Pi in the Sky, Part 1: WLAN Pi Basics

For some Wi-Fi professionals, WLAN Pi is the ultimate swiss army knife. For others, it is a byzantine puzzle. 

Your humble blogger takes great pride in taking the complex and making it accessible. For the WLAN Pi, it starts with the Basics.

The WLAN Pi project has been part of the WLAN professional community for several years. Conceived as a some-assembly-required kit project, the Pi has now grown beyond its humble roots.

Your humble blogger has been fascinated by the WLAN Pi for some time, in large part because of the involvement of Jerry Olla. Jerry is a long time member of the WLAN community. He is based in Wisconsin, which makes me like him. He believes that the Milwaukee Brewers should not have received a publicly-funded baseball stadium, which makes me like him less. (I kid, I kid.)

Jerry reached out to yours truly after a tweet expressing frustration at the WLAN Pi experience. Many Wi-Fi people have read, seen or been told about cool stuff that can be done with the WLAN Pi. Not-so-many Wi-Fi people have actually done said cool stuff in the wild. In your humble blogger's previous WLAN Pi experience, things rarely seemed to work as easily as they were supposed to.

The goal here is to help simplify the WLAN Pi experience. For those who prefer to tinker, keep tinkering. For those who prefer a more accessible WLAN Pi, read on.

The 'Pi in the Sky' series will include three parts: Basics, Field Troubleshooting and Remote Analysis. This is part one: the Basics.

WLAN Pi Basics - Hardware

WLAN Pi was conceived as a kit. Those interested in putting together a kit can use the WLAN Pi User Guide. (Note: The "brains" of the WLAN Pi is a single board computer. It is currently unavailable, and it was made in China.)

WLAN Pi can be purchased from WLAN Pros in the USA, or BadgerWiFi in the UK and Europe.

WLAN Pi is powered via micro USB. It can NOT be powered via PoE, even though it has an Ethernet port. Use a power source that provides at least 10 Watts, if you want to be able to use both of the USB ports on the WLAN Pi.

WLAN Pi turns on and boots up automatically, once it starts receiving power.

The WLAN Pi operating system runs on a Micro SD card. If the image ever needs to be upgraded or wiped, a Micro SD to USB adapter can be used.

WLAN Pi Basics - Connectivity

WLAN Pi has a default username/password of wlanpi/wlanpi. It can be reached via SSH.

The Ethernet interface of the WLAN Pi has a default IP address of 192.168.42.1. If WLAN Pi detects that a DHCP server is reachable via one of its network interfaces, it will use DHCP.


WLAN Pi is plug-and-play with most Wi-Fi USB adapters. The recommended adapter is the CF-912AC, which is included with the WLAN Pi kits that are sold by WLAN Pros and BadgerWiFi (as of this writing).



WLAN Pi can make a Wi-Fi connection to an existing Wi-Fi network as a client, if a compatible Wi-Fi USB adapter is attached to the WLAN Pi. Many Wi-Fi USB adapters are compatible, including the aforementioned CF-912AC.

By default, the first Wi-Fi USB adapter attached to the WLAN Pi (interface wlan0) will run in monitor mode, meaning that it can NOT connect to an existing Wi-Fi network as a client.

If two Wi-Fi USB adapters are attached to the WLAN Pi simultaneously; the second Wi-Fi USB adapter (interface wlan1) may be configured to connect as a Wi-Fi client. (More on having the WLAN Pi connect to a Wi-Fi network as a client in Part 2 of this series.)

WLAN Pi Basics - Software

WLAN Pi has a number of applications that start running upon boot-up. Most of them are tools that "test" speed or performance. (More on these applications in Part 3 of this series)

Two run-on-boot WLAN Pi applications are Kismet and WiFi Explorer Pro Sensor. Both applications are useful when using the WLAN Pi as a Remote Sensor (which will be covered in Part 2 of this series).

Several additional applications may be run via command line, by making an SSH connection to WLAN Pi.

Some applications have information that may be viewed via the WLAN Pi's OLED screen, on the exterior of the WLAN Pi. All applications may be run via the command line, after making an SSH connection to the WLAN Pi.

For WiFi Explorer Pro (macOS only) Wi-Fi scanning via the Wi-Fi USB adapter attached to a WLAN Pi, nothing has to be configured on the WLAN Pi. (More on this in Part 2.)



For Wi-Fi sniffing, where frames are captured via the Wi-Fi USB adapter attached to a WLAN Pi and frames are viewed & analyzed in Wireshark, some configuration is required. (More on this in Part 2.)

***
For each of the three blog posts in the 'Pi in the Sky' series, there will be some Homework. The idea is to use the WLAN Pi and learn about some of its features, without having to get too hacker-ish. If anyone has difficulty with any of the Homework tasks, feel free to comment below or contact me using the contact information at the end of each post.

HOMEWORK

1. Start up the WLAN Pi. Confirm that it is powered on.
2. Connect the WLAN Pi to a wired network (if possible). View the WLAN Pi's wired IP address.
3. If you have a CF-912AC USB adapter and a Mac running WiFi Explorer Pro... Connect the WLAN Pi to the Mac via USB, open WiFi Explorer Pro and select the WLAN Pi as a Wi-Fi scanning interface.

***

Ben Miller works as a Wi-Fi contractor, with a background in pre- and post-installation consulting, technical and marketing writing, and instruction for vendor-neutral and vendor-specific Wi-Fi training. You can contact Ben via email, or follow him on Twitter and Twitch, using the contact information below.

If you like Ben's blog, you can support it by shopping through his Amazon link, or becoming a Patron on Patreon. He does a weekly educational Twitch stream about Wi-Fi.

Thank you.

Twitter: @benmiller

Twitch: @ben_sniffwifi

ben_miller at icloud dot com


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