So What’s All This HaLow Long-Range WiFi About Then?

We’re all used to wireless networking, but if there’s one thing the ubiquitous WiFi on 2.4 or 5 GHz lacks, it’s range. Inside buildings, it will be stopped in its tracks by anything more than a mediocre wall, and outside, it can be difficult to connect at any useful rate more than a few tens of metres away without resorting to directional antennas and hope. Technologies such as LoRa provide a much longer range at the expense of minuscule bandwidth, but beyond that, there has been little joy. As [Andreas Spiess] points out in a recent video though, this is about to change, as devices using the so-called HaLow or IEEE 802.11ah protocol are starting to edge into the realm of affordability.

Perhaps surprisingly, he finds the 5 GHz variant to be best over a 1km test with a far higher bandwidth. However, we’d say that his use of directional antennas is something of a cheat. Where it does come into its own in his tests, though, is through masonry, with far better penetration across floors of a building. We think that this will translate to better outdoor performance when the line of sight is obstructed.

There’s one more thing he brings to our attention, which seasoned users of LoRA may already be aware of. These lower frequency allocations are different between the USA and Europe, so should you order one for yourself, it would make sense to ensure you have the appropriate model for your continent. Otherwise, we look forward to more HaLow devices appearing and the price falling even further because we think this will lead to some good work in future projects.

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How DEC’s LANBridge 100 Gave Ethernet A Fighting Chance

Alan Kirby (left) and Mark Kempf with the LANBridge 100, serial number 0001. (Credit: Alan Kirby)
Alan Kirby (left) and Mark Kempf with the LANBridge 100, serial number 0001. (Credit: Alan Kirby)

When Ethernet was originally envisioned, it would use a common, shared medium (the ‘Ether’ part), with transmitting and collision resolution handled by the carrier sense multiple access with collision detection (CSMA/CD) method. While effective and cheap, this limited Ethernet to a 1.5 km cable run and 10 Mb/s transfer rate. As [Alan Kirby] worked at Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) in the 1980s and 1990s, he saw how competing network technologies including Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) – that DEC also worked on – threatened to extinguish Ethernet despite these alternatives being more expensive. The solution here would be store-and-forward switching, [Alan] figured.

After teaming up with Mark Kempf, both engineers managed to convince DEC management to give them a chance to develop such a switch for Ethernet, which turned into the LANBridge 100. As a so-called ‘learning bridge’, it operated on Layer 2 of the network stack, learning the MAC addresses of the connected systems and forwarding only those packets that were relevant for the other network. This instantly prevented collisions between thus connected networks, allowed for long (fiber) runs between bridges and would be the beginning of the transformation of Ethernet as a shared medium (like WiFi today) into a star topology network, with each connected system getting its very own Ethernet cable to a dedicated switch port.

Replacement PCB Replicates Early 80s Modem

It’s certainly been a few decades, but plenty of us remember a time before widespread access to broadband internet, when connections were generally made over phone lines using acoustic modems. In the 90s these could connect you to AOL and Napster well enough, but in the early 80s the speeds were barely enough to read text as it loaded. A company called Hayes set out to change this with some of the first useful, widely-available modems for the PCs at the time. While they couldn’t keep up with the changing times there’s still a retro community that has these antiques, and to modernize it a bit this drop-in replacement for the PCBs replicates these old modems almost exactly.

The new PCB is equipped with everything needed to get a retro computer online again, including all the ports to connect a computer without any further modifications. It houses a few modern upgrades beyond its on-board processors, though. Rather than needing an actual acoustic coupled phone, this one has an ESP32 which gives it wireless capability. But the replacement PCB maintains the look and feel of the original hardware by replicating the red status LEDs at the front, fitting into the original Hayes cases with no modifications needed at all, and even includes a small speaker through which it can replicate the various tones, handshakes, and other audio cues that those of us nostalgic for this new online era remember quite well.

For those looking for a retro feel without the hassle of getting antique networking equipment functional again, this type of upgrade that preserves the essence of the original hardware is an excellent way of keeping retro computers functional on modern networking equipment. But if you absolutely must get the networking equipment exactly right down to the last patch cable, you might end up having to build your own ISP from scratch.

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Australia’s Second Largest Telco Went Dark, And Chaos Reigned

Engineers tend to worry about uptime, whether it’s at a corporate server farm or just our own little hobby servers at home. Every now and then, something will go wrong and take a box offline, which requires a little human intervention to fix. Ideally, you’ll still have a command link that stays up so you can fix the problem. Lose that, though, and you’re in a whole lick of trouble.

That’s precisely what happened to Australia’s second largest telecommunications provider earlier this month. Systems went down, millions lost connectivity, and company techs were left scrambling to put the pieces back together. Let’s dive in and explore what happened on Optus’s most embarrassing day in recent memory.

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The WebStick Is A Small, Cheap NAS

The ESP8266 was one of the first chips that provided wireless functionality at a cost low enough to be widely popular for small microcontroller projects. This project uses one to provide rapid, small, and inexpensive network-attached storage (NAS) capabilities wherever you happen to go.

With an ESP12F board at the heart to provide network connectivity, the small device also hosts a micro SD card slot and a USB-A port to provide power and programming capabilities for the device. It’s Arduino-compatible, and creator [tobychui] has provided the firmware source code necessary to bring it up on your network and start serving up files. Originally intended for people to host web services without experience setting up all of the tools needed for it, there’s services for storing and streaming music and video over the network as well.

While it includes a lot more functionality than is typically included on a NAS, [tobychui] notes that with a library, something like WebDAV could be added to provide more traditional NAS capabilities. As it stands, though, having networked storage with web hosting capabilities on a PCB with a total cost of around $5 is not something to shy away from. If you’re looking for something a little more powerful for your home network, take a look at this ARM-based NAS instead.

MS-DOS Meets The Fediverse

By now, most Windows users are set up with decently functional machines running Windows 10 or 11. Of course there are a few legacy machines still lagging behind on Windows 7 or 8 and plenty of computers in industrial settings running ancient proprietary software on Windows XP. But only the most hardcore of IBM PC users are still running DOS, and if you have eschewed things like Unix for this command-line operating system this long you might want to try using it to get online in the Fediverse with Mastodon.

The first step is getting DOS 6.22, the most recent version released in 1994, set up with all the drivers and software needed to access the Internet. At the time of its release there were many networking options so the operating system didn’t include these tools by default. [Stephen] first sets up an emulated NE2000-compatible networking card and then installs the entire TCP/IP stack and then gets his virtual machine set up with an IP address.

With a working Internet connection set up, the next step on the path of exploring federated social media is to install DOStodon (although we might have favored the name “MastoDOS”) which is a Mastodon client specifically built for MS-DOS by [SuperIlu]. There are pre-compiled packages available on its GitHub page for easy installation in DOS but the source code is available there as well. And, if this is your first time hearing about the Fediverse, it is mostly an alternative to centralized social media like Facebook and Reddit but the decentralization isn’t without its downsides.

Bringing Back The Minitel

If you didn’t live in France in the 80s or 90s, it’s likely you missed out on one of the most successful computer networks in existence prior to the modern Internet. Known as Minitel, it was an online service available over existing phone lines that offered a connected computer terminal for users to do most things we associate with the modern world, such as booking travel, viewing news, looking up phone numbers, and plenty of other useful activities. While a lot of the original system was never archived, there are still some efforts to restore some of its original functionality like this MiniMit.

The build requires either an original or a recreation of a Minitel terminal in all its 80s glory, but pairs an ESP32 to support modern network connectivity. The ESP32 interfaces with the Minitel’s DIN socket and provides it with a translation layer between WiFi and the networking type that it would have originally expected to see from the telephone lines. Two of the original developers of Minitel are working on restoring some of the services that would have been available originally as well, which means that the entire system is being redeveloped and not just the original hardware.

We’ve mentioned that this system was first implemented in the 80s, but the surprising thing is that even well after broadband Internet would have been available to most people in France, the Minitel system still had widespread use, not being fully deactivated until 2012. They remain popular as inspiration for other projects as well, like this one which was brought a little more up-to-date with the help of a modern display and Raspberry Pi.