Year In Reflection

Looking back at my first year as CEO, in a pandemic…

A little over a year ago I took over as CEO at 702 Communications. My first three months were a whirlwind. I made some strategic hires to expand our wholesale division, I was guiding the team through a wireless system conversion, I was working to complete 702’s acquisition of Computer Wrench, traveling around to introduce myself and foster business relationships. There were ups and downs, sure, but the days just flew by. 2020 was going to be a big growth year, pushing the sales staff, pushing the company to provide the best customer service possible, and then COVID hit.

 

 

As hospitals began to fill and mandatory shutdowns began to manifest, my priorities shifted. Our management meetings went from discussions about sales goals and project deadlines to making sure we could get our employees working remotely and closing the office to the public.

COVID guidelines were crafted for employee and customer interaction. I took part in weekly calls with the General Managers and CEOs of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance. We shared our best-practices and the information on each other’s communities. We committed to not suspend customers for non-payment and reached out to the local schools to see if we could help connect students in need.

Discussions with my sales team went from pushing sales goals to reaching out to customers and seeing what we could do. If they needed more bandwidth to support remote workers, we were willing to help. If they were reducing staff or closing the doors, we did what we could to make service adjustments that made sense. We tried to do our part.

As the months dragged on, we found ways to try to buoy spirits in the community. We sponsored virtual concerts with Livewire, we worked with the Arts Partnership on Chalkfest and The Fence Project. We also celebrated some milestones internally. Six employees at 702 have celebrated or will soon celebrate 20 years with the company. Fargo Inc just did a story and photoshoot for us on that. Read more here.

All in all, I was very fortunate. I am very fortunate. I’m working in an industry that’s essential for remote work and distance learning. I’m also very fortunate that we’re financially stable and didn’t need to furlough employees or reduce staff because of COVID.

So, as I look back at my first year as CEO, I didn’t accomplish everything I intended, but I am proud of the work we did.

I wish you all health and happiness in the holiday season.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Virtual Doctor Visits

As much as we hate to admit it, COVID is still a real problem in our communities and, whether our concern is for ourselves or others, it’s still in our best interest to limit our in-person interactions.

With that premise, I wanted to take a couple minutes today to talk about a technology that’s been out there for years but you probably haven’t used: virtual doctor visits.

 

 

Now, disclaimer time, I don’t want anyone to take chances with their health. If you’re having serious medical issues, please call 911, go to the ER, or talk to your doctor as you always have.

If, though, you want to do a COVID test at home, there’s an option for that. If you’re experiencing something more minor going on, a virtual doctor visit might be a great option. Let’s talk about both scenarios.

COVID testing at home:

If you’re interested in a COVID test but don’t want to leave your house, there are options for that. Vault Health has a COVID saliva test that you can order and take with video assistance for $119. You simply log onto the website,  create an account, and they’ll walk you through the testing.

Virtual doctor visits:

There are many options for virtual care. Sanford and Essentia both have virtual doctor visits as an option.

• Sanford patients can schedule an e-visit via My Sanford Chart or mobile app.

• Essentia patients can schedule an e-visit or the My Health/My Chart mobile app.

But if you’re reading this and aren’t in their coverage area or if you’re interested in another option, I can also recommend Amwell . I used this app when I knew I had an ear infection. It’s really easy to use, very cost-effective and covers a broad range of treatable conditions. From acne and allergy treatment to bronchitis, or flu symptoms, or for mental health counseling, there are virtual options. Everything Amwell treats is listed here.

Regardless of the provider you choose, if you have a couple tools at your disposal, you’ll help your doctor along. Think about an in-person visit. The nurse checks your weight, your temperature, and your blood pressure. If you have a scale at home, a thermometer, and a blood pressure cuff you’re going to be able to give your doctor important information they need. But if you don’t have those things, that doesn’t mean you can’t still give it a try.

Again, we’re all ready for COVID to be over and we’re ready to get back to our normal lives. The more responsible we are with our in-person interaction, the sooner that’ll be. So if you’ve never tried a virtual doctor visit, maybe it’s time!

Be well.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Upgrading Your Video Conference Tech

Whether we’re distance learning or remote working, we’re spending a lot of time with videoconference apps these days. And, while we’re all used to mediocre-quality video and sound, there are options to make our videoconferences just a little more professional.

 

 

Video Options

If you’re using an older laptop, it’s easy to upgrade your video quality with a gaming camera. I’m using the Razer Kiyo which can be purchased from Razer, Target, Best Buy, Amazon and the like for about $100. It’ll shoot 1080p at 30fps or 760p at 60fps. It’s also got an onboard ring light to supplement your lighting. More details at Razer: https://tinyurl.com/yy3yn7e7.

Audio Options – Speakers vs. Headphones

I’m going to start off making a recommendation. If you’re going to be distance learning or remote working, do yourself a favor and get some decent headphones. They don’t have to be noise cancelling, but a good pair of closed-back headphones will help drown out any ambient noise and will ensure you don’t have to worry about any audio feedback due to mic/speaker placement. I’ve got an older pair of Senheiser Momentums that I like quite a bit: https://tinyurl.com/y4mhqd6w. Sure, they’re $100, but they’re good for more than just videoconferencing. Consider a splurge!

Audio Options – Microphones

Once you’ve got your audio isolated to just your ears, you should focus on a mic upgrade.

If you’re using an onboard laptop mic, odds are you’re hearing a lot of ambient noise and perhaps some room echo. For $20, I picked up the MOVO lavalier mic that plugs into either your computer via USB dongle or your smartphone. It’s not studio quality, but it’s a definite upgrade over your laptop mic. More details at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yyacwyfh.

If audio quality’s really important to you, you can pick up a Blue Yeti Microphone. Several different options are available on Amazon for $150 or so. The Blue Yeti is very popular and used by many YouTube creators and podcasters. Amazon’s choice here: https://tinyurl.com/y39cpwu9.

So, if you’re serious about upgrading your videoconference experience, some simple options are out there to help.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Help! I’m running out of storage on my device!

By this point, most of us have had at least one experience with a device running out of storage. Though our phones and computers have ever-increasing storage capacity, it seems like they just keep filling up. How can you stop the cycle?

 

 

First, we have to figure out what’s taking up the space.

For most of us, it’s not the programs or apps on our devices taking up storage space. Before streaming music was prevalent, I know most of my phone’s storage was taken up with music. Now, however, I’d be willing to bet that most of our storage woes are due to photos and videos that we’ve either taken ourselves to share or photos and videos that have been shared with us.

How do you know? Well, our phones make it pretty easy to see what’s taking up space. On my iPhone, for instance, I can simply open up Settings/General/iPhone storage and I see that I’m using 39 of 128 GB of space.

Most of my stored items are actually apps, but that’s because I’m automatically uploading my photos to the cloud. If you haven’t checked into it, storage from Apple or Google is really affordable. You can change settings on your phone to automatically upload photos from your device, to the cloud, and then remove them from your device. That way, you’ve always got room on your device. It’s a great solution for keeping your device’s memory free, but it doesn’t solve everything. Unless you’re willing to continue to upgrade your storage over and over and over, you’re still going to have to take some time to curate your photo library.

I know it’s hard for some people to delete photos you’ve taken or received, but I encourage you to review what’s in your digital library. If you took a picture of something funny or clever or whatever with the intent to share, delete it once it’s been shared! You probably don’t need it for posterity. It was just something that caught your eye or tickled your funny bone at the time. Likewise, if you’re active on social media, you may have taken photos or videos to share with your friends and families on those platforms. Once they’re on a social media platform, unless you intend to print those photos or use videos for a longer project at some time, you don’t have to also keep a copy for yourself.

If you just can’t bring yourself to delete any of the 200 photos of your children or pets doing something cute or funny or can’t bear not to have 15 photos of a scenic overlook from varying perspectives, it’s okay. You’re not alone. You do have the option to continue to buy more storage space.

In this time of isolation, I’m not encouraging you to be ruthless with digital reminders of happier times, but if you do find yourself with extra time on your hands, maybe it’s a good idea to spend a little time decluttering.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Gig Comparison

3G 4G 5G – What’s the difference?

If you feel like the wireless carriers are constantly rolling out new campaigns to tout the best, greatest, fastest, most-reliable new networks, it’s because they are constantly changing the way they do business.

3G, 4G and 5G aren’t just marketing buzzwords, they’re completely different technologies designed to bring more bandwidth to their consumers.

While 5G is rolling out in select cities, there are many rural areas that still connect over 3G networks. What’s the difference? Why doesn’t everyone get 5G right away? It comes down to cost.
3G technology began back in 1998 and is still used in some areas today. It was designed to use a longer wavelength that could travel further, penetrate walls and foliage better and deliver about 2Mbps, max.

4G was rolled out in the late 2000s and promised much higher speeds. On 4G, users are able to connect at up to 100Mbps, a huge improvement from the 2Mbps max of 3G. However, to deliver that bandwidth, the wavelength got shorter which meant less travel and less penetration for walls and foliage. That limitation required the carriers to put up additional towers to bring 4G coverage to their customers.

5G brings the same benefits and drawbacks. With 5G, we may be able to see speeds of up to 10Gbps, but the carriers are going to have to put lots and lots of access points in to provide this coverage. That’s why not every city is going to have 5G right away and some might not see it for years, if ever.

Why do we need all that speed?

Well, some of our technology is dependent on access to bandwidth. Think about the Internet. At its inception, the Internet was a bunch of text. As bandwidth evolved, the Internet could share photos and files, then video, then higher quality video and so-on. With more and more devices connecting every day, we need more and more bandwidth available to power those devices. If we want to see technology enhancements like augmented reality, 5G is going to get us closer to the bandwidth requirements we’ll need to roll out a technology like that.

So, the bottom line is, it’s not all hype, and the improvements will never stop. Our future technology depends on our future bandwidth.

I hope you’ve found this post informative!

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Hacked. Now What?

First, what are a few ways hackers find their way into a device or accounts?

Unfortunately, there are lots of ways for hackers to find their way into our computers and our accounts. The software and apps we use are in a constant state of change. Sometimes, as developers work to maintain interoperability, opportunities arise for a hacker to exploit a change and access your computer.

Other times it’s a result of something users do themselves. We talked about this previously about opening emails that aren’t legit. Some of those emails may contain a payload that, once opened, deploys malware on your system. And, of course, hackers can always buy your password online. If you’re not diligent about password security, you could easily be hacked.

What should I be most concerned about a hacker gaining access to?

I think most people would say they’re concerned about a hacker gaining access to anything at all. But the biggest threat to an organization would be losing security of their customer’s private or financial information. As a consumer, I’d say the biggest concern would be your own financial information, but we’ve seen plenty of people lose private photos and videos that can be used to extort or embarrass.

What should be done immediately after learning the device or account is hacked?

If you have a hacked device, you need to take it offline as quickly as possible. If the device can’t transmit your personal information, you’ve got a compromised device but your information may not have been compromised yet.

Then it’s a matter of calling in an IT professional to help. Some viruses and malware can be very hard to completely remove from a system. It’s best to be sure.

If you have an account that’s hacked, you need to make an immediate list of any other accounts that use the same username and passwords. We’ve talked before about password security, about not using the same password for multiple accounts, and about using randomly generated passwords. If you have a separate password for each account you hold, your exposure to a single cracked or obtained password only affects the one account.

What additional security measures should be added to prevent repeat attacks?

It depends a little. If we’re talking about your workplace, you need a plan for cybersecurity. That will involve a policy for computer updates, access controls, antivirus requirements, and social engineering/phishing training for your employees. There’s a lot that needs to be done and recognized by each member of your organization to maintain security.

As a home user, you need to be taking steps to make sure you’re not using the same password for multiple accounts. Make sure your antivirus is up to date, make sure you’re not browsing to unreputable websites, and make sure you’re not opening suspicious emails.

That’s why 702 Communications offers managed services and computer repair support. We’ve got a team of IT professionals that can help you design your infrastructure to minimize risk. We can make sure your devices are automatically updating to prevent access via exploits, and we can set you up with a backup plan for your data if you’re the target of a ransomware attack. Whether you’re looking to prevent an attack or recover from one, 702 Communications is here to help.

Improving Connectivity in Your Home

Modern Wi-Fi routers generally do a great job of extending the signal to all rooms and all corners of your home. But sometimes there’s room for improvement. We’re going to talk today about two options for extending internet connectivity inside your home.

Mesh Wi-Fi Systems

The first option to really get great Wi-Fi coverage throughout your home is a mesh Wi-Fi system. In it, you have multiple access points that relay the Wi-Fi signal to and through each other to the base station that’s wired to your main Internet connection. Unlike Wi-Fi repeaters, these devices connect to each other with a different type of wireless signal and provide the full throughput of your connection. They’re generally really easy to set up and some don’t cost much (if any) more than a new wireless router.

CNET likes the Nest Wi-Fi best at $269, but does give other options depending on what’s important to you.

PC Mag does the same, giving you a list of mesh systems to look at depending on your needs.

But there’s another option for devices that need to be wired in.

Powerline Ethernet

If you’ve got an older home, chances are you don’t have Ethernet running everywhere you want connectivity. And, while it’s possible to retroactively wire up your home, there is an easier option that I’ve personally found to be pretty effective: Powerline Ethernet.

Powerline Ethernet takes adapters and uses your home’s wiring to transmit Ethernet in the house. You just plug one box into an outlet near your router (not a power strip) and then plug Ethernet into that device. Providing you’re on a single phase of power in your home, you can then plug subsequent powerline boxes into any other outlet in your home, pair them to the base station, and have Ethernet delivered via your home’s powerline. There are several brands out there, but I use a TP-Link system. For $40, you can deliver Ethernet into any other room in your home.

I hope this information will help get you better connected!

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Identifying Suspicious Emails

Phishing is a social engineering attempt to deceive the target into providing personal or financial information or to possibly get them to install a piece of software on a computer that will enable the cybercriminal access to the target’s information.

Phishing attempts are nothing new, but as time’s gone on, some of them have become a bit more sophisticated and, in this work-from-home environment, easier to fall for.

By now everyone’s on the lookout for emails from Nigerian princes who claim to want to provide you with fabulous wealth, for just a small investment of your own, but you might not be as cautious if you see an email from “Facebook” that claims someone just tried to log into your account, or from “Amazon” who’s emailing to tell you they’ve detected fraud on your account.

It is important to protect your online identify. It is important to make sure your social media accounts aren’t compromised and your online merchant accounts are secure. But before you click a button in a panic to respond to one of these alerts, make sure you take the time to really look at it and see if it’s not a trap.

Here are examples of both the “Facebook” and “Amazon” alerts for your reference.

I have a Gmail account for personal emails. The other day while perusing my Spam inbox I found the following:

At first glance, someone might think, “I don’t know Rosina Taylor, I’m not going to click on that. Someone tried to log into my Facebook account? I better check it out!”

If you’re careful, you know this isn’t from Facebook. For one thing, it’s in my Spam folder, so even Google thought it was suspicious. But sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes totally legitimate items show up in there. That’s why I check it. But if you look twice at the sender, you see it’s not actually Facebook that’s sending the message, but Facebook. They’re missing an o in their identity field.

Here again, to Google’s credit, there’s a big gray banner telling you it’s in your spam folder because it’s similar to items that have been identified as spam in the past. But if that’s not enough for you, take a good look at the sender’s email address: UPRBKFIQ…@tsvbxnpmsiwafloechcuwsmeesfeen.us. A legitimate email from Facebook or from any other reputable company isn’t going to come from a randomized account like this one. It doesn’t matter what else might be in the body of that message or the footer of that message. There is no doubt that this is a phishing attempt and any further action on your part to engage this message may end in your computer being compromised by a cybercriminal trying to otherwise steal your personal or financial information.

Here’s the “Amazon” example:

But say you missed that and you clicked on the message. I did to show you. This is what comes up next:

Knowing what you do now, you can see that this is also an email that doesn’t require any further action. Amazon is never going to send you a notice from alertsupport4376-recentfailedsigninappf8qtwwl7fn2c0i3z10@mail-important0562.com. Here again, you can delete the message and move on.

Both of those emails were easy to identify as phishing attempts if you just take a moment to really look. But sometimes it can be a little trickier to see. That’s why it’s really important for you to be vigilant when reading and replying to emails. If you get something from a professional contact or from a company with whom you do business that’s at all out of character or at all suspicious, look carefully at it before taking further action. If you’re still not sure, ask a trusted IT advisor.

Recently an email came into a staff email box at 702 from:

Jim Walter was the CEO at 702 for our first 20 years. Everyone here (except our newest hires) knows Jim by name, so it’s possible that he’d be emailing an employee even in retirement. There’s a little bit of legitimacy there. The email address is funky, but who knows? Maybe Jim decided he wanted to start his own email domain of “chiefe-mail.com” and send emails from it. It’s not hard to set something like that up. It’s not in character for Jim, but it’s not impossible. Let’s look at the body of the message:

Are you available, i need you to handle something for me asap, i can’t talk on phone now, just reply me here. Stay Safe

That isn’t Jim’s speech pattern. “reply me here” is a dead giveaway that this is a phishing attempt.

Our employee identified this as suspicious, reached out to our system admin regarding the email, and the phishing attempt was shut down. It does take a level of vigilance from each member in your organization to keep company information safe.

Be on the lookout in your own environment. Do your part. Stay safe out there!

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

PhoneSoap

If you’re not familiar with PhoneSoap as a product, you may be conjuring images of dish detergent or window cleaner. The truth is that PhoneSoap is a creative way to sanitize your cellphone and any other small personal items that may need cleaning.

PhoneSoap, at least the basic model that I’ve got, is a white clamshell with ultraviolet bulbs in both the top and bottom of the device.

phone soap closed

phone soap open

These bulbs are what’s responsible for sanitizing any items placed within it.

PhoneSoap uses UV-C radiation to sanitize your phone. We’re all familiar with UV radiation. We’ve heard, for years, about the necessity of using sunscreen to prevent sunburn and possible skin cancer.

What you might not know, though, is that the World Health Organization has, for years, recommended the use of sunlight (UV radiation) to purify drinking water if no other purification means are available.

How does sunlight purify or sanitize anything? It’s all about the radiation.

Our sun generates three types of UV radiation: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. Our ozone layer stops all of the UV-C and most of the UV-B radiation. UV-A and B radiation cause us to tan or burn when exposed, and the damage from UV-B radiation also causes our bodies to create vitamin D.

None of those changes occur, though, without some catalyst. And that catalyst is radiation damage.

UV-C is the most dangerous of the UV radiation because it has the shortest wavelength. It’s so short, in fact, that it can inactivate microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. That’s why you may be hearing more in the news now about cities and countries using UV light to sterilize hospital equipment, mass transit equipment and the like. UV-C gets right into the RNA and DNA of germs to prevent them from infecting or reproducing.

Our phones go everywhere with us and there’s probably little you touch or hold more than your phone. It stands to reason that our phones need regular sanitizing. And while you can wipe down your phone with a bleach wipe, something like PhoneSoap gets your phone truly clean and doesn’t leave any residue when it does.

Using PhoneSoap is easy! Just place your phone in the case, close the lid, then the light on the top of the case will come on. Ten minutes later, the light will turn off, and your phone is clean (well, sterile anyway).

I’ve found the case to be big enough for my key, wallet and eyeglasses, but not much more than that.

phone soap with keys inside

But those are my daily carry items, the things that I’m holding or touching most often, so it stands to reason that if I can keep them clean, and my hands clean, I can do a pretty good job of making sure I’m not bringing all sorts of germs back home.

PhoneSoap Basic is available for about $50 and should be good for tens of thousands of uses.

Stay safe out there.
Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Hosting Live Events Remotely

Large gatherings as we knew them are a thing of the past. 50% capacity or cancellations are the only solutions for some, but what about virtual live events? In the following clip, I discuss the logistics behind live streaming tech needed to bring your event to the masses safely on your own devices.

 

 

Thinking about putting on a live streaming event? Here are some pieces of technology to consider.

Eventlive.pro
Wireless Mic
Patch Cable

Call us with questions on connectivity!

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications