When you’re running a device lab to test across a variety of internet connected (mobile) devices, a wireless local area network will be your primary way to hook up your gear to the ‘tubes. When you’re taking that device lab rather seriously and you’re testing across, let’s say, more than 30 devices, you will quickly run into a problem: your WiFi.
Don’t believe the tech spec hype
Some manufacturers publish tech specs stating the maximum connections their access points are capable to support. Yes, most don’t even do that (or talk about the “number of people that can share the same internet connection”), and there is a reason for that. These numbers might be true in some ideal scenario (like: all connected devices using the same chipset, behaving in mixed conditions (some idle, some active), all in vital shape), but having tested a number of these SoHo-style devices we all tend to use at home and in small and medium businesses, I can tell these numbers are very optimistic. At least for the use case we’re after, and that, to be fair, might not be the scenario the manufacturers meant when they published their numbers:
The use case is a tough one
Synchronized browsing, used in web development to easily preview and debug code in production across a farm of devices, implicates X devices calling the same URL at more or less the same time, sometimes several times a minute (code, preview, debug, refresh). There are a lot of variables to take into account and a lot basically “depends” as a rule of thumb around this topic ;). For illustration purpose imagine the traffic produced by 50 devices calling a webpage with 30 requests and a 0.5-1 MB pageload, refreshed continuosly – do the math. That is most likely not what the makers of that WiFi-gear had in mind when they were talking about the number of clients.
I cannot find gear that is suitable for the above scenario and affordable for individuals or small and medium businesses, that run (non-for-profit open) device labs. The available product documentation is not comparable (enough). I know there is superexpensive gear used for permanent installations or at events, but this is not even close to the budget range of what I am looking for. I am not a wireless networks expert, and most of the people would agree this to be a black box to most of the typical web or app developers. And the experts I asked also only know the superexpensive gear (and actually don’t know talk too precisely about limitations with the above use case).
There seems to be a huge gap between 30-300 Euro-ish SoHo-style devices and 6000+ Euro-ish gear. Is there an affordable solution, somewhere inbetween?
Call to action
I know that a ton of people is looking for a solution, so this blog post is to find out. Please help, point people that could know more than us to this post, and share knowledge via a comment. If you run a device lab and found gear that does the job, please post your experience and suggestions. If you combined a set of APs to a working solution, please post the details here (I’d prefer a single device for a number of reasons, but, anything is better than nothing).
Update (May 29, 2013 – looong overdue looking at the number of feedback I have received via Twitter and E-Mail in the meantime, my apologies!):
The sixth international “Blue Beanie Day” will be celebrated as early as November 30, 2012! BBD is an ongoing tradition based on the blue beanie Jeffrey Zeldman wore on the cover of his 2003 “Designing With Web Standards” book. Join the celebration and post a picture of yourself wearing a blue beanie to the BBD Flickr pool or just post it on Twitter.
Let’s get you guys prepped to celebrate and show your support for Web Standards, let’s get you some blue beanies! Post a comment to this article and let me know why YOU support Web Standards. And do it fast, so I can mail out a blue beanie like the one in the picture to you in time for #BBD12!
If you are around my age and live in germany, especially when you grew up here and watched TV as a kid, you might still remember VIDEODAT, KOMCOM or the legendary “Lallus”. But for sure you’d remember the two Wolfgangs and their thumbs-up together with the legendary bit, that they “always keep as a spare” to the end of every episode of a true cult TV show (in times of superexpensive and rare RAM a “spare bit” to the audience had (a true nerds) talisman character). OMG, these guys have been a part of my life for all my boyhood, and beyond! And I am pretty sure the TV show they do is somehow responsible for what I chose as my profession.
The “WDR Computer Club”…
…is the first german TV show that solely focuses on computer technology – since 1983. I have been only nine years in 1983, but I have lively memories on a whole bunch of epic episodes: KOMCOM, probably the first public mailbox ever. The Acoustic-Coupler-Episode from 1994 (the unit sat in a wooden box). The legendary first episode broadcasted from the CeBit (still the largest and most international IT expo of the world, back these days a huge thing to have that only 100km from my hometown). Boy that has been epic stuff!
Oh yeah, and the Hard-Bit-Rock: back these days Computer Club used a part of each episode to broadcast their deafening acoustic data transmission signal via the TVs audio channel. This way they transferred code in BASICODE format to the audience, who recorded the audio on Datassette and… yeah, you know. Much better than to manually typewrite the code from the Bildschirmtext (BTX) pages of the show. The two hosts simply continued the show by only showing stuff, without talking! Anyway: remember the lobby of computers back these days – now imagine the families faces and daddy and son playing this super distracting sound on high volumes on sunday afternoon in the living room to record it via microphone to a cassette deck… hilarious!
That has not only been a bit distracting for the 1.000.000 (!) audience of that TV show – also for the neighbors. ;oD= And that is why the two Wolfgangs finally took down that audio and invented VIDEODAT, to transfer their BASICODE over the full episode creating a flashing area near the top of the screen, which was captured and recorded to the computer using a simple self-soldered circuit with Photodiodes, taped in front of the TV-screen. Looked a bit like a Videotape-Recorder with a totally misadjusted tracking. Like animated QR-codes, but 15, 20 years ago… just genius stuff – back these days as well as today!
Computer Club 2…
…is the sequel to this success story. Sequel, because some lobotomized idiot at the TV Station WDR decided even against 250.000 people signing petitions, to discontinue one of the oldest and most renowned shows on german television after 23 years and over 400 episodes. That is why the two Wolfgangs and their colleague Heinz Schmitz go ahead on their own. And produce – in their typical, not always 100% modern but even more charming way – via the Internet. Computer Club 2 is also available as a Podcast, as well as Audiodat – a format using Flash to play back visuals keyframed to the podcast, developed by the makers themselves. For sure there is also the classic Video, (whyever) as a download on the CCzwei-Homepage. And of course the TV broadcast via some small and mostly unknown channels, which fortunately also upload the episodes to YouTube. All broadcast channels added, Computer Club 2 is still at an audience of about 300.000 per episode. That’s quite huge for germany, even more when you realize this is all based on donations. Are you going to donate something as well? Thank you!
Long story, short baseline. I have been invited as a guest to Computer Club. No kidding! Actually I even had the honour to be in TWO episodes. I think I will buy a house by the lake and go fishing now – somehow it feels I achieved everything a nerds life has to offer, haha! ;oD=
Wanna take a peek into the show? Fire up your german, and there you go:
Computer Club 2, Episode 94
Featuring an impressive Octocopter with HD Videocam, Wolfgang Rudolph and Heinz Schmitz discussing the modern Web and the necessity of relaunching their (outdated) Homepage, and me allowed to show how Edge Inspect could speed up that process:
Computer Club 2, Episode 93
Featuring a drum computer with world wide training network, Wolfgang Rudolph playing Mandoline and Heinz Schmitz and me taking a look on developing Hybrid-Apps with PhoneGap and PhoneGap Build:
To have that said: recording these episodes has been true fun, and I hope you guys like it. What a privelege – I am really proud to have been part of that once in my life.
Again my deepest gratitude to Heinz Schmitz and Wolfgang Rudolph, has been a true pleasure to join you. Please go ahead with what you’re doing – let this success story exceed it’s 30st year, and beyond. I would love to be part of the show again!