Ted on Tech: Let’s make a mesh

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Last year I discussed mesh networks as an alternative to a standard network router and access points; and earlier this year, I wrote a column on technology for project management in the accounting office. Things change quickly in the tech world, and I wanted to give you an update on the two topics.

At the time I wrote the column on mesh networks, I was waiting for an Orbi Pro review unit from Netgear to try out. In the interim, I’ve also tested Linksys’ Velop mesh networking equipment. Both use a similar approach. Tri-band routers are becoming more common, and mesh networking uses a bit of a different approach than the standard router with access points and range extenders that many of you are familiar with or are currently using. Both the Orbi Pro (there’s a less expensive model targeted at the consumer market that I didn’t look at) and the Velop system have multiple units consisting of the master router and satellite units. The satellites are conceptually a bit like access points, but rather than being hardwired into the network through an Ethernet drop, are connected to the master and each other by a dedicated wireless backbone channel. The vendors’ websites explain the principles in more detail if you are interested.

The bottom line is that you can get extensive area coverage with better bandwidth and support for many wireless devices connected via the mesh. The Netgear Orbi Pro sells for a bit under $700 for the three pack (the master and two satellites) which the vendor says can provide coverage for 7,500 square feet. A consumer version of the Orbi system is considerably less expensive but also doesn’t provide the level of administrative control over the network that you may want in your office. The Linksys Velop system is less expensive, priced at less than $430 on Amazon at the time this is being written. But it’s more consumer and small-office oriented with more limited administrative control, though you can set up guest access to limit what a user can do and access. And while both vendors’ devices have Ethernet ports that you can attach wired devices to, the Netgear model has four ports on each unit, and the Linksys has two per unit.

I enlisted help in testing the Orbi Pro from my brother, who lives in Mexico, while I tested the Velop. The reason for my far-flung testing of the Netgear units is that the construction of my brother’s home presents some real challenges to wireless networking. His home is constructed of concrete and rebar, which is a common construction technique in the area, and the rebar and steel inter-level supports really make it difficult to get a good wireless connection in most of his house. My house, on the other hand, is made of wood, and my prior setup, with a Netgear NightHawk router and a range extender upstairs, has worked pretty well for the past several years.

The bottom line is while my brother had to experiment with placement of the devices on the two floors of his home, he was able to get a good signal throughout the house. My house, with the Velop mesh network, worked equally well. And I could have easily gotten away with just two units in my 3,100 square foot home. The mesh networks form both vendors were equally simple to set up and get going.

Initially, I was going to measure throughput of the two networks, but I realized something. Your actual performance is going to be comprised of two factors. Within the constraints of just the network, the bandwidth and throughput will affect performance. But my measured performance is probably not going to be the same as yours — the environment is going to have a large effect on actual throughput.

The other factor, Internet use, is constrained by the limit of your connection to the internet. My brother has pretty slow DSL where he lives. On the other hand, I have fiber-optic Fios, which while it promises near gigabit speeds, actually delivers about half of that (which is still very fast). So, the bottom line is that my brother has slow Internet and streaming, but he has it at the same level all over his house. I have similar coverage with Velop, but whether I’m connected through the Velop mesh or hard-wired Ethernet drop, my Internet speed is pretty much the same, around 550 mbs.

We are both pretty happy with the different vendor’s equipment. In a larger office, I probably would go for the Netgear Orbi Pro. I like the ability to provide three levels of accessibility. For a small or home office, though, I’d go for the Linksys Velop or the consumer version of Orbi. But I either case, I doubt whether I’ll go back to the router/access point or range extender wireless that I had previously.

More on Gantt and project management

Another, more recent discussion mentioned project management and how Gantt Charts fit into the methodology. It wasn’t meant as a tutorial, but if you are interested in following up on this for your scheduling and project management needs, and don’t want to make an expensive investment in Microsoft Project or a similar application, I found what looks like a good resource.

Recently, I stumbled on a web site that has a really good variety of Excel spreadsheet applications. These are nicely done, internally documented, and some are even free for the downloading including a nicely implemented basic Gantt Chart sheet. While I haven’t used this personally, I pointed it out to an associate that has to do project planning, and he’s really happy with it. A “Pro” version is available for the ridiculously low price of $35, and includes great additions, including scheduling, and Critical Path calculations. There are extensive spreadsheets in other areas as well including useful forms, budgeting templates, numerous financial calculators, and a host of others. Some are free, some are not, but it’s certainly worth your time to take a look. The site is Vertex42.com, and it looks like it might be a really useful resource, but to be truthful, I’m not sure I have the expertise in Excel to make a real judgement. But even if you’re not in the market for new templates, the site has a blog with some very helpful tips and Excel techniques. And if you use Google Sheets, most, if not all, of these templates will work with that application as well as with Excel.

Give it a look, and if you try out some of the templates and/or techniques and tips, let me know what you think. And if I learn more in the meantime, I’ll let you know here.

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