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Connecting to SkyFi on Windows 10 and 8

Going wireless with an observing setup is the goal of many observers. Doing so presently with Windows 10 (or 8) and Argo Navis or Sky Commander digital setting circles (DSC) presents some problems. Following are the author's experiences with setting up a wireless connection using Deep-Sky Planner running on a Windows 10 laptop, SkyFi and a Sky Commander. The Sky Commander could just as well be an Argo Navis DSC.

These problems boil down to a single issue: Microsoft has made connecting to an ad hoc network difficult in Windows 8 & 10 for security reasons, and SkyFi presents itself as an ad hoc network. Note that Nexus DSC does not have these problems since it presents itself as an Access Point which is easily managed by Windows.

The overview of the situation is this:

  1. Deep-Sky Planner running on the laptop wants to connect to a DSC through a serial connection - a DB-9 to RJ-11 cable. The serial connection is identified as COM1 or similar in Deep-Sky Planner.
  2. The serial cable connects laptop to DSC. If the laptop has no 9-pin serial port, you will need a USB to serial adapter to connect to the the DB-9 end of the serial cable. The author has had success using Keyspan model USA-19HS.
  3. Laptop communicates with DSC through the serial cable, but a problem arises when the serial cable gets in the way of observing or is too short.

To go wirelessly from laptop to DSC:

  1. Deep-Sky Planner running on the laptop can connect to the DSC through the serial cable, but it can also connect using the WiFi radio in the laptop and a WiFi to serial adapter connected to the DSC, thus providing a wireless link between laptop and DSC.
  2. Information is sent by Deep-Sky Planner from the laptop via Wi-Fi. We need something on the other end of the communication link to accept Wi-Fi traffic and convert it back to serial for the DSC. This step is achieved in this examples using a SkyFi unit available from Simulation Curriculum Corporation and its affiliates.
  3. Once the information is received by the SkyFi unit and converted to serial, it travels through SkyFi's RJ-11 to DB-9 serial cable which is connected to the DSC's DB-9 to RJ-11 serial cable, and finally to the DSC. Thankfully, the RJ-11 to DB-9 cables are included with their respective devices.

In trying to assemble the components for a working wireless system for observing, I ran into problems on step 2 above - connecting to the SkyFi. This problem was directly related to the Windows 10 laptop. It also occurs on Windows 8. I did not have these problems with a Windows 7 laptop that I also used for troubleshooting. Solving the issues took some time, but it can be done.

You can read the entire solution or the one of concern:

Windows 10 doesn't connect to ad hoc networks Windows 10 needs to connect to SkyFi

Issue 1: Windows 10 computer doesn't connect to ad hoc networks like SkyFi

The SkyFi unit communicates via an ad hoc wireless network that it creates. An ad hoc network connects a computer with another computer or device for temporary communications. This is different from the type of connection formed between a laptop and the Internet, or a laptop and a smartphone.

Unfortunately, Windows 10 doesn't allow users to connect to an ad hoc network easily - using the wireless network panel attached to the Wi-Fi icon in the system tray. You normally click on the Wi-Fi icon in the system tray and click on a network identifier (SSID) in the panel, then you click Connect. Doing this with an ad hoc network does not connect to the ad hoc network.

The procedure described below is detailed but most of it only has to be done once. Mercifully, the Windows 10 laptop retains the ad hoc network connection definition.

First, the SkyFi unit is presumed to have the default factory settings. The reset button on the back of the unit can be pressed to return it to this state. You can change a number of settings in the unit, but that is beyond the scope of this procedure.

  1. Turn on the SkyFi unit and the wireless radio in the laptop (if it was off).
  2. Notice that the SkyFi SSID appears in the Window 10 wireless network panel attached to the Wi-Fi icon in the system tray. If you don't see SkyFi in the panel, check the LED indicator on the back of SkyFi. It should be green if it has created the ad hoc network. If SkyFi's LED is green, make sure the laptop's wireless radio is on (step 1).
  3. Start a Windows command shell (type cmd.exe in the Search Windows box on lower left of the screen). You should see a window entitled Command Prompt.
  4. Be sure of the network identifier (SSID) of the SkyFi unit. By default, it is SkyFi. If you are unsure, enter in the command shell window:
    netsh wlan show networks

    This should show an entry for the SkyFi unit that looks like:
    SSID 3 : SkyFi
    Network Type : Adhoc
    Authentication : Open
    Encryption : None

    where SSID is followed by a number that varies, and the SSID demonstrated here is SkyFi. The rest of the parameters shown depend on the configuration of the SkyFi unit. The values shown here are the defaults.
  5. Go to Open Network and Sharing Center in Windows. You can right click on the Wi-Fi icon in the system tray to get to this via context menu.
  6. Click Set up a new connection or network.
  7. Double click Manually connect to a wireless network.
  8. A dialog box opens where you define the ad hoc network created by the SkyFi unit.
    1. Enter the SSID of the ad hoc network into the Network name box. This should be SkyFi.
    2. Leave Security type set to No authentication (Open).
    3. Uncheck Start this connection automatically
    4. Click Next.
    5. Click Close.
  9. In the command shell, run this command:
    netsh wlan set profileparameter SkyFi connectiontype=ibss

    where SkyFi is the SSID of the SkyFi ad hoc network.
  10. Once you have done steps 1-9, Windows understands the network connection parameters and has saved them. You can connect to this network anytime in the future.

Issue 2: Windows 10 needs to connect to SkyFi

We have defined the connection to the SkyFi ad hoc network in Windows 10, but we still aren't connected at this point. We need to connect to SkyFi now and in the future, and we can do this fairly easily.

  1. SkyFi is still on and laptop's wireless radio is still on.
  2. Start a Windows command shell (cmd.exe) on your computer, or continue using the one opened above if it is still available.
  3. Run the following command to connect to SkyFi:
    netsh wlan connect SkyFi

    where SkyFi is the SSID of the SkyFi ad hoc network.

You can determine whether the connection has succeeded by looking at one of:

  1. Network and Sharing Center should show that you are connected to:
    Unidentified network
    Public network
    Access type No network access
    Connections: Wi-Fi (SkyFi)
  2. Click on the network icon in the system tray. This shows a list of networks detected by your computer. You should see SkyFi No Internet, open (meaning you are connected to SkyFi which has no Internet access.)
  3. Open a web browser and navigate to The SkyFi configuration page should be displayed if laptop is connected.

For convenience, I created a batch file containing a single line: netsh wlan connect SkyFi . The batch file is on the laptop's desktop so that I can click it any time I want to start the SkyFi connection.