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Demystifying Streaming Devices and Services

By Andrew Holod Internet

You may have seen our web pages related to “cutting the cord.”  If you are not familiar with the term, it signifies leaving behind the expense of cable television and replacing it with Over-the-Air tv stations often augmented with streaming services.  An Over-the-Air TV station is what we typically think of as “network television,” ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS etc.  A streaming service allows you to access digital content such as music, movies or TV shows, via your internet connection.  To stream content, you will need a data connection, a device to stream the content and a service to provide the content. This blog will walk you through the basics of streaming devices and services.

Connection 

Your data connection could be from your mobile phone provider or DC Access.  Using your home’s internet connection is usually the most economical way to stream content as DC Access does not impose data limits on your connection.  Suggested speeds for streaming content range from as little as 384 kbps for a standard quality audio stream up to 25Mbps for a 4k video stream (we’d recommend our Turbo plan for 4K streaming).  Keep in mind that this is the bandwidth needed solely for streaming, if you have another user or device that needs a connection, you’ll need additional bandwidth (kids watching one show while a parent watches sports elsewhere).

Devices

Most cord cutters are seeking to watch video streams, so you’ll need a device with a screen. There are a number of ways to do this including smart televisions, smart phones, tablets, game consoles, and stand alone streaming devices which interface with an existing TV.  Many TVs made in the last 4-5 years, from high end Sony, Samsung and LG models all the way to TLC and Hisense value screens, have operating systems and interfaces that allow you to access most streaming services using your regular remote. Apple  and Android devices and game consoles such as a PlayStation or Xbox can access the services through an app.   Finally and perhaps the most popular is through a set top box or dongle such as Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Fire TV, or Tivo. Due to wireless interference in DC, we recommend hardwiring your streaming devices to your router, rather than connecting to your wireless network.

Content

Whew!  Finally we get to the part where you get to select what you want to listen to or watch.

Audio streams essentially replace traditional radio or physical media like vinyl or CDs, with a nearly endless choice of artist and genre available at your fingertips.  Some of the most popular audio streaming services include Pandora and Spotify, which offer ad-supported free streams as well as paid, ad-free content. Youtube Music (Google) and Apple Music and great options for folks who already have these company’s mobile devices. If you have high fidelity aspirations or are really into music, Tidal and Qobuz offer particularly high quality audio streams that offer quality higher than CDs. Finally, Amazon Music Prime is a good choice for subscribers to Amazon Prime. It also offers a great transition to talk about video streaming options, as Amazon Prime Video is also included in that annual subscription.  

Options for video streaming services seem to be expanding daily.  Sling and Hulu are the best alternatives to cable TV. Netflix has a broad range of content, while Disney+ and ESPN+ offer more targeted content.  Peacock, Paramount+, AppleTV and HBO Max all offer additional content.  Don’t forget that if you are a DC resident our library system offers numerous options for no cost streams of video and audio.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’m exhausted, so that’s it for listing options.

So, to use a streaming service you’ll need: a connection to the internet, a device to listen to or watch your content and a streaming service to provide the content.  

As a reminder, DC Access doesn’t ask you to sign a contract, so if you need more speed for your streams, just reach out to support@dcaccess.net or call us 202.546.5898. We can upgrade your speed remotely and usually within an hour or two.

Smart Homes, IOT and Your Connection

By Andrew Holod Internet

Nowadays your home is more connected than ever. We’ve progressed from single copper line for phone service, through cable and satellite tv (forget about those ‘80s era 10 foot dishes) to wireless broadband internet and data over fiber optic cable. 

Images L to R: Leo Reynolds/Flickr, Carbon Arc/Flickr, JASE Group/Flickr, BigRiz/Wikipeida

You can also automate and connect nearly everything in your home to the internet, which allows remote access using your home’s internet connection.  These devices are variously called “smart home”, “connected” or “wifi capable.”  These smart home devices range from the  potentially useful such as security cameras, door locks and door bells, lights, thermostats and audio systems.  Others are of more dubious utility; such as operating your oven and viewing the food inside (in HD mind you) or starting your clothes washer over the internet.  

Finally, there is what is called the Internet of Things (IOT), where devices connect to the internet.  We’ll leave the utility judgment about some of these to you, but we think the $700 Wi-Fi connected juicer (really!, watch the video for a laugh) and $400 toothbrush that takes photos and video of your teeth while brushing border on the truly ridiculous.

What all of these things have in common is that they use part of your connection’s bandwidth.  Security cameras uploading a live stream of video use the most bandwidth.  Nest cameras recommend at least 3 Mbps of upload capacity for maximum resolution video, Ring suggests 2 Mbps. Others, such as lights and thermostats, use less.  

What you need to know is that when these are using your bandwidth, you have less to use for other online services, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, VPN, audio streaming or general web use.  

We also recommend choosing devices that offer either a wired connection or are labelled as “dual-band” (including the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands) as these will provide a more robust connection to our routers and better service from your new devices.

If you are contemplating upgrading or adding any of these devices to your home, it may be a good idea to review your internet service and confirm you have sufficient bandwidth to support your new needs.  We would generally recommend our Essential Plus or Turbo plan to support most of these devices.  Call us at 202.546.5898 or drop us a note support@dcaccess.net if you have questions about which plan may be right for you.

Clarifying Cable and Router Types: Ethernet, Coaxial, and Fiber

By Andrew Holod Internet, WiFi

Occasionally customers want to reuse their old internet equipment when setting up service with DC Access.  Minimizing e-waste is great, but not all equipment is the same and can work with DC Access.  Let’s clarify the main types of data connections used on devices that work with DC Access equipment.

Ethernet is the standard for data transmission.  This is the type of cable DC Access uses to connect rooftop antennas to routers and routers to home plugs or other “hard-wired’ devices. They have 8 conductors terminated in a clear plastic housing (often with a black or colored boot over the clear part) that will give an audible click when installed properly.  You may see terms such as Cat5, Cat 5e, Cat 6; these are standards which define the maximum speed the cable can pass.

Here you can see the icon for Ethernet connections, an Ethernet port and cable termination for Ethernet cable.

Peter Trieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Eyreland, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

Coaxial is most often used to deliver video in the form of cable television services or from an antenna, and may also be used for passing data.  When used for data, this type of connection and cable is most often used by cable companies such as Comcast, Charter, Cox, Frontier etc. It is terminated in a threaded metal connector with a single conductor or wire extending from the middle of the cable.  It must be screwed onto the terminal on the back of a device such as a cable modem or television. This type of connection will not work with DC Access equipment. 

Here you can see a coaxial cable.

AleiPhoenix, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped

Fiber Optic uses bursts of laser light to carry data.  An example of a typical fiber interconnect is shown below.  This type of cable is used with a Fiber connection such as Verizon/AT&T’s FIOS or Google Fiber.  Usually, once the fiber connection terminates in the user’s home, an Ethernet cable is used to interconnect the router.  If you are switching from a fiber provider, your current router will not work with DC Access.

Examples of a combination cable modem/router, an ethernet router:

routers

Note the round, shiny bottommost post on the router on the left, this is for a coaxial connection.  The router on the right shows ethernet connections in blue and yellow (along with white usb ports for additional devices).

Wifi, what?

By Andrew Holod Internet, WiFi

 

At its most basic W-Fi is a way to share information wirelessly. The technology is certified by a non-profit alliance that sets standards, including radio frequency, power, security encryption protocols and more, so that any wi-fi device can “speak” to another.

Wi-Fi works best when the connected devices have a ‘line of sight,” another way of saying there is nothing in between your router and device.  Wi-Fi connections are weakened to a greater or lesser extent by anything between the radio and connected device. Examples of things which may weaken your connection include interior or exterior walls, furniture, appliances, people’s bodies and more.  

There have been 6 generations of wi-fi technology that have been used in consumer products. They are named a, b, g, n, ac, and ax.  With the last 3 recently renamed Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6 respectively.  The latest generations offer faster speeds, improved efficiency and better resistance to wireless interference in high-density scenarios (like our neighborhoods).  DC Access currently deploys Wi-Fi 4 and 5 routers to our clients.

The latest generations of Wi-Fi use multiple frequencies; 2.4 GHz, 5 Ghz, and in Wi-Fi 6E 6 Ghz. The 2.4 Ghz band has long range and good wall penetration, which is both good for your connection and bad in terms of interference from neighbors.  The 5Ghz band is weakened more rapidly by walls, so you’ll see less interference when using your “.5g” network. The 6Ghz band offers the fastest possible speeds but is not in broad use yet.

While the different generations of wifi can pass data between them, the speed for any attached device will be capped at the limit of the slowest link in the chain, from your connection to the router or device.  So if you are set to our Essential Plus service level, your maximum speed will be limited to around 25 Mbps downloads regardless of how fast your wifi connection is.

A few key points to keep in mind:

  • A wired connection will almost always be faster and more secure than Wi-Fi.
  • Minimizing obstructions between your router and device will likely improve the performance of your connection.  
  • 5 Ghz frequency is weakened by walls, so the connection will have less interference and more stability than the 2.4.
  • Having a faster wi-fi network may help your connection, but it can be limited both by speeds elsewhere in your network (your slowest/oldest device) or from outside interference (other routers broadcasting on the same frequency)

Sources and Additional Reading

Ars Technica The Ars Technica semi-scientific guide to Wi-Fi Access Point placement 2/23/2020 – https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020/02/the-ars-technica-semi-scientific-guide-to-wi-fi-access-point-placement/

Fowler, G.A. (4/29/2020) Bad WiFi is slowing you down. Fix yours without spending a dime. Washington Post – https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/04/29/best-wifi-fix/ 

Microsoft Wi-Fi problems and your home layout – https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/wi-fi-problems-and-your-home-layout-e1ed42e7-a3c5-d1be-2abb-e8fad00ad32a 

Wi-Fi Alliance – https://www.wi-fi.org

Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi 

Ransomware

By Martha Huizenga Internet, Security

RANSOMWAREIn 2021, several cases of Ransomware attacks on large companies, organizations, and government agencies have occurred. Ransomware has become a significant issue in technology, resulting in billions of dollars lost in the past couple of years.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malware designed to encrypt files on a device. It uses encryption, which generates a pair of unique keys created by the attacker to encrypt or decrypt files. Typically, the software is dispersed through spam emails, advertising, or targeted attacks.

A ransom is demanded to be paid in order for files to be decrypted and become accessible. Attackers using Ransomware threaten to publish individuals’ personal data or block access to the use of files, databases, and/or applications until the ransom is paid. Ransomware largely affects businesses, limiting access to data needed for daily operation. It is created to spread across an entire network/database to incapacitate the entire business.

How can you prevent Ransomware incidents?

  1. Only open emails and websites from trusted people and organizations.
  2. Do not click on any embedded links in emails and do not give out usernames and passwords to any one. One of the most common ways hackers gain access to private networks is through a process called Phishing. Phishing is the act of someone who pretends to work for the company calls/emails/texts asking can you provide them with your login credentials.
  3. Be sure to maintain current offline, encrypted backups of your data.
  4. Regularly test your backups.
  5. Use and maintain security software on your devices, including antivirus and anti-spam software.
  6. Only use secure wireless networks. If you do use a public wifi network, make sure you are also using a VPN on top of that connection.
  7. Create and maintain a cyber incident response plan, including notification procedures for a ransomware incident.

With the increase in Ransomware attacks, it is important, especially for businesses, to stay informed and take precautions to prevent incidents.

AMAZON SIDEWALK

By Martha Huizenga Internet

AMAZON SIDEWALKSince the beginning of the pandemic, more people are working from home and using their home internet more frequently. This makes internet security more important than ever. Here at DC Access, we want to keep you alert and help you prioritize your internet security at home. 

On June 8TH, Amazon is launching Amazon Sidewalk, a service providing a shared network that claims to help smart devices work better. Sidewalk will form a shared wireless network capped at 500MB per month by taking a small portion of your internet bandwidth to pool together to provide services to you and your neighbors. Essentially this can take away from the speed of your internet for other devices, such as computer use, streaming, and gaming devices. For more details, see this related article.

Devices included in Sidewalk are Amazon Echo devices, Ring Security, outdoor lights, motion sensors, Tile trackers, pet locators, and smart locks. Sidewalk aims to help the user’s devices when they are out of range of their home Wi-Fi by keeping them online. Amazon believes the network will allow users to locate lost keys or missing pets and set up and fix devices remotely. It also benefits ALL Sidewalk-enable devices in your community, not just yours.

Sidewalk will be a default setting for all Amazon smart home devices, automatically enrolling each device to participate in network sharing. Owners of those devices have the option to disable Sidewalk at any time. You can update your Amazon Sidewalk preferences in two ways, from the Control Center on the Ring App and Settings on the Alexa App. 

Using the Ring App

  1. Open the Ring App on your device
  2. Tap the 3-lined icon in the upper left-hand corner of the screen
  3. Go to the Control Center
  4. Turn Sidewalk on or off

Using the Alexa App

  1. Open the Alexa App on your device
  2. Select the more icon at the lower right-hand corner of the screen
  3. Select Settings 
  4. Select Account Settings
  5. Select Amazon Sidewalk
  6. Use the toggle to enable or disable Sidewalk

If you have linked your Ring and Amazon accounts, your Sidewalk preferences on either Alexa or Ring App will apply to all of your eligible Echo and Ring devices. Therefore, if you decide to opt out of Amazon Sidewalk on the Ring App, it will apply to your Echo devices as well.

While there are benefits to this experimental project, DC Access believes that the potential security risks out-way the positives. For now, we would recommend opting out of Amazon Sidewalk.

Hardwire Your Devices

By Martha Huizenga Internet

We all enjoy the portability of our electronic devices. But having your devices hardwired can have its advantages. Hardwiring your device consist of an Ethernet cable connecting to the PC directly to a port on the router or access point. Although wiring your devices may prevent mobility, you will be grateful for a faster, more reliable, network and internet connection. View the following steps on how to on hardwire your device.

Hardwire A Windows Laptop

  1. Plug-in one end of the Ethernet cable to the RJ45 port on your laptop.
  2. Plug-in the opposite end of the Ethernet cable to an available port on the router.
  3. Wait while the device and the router establish a network connection.
  4. View the taskbar at the bottom right of your Windows desktop to verify a network icon confirming the connection.

Still having trouble? Visit the laptop’s brand website for further instructions.

Hardwire a Apple Mac Laptop

  1. Plug-in a Ethernet cable to connect your computer’s Ethernet port to a router.
  2. If your computer doesn’t have an Ethernet port, try using a USB to Ethernet adapter, or a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter.
  3. To verify a connection, choose Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Network.

Still having trouble? Visit Apple’s User Guide for more help.

Hardwire a Smart-TV

  1. Locate the Ethernet port on the back of your TV
  2. Plug-in an Ethernet cable from your router to the port on your TV
  3. Select Menu on your TV’s remote and then go to Network settings.
  4. Select the option to enable wired internet
  5. Verify the connection.

Still having trouble? Visit the TV’s brand website for further instructions.