Hot-swappable tripod adapter for Cisco Aironet 1560 outdoor access points

If you have followed my hot-swappable series, my goal was to find a solution to swapping multiple outdoor AP + antenna combinations and a variety of AP models on the same tripod. What is the use case? I only wanted to carry a single tripod on the site survey day while still having the flexibility to survey with variety of antennas and different AP models.

After making the adapter for MR86 and MA-ANT-20 dipoles and MR86 with two MA-ANT-25 directional antennas, I realised I needed one for Aironet 1560, which, at the time of the writing, is my go-to outdoor AP.

Please excuse the DYI approach. I did this during UK’s second COVID-19 lockdown. Shops were closed, access to tools was limited and I had no access to my lab.

How it turned out?

It went surprisingly well this time as I’ve already built a similar adapter for Cisco Meraki MR APs and this time it was even easier. Same as last time, the alu tube slides inside the top tripod tube and we are ready to roll.

The actual steps

I stocked up on M6 x 30 mm bolts, cut the 16 mm aluminium tube to the right length and reused the last bit of decking from a different project.

M6 x 30 mm bolt

I thought I will try making a template, which I then transferred onto the wood. That wasn’t the best idea and it seems to work best when you watch someone using this “trick” on YouTube. Next time I will go for an analog pencil and ruler, lesson learned;-)

That trick did not go as well as I thought :)

The decking is quite thick so I ended up shaving few millimeters off it. And here is the final adapter.

Ready to go on a tripod

Did you say tripod?

Yes, here is more about this 4-meter tripod I use.

How to achieve down tilt?

Thanks to Alan Wang, who suggested I use the official articulating pole mount AIR-ACC1530PMK2 and attach it to my “back board”. Obviously azimuth you can adjust by rotating the tripod, and this allow you to change the elevation angle.

Articulating pole mount
Articulating pole mount

Tern GSD self-adhesive silicon case for Apple AirTag

I enjoyed testing the under-seat and water bottle bike mounts for AirTags on our Tern GSD bike, and thought I should explore other mounting options.

This self-adhesive sleeve looks like a universal option, as it can be attached practically to any flat surface.

It has a silicone sleeve on one side and self-adhesive on the other.

Silicon sleeve with AirTag
Detail of the slot

The self-adhesive layer seems to be a good choice. It is not extremely sticky as some other products, it does not seem to leave marks, and I actually managed to remove the case from the Storm Box on our Tern GSD bike, move it to a more suitable spot and re-apply it.

Self-adhesive layer
That sounds of peeling off the protective plastic sheet

It fits nicely inside the sleeve and as far as I can tell, there is no chance of it slipping out. The silicone keeps it from moving. In fact, it takes some effort to insert and remove the AirTag, which is great.

Fully inserted AirTag

There are many accessories available for the GSD. Storm Box is a great candidate for an AirTag in this sleeve. Mine is still holding tight. It has a few internal pockets and you can easily attach a dozen of AirTags to it and still have some space left for more;-)

Tern GSD with Storm Box

Bottom of the front rack might also be a good place for an AirTag.

A word of caution

Wherever you mount it, please keep your own safety in mind. Don’t mount it near the motor or anywhere near the chain/belt. It might cause you some bumpy ride should the self-adhesive fail.

Where can I buy one?

I bought mine on eBay and it was very affordable. Here is a link if you are considering getting one or two.

Other bike mounts

If you are looking for inspiration, I tested an under-seat and water bottle bike mounts. Here are a couple of photos and you can find more of them in the respective blog posts.

Water bottle mount with more mounting options available on the GSD
Under-saddle mount

Tern GSD water bottle bike mount for Apple AirTag

I’ve recently tested an under-saddle mount. On its own, it is an easy target and it can be easily found if the thief knows where to look. To make the most out of AirTags, I also have one inside my Storm Box.

To complement the two, I am now also using this AirTag mount, which can either sit between your water bottle and the bike frame. Alternatively, if you do not have a bottle, it can sit directly on the frame secured using the bottle holder bolts.

Mounted using the “too-easy-to-spot” water bottle bolts
Let’s unzoom to put its size into perspective

Let’s play hide and seek!

Here is where the GSD comes to the rescue. It has a couple of other mounting options with the exact same distance between the bolts as the water bottle bolts.

Can you spot the AirTag?
What about now? Look between the pedal and battery.

Note the two silver bolts inside the triangle on the right hand side. They can be used for this AirTag mount.

Assembly and installation

It is super easy to install. The original Tern screws are too short. So, let’s replace them with the 2 bolts supplied with the mount. The only tool you need is a standard hex head 3 mm screwdriver bit.

On Tern GSD Generation 2, you can choose between the upper or lower position. Personally, I prefer the upper one.

Installed in the upper position
Installed in the lower position
It is not much thicker than the AirTag itself

Where can I buy one?

I am in the UK and I purchased one on eBay. Here is the link if you want to check it out and get yours.

What other mounts are available?

I’ve also tested an under-saddle mount. You can see more photos of it and read more about it here.

Comparison of the under-saddle and water bottle mounts

Tern GSD under-saddle bike mount for Apple AirTag

If you ever experienced the helpless feeling of returning to an empty spot at the bike rack, you know how it feels when you realise that your bike has been stolen. I’ve been there twice. When Apple introduced AirTags, I thought that I should attach a couple to my bike and see how well they work. Here is my real-life test from iPhone SE user’s perspective if you are interested in the user experience and location accuracy.

AirTag does not come with any mount, let alone one suitable for bikes. So, I purchased a few and tested them.

This under-saddle mount caught my eye, and became my favourite.

It is practically invisible
The rear handle on the saddle remains fully accessible
Only a very close look allows you to spot it
Bottom of the saddle

Why/why not this mount?

  • Compact size
  • Easy to install under your saddle – I tested it on Tern GSD Generation 2
  • You won’t notice it, unless you know what you are looking for
  • Ideal placement from Bluetooth radio perspective with not too many metal parts around it
  • Very affordable
  • It is 3D printed, which means that its surface is not 100% smooth. This is expected and nothing to worry about, considering the mount spends most of its life under the saddle.

Assembly and installation

Bolts are supplied with the mount. The only tool you need is a standard hex head 3 mm screwdriver bit.

All it takes is 3 bolts
Assembled mount

Here is a tip for you: Remove the saddle from the bike, put it in between your thighs and install the mount. This makes it really easy with no bolts flying around.

Saddle before
Saddle with the AirTag mount
I can’t see it, can you?
A very close look

Where can I buy one?

I am in the UK and I purchased it on eBay. Here is the link if you want to check it out and get yours.

Summary

As I mentioned, this mount is my favourite. Having said that, I recommend attaching another AirTag or two to your bike. I am testing a couple of other mounts and I will share the links here. Stay tuned, please.

Tripod mounting adapter for Cisco Meraki MR outdoor access points

I needed to find a solution to swapping multiple outdoor AP and antenna combinations on the same tripod. Specifically MR86 with MA-ANT-20 dipoles and MR86 with two MA-ANT-25 directional antennas. Quick swapping was a key requirement. Some coverage areas required directional pattern while other locations with low traffic and low client density would really benefit from omnidirectional coverage.

MRs ship with standard pole mounting hardware, which is great for permanent installation, but it didn’t allow fast swapping of the AP and antenna sets. Also, pole mounting kit requires tools, which is not practical as it add additional weight to your survey backpack.

Please excuse the DYI approach. I did this during UK’s second COVID-19 lockdown. Shops were closed, tools were limited and I had no access to my lab.

You are smart people, so I don’t need to stress this point, but please don’t take this write-up as Cisco’s official guide or recommendation. This is just me trying to find a solution to a problem.

So, what’s the solution?

Let me show you the final adapter and we can then look into the detail.

MR86 with MA-ANT-20 dipoles and we also had some snow here down south;-)
MR86 with MA-ANT-25 antennas

Under the hood

It all started when I spotted my wife’s aluminium 16 mm gardening tubes;-) I realised they were perfect fit for my tripod. They slide nicely inside the top tripod tube about a couple of inches (5 cm) or so.

16 mm aluminium tube
Tripod and mounting adapter with the standard AP bracket
Grooves in the decking board helped me align the tube
Two drill bits later: Directional adapter with AP mounted on the back for stability

What would I improve?

If I were to build a second iteration of this adapter, I would add a safety wire and attach the AP mounting bracket to the tripod. I would call this mandatory, especially if you are not the only user of these adapters or if there is going to be a person stood underneath the tripod.

Safety wire

Apart from that, it works really well, it is rock-solid, and allows me to swap the MR with omnis and MR with directional antennas in less than 10 seconds.

Apple AirTag from iPhone SE user’s perspective

Many people are talking about the Ultra Wide Band (UWB) precision finding supported by AirTags and the last two generations of iPhones. It is possible thanks to Apple’s U1 chip. This feature on its own might quite likely be a good enough reason for many users to upgrade to the latest iPhone.

Since I don’t own iPhone 11 or 12, I was curious what the experience was from iPhone SE or XR user’s perspective. Due to the lack of the U1 chip, these phones don’t support UWB and “Precision Finding”. Instead, they use Bluetooth and “Proximity Finding”.

“With You” Bluetooth accuracy and audible alarm

When the tag is “With You”, that means that your iPhone or macOS device can hear the Bluetooth signal beaconed by the AirTag. In this mode, location accuracy seems to be around 10 meters (depending on where it is and if indoors or outdoors). The lack of the UWB support means that the SE or XR can’t detect the direction you or the AirTag is moving in.

Since the AirTags is “With You” (shown in the screenshot above) and is reachable via Bluetooth, you can activate the audible alarm and find its exact location this way.

Active Bluetooth connection to the tag is required to activate Play Sound

Detached mode accuracy and refresh rate

When the AirTag becomes detached from your iPhone or macOS device (tag’s Bluetooth signal is lost), the tag then relies on other people’s iPhones and macOS devices. As soon as their device hears the Bluetooth signal of your lost AirTag, it relays (or reports if you will) the tag location to iCloud. Thanks to the crown-sourced relayed location, you will be able to see your tag’s current location in the Find My app although you are not anywhere the tag. The AirTag does not even have to be in the Lost Mode. Location finding works in its standard mode.

Location in the Find My does not update instantly. Based on my tests, it refreshes every 5 to 15 minutes.

When it comes to location accuracy relayed by other people’s iPhones and macOS devices, it ranges from approximately 10 meters to 110 meters.

Relayed location – accuracy around 10 meters
Relayed location – accuracy around 110 meters

Can Wi-Fi-only iPads relay location?

No, they can’t. I tested a couple of iPads connected to Wi-Fi with Bluetooth enabled and placed them in close proximity of the AirTag. They did not relay location. As far as I can tell, only iPhones and macOS devices can relay location of a tag.

Can cellular iPads relay location?

I don’t know. Please test it if you have one and tell me;-)

Lost mode

In the unfortunate event of losing your item, you can switch the tag to the “Lost mode” and receive a push notification whenever the AirTags gets automatically reported by someone’s iPhone or macOS device.

Activate Lost Mode and push notification

When that happens location, you receive a notification. Currently, there seems to be a cosmetic bug as the text of the notification does not show the latest location of the tag, but its previous location. When you open “Find My” app, you will see the correct and latest location though.

Item found notification received on Apple Watch

My test setup

  • iPhone SE 2nd generation running iOS 14.5
  • MacBook Pro running Big Sur 11.3.1
  • iPad Mini 5th generation running iOS 14.5
  • iPad Air 2nd generation running iOS 14.5

What is your experience with AirTags?

I am curious what your experience was. Have you tested any other scenarios? Have I missed anything. Please do let me know in the comments and I will update the post.

Affordable tripods for occasional Wi-Fi site surveys

As I mentioned in my battery pack review, I am fortunate to rely on our field engineers and partners when it comes to predictive design validation, wall measurements and AP on a stick surveys. Having said that, I enjoy going on site a few days a month and staying close to our projects. Which leads me to yet another blog post from the “affordable series”;-)

This time I tested 3 tripods. Key factors I considered were value for money, build quality, and suitability for outdoor surveys ability to hold anything from an indoor or outdoor AP to a camera.

Tripods

Left to right/up to down:
(A) Neewer Stainless Steel Heavy Duty Light Stand 118″/300CM
(B) Phot-R 4m Heavy Duty Photo Studio 2-in-1 Combi Light Boom Stand
(C) Neewer Heavy-Duty Light Stand 13 Feet/4 Meters Spring Cushioned Aluminum Alloy Pro Tripod

Maximum height comparison
Collapsed length comparison
Width of the base is comparable, see the slabs

The numbers don’t lie

Tripod ATripod BTripod C
Collapsed length104 cm112 cm115 cm
Measured max height283 cm366 cm393 cm
Weight2.45 kg2.55 kg5.9 kg
Price£65£70£68
Short summaryVery good, not tall enough for outdoor surveysUnstable, too light, loose locking mechanism, unsuitable for holding APsGreat value for money, rock-solid, tall, heavier

Summary

I decided for tripod (C). It is high enough for outdoor surveys, rock-solid, and very stable. I also built an adapter that allows me to easily mount any outdoor Cisco AP (Catalyst, Aironet or Meraki MR). Here is more about my outdoor Meraki MR universal tripod adapter. Stay tuned for the Aironet and Catalyst one.

The only downside is its weight. Also, watch out for packaging. The first one I ordered arrived with the bottom of the box open and the head, where you insert the 1/3″ and 3/8″ adapter, was damaged. So, it took one return to get an undamaged one.

 All three tripods are supplied with 1/4″ to 3/8″ adapter.

Neewer 4-meter tripod in the wild
Even the replacement one had some extra tape applied, fortunately undamaged this time

Affordable battery pack for occasional Wi-Fi “AP on a stick” site surveys

Since I don’t survey every day, I could not justify the purchase of a full-blown battery pack. My goal is to get a universal battery pack, which would allow me to survey for 5 hours and provide power to my laptop or USB device (like the WLAN Pi) at the same time.

A quick research made me to test the RAVPower AC 27000 mAh Power Bank. Here is what I’ve learned after using it for a few days:

  • The 2 built-in fans kick in when AC device starts drawing more than 20 Watts. Below this threshold, the fan is off. With the fan on, it actually becomes annoyingly loud (watch this video).
  • The AC inverter seems to operate with 82% efficiency
  • MacBook Pro 61 Watt power brick charges the battery using USB type C port
  • It powers USB devices and 230V AC devices (power injector in my case)
  • Capacity of 99.9 Wh

Things I like about this battery pack:

  • It is universal and power USB and AC devices
  • Its size and capacity are great

Things I don’t like:

  • When AC load exceeds 20 Watts, the 2 fans become generate significant noise
  • The adapter from its AC socket to UK socket is really poor, does disconnect very easily and cuts power. This is a huge downside.
  • AC power automatically switches off when the connected device draws less than 8 Watts or so. If you need to power a very low power device, use the USB port or plug one more device in to increase total load.

Battery life tests

I tested a few access points powered by a PoE+ 802.3at injector:

Cisco Catalyst 9115 in site survey Embedded Wireless Controller mode stays powered for 6 hours and 24 minutes and draws around 13 Watts.

Cisco Aironet 1560I (in 2SS only mode) in Mobility Express site survey mode stays powered for 5 hours and 28 minutes and draws around 15 Watts.

Formula to estimate battery life

Cisco Aironet 1540I draws around 8 Watts (measured by a smart plug) and estimated battery life is:

Run time = Battery capacity in Wh * Battery inverter efficiency / Power drawn by device in Watts = 99.9 * 0.82 / 8 = 10.2 hours

Tested devices powered by AC power

MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Four Thunderbolt 3 ports) powered using MacBook 61W USB-C power adapter connected to the battery pack charged the laptop with no problem. The only annoyance is the battery fan noice. I can’t imagine using this in an open plan office as it would disturb others. Charging while on site or in a car is not a problem.

I was able to power Cisco WLC 2504 and 3504 with no problem at all and they drew around 25 Watts. You can use the above formula to calculate estimated battery life.

Cisco Catalyst compact switch WS-C3560CX-8XPD-S is not able to be powered by this battery, the battery goes into overload mode and cuts power. I suspect the AC wave output of the inverter is far from “perfect sine” and it prevents some devices to be powered. A different battery pack with better filters would be my suggestion if you need to power a device like this.

Another Cisco Catalyst compact switch WS-C3560CG-8PC-S works perfectly fine and draws about 17 Watts with no Ethernet ports connected and no PoE provided to its downstream devices.

Maximum AC load test

It tried connecting as many devices to the battery pack and power them using the inverter. These devices can be powered concurrently just fine:

  • Cisco Meraki MS220, Cisco Small Business SF100-08P switch, Aironet 3800 AP, Catalyst 9105AXI AP, Aironet 1800S Wi-Fi active sensor, Aironet 1560I, MR32 AP, MR20 AP, Aironet 1815W, a Bluetooth speaker and Raspberry Pi 4

How I fixed the supplied AC adapter issue

As I mentioned, the provided power adapter is a joke and not fit for purpose if you want to connect a device using a UK power plug. Just the weight of the power cable itself pulls the adapter from the battery pack socket and stops power supply to the connected device.

I decided to keep the battery pack as everything else works quite well and I replaced the provided adapter by a power cable with European plug and IEC C14 to UK socket “UPS” power adapter. This on its own stays connected in the battery inverter’s socket quite nicely and I added a couple of velcro straps to keep it securely in place at all times.

Fan noise