Category Archives: Network

Keep Prying Eyes Away with the InvizBox 2



Perhaps I’m just old and suspicious, but I’m increasingly concerned about the personal information that I give away to companies like Google and Facebook for their services. I’ve had enough of being the product. As for the information gathered surreptitiously by third parties, such as ISPs and government agencies, I’ve had enough of snooping and I don’t accept that if I’ve nothing to fear, I’ve nothing to hide. It’s simply none of their business.

Consequently, I’m working on a couple of strategies to mitigate my exposure, including some fake personas for simple things like compulsory registrations. While I’m not a social media superstar, I’m present on most social media platforms and it’ll take time to balance out the public and private. Fortunately in the UK, it’s not illegal to take a new identity unless the intention is criminal (so I’m told).

On a more practical side, I’ve already signed up for protonmail.com to secure my email correspondence and I’m going to move away from the big name providers in a gradual process. The other area of interest is VPNs and for those who aren’t in the know, a VPN is a Virtual Private Network. It hides your activity from the owner or maintainer of any local network connection – think of it as an opaque pipe within a transparent tube – so it’s good for protecting against both nosy ISPs wanting to sell your browsing history, and defending against nefarious activity on public wifi hotspots.

I’ve been tinkering with some of the software-based VPNs both for both mobile and home use as my ISP provided-modem/router doesn’t have any VPN capability. Software solutions are fine if you have one or two devices, but when you’ve umpteen tablets and laptops in the house, it’s a pain.

An alternative is a dedicated VPN hardware solution and this Kickstarter campaign from InvizBox caught my eye. Simply, the InvizBox 2 is a wireless access point that connects to your home router, and then encrypts all the traffic over a VPN (or the Tor network). There’s no need for individual configuration as everything that connects to the access point benefits from the VPN. Your local ISP is then completely unable to track your activities and sell them on. Even better, the ISP can’t throttle your traffic based on type of use, or use of competing services.

Obviously these are benefits enjoyed by all VPNs, but as a neat hardware package, the InvizBox 2 looks attractive. Other features on the InvizBox 2 include ad blocking and parental controls. The latter is useful as the VPN will bypass any controls implemented on your router or by your ISP, so you might need to defend against inquisitive teens. You can get round geo-blocking too – that’s where you can’t see some content because you are visiting from the wrong country. As with most VPNs, a regular subscription is required (allow around US$5 / €5 per month) but there are some deals there too.

The standard InvizBox 2 is currently at €109 and the Pro is €149 if you get in quick, both with a year of VPN service. Other deals are available and delivery is expected in April next year. The team has already hit their goal of €50,000 and there’s still a week to go, so the project is going to be funded. As background, the InvizBox team are based in Dublin, Ireland and have a track record of delivery from previous Kickstarters, so there’s a good level of confidence. However, as with all Kickstarter campaigns, consider yourself a patron rather than a customer until the product is in your hands.

I might actually plonk down some cash for this….


Devolo GigaGate Delivers Speed for Gaming and 4K



Here’s the problem….your broadband connection comes into the front of the house and your games room is at the back of the house. The free wifi router from the telco is rubbish and struggles with Netflix, never mind playing online gaming with the PS4. And the Bluray player needs a cabled connection. What are you going to do?

On solution might be to look at Devolo’s brand spanking new GigaGate Wireless Bridge which sets up a point-to-point 11ac WiFi connection and delivers gigabit-level performance. It’s fast. Very fast. Over about ten metres through one brick wall I had a connection speed of over 1 Gb/s in both directions.

The GigaGate has two units, one a base station which connects into your router via a cable, and a satellite station for the games room. The satellite offers five Ethernet ports and an 11n WiFi access point for connectivity. One of the LAN ports is gigabit and the other four are fast Ethernet (100 Mb/s). The GigaGate starter kit is a bit like Noah’s Ark – there are two units, two power suppliers and two network cables. Devolo recommends using their cables to ensure gigabit-level performance.

Getting started couldn’t be any simpler as the GigaGate bridge is configured out of the box. Connect the base station to the router, put the satellite next to the consoles and power up both units. Wait about twenty seconds for the lights to stop flashing and job done! It’s nearly idiot proof.

The base and satellite stations are shiny and black with white LEDs. As you’ll see from the pictures, they’re total dust magnets. Network ports are round the back and there are neat little feet which flip out to stand them up. The stations can be wall-mounted through the holes in the four corners, though I didn’t investigate this.

Devolo’s Cockpit app for PCs has been updated to include the GigaGate along with the dLAN powerline network units. The equivalent My Devolo app on Android doesn’t yet show the bridge though I’m sure it’s coming. Of course, both the base and satellite stations have a web interfaces, so it’s easy to log on for monitoring or configuration.

The interfaces are slightly different between the base and satellite stations. The base station can only communicate with satellite stations and the interface reflects that, showing information relating to the 5 GHz 11ac bridge. There’s only one network port too, though it is possible to connect eight satellite stations to one base station. This makes the GigaGate ideal for sending a broadband connection to outhouses – perhaps you have a garden office that’s currently supplied by a weak WiFi connection.

The satellite station offers more. While it can show the state of the bridge, the connection follows from the base. On the other hand, the base has five LAN ports plus an 11n WiFi connection which is configured here.

Frankly the best bit is checking on the Bridge Monitor to see the connection speeds between the two stations. Yes, that’s 1170 Mb/s. Most of the time, the Rx and Tx data rates were symmetrical. Occasionally they would become slightly asymmetrical but it never lasted long. Obviously YMMV when factors like building construction and WiFi congestion are taking into account.

The speed and capacity was impressive. To test the load I connected up via cable an HDTV, a gaming console, a laptop and two tablets via WiFi. None of the devices had any problems streaming video from a combination of sources (Sky Q, NAS, Netflix).

Any downsides? Well, when I first powered up the GigaGate, I found that on the default 5 GHz channel (36), the bridge seemed to stop the Hue lights in the room working. It’s slightly odd because ZigBee uses 2.4 GHz but moving the bridge to a higher channel (over 100) stopped the interference. I also found that occasionally the bridge channel would wander from the selected setting. Devolo support suggested that this would happen if there was interference on the channel.

Just as a point to note, the WiFi controls on the GigaGate aren’t as advanced as you might find on the Devolo’s dLAN powerline networking adaptors. Those offer features like guest connections and time settings which are missing from the GigaGate so don’t expect to see them on the satellite.

While talking about powerline networking, when would you use one over the other? Powerline networking would be better if, say, you lived in a building with really thick concrete walls and floors which interfere with the WiFi signal. On the other hand, powerline networking doesn’t work well (or at all) unless there is a single electrical circuit: I have this problem in my property which has been extended as there’s now two circuits and powerline networking doesn’t work well across them.

Overall, in a couple of week’s of testing, the GigaGate performed amazingly well. It’s fast and reliable but I’m not going to pretend that the GigaGate is cheap. It’s not, though it does compare favourably with competing solutions. The starter kit has an official price of GB£220 and an additional satellite station is GB£130. On the other hand it’s really good, and if you want proof, I ditched Sky’s much vaunted Sky Q network mesh in favour of the GigaGate and never looked back.

Unboxing video below.

Thanks to Devolo for supplying the GigaGate Wireless Bridge for review.


Bitdefender BOX Protects the Smart Home at CES



With the arrival of the Internet of Things, installing antivirus software on a PC isn’t going address malware lurking on a smart home control unit. A different approach is needed and Bitdefender’s BOX might be the solution. Dan talks to Todd about what Box offers over traditional security products.

The Bitdefender Box is a small hardware device which is connected into a free port on the main router – it’s similar in size to the control units for SmartThings or Hue. Once configured via Bitdefender’s Central Account or the companion smartphone app, it monitors the network traffic for suspicious activity. Box provides several layers of security over and above standard antivirus with everything from URL filtering to anomaly detection.

Bitdefender Box is available now for US$129 in the first year, with an annual subscription of $99. The next gen Box is expected in the summer, priced at $199. Box is currently only available in the USA.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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Devolo dLAN 550+ WiFi Mini Review



Devolo LogoBack in June I reviewed the Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi Starter Kit and this time round, I’m looking at the “plus” version of the same kit. What makes it a 550+? Simply that the WiFi adaptor is now bigger and has a power socket pass thru. Let’s take a mini look…

Devolo dLAN 550+ WiFi Starter Kit

As the Starter Kit is broadly the same as last time out, I’m not going to be doing a full review. If you want to see screenshots of the setup procedure, Devolo’s handy desktop software or smartphone app, I suggest you take a look at my original write-up. All I’ll say in this review is that the 550+ WiFi works just as well in terms of setup. The adaptors are paired out of the box so getting started is simply a case of plugging them into power sockets and then connecting a network cable from a neighbouring router or switch. The wireless access point can be then be configured remotely. It’s easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy!

Devolo dLAN 550+ WiFi Starter Kit

There’s no real technical change between the 550 and and 550+ WiFi units. Both provide 11n WiFi at 300 Mb/s, whereas the previous generation 500 only transmitted at 150 Mb/s; the upgrade comes from 2×2 antennas which boosts both the rate and Devolo 550 WiFithe range with the 550s. Additionally, the transmission range across the electrical wiring is increased to 400m through the use of all three conductors (live, neutral and earth).

The main change is that the new 550+ WiFi is a bigger adaptor with the same rectangular form factor as the non-WiFi units, including a pass-thru. The picture on the left shows the old adaptor, which was smaller and squarer. My only gripe with Devolo is that the newer adaptors have the network cable coming out the top, rather than below.

Looking at the prices, the RRP of the 550+ WiFi Starter Kit is GB£109.99 whereas the 550 WiFi Starter Kit is ten pounds less at GB£99.99. Both kits do the same job, so if there’s no need for a pass-thru or a smaller unit is preferred, go for the cheaper one. If a pass thru is needed, take the 550+. As an aside, if speed or 11ac is needed, check out the 1200+ WiFi Starter Kit at GB£159.99.

For more detail there’s an unboxing of the Devolo dLAN 550+ WiFi Starter Kit below.

Thanks to Devolo for providing the dLAN 550+ WiFi Starter Kit for review.


Topop USB C to 3x USB A and LAN Adapter Review



The physical USB type A interface connector seems to have been around forever and to be fair, it’s had an impressive lifespan starting with USB 1.0 back in 1996. Since then, the communication standard has been updated several times and the connector is still very relevant with USB 3.1 which now sports transfer speeds of up to 10 Gb/s.

USB type C is the latest connector design providing high speed data comms in a neat reversible design. So neat that a couple of manufacturers have ultraportables with a single USB C port. No USB A, no ethernet, no video. Looks great but a pain in the port if there’s a pile of cables to plug in. Accessory makers have stepped in to address the problem and here we have the Topop USB C to three USB A 3.1 ports and RJ45 Gigabit LAN adapter.

As the unboxing video shows, the adapter arrives in plain packaging and it’s a fairly functional device: this isn’t brushed metal milled from a single block of aluminium to complement the MacBook. It’s a sturdy matte black plastic . In terms of ports, there are three USB 3.1 type A ports on the top and a Gigabit network port on the far end. A short cable terminates in a USB C plug.

Topop USB C Adapter Topop USB C Adapter

Having three USB A ports and a network port is very useful on these minimalist devices. Who has a USB C memory stick? And there are always wireless dead-spots. The Topop adapter gets out of these predicaments.

However, I discovered quite quickly that the presence of a USB C socket on a device does not guarantee functionality, so check compatibility on the website and assume that the adapter only works with phones, tablets and laptops mentioned. Believe me, it doesn’t work with the OnePlus 2, 3 or Google Pixel C, but find a device that is compatible (Apple Macbook, Google Pixel Chromebook) and the adapter will work fine.

Topop USB C Adapter Topop USB C Adapter

Priced just under GB£20, the adapter’s in the right price bracket for the features that it offers. There’s no doubt that the Topop is a handy gadget to throw in a bag for occasional use, though if I was looking for a dock-lite on my desk, I think I would pay more for a better match to my laptop. Of course, your aesthetic requirements may differ.

Thanks to GoldenSwing for providing the Topop USB C to USB A 3.1 and Gigabit LAN adapter.


Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi Starter Kit Review



Devolo LogoDevolo’s recent expansion into smart homes and home automation doesn’t mean that they’ve been neglecting their powerline network business. After upping their game with their top-of-the-line dLAN 1200 series, they’ve turned their attention to the mid-range, refreshing the design and boosting speeds. The new dLAN 550 series updates the dLAN 500s, offering greater in-house range and faster WiFi transmission rates. For those unaware of powerline networking, it’s a system that uses electrical wiring to carry network data, with ethernet-to-power adaptors where networking is required. Devolo kindly supplied me with a dLAN 550 WiFi Starter Kit to check out. Let’s take a look.

Devolo 550 Starter Kit Box

The box is Devolo’s usual fare, with a printed outer box and a plain cardboard inner box. In the box there are two powerline adaptors, one 550 Duo+ and one 550 WiFi. There’s also a white network cable, instructions and a couple of flimsies on “conformity”. The new style Duo+ is roughly twice the size of the WiFi unit, extending upwards from the UK-style power plug. The unit has twin network ports on the top and power pass through. There’s a small button on one side and a single white LED above the power socket. As for the more compact WiFi unit, it’s had a design refresh too, with a single ethernet port on the bottom, and two round buttons on the front which double up as indicator LEDs.

Devolo 550 Starter Kit

Getting going is easy. Plug the Duo+ into a power socket near a router and connect both of them with an ethernet cable. Plug the WiFi adaptor into a socket where additional wireless coverage is need. The two adaptors are paired out of the box and a few seconds after plugging in the units, the white LEDs will stop flashing and go solid. If the adaptors need to be paired (or added into an existing powerline network), it’s simply a case of pressing the pair button on both devices for a few seconds and they’ll sync up.

Devolo 550 Starter Kit Side View

To setup the WiFi, there’s a couple of options. Devolo have desktop app, Cockpit, for Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X and Ubuntu Linux which can be downloaded from Devolo. This provides a graphical representation of the dLAN network which clicks through to individual adaptors. The application finds everything automatically and can check that all the adaptors are running the latest versions of their respective firmware, upgrading as necessary. I take some of the data transmission speeds with a pinch of salt, and rely on “bigger is better”.

Devolo Cockpit

There’s a mobile version of Cockpit available from Apple’s App Store and Google Play, called “My Devolo”. It’s not as graphical as the full software but it’s still feature rich, allowing access to a wide range of device features. Here’s detail for the 550 WiFi.

Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi  Devolo dLAN 550 details  Devolo dLAN 550 features

Devolo 550 WiFi wirelessIn the app, the wifi network can be configured as preferred with SSID, passphrase, channel, mode and encryption standard. Everything expected of a wireless access point. Aside from the wireless settings, there are sections for parental controls, guest access and MAC address filtering and WPS features.

The 550 WiFi is an 11n device working in the 2.4 GHz frequencies. It’s not 11ac 5GHz, but the 550 boosts transmission rates to 300 Mb/s over the 500’s lower 150 Mb/s by using 2×2 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology. Obviously, the laptop or tablet has to support the faster wireless rate and while the base data rate may have doubled, actual data transfer won’t. A quick bit of testing suggests that a real-world increase of around 50%-60% is realistic under good conditions. YMMV.

Returning to the Duo+, the adaptor uses all three electrical cables (live, neutral and earth) for networking, which increases performance and range by a third from a notional maximum of 300m to 400m, though this will be affected by local circumstances. My house isn’t big enough to test this, so we’ll just have to trust Devolo on this one.

The dLAN 550 WiFi is now available online and in stores. The Starter Kit costs GB£99.99 and consists of a dLAN 550 WiFi and an additional dLAN 550 duo+ adapter. A Network Kit with three adapters (two 550 dLAN WiFi adapters and one dLAN 550 duo+) is available for £149.99, while single adapters for extending the WiFi network are available for £59.99.

Thanks to Devolo for the 550 WiFi Starter Kit for review.


Devolo dLAN 550 Doubles WiFi



Devolo LogoPowerline specialists Devolo have given their mid-range adaptors a makeover, boosting speeds and updating the styling in line with the top-end models. The new dLAN 550 series takes over from the 500s, offering greater in-house range and faster WiFi transmission rates.

dLAN 550 WiFiThere are two powerline adaptors in the 550 series, the Duo+ and the WiFi. As might be guessed, the Duo+ is the wired version and WiFi is the one with wireless. The wired range has been boosted by a third from a notional maximum of 300m to 400m, though this will be affected by local circumstances.

The most noticeable change is likely to be with the WiFi unit. The wireless speed has been doubled, going from 150 Mb/s in the old 500 to 300 Mb/s in the new 550, courtesy of 2×2 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology.

550 adaptors can easily be added into an existing dLAN powerline setup either using the Cockpit software or simply pressing buttons on the adaptors. Further, Devolo’s WiFi clone feature can reproduce an existing wireless network so that laptops and tablets see only one network and seamlessly switch to the strongest signal.

The dLAN 550 WiFi is now available online and in stores. The Starter Kit costs GB£99.99 and consists of a dLAN 550 WiFi and an additional dLAN 550 duo+ adapter. A Network Kit with three adapters (two 550 dLAN WiFi adapters and one dLAN 550 duo+) is available for £149.99, while single adapters for extending the WiFi network are available for £59.99.

GNC will be having a hands-on review of the dLAN 550 Starter Kit shortly.


Devolo Boosts Speed By 20% For dLAN 1200+



Devolo LogoGood news if you are a Devolo powerline user with dLAN 1200+ products in your home…Devolo have announced a new free firmware update which gives a 20% bandwidth boost. The firmware will be available shortly for installation and owners can either use Devolo’s Cockpit app, the web interface or firmware updater software from Devolo.

Cockpit App

I have a four adaptor setup at home, with a pair of dLAN 1200+ units and a couple of older 500 and 200 dLAN adaptors. I used the Windows Cockpit app and simply hit “Updates”. The Cockpit software detected that a couple of my adaptors needed firmware updates, which it kindly installed automatically.

Devolo Update             Devolo Updated

In addition to the speed boost, the dLAN 1200+ series adaptors display a red LED light to indicate where a poor connection is present. This light had previously been set to trigger at 8 Mb/s but will now trigger at the 20 Mb/s to reflect the increased speed requirements of a modern home. If you don’t like the LEDs, they can be turned off too.

I haven’t tried any LAN speed tests to confirm performance improvements, though Netflix streams as well as it ever did. Go get it.


Smart Home Help from Powerline Networking



Samsung SmartThings LogoNearly all smart home systems have a controlling hub which typically requires a cabled network connection as the hub itself has a number of wireless transmitters such as ZigBee, Z-wave or Bluetooth to control the smart devices round the home.

Given that the best location for the smart hub is in the centre of a house for maximum coverage, this presents difficulties as few properties will have a network point at just the right location. However, there’s a fairly good chance that there will be a power outlet near the location and this can be used for network connectivity using powerline networking aka HomePlug.

The video below shows how I connected up my Samsung SmartThings hub using powerline networking from Devolo.


Take Control with the Netduma R1 Router



British Inventors ProjectThese days it’s not unusual for a household to be consume considerable amounts of bandwidth. Someone can be gaming, someone can be streaming an HD movie and and someone else can be on a video call. Who’s hogging the broadband? Who takes priority? The Netduma R1 router answers these questions and takes control back with easy-to-use software for gamers and demanding families.

Netduma R1

On show at the Gadget Show Live as part of the British Inventors’ Project, the Netduma R1 sits between the cable modem and the rest of the network. It provides a raft of features for gamers including geo-filtering, anti-flood, player & server denial and ping stats. For bandwidth hogging households, there’s graphical network monitoring and device prioritisation. Everything can be done via web-based interface and no technical knowledge is needed; to prioritise one device over another, simply drag the device out.

Netduma Control Software

Speaking to the Netduma team after the interview, I was impressed at what they have managed to achieve. I’m not a gamer but some of their plans for family-friendly enhancements sounded really interesting. Priced at £149 / $199 it’s not cheap but for gamers it’s definitely worth having a look.