August 15, 2016

Wi-Fi: What Does the Name Mean and How Does it Work? (Part 1 of 5)



WHAT IS Wi-Fi? 

Unless you've spent the last few years inhabiting a cave, you've probably heard the term "Wi-Fi" (or maybe "WiFi", which is an alternate spelling). It's become one of those common "buzzword" expressions, like "cellular", or "mobile", or "social media".

But just exactly how do we define Wi-Fi? We all know what its most basic use is; it allows us to connect to the Internet without having to plug a cable into whatever we're using to connect. 

What the name actually means, where it came from, and how the technology works are things that many people don't fully understand. What we hope to achieve in this series of posts is some enlightenment on these subjects.

Wi-Fi IS NOT AN ACRONYM

The original standard for all wireless capability was developed from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, and was originally published in 1999. The full-blown name for the important part of this standard is "Wireless LAN Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Specifications".

As time went by, it became obvious that there were certain products that wouldn't work with other products. Many times this was because the wireless modem in one device worked differently than the one in the device that it was trying to connect to. This was due to the face that the IEEE had no way to test different manufactures' equipment for compliance with the standards it had published.

So, thus was created a non-profit organization called the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance. It was formed to help ensure that wireless Internet products conform to certain interoperability standards. The idea was to make certain that one company's "box" could talk to another company's "box". 

However, after the Alliance had been in existence for a while, a non-technical issue arose. This was that the name of both the Alliance, and the standard, were considered too long and too clumsy.

Some thought was given to using the initials, WECA, a shortened version of the Alliance's name, but that was only part of the problem.

The bigger problem was that the standard's name had become known as the "IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence". As one founding member of the Alliance commented, "We needed something a little catchier than that". The name just didn't have that "ring" to it to make it memorable. 

So, the Alliance hired a consulting company, called Interbrand, to help them come up with something that was more memorable, and would still be descriptive enough to explain the standard, and the work that the committee was doing. 

The result was the term "Wi-Fi", and the new name for the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance became the Wi-Fi Alliance. Although some members of the Alliance were not sure that this was a good idea, since the name didn't have a specific literal explanation, the consensus was that this satisfied all the requirements. It was easy to spell, easy to remember, and had the potential to become one of the "buzzwords" that populate our conversations today.

NOW THAT WE'VE NAMED IT, HOW DOES IT WORK?

Because of the speed, reliability, and usefulness of Wi-Fi, we sometimes forget there is a single most basic concept to it; a radio frequency signal. (If you're familiar with the OSI computer networking model, this is the "physical layer")

When you get on the other side of all the software, the protocols, the modulation techniques and all the other stuff involved in Wi-Fi, you can boil the whole thing down to the fact that Wi-Fi consists of a series of computer-controlled two-way radios. That might sound almost too simple, but really, within the laws of physics, that's all there is.

Of course, some people will balk at the term "radio" and insist that non-wired data communications should be referred to as "wireless". For right now, just keep in mind that radio waves being sent through the air from one device to another are what allows information to be transferred in a Wi-Fi environment.

Since the real purpose of Wi-Fi was to provide a way to transfer the same type of information that can be sent through a wired network, such as a 100BASE-T Ethernet network, some challenges faced the early developers. 

First off, all the protocols, control codes, and other metadata that a wired network uses had to be put onto the radio signals. Also, all this information had to flow in both directions, that is, to and from each network node. When you include the data itself, this means sending and receiving a lot of information.

In a wired environment, you don't have to constantly turn on and off the radio waves in the devices. With radio communications, this usually has to be done because two radio waves on the same frequency, at the same time, will interfere with each other.

Trouble is, this can be very time-consuming. It can slow data transfer down significantly. In data communications, speed is of the essence.

So, how do you overcome this challenge? What can you do to a radio wave to make it work compatibly with other radio waves right next to it, all around it, or even on its very own frequency?

In Part 2 of our series, we'll explore some of the ways to overcome these issues, and take a look at the history and definitions of the words "wireless" and "radio".




Paul Black is a freelance writer and broadcast engineer in Northern California. He holds a Certified Professional Broadcast Engineer certification from the Society of Broadcast Engineers and an FCC Lifetime General Class Operator License. He is a licensed amateur radio operator (call sign N6BBZ) and has worked for several broadcast companies, including Bonneville Broadcasting, RKO General Broadcasting, and CBS Television. Visit his website at www.paulblackcopy.com

May 2, 2016

Emil Leon Matignon

On April 8th, Clear-Com mourned the loss of  a highly regarded audio engineer, musician, inventor, salesman, and friend - yesterday would have been his 61st birthday. In his 35 years with Clear-Com, he gained much respect from his customers and his colleagues. Here are just a few parting words from those of us at Clear-Com.
Emil Matignon – An Appreciation

By Bob Boster, Clear-Com President              

When I first came to Clear-Com in 2006 as a sales guy I was assigned to sit next to Emil for the first week to learn the products from a system design standpoint and get a feeling for how the business flow worked by listening in on his phone calls.  At that point Emil was doing a split of technical support, sales support, and order entry.  It was a great chance for me to learn the Clear-Com way.

As a former user I had already known a decent amount about how partyline worked overall, but there are some obscure elements that Emil was an excellent teacher on and I felt gratified when he said I was his fastest student to ever pick up on those things (IFB, two-radio interfacing, camera CCU’s). Over the years he would remind me of that and I still feel proud that he called that out.

Emil was a great example of our dedication to customer service and he embodied the Clear-Com focus on making sure we address our customers’ needs personally, with passion, and deep knowledge of how the product is used.  Emil’s example in this regard was not unique, but it certainly was a shining one – everyone who ever worked with him felt that and will carry that example with them into the future.

He was gregarious, inquisitive, sensitive, and full of energizing stories about his various adventures, both professional and otherwise. Over the years Emil was challenged to keep up with our innovations and one of his special qualities was he was as excited to learn something new from his colleagues as he was about teaching them something they might not know yet.  With an eye to the past, Emil was still working on making sure he could take care of business in the present and even looking into the future.

While I personally will miss the sound of his voice coming over the cubicle walls saying ’how’s it going, bud?’ I also know we have done an excellent job in allowing Emil’s example to impact our current support staff and we will strive to make sure our customers are just as passionately supported as they ever were.  Please join me in honoring the passing of a lion of the intercom world.

By Peter Giddings, Clear-Com Vice President of Global Events

Today I was saddened to hear of my dear friend -- in fact, everyone's friend, Emil Matignon's passing. It seems like only yesterday (in fact, some 30 years ago) when our new recruit, Emil, attended his very first NAB. How keen and excited he was to learn from me everything he could about Clear-Com. As the years rolled by, Emil became Clear-Com's "go-to" guy, particularly in so far as partyline was concerned. Came the day when Emil's heart condition became so challenging that he was relegated to the home office, but whilst his heart occasionally did, Emil himself never missed a beat. At our next NAB, we were literally inundated with Emil's global friends, demanding to meet, and thank him for his support.

I have never, before or since, experienced anything like it.

In all of the past decades, I cannot recollect a single day when Emil was less than his always ebullient self. As our friendship grew, we also had music (at an earlier time I played double bass) in common, it pained me that eventually Emil, having initially dabbled at drumming, subsequently performed on his electric bass. A bear hug from Emil upon returning from my business travels, many of these trips taking 5, or even 6, weeks in length, always heralded his desire to vicariously live through me my adventures .... experiences that clearly he would no longer be able to have himself.

I can now clearly see Emil in Eden.Healthy again, with that irresistible ear to ear grin, trading riffs with admiring Charlie Mingus, Yaco Pastorius, John Entwhistle, Ray Brown, and Jethro Tull .

Rest in peace my friend, leavened with some solid grooving.

By Ed Fitzgerald, Clear-Com Director of Customer Satisfaction


Emil was a loving member of our extended Clear-Com family. Customer service savvy, always ready with insightful answers, a smile in his voice and never too busy to help, Emil was the perfect example of how it's done. Never known to give up, he was the customer's best friend. Our family is richer for having known Emil and we will miss his infectious laughter and the gusto he brought to every conversation.

February 16, 2016

The Purpose of Consultants in Audio Industry

CONSULTANT [kuh n-suhl-tnt]: noun: 

A person who gives professional or expert advice

You know how sometimes when you’re dealing with an issue in your life you turn to friends and family for their opinions? Companies often need this reassurance or advice, especially when making tough decisions that may substantially impact their business. Often times clients have an idea of how to solve the problem they are facing, but want assurance that what they’re thinking is correct. Or, in some cases, find a way to develop a more efficient solution. So, they turn to a consultant for their opinion on the situation at hand.

But this isn’t just any opinion
Because consultants often work with many different companies and may have worked through this problem in the past with someone else, they have the great advantage of being able to provide a unique perspective based on what they’ve seen work (or not) before. And given this experience, they can often bring new and innovative ideas or possible challenges to the table that clients probably wouldn’t have been able to see on their own. 

Specialized Skills
Perhaps the most common reason that companies hire consultants is to gain access to a specialized skill set that might not exist in house. Or, there is an extraordinary situation that comes up and it just isn't feasible for a client to create and maintain internal capabilities to address it. By engaging a consulting firm, the client gets direct access to a group of professionals with specific expertise in that particular situation. 

Professional Audio Industry
When looking specifically at the professional audio and visual industry, a consultant provides planning, design and construction services based on direct experience in engineering and operations of theater audio-video, broadcast, recording and broadcast systems for live events. The focus is always on providing innovative and individualized designs tailored to the specific needs and budget of each project. 

Where do the consultants go for help?
If clients go to consultants for help, who do consultants turn to for help? 

  • Forums: Online forums are a great way to post questions to other Consultants or End Users to find solutions or tackle problems with designing and building a system. Examples include: PSW forums, QSC pro audio discussions, Sweetwater Live Sound
  • Organizations and Associations: There are various global organizations and associations that host industry events and seminars that are designed to focus on the latest innovative products, industry trends and networking. Examples include: SVG, AES, NAB, InfoComm, NAMM, IABM
  • Manufacturers: Go directly to the source by learning more about new products from a manufacturer's website, blog, visit them at tradeshows, call their technical support team, or book a training session.
  • Training Sessions/Classes: Training sessions are also available via third party training classes or panel sessions that are geared toward industry trends, specific markets, or developing technologies.
  • Other Consultants: When in doubt, ask your peers!

How does Clear-Com help Consultants?
Clear-Com has always supported our consultant clients throughout our 45 years of business and continues to offer specialized services to our consultants. Clear-Com has a secured Consultant Portal where Consultants can get access to helpful tools, such as Visio and AutoCAD Stencils, A&E Specs, System Design Examples, and so much more. For specific questions, Consultants can search our Solution Finder to find a quick solution. If Consultants still have questions, they can submit a Support Request that goes directly to our global Technical Support teams  who can offer help when they really need it.