Last week, I was at the Interop Labs working with the VoIP Security and Integration initiative. Before arriving, we set two major tasks for ourselves. One is to look at how VoIP interacts with security products (particularly in light of the counter-intuitive SSL VPN call quality improvements that were observed recently). The second, and much more interesting objective from my perspective, is to look at how much 802.11 phones have improved in security and quality of service from a year ago.
The first task we had was to collect the equipment in a warehouse in Belmont, California for the “hot stage.” We try our best to set everything up about a month before Interop moves into the convention space in Las Vegas. The warehouse is overrun by network engineers, many of whom have new (or even pre-announced) products to use in one of the most demanding networking environments anywhere.
The iLabs are a chaotic environment, even more so than most networks. (With so many super-talented network engineers, it’s common to find troubleshooting changes and network re-design happening simultaneously.) By mid-week, the best intentions in cable control had succumbed to rapid troubleshooting, and our rack of equipment looked like it had a mutant blue octopus attached to it. In addition to PCs running VMware for our virtualization needs, we’d lined up participation from several security products designed for voice as well as a few wireless infrastructure solutions.
My interests are on the voice on 802.11 side of the iLabs. I was able to assemble a pretty good group of phones, even if it was not as extensive as I would have liked (”one of everything, please!”). Before I could have any fun with wireless phone testing, I had to charge all the batteries, which means accommodating all the wall warts and creating another tangle of cable. On the right side of the picture below, there are four phones from Spectralink, easily the most generous supporter. Having multiple phones makes it easy to compare two identical hardware platforms and see what difference a particular software feature or protocol feature makes. We also had two F1000 phones from UT Starcom. (The F1000 is commonly used by VoIP providers; I’m pretty sure the Vonage 802.11 phone is an F1000.) Rounding it out, we had the two PocketPC-based phones from Symbol, and the surprise of the event, the Unex WP2 (the white phone with the red light in the middle of the picture).
(I’d also like to thank folks who brought interesting product to hook up to our interoperability testbed, but declined to be on public display at Interop. I have seen parts of the future, and it is darn cool if you plan to do voice on 802.11.)
Once all the phones were charged up, it was time for me to get to work. Here I am at the keyboard with the then-current network map (we went through twelve revisions) trying to get the Unex WP2 talking to a Cisco 7940 desk phone. (You might also notice a napkin in the foreground with bit patterns on it, which was part of my scribblings when figuring out quality of service mappings.)
Success! I even managed to get caller ID working. I can’t remember quite when I first got the phone call running, but the timestamp in the phone’s LCD panel is 9:45 pm.
Once things started to work, momentum built as we were able to test many different security protocols. Last year, phones were devices supporting classic old-school manual WEP keys. This year, you get your pick from a whole host of different security protocols. We were also able to investigate how Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM) voice prioritization affected voice quality in the presence of moderate traffic.
The real test comes when the racks get off the truck in Las Vegas and into the crucible of the show floor. Last year, the radio space on the floor was fully utilized; I expect the same to be true this coming year. It will be very interesting to see how well WMM works on the floor. Watch this space for updates during Interop.