 25 FlexConnect APs and 500 clients in as little as ten minutes.  But, why would Cisco put a controller in an AP?

Let’s face it, wireless is a dynamic space.  We see use cases and requirements ranging from straight-forward to something resembling that of a Willy Wonka contraption.  Cisco now has a fleet of options from Controllers for traditional CAPWAP networks, to IOS-XE for networks with Unified Access in mind, Meraki for customers who prefer cloud management, and now Mobility Express for customers with small to medium deployments who can benefit from nerd-knobs expected in an enterprise deployment.  I personally hope the diversity offered does not lead to more diversity in features leading to confusion or aggravation amongst users; only time will tell.

You may have asked yourself, “How can I set up a Wireless LAN Controller in less than ten minutes?”  Well, that is a good question and has a bit of a complicated answer.  Yes it is possible to configure the 1830/1850 to be a Mobility Express AP and have a network up and running in that short of time, but you will still need to make tweaks – as with any wireless deployment.

When you power up the 1830/1850 it will look for a controller, if none is found it will boot into Mobility Express where a GUI is accessible for configuration.  To configure the controller, connect to the CiscoAirProvision SSID using the key of ‘password‘.  Once connected open a web browser and point to http://192.168.1.1 where you will be greeted with a series of prompts.  In the below example I setup a WPA2-Enterprise secure corporate network and an open Guest network with a captive portal.

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Once you apply settings the controller reboots and you have an operational wifi network.  When you reconnect to the web-console you will be presented with a dashboard displaying network and client statistics.  From here you can make more tweaks to your network, see performance, and troubleshoot issues that may arise.  While the testing I have done with Mobility Express has been fairly satisfactory, I have run across a few problems that could cause issue for customers. Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 8.16.45 PM.png

During my testing I did come across two ‘gripes’ if you will.  If the premise of the web-console is to make a deployment simpler, then all features need to be accessible through the web-console.  Many times I found myself having to change settings from the CLI, especially those recommended as a best practice.  Another trifle I came across is the requirement of TFTP when adding a new AP to the network.  The 1830 has a USB slot on back, and it would great if USB storage could be used instead of having to rely on bringing up a TFTP server each time a new AP is added.

All in all Mobility Express is a great solution that could ease the minds of those wifi engineers that have small remote offices, but still require the nerd knobs of a controller solution.  It may require more CLI to fully configure Mobility Express to your exact standards, but once you have one site standardized you can easily copy the configuration to other sites.  I am confident that the dashboard will only continue to evolve, adding more features and enhancements.  According to Tech Wise TV Cisco plans to introduce ME functionality into all of the APs going forward.  I am personally excited to see how this platform looks down the road after a bit more development from feedback in the field.

Disclosure:  I received demo equipment from Cisco after attending Wireless Field Day 8.  Cisco and other vendors are sponsors, making the event possible.  However, I am in no form required to publish appreciable content on the behalf of any sponsor.  My opinions are my own and are in no way influenced by any sponsor from the event.

WFD6 – AWAYYYY!

When you are in a room of people trying to figure out who the idiot is, it’s probably you. This definitely rang true for me during my first visit to the holy grail of techie events, Wireless Field Day 6. Being surrounded by some of the greatest minds in WiFi, I felt as if i was a small fish in a big pond and I was excited for the opportunity to soak up every bit of information I could steal away from them!

I have been watching the field day events online since everything was a Tech Field Day, so needless to say, I was elated when I received an invitation from Mr. Foskett. I got to meet people in the wireless industry whom I look up to, have conversations with vendors, interact with the people of twitter under the WFD6 hashtag, and hear from two amazing organizations that are doing a lot of good around the world, Plan Ciebal and Disaster Tech Labs.

Now that WFD6 is over and everyone has headed home I figured now would be an appropriate time for a recap from my perspective. This will be a short blurb of what I thought about the vendors, with more detailed posts to come in the near future.

AirTight – It was awesome to see a presentation full of passion and energy, but I guess that just follows Devin Akin wherever he goes! AirTight is beginning to focus and deploy tools to the Managed Services Providers, announced an 802.11ac access-point, and revealed that even us WiFi savvy folks are still vulnerable to a good old fashion karma attack.

Aruba – Showed off their new Meridian technology, think indoor GPS, and Analytics Location Engine, a way to connect with customers. The old adage ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’ is ringing true, and as WiFi is becoming more of an expectation, businesses are looking for ways to connect with customers and gain analytics in return.

Disaster Tech Labs – One of those amazing do-good organizations I mentioned earlier. Their organization focuses on going to disaster ridden areas and providing wireless connectivity to assist with organizing recovery, helping families access the necessary forms, and give a feeling of normalcy to families so they can contact loved ones to let them know they are alright. A great reminder on how easy it is to take all the technology we have for granted.

Plan Ceibal – The other amazing do-good organization I mentioned earlier. This is a program that puts technology in the classroom and in the hands of children in Uruguay. Honestly, an example program that I would love to see pushed throughout the United States and other developed countries to better educate the next generation. Unfortunately, due to politics a project of this sort would be highly contested, and that my friends is a travesty.

CloudPath – Nerdy CEO makes the whole room happy. CloudPath was the only non-directly-wireless company to present at WFD6, but I think they deserved every second they got! An agentless way of configuring end user equipment for secure 802.1X wired and wireless networking has a need and CloudPath, in my opinion, is delivering the best solution compared to current on-boarding solutions being integrated by other vendors.

Xirrus – The most anticipated presentation of the event for me. At Wireless Field Day 5 Xirrus presented, but was bombarded with questions regarding their design of arrays and antenna design. This year Xirrus brought out the most interesting man in RF, Avi Hartenstein, to explain the antennas the HE designed. Xirrus finished off their presentation with a few marketing slides of their real world customers from large events, but around the room and twitter were mumbles of lack of good wifi at some of these events. Whether this is an integrator problem or a device problem is still the question of the day.

Extreme NetworksThe bathroom was extreme. They showed off a lot of slides and information about the stadiums they have designed for and how to design for stadiums, but lacked on the information side of how this all gets done. I agree with Sam that there is a lot of information to cover during a first WFD event as a sponsor, though I would like to see how the guts of everything works. Hopefully at WFD7 they will deliver an inside look at how they perform these functions.

Overall, I had an absolute blast at my first Wireless Field Day and hope to be invited back for more! If you have a chance, check out the recorded sessions on Youtube and comment any topics you would like to see in a future post.
In the meantime check out the other delegates fantastic websites and blogs:
Blake Krone – You’ll notice I stole the title for this post from Blake!
Evert Bopp
George Stefanick
Germán Capdehourat
Jake Snyder
Jennifer Huber
Keith R. Parsons
Lee Badman
Sam Clements
Scott Stapleton