How to find consumer network gear that rocks

Over the past few years, we've seen consumer networking products get really cheap. While cheap in a currency sense is great, we're unfortunately left experiencing the same of product quality (usually while grimacing at the "getting started" manual). Consumer networking gear has been on a race to the bottom. Okay, maybe that sounds a bit harsh, but read on and I'll try to clear up what I mean and what the core networking team in Windows is doing about it.

As with most software, age becomes apparent as new usage scenarios arise. when you made that $35 wireless router purchase, your goal was probably living room web surfing from the new laptop without stringing a wire across the room. Many millions around the world had this same goal, and both network equipment providers (NEPs) and retail heard the calling. Products were built to address your scenario and all the hardware and software shortcuts cuts were made to meet a critical mass price point. This race to the bottom by all NEPs is evident by the considerable retail shelving space occupied by these products.

It took a few years to reach such a critical mass; however, as fate would have it, during this maturation phase new usage scenarios surfaced that exercise severe weaknesses in the many cheap networking products. Windows Vista is a prime example given the next-generation networking stack and focus on digital media experiences (such as live and recorded streaming of HDTV) through Media Center and Media Center Extenders including Xbox 360. Windows Vista unlocks many new experiences that cheap consumer networking gear degrades or sometimes completely inhibits.

A need existed to drastically improve the consumer network equipment ecosystem to ensure premium Vista scenarios are enabled as effortlessly as living room web surfing. This significant effort by many teams within core Windows networking, Xbox, and eHome (who bring you Media Center & Media Center Extender) resulted in a Certified for Windows Vista logo that is backed by strict requirements and a full suite of validation tests to ensure the highest product quality.

Considering that network QoS is dear to my heart, in the next few days I'll post about how we test these premium products for QoS support. In the mean time, you'll get a head start by reading this whitepaper from the Windows Rally website which details (at a high level) the requirements for receiving a Certified for Windows Vista logo.

This effort represents much more than a marketing spin (otherwise I wouldn't be so energized by it). If you are looking for consumer network gear that rocks, make sure the product sports this logo.

I'm eager to hear what you think and to answer any questions you have.

- Gabe Frost

Comments (11)

  1. rsclient says:

    Since fundimentally a wireless networks takes bits from one place, and transports them to another, and since the "cheap" network things obviously do this….what exactly are they not doing that they should be doing?

    As a programmer, is there any way that I can tell one bit of hardward from another, quality wise?  Is there any way that I can show my boss or customers that more expensive equipment will actually make a difference?



  2. wndpteam says:

    Great question Peter.

    An example is high bitrate, non-elastic data such as video streaming. This type of traffic is almost always UDP, and as such, pushes a wireless AP close to (or over) its limits. Most elastic bandwidth apps (like email, browsing, etc.) use TCP and therefore absorb the APs packet loss, poor queueing behavior, or myriad other bugs via transport built-in congestion control. Video, voice, etc. cannot absorb such transient issues (without a degraded experience). I’ll spend a number of future posts going into detail about many of the requirements and reasons/scenarios why they are important. Hopefully these subsequent posts will clear up any questions you have. I also encourage you to read the whitepaper I linked to.

    As for cost, the goal of this logo is not to push higher priced gear onto consumers. There are a bunch of high priced products on shelves today that do not meet our requirements. Our goal is to raise the ecosystem bar to support premium scenarios, while at the same time reducing cost. It will take time, but we’ll get there.

    I love that you are asking for a way to prove these products do make a difference. We’re working on that and hopefully I’ll be able to discuss it more in the comming months.

    Keep the great questions comming!

    – Gabe

  3. rsclient says:

    So…in terms of the questions I actually answered, it looks like the answer is, "marketing blather".

    The white paper mentions only two interesting things: the ability of the network adapter to handle 22 mbps for a subtantial amount of time, and a requirement that the error rate be less than 1%.

    1. What percent of mass-market network gear fails these two tests?

    2. How do I determine the percent of errors on a per-adapter basis?  It’s easy to get the overall network stats (thank you, GetUdpStatistics()), but how do I get them just for the wirelss adapter.

  4. rsclient says:

    So ya’ll don’t have any actual data when you say there are issues with consumer wireless?

  5. wndpteam says:

    We have *lots* of data that support the requirements placed on these logod devices. I took a gander at the whitepaper and realized it is really out of date. I’ve asked the Rally team to work with product team owners to update their respective sections. In the mean time, treat any of the requirements posted on this blog as authoritative.

    The requirements reach far beyond the two commented on by (rsclient). I’m working on a post for the QoS requirements, so please be patient. What other areas do you all want to know about? Are the core requirements of interest, or the scenarios that the requirements enable/support?

    – Gabe

  6. rsclient says:

    1. What percent of mass-market network gear fails these two tests?

    2. How do I determine the percent of errors on a per-adapter basis?  It’s easy to get the overall network stats (thank you, GetUdpStatistics()), but how do I get them just for the wirelss adapter.

  7. wndpteam says:

    As I mentioned, there are *many* more requirements than just the two you highlight above. I appologize that the whitepaper is not more clear about that. Hopefully an updates in the future by product team owners will resolve this. Regarding percentage of products that do not meet the 22Mbps with <1% packet loss (for both TCP & UDP), a great deal do not. I cannot claim percentages at this point because we are just ramping up the logo program.

    Regarding your question about determining percent of errors on a per-adapter basis? GetUdpStatistics will only tell you how many packets were discarded at the receiver. There’s no way (short of writing an NDIS driver to monitor protocol behavior for TCP only) to determine how many packets were dropped by a middle network element. If I better understood your scenario or what you’re trying to acheive, I might be able to point you in the right direction.

    – Gabe

  8. rsclient says:

    Well, it’s really part personal curiosity and part professional curiosity.  The professional is that I "do" networking code for a consumer product; we’re trying to be more friendly about what happens when a user with a wireless notebook goes in and out of network range.  Ideally, we’ll recognize the situation and just pause our work, and when we reconnect we’ll start back up.

    (The personal is that I used to work for BBN — the company that invented the internet.   I love to see the evolution of network protocols and APIs.  Also, my own home wireless network suffered from an adapter that just wasn’t up to snuff: having a tool that would have actually reported "interesting" bits about my adapter would have been worthwhile.)

    I naturally realize that in a large requirements document that there are lots of requirements; the two I mention happen to be the ones that I’m primarily interested in.

  9. Weebit says:

    I see you have the Certified for Windows Vista logo already in circulation.  I just want you to know that I have seen quite a few already claiming their boxes are certified, and these boxes barely make the minimum requirements for Vista.  Quite a few consumers will be disappointed when they find out that their brand new box doesn’t display the bells and whistles of the new Vista.  I think you need to address this now, before the public cries fowl.  

  10. In addition to a completely re-written core networking stack, Windows Vista makes networking a significantly

  11. Congratulations to Buffalo for being the first to acheive a Certified for Windows Vista logo for their

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