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MVnet-1: What is MVnet anyway?

Wm Magill - June 20, 2018
Updated - September 9, 2018

The field of Computer Networking is extensive, complex, pervasive, hidden and largely unknown to the general population.
It is part of the "infrastructure" just like water mains, electric lines, streets and highways.
Therefore, this series of technical notes covers a lot of material that is likely not part of your everyday conversation if you are not "in the business", but which impacts your use of "the net" every day. And, just to throw some more gasoline on the fire, how you use the net is also changing every day as these technologies change!

MVnet - our Internet Service Provider (ISP)

MVnet is part of the communications infrastructure of the Masonic Villages, Inc. It can be found at all 5 Masonic Villages.
At the Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, there are multiple WiFi networks which comprise this infrastructure (see below). These multiple networks all share the same hardware components and exist by virtue of the Virtual Private Network (VPN) concept.

Back in 2015 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a new definition of "Broadband" that establishes 25 megabits per second (25 Mbps) as the baseline for high-speed downloads, up from 4 Mbps previously. This definition also, sets the minimum speed for uploads at 3 Mbps. Generally this is now referred to as 25/3 Service.

This speed is normally exceeded for Internet service provided by Cable or Fibre-optic ISPs. However, classic Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service at (4x1) is not a close contender!

MVnet is provided in two basic forms -- via Ethernet connected WiFi Access points in the various campus buildings, and by Very-high-bit-rate digital subscriber line (VDSL) connected WiFi Access points in cottages. There may or may not be any measurable speed differences between these two implementations. At the time of this writing (9 September, 2018) there is insufficient data available. VDSL can, theoretically provide speeds in excess of 55 Mbps downstream. VDSL2 can theoretically provide speeds in excess of 200 Mbps downstream and 100 Mbps upstream.

Alternate ISP offerings

Comcast product offerings

Today (20 June, 2018) at the Masonic Village, Comcast (Xfinity) Performance Plus Internet now provides 60 Mbps Download and 5 Mbps upload speeds, at a cost of $39.99 (plus tax and equipment rental) per month for one year. At the end of the year, that price jumps up to $61.95 + $11 modem rental, if you do not provide your own equipment - i.e. modem and router.

This Performance Plus level of service (60 x 5) is more than adequate of 99.999% of internet users.

Comcast also offers "Performance Pro" Internet at 150 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload speeds at $54.99 (plus tax and equipment rental) per month for one year. At the end of the year, that price also jumps upwards. Only .1% of Internet users will ever user, let alone need, this kind of download speed. Similarly, Comcast's "Blast! Pro" at 250 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload at $69.99 (plus tax and equipment rental) per month for one year,is quite ridiculous for the normal user. Both of these offerings are aimed at small businesses with multiple users on-line at the same time. Neither is particularly cost effective for a Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) environment.

Also as of today (20 June, 2018) there has been no formal statement as to the speeds Download or upload, to be provided by MVnet. The only "official" statements, oral, not written, claim that speed is comparable to Comcast.

Windstream product offerings

Again, as of 20 June, 2018, Windstream (and, apparently Century Link) offers only classic DSL service (4x1) for around $60 per month in this area.

Verizon FIOS product offering

Verizon has no Fibre Optic lines in Masonic Village, therefore it cannot offer FIOS. The only service they can offer is a DSL offering.

Companies competing for your communications dollars, Verizon and Xfinity (Comcast) for example, use the same words to mean different things. The most common phrase - "Wireless Networking" - means using your cellphone to connect to the Internet via Cellular technology when you are talking to Verizon, but when talking to Xfinity it means WiFi, or as they now call it XFi.

Most of the time, the difference between these two service offerings is strictly all about speed. A WiFi internet connection is normally significantly faster than a cellular internet connection. However, there is a location difference, if you are driving down a highway, or out of your house for a walk, you are likely out of range of WiFi, (especially your own) but you can have internet access via a cellular connection. Today, while you can get Internet access via a 3G or occasionally a 4G cellular connection, they are both significantly slower when compared to Cable based WiFi.

Today (2018) there are services which blur the line between Cellular and WiFi. Services, such as OnStar, can provide WiFi service inside your car by way of a Cellular connected WiFi "hot spots". This technology works both ways -- you can have a local "hot spot" which will use cellular technology to connect to the Internet if no other connectivity is available. And these offerings may change radically whenever 5G cellular networking becomes available in the future (speculated to be as soon as 2020). But that is a whole different topic.

MVnet, like Xfinity, attempts to address this "location difference" by providing "hot spots" which attempt to proved a seamless coverage area for users. By making each of their WiFi Access points available to all of their customers, these hot spots increase the WiFi coverage area of each ISP significantly. With these MVnet hot spots, similar to Cellular Roaming, you only log-in once and your "conversation" is transferred from one hot spot to the next. Note that conceptually, this is similar to "Mesh Networking," but quite different.

Similarly, the speed difference between Cable based Internet connectivity (Xfinity) when compared to DSL (Windstream) is significant.

The difference between K4 and MVnet.

There is a constant confusion between K4 and MVnet.
People constantly refer to the Computer Network, MVnet, as K4.
Similarly, they refer to the the Village Portal as K4.
In reality they are three VERY different things.

"K4" is a number of products from K4Connect of Raleigh NC. They are a provider of services to Nursing Homes nation wide.

The flagship product of K4Connect is called "K4 Community" -- The Masonic Villages calls this, "The Village Portal." This is an application program which runs on your tablet, smart phone, or desktop, where Masonic Village Management posts information for you to view. While requiring an arcane process to set-up, the Portal can be accessed from anywhere in the world where your device has an internet connection.

The second product is known as the "K4 Box" - which allows monitoring of Resident's activity to determine their well being.

This will replace the old system, driven by Dining Plan participation, where if you did not show up for a meal the Switchboard Operator would call to check if you were OK or needed assistance. (For more information on this see the blog entry: K4-13 - Installation of K4 boxes campus-wide)

MVnet in contrast is strictly the part of the Masonic Village Infrastructure which allows the K4 Box to function.

The K4 Box communicates with its monitoring station over the Internet. The K4 Box must have a working Internet connection to function. Normally that is a WiFi connection. MVnet provides that WiFi connection, seen in locations as the K4 Community WiFi network.

WiFi Networks Normally Visible in Residential Areas

MVnet

This Network allows access to the Internet by way of a Masonic Village Firewall. This Firewall has advantages and disadvantages. It provides some protection to Resident's computers from some certain Internet "malware" and "viruses" by limiting a Resident's access to some aspects of the Internet. However, this is also one of its major disadvantages. For example, if you are using MVnet you cannot subscribe to Xfinity's Voice Remote!

Access to this network requires subscription to a Masonic Village Communications Package which will assign you a Userid and Password. Once you have your userid and password, it can be used anywhere on campus that MVnet is visible -- this means you have access to MVnet as you visit friends in different buildings or cottages.

See: MVnet-6: Communications Packages for Residents

GuestMVnet

This network allows access to WiFi without the need for a pre-assigned userid and password.

It is intended for occasional use by visitors, just as the MVGuest network has in the past.

It is bandwidth restricted.

GuestMVnet first presents the device with an information screen which contains the MVnet "Terms of Service" to which the user must agree. This agreement must be re-agreed to every 24-48 hours.

See: MVnet-4: GuestMVnet Login Instructions and Acceptable Use Policy

DevicesMVnet

This network is for devices, such as WiFi enabled printers, which must be identified to the Network using their MAC address. A representative from the IT Department must configure your access to this network to enable your use of it.

K4Community

This network is used by the K4 Box and other K4 devices such as pre-configured tablets.

See: K4-13 - Installation of K4 boxes campus-wide

MV Resident or MV Guest

These two networks are visible in common areas of the campus.

The MV Resident network is typically visible in the common living areas of all resident apartment buildings.

The MV Guest network is available in areas such as Dining Rooms, the Trexler Tavern, the Freemason Cultural Center, the Deike Auditorium and the Brossman Ballroom.

See: MVnet-5: Public WiFi Terms and Conditions