SmartThings & Samsung

SmartThings announced (on their WP-powered blog) that they’re joining forces with Samsung to continue working on their mission of becoming an operating system for your home. I’m both an investor and a fan of the company, which I even let take over my home in SF earlier this year for CNN. As a tinkerer most of what I do with SmartThings so far is relatively basic, I feel like it’s still the very early days of the platform and what’s going to come down the line. Samsung makes so much technology (and appliances, and TVs, and…) I can’t wait to see how they open it up and connect. I also wanted to take this opportunity to congratulate other Audrey companies Divide which joined Google and Creative Market which joined Autodesk earlier in 2014. I wasn’t as good about blogging before and didn’t get a chance to publicly congratulate those teams.

  1. Understand what people need.
  2. Address the whole experience, from start to finish.
  3. Make it simple and intuitive.
  4. Build the service using agile and iterative practices.
  5. Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery.
  6. Assign one leader and hold that person accountable.
  7. Bring in experienced teams.
  8. Choose a modern technology stack.
  9. Deploy in a flexible hosting environment.
  10. Automate testing and deployments.
  11. Manage security and privacy through reusable processes.
  12. Use data to drive decisions.
  13. Default to open.

That sounds like a list anyone creating something online should follow. Would you guess it’s actually from the US government Digital Services Playbook? Great work by Steven VanRoekel and his team, which I had the pleasure of meeting last time I was in DC. Hat tip: Anil Dash.


Exploring Ubiquiti

I was looking for something else when I stumbled across a little $95 router that claimed it could do 1M packets per second, multi-WAN, was tiny, and had 80 5-star reviews. Huh? The reviews had some left-handed compliments (“for advanced users only”) but one mentioned getting hooked on the company’s other products as well. Next thing I know I’m looking at a $67 access point that has everyone raving about its range and extensibility. These things were too cheap — my assumption was it was a Chinese OEM like Zyxel that makes novel but ultimately not the best quality products.

At this point I should confess I’m a bit of a consumer networking geek — it’s a hobby of mine. I really enjoy upgrading people’s routers so they have better range in parts of the house they didn’t before, getting them a DOCSIS 3.0 modem so their connection is faster (and buying it so they don’t pay an exorbitant rental fee to their cable company), everything about Sonos, hooking up an Airport Express to Sonos so you can Airplay things, showing how you can set up two APs with the same SSID and clients will just connect to whatever they’re closest to, you don’t need each one to have a unique SSID, you can give the 2.4ghz and 5ghz networks the same SSID, Time Machine for backups, setting up failover internet with multiple connections or a USB LTE stick… I redo all my home stuff about once every 18 months, and then take the best of what I’ve learned and set up friends. I’m constantly updating firmware. My current best practice setup is Sonos for all audio, usually streaming from Spotify or SiriusXM, a Peplink Balance One router, Netgear Nighthawk R9000 access points (though I liked the ASUS AC66U just as much), if I need a switch I’ll go for a higher-end managed one that support spanning tree protocol (STP) properly because otherwise the way the Sonos does bridging can spaz out and overload your network, Nest themostat and smoke detectors, Smartthings for everything else. I’m waiting for August for smart locks.

At the Automattic office we run Meraki, which was pretty solid until we upgraded to the MR34 to get 802.11AC, but it’s expensive, and you need to subscribe to a per-device yearly license fee for everything to work. They also have a great WP-powered blog, and generally the cleanest site of anyone out there. That said, they’re impossible to buy without going through a terrible reseller, so I’ve never been able to justify using it at home.

Back to Ubiquiti. First I come across their forums/community sites, which are ugly and sprawling and full of amazing info from people who do wireless deployments across all of the top companies like Aruba, Ruckus, Aerohive, Xirrus, Meraki. You see people making builds for alternative UPNP packages and that going into their core release months later. (Everything is Debian based, from what I can tell.) The company is based in San Jose that went public a few years ago, and is now worth about 3.7B, and the founder (formerly of Apple) bought the Memphis Grizzlies. They seem to have gotten their start with long-haul point-to-point wireless radios that can go dozens of kilometers, which makes sense why their APs would be known for their range. You can buy direct from them, or like I mentioned most of their stuff is available on Amazon. And it’s inexpensive! Even Ubiquiti’s AC product, which is $300, is much, much cheaper than the Meraki MR34 which costs $1,400 and requires a yearly license or it stops working.

Plus they make these wonderfully cheesy product promo videos:

Normally I wouldn’t post about something until I’ve tried it in-person, but I was excited to find this whole new (to me) world of high-performance, reasonable-cost devices. John Pozazidides, long-time WP community member, did an overview of the Unifi devices on Youtube. At Automattic our once-a-year grand meetup is coming up in Utah, and every year wireless is an issue, especially the first day or two. I ordered some of the Ubiquiti equipment to test when I’m in Houston next week, looking forward to playing around with it.

Any readers with experience with any of these or big WLAN deployments?