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Networks So, your ADSL sucks? (Trials and tribulations of wireless broadband)

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by Mister_Tad, 15 Mar 2018.

  1. Mister_Tad

    Mister_Tad Will work for nuts Super Moderator

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    Thought I'd post a brain-dump in case it's helpful to others, as I've seen on occasion in the speedtest thread (and sometimes the "ruining my life" thread), many others suffer from crappy fixed line broadband like myself, and I feel like after quite some time I finally have it cracked.

    I'm in a bit of an odd area - heart of suburbia in a major population centre, but no fixed line high speed broadband services. I believe this is due to the fact that when openreach and Virgin came through the area the first time, my road was not yet adopted by the council (possibly not even fully built) - the next roads over can enjoy FTTC or cable. I'm here with ADSL that peaks at around 3.5Mbit down, 600kbit up - serviceable enough for the basics, but nothing near adequate for what I need, working from home (the upload, in particular).

    It got less manageable when we found ourselves using Netflix and Amazon so much more, to the point that we cancelled both Sky and the TV license - whenever we were watching something I'd have the config page of the router on the phone on standby in case things started falling apart and I had to kick a client off that decided to dare download an update or something.

    I was reluctant to do anything drastic that took a commitment (like literally every other option), since I could see a scenario where literally as ink dried on a contract I got a mail from Virgin saying that it was ready, however through many lines of inquiry managed to eventually talk to network planners at Openreach and Virgin - the former advised that the location is a current firm no, with future consideration possible, the latter than the location was approved, but on hold, with no progress is expected for at least 12 months (subsequently it's actually gone backwards in the process, I think planning permission was an issue).

    So I finally decided I was doing something about this and considered a number of options and had a few discussions with local telco providers. I hadn't set a budget per se as I need to be able to work, and from a personal point of view "real" broadband would have a profound impact as well, but this was going to be from my own pocket as well so price sensitivity was definitely there.

    - First consideration was fixed wireless (wifi), but that was a non-starter, as following a few surveys, there was just no line of sight to the right locations.
    - Satellite was a non-starter on account of latency for VoIP/Webex
    - I discounted 4G/LTE on the basis of data limits at the time (they've gotten way higher in a short time) and cost of going over - wanton usage of LTE for me would have rivalled the cost of a leased line at the time.
    - EFM was next on the list, however following a survey due to the distance from the exchange and quality of the infrastructure in between, speeds would have been lacklustre and installation fairly expensive.
    - Next up bonded DSL (4x), but the fact our base DSL was so crappy to start with meant that the best we could hope for would be around 10Mbit down, 2Mbit up. Not ideal, but a step change enough to consider. Cost wasn't awesome, £500 to install and £250/month, kinda pointless. Would make a lot more sense if quadrupling up on FTTC speeds.
    - Leased line - I though this would be uber-expensive so never really considered it, however after talking to the telco guys it turned out it was only super-expensive. A wires-only 10Mbit line on a 100MBit bearer started at £235/month, and scaled linearly at £15/month per 10Mbit (i.e. 100Mbit @ £370/month). Having got to this point, I was near-prepared to swallow this. The main stickler though was the installation time (16-20 weeks) and cost (£2250 minimum, possibility of more than the same again unless I committed for 36 months) - I would figuratively die if after the ink dried and I was committed, but with still months to go before installation, a Virgin van appeared on the street.

    A few months into my quest now, I stuck a pin in the leased line idea and started to consider options for double-barrelled internet - keep the crappy ASDL for the slow lane (non-interactive) usage, and go for LTE for fast lane (interactive, streaming etc) usage. I initially thought this would involve carving up my internal network and be a pain to manage, but was enlightened by the knowledgeable people here in my favourite intweweb family that that needn't be the case with any dual-wan router worth its salt.

    And so begins the trials and tribulations of LTE home broadband, (in the post to follow since I've already waffled way more about the background than I expected)...
     
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  2. Mister_Tad

    Mister_Tad Will work for nuts Super Moderator

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    And to continue, deep breath....

    My ADSL usage with Sky was up to around 220GB/month, but with streaming being constrained by a slow pipe this could be significantly higher were those constraints to be removed - this meant that going 100% LTE would be fairly expensive (leased line expensive, though without the up-front cost), but not everything is speed sensitive. In any one month the PS4 is liable to pull down 50GB+ of game updates without me even knowing for instance, each phone in the house pulled down 8-10GB of automatic app updates per month, so started looking at how to split this.

    I considered Meraki gear to start as that seemed to be the most capable pro-sumer gear in terms of granularity of policy routing (based on traffic type), but I wasn't eligible for hardware freebies for reasons, and the continual cost of licensing put me off, especially since I wasn't entirely sure how it was all going to work. I settled on a DrayTek 2925 and have no complaints whatsoever. Policy routing is only configurable by source or destination IP, and whilst I initially had ideas of how to be clever about using destination IPs (i.e. from Sonos devices, use LTE for Tidal, but ADSL for Spotify), it wasn't really feasible since those destination IPs aren't necessarily known or static. I settled on source IP only and it's working out just fine - some devices are in the fast lane, some are in the slow lane, and I don't even have to think about it any more, and policies are configured but de-activated for devices I might want to temporarily promote to the fast lane (i.e. PS4 downloading a big update for a game I want to play sooner than waiting for it at 250KB/sec).

    In terms of service selection, EE was really the only option at the time for tariff, and turns out since then they've really plowed a lot into their network for improvements going forward. One of Three's all-you-can-eat tariffs did appeal - it's clear in the T&Cs that if they think you're using it like I was going to be they would cut you off or throttle you severely, but I thought maybe I can just fail over to the ADSL at that point every month, or even to another 'proper' LTE broadband tariff with a lower limit (triple-WANning it), but in the end decided it would be too much faff. I was assured by EE that their 4G home broadband plans are unmolested regardless of usage or traffic (up to the cap, which is hard until you pay £20/20GB to top up) and picked the EE 100GB tariff at £75/month for 12 months last March. This also meant that if Virgin turned up a few weeks later I was only down ~£1000 (including the Draytek) as opposed to the huge leased line commitment.

    Management of the 100GB cap had to be somewhat active - only main PCs, a couple Sonos players and the streaming box in the media room were in the fast lane. Things like "metered network" were enabled for all of the PCs lest window update decided to blast a big chunk away, and if I ever had to download anything notably large I would do so over ADSL and just wait it out. Most months ended within the cap, but only because we rationed video streaming if it looked like it would be close. Not perfect, but better than it was.

    The device they sent was a Huawei E5180, little cube sort of thing. Looking back I have no idea why I stuck with their kit, considering I've never been one to use network-provided hardware for anything else, hindsight eh? Anyway, this was set up to be stripped down to basically a gateway-only affair and results were initially 'good' at 12/8 down/up (bear in mind what I was used to), though after experimenting with realistic placement got this to 16/10 with relative reliability in the loft. Fortunately my existing wired network setup meant it was possible to carve off a VLAN making this possible without running another cable to the router 3 floors away. Placing it right in a window or even holding it outside was miles better though, so I started to look into external antennas.

    Options at the time were to buy the kit and pay someone £600 to come out to do a survey and installation, or to buy the kit and pay someone £100 to "chuck it somewhere, just make sure it's high up". I went for the latter. I'm glad I did in hindsight. I ordered one of these at £73 and called around local aerial fitters, eventually finding one that would do it for £100 (or it may have been £80). After some research I decided the back of the house would have the best signal, so just asked the guy that came out to chuck it right up top. He didn't have a ladder that reached despite me stating many times on the phone when booking the appointment "BTW it's a fracking tall house", so came back later with a mate with an appropriate ladder and did so.

    Moment of truth... and disappointment. The increase in upload speed was remarkable but I was really hoping for a profound improvement in download speed, and it just wasn't there. My peak results were around 20/35, typical 16/30. But it was better than before, and I got on with it for the next 10 months. It did continually bother me that maybe if it was mounted on a pole away from the house, or maybe if it was tilted in a slightly different direction, or maybe something else. I never did anything about it though as I didn't want to spend another £100 calling someone out to make a tweak and find out it just is what it is.

    A month ago EE started offering a survey and install of a directional antenna for £100, which is a mega-bargain considering what options were before. I was one of the first on the list. I also took advantage of the timing to top my package up to 200GB for a discounted rate £90/month (down from £100), and they sent a new model of router to boot. Three weeks later the lowered this tariff from £100/month to £60/month, and EE being the lovely people they are lowered my tariff for £50/month when I queried it. Kudos, EE. After installing the new router I was kind of hoping that maybe there would be a speed bump there, but not so attached to my omni antenna.

    The 200GB cap made everything better though, less active management, more streaming, more devices in the fast lane. The first month we had it, we intentionally used it with fairly reckless abandon, including a 20GB GT Sport update that I downloaded via LTE because I wanted to play it sooner rather than later. We got cut off at 23:40 on the last day of the period (i.e. it would reset 20 mins later), with 10 mins to go of an episode of Altered Carbon. After the failover to ADSL continued to watch and went to bed. Almost perfect, and validated that we can kind of just not think of it now, which is really nice.

    The install date came for the external antenna, chap came out, did some readings which were decent enough and within EE's guidelines of what's okay - neither the best nor the worst that he's seen, just in the middle... I'm the third install they've ever done at this point though. At this point I could tell them to leave it if initial readings were poor and have £90 of my £100 back, but I wanted to go ahead. First speedtests were coming in at around 25/35 though, so kind of disappointing but still a bit better - at this point I'm glad I didn't spend £600 first time around on a survey a directional antenna. I signed off the paperwork and thought that would be the end of it.

    By that evening I download speeds had gradually deteriorated to 4Mbit... srsly? I went up in the loft to check things out and that the antenna hadn't come loose and noticed a kink in the cable, never ideal. I unplugged the antenna entirely since I always had >4Mbit without, and boom, 40MBit down. Wtf? This speed lasted for the rest of the night but then when busy times started, the speed went back down. I re-attached the antenna and speeds were fairly inconsistent - I raised a call with EE to check what on earth was happening, and the concensus was that they would come out and replace the antenna the following week. Continuing to monitor the speed over the week with it attached, and detached, speeds were both higher at times, and lower at times, with the antenna. I left it off for the rest of the week.

    A new week and a new antenna, results were initially great, 60MBit down, 20MBit up - but within hours deteriorated again down to more mediocre speeds, and then to piss-poor speeds. It was about this time that the snow started, and speeds got all the way down to 1Mbit with the new antenna. I again detached it and got better (but still poor) results. Back and forth with a chap from EE for the next two weeks (who have been excellent) trying to figure out what was going on. I would get both higher peaks and lower lows with the antenna, but the lows were so low that the higher peaks weren't worth it, and they were scratching their heads as well.

    I eventually decided to buy a new device to rule out the EE router, and ordered a Huawei B525. Why oh why I never did this sooner I don't know. Speeds with the antenna attached were better than they were with the EE router, but nothing notable - 25Mbit down. Without the antenna attached however, I've averaged ~50/12 for the last week, peaks at 60 down, but more importantly the lowest reading has been at 38 down - this has held for over a week, every day, any time of the day or night, as I've been obsessively speedtesting. It pains me that I could have done this months and months before, but hey ho.

    And that's that.

    EE to their credit have been awesome through the last month working through these issues - as I've gone out and bought my own kit they've offered to take back my 'free' EE-issued router and zero the remaining 16 months of my commit period in exchange, and come take down the external antenna and refund that (they actually offered to refund it and not take it down as well). I've been dealing with one person via email and phone for the whole month, no call centre at all, really top notch. I'll be moving my ASDL to them as it pains me to still be giving money to Sky, and they're cheaper anyway.

    Lessons learned:
    - LTE broadband for fairly heavy home usage (bar mass downloading) is totally workable with dual-wanning.
    - Dual-wan is super simple to manage, set and forget, with the right kit. This might be obvious to some, and is to me now, but I probably have done this a lot sooner had I realised.
    - An external LTE antenna is not a panacea, putting the gateway/router in a good location is more important. Get that sucker in the loft somehow.
    - An omni-directional antenna could give you a small boost, but is unlikely to make a huge difference unless the router is located in a cupboard under the stairs.
    - A directional antenna is more hassle than it's worth, unless maybe you have direct line of sight to a nearby mast.
    - A decent modem is massively important, far more so than any antenna. I've learned a lot about MIMO, 256QAM, the differences between flavours of 4G, carrier aggregation etc over the last couple months, and wish I would spent the fairly modest sum (£150) in this router from the start. I'll be monitoring the gear quite closely going forward and will almost certainly upgrade to something like a Huawei B715 or B818 before the year is out if I can find one with a no-quibble return policy (i.e. form Amazon basically). One of the problems is that using all speed of such kit relies on the equivalent being installed on the mast, and it seems to be nigh on impossible to find out what's installed on the mast. A fancy 8x8 256QAM 3xCA LTE-A gateway will be for nought if the mast hasn't been similarly upgraded.
     
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  3. edzieba

    edzieba Virtual Realist

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    A fantastic writeup! I don't think I could wean myself from the teat of 200mbit down, but good to know how to bodge things if needed.

    I wonder if the antenna issue was due to it being directional: the internal router antenna is omnidirection so can hop to whatever cell tower is giving the best signal at the time (weather, passing cars, neighbours having windows closed/open at different angles, etc can all cause Weird Multipath Shenanigans by shifting nodes & antinodes about) but the directional antenna is capped to whatever that single mast can do, even if it's swamped by other users at the time. Are there any routers that can handle multiple directional antennae and 'roam' between cell sites?
     
  4. Mister_Tad

    Mister_Tad Will work for nuts Super Moderator

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    Yeah, rub it in! There's not much you can do on 200Mbit that you can't do on 50Mbit though, it's just faster. Moving from 3 to 50 (hell, even from 3 to 10) opens up things that were just impossible before. If/when Virgin eventually gets around to the area I'll be the first in the queue for their top business package, but the biggest difference won't be the speed, it will be the unlimited bandwidth.

    That's almost certainly the case, and why I fitted an omni to start with - directionals can be finicky for various reasons (weather, seasons, surroundings... figuratively and possibly literally the way the wind is blowing) and you're obviously tied to the mast you're pointing at. There are two masts about 90deg apart at the back of my house, with no direct LoS to either - not sure what kit is actually installed on either of them though. I think if you're in the middle of nowhere, typical use case for LTE broadband, there's probably a case for directional since you're unlikely to have a wide choice of masts, and more likely to have direct LoS, but not otherwise.

    I have been tempted to re-terminate my omni and try again with that, since 5m of cable loss is not insignificant and I only need enough to get through the external wall, but I'm just going to enjoy not faffing with it for a while. The fact the gateway is already ~15m up in my loft in what's already one of the highest points in the immediate area I'm sure limits the benefits of the external antenna, regardless of type.

    The behaviour of the new gateway backs up the theory between being able to take advantage of multiple masts - upon booting up it sits in LTE mode at about 25Mbit down, and then after a time (up to an hour) it switches to LTE-A - i.e. aggregates 1800 and 2600MHz. In my mind it's talking to the cells and negotiating speeds/bands etc figuring out the best case scenario.

    There are some routers out there that do 3 band carrier aggregation that may help more, hopping on 800MHz as well, but the Huawei B818 released a couple of weeks ago at MWC looks awesome, and is so far ahead of where I expect EE are with their infrastructure here that I'll wait until that hits the market and upgrade as I'm sure it will last a good long time... just hope the internal antenna is decent.

    There may be kit that can handle many antennas, but haven't seen any in my price bracket. The higher end consumer stuff isn't exactly cheap, I'd expect the B818 to land at around £500, but the carrier-grade stuff is on another level, as you would expect.
     
  5. Guest-16

    Guest-16 Guest

    How far are you from the closest 4G tower? Is EE investing in new/future towers your neighborhood do you know?
    There's no LOS you say - is that because of your house location or other factors?
     
  6. Mister_Tad

    Mister_Tad Will work for nuts Super Moderator

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    I'm around 800m from the nearest and 1.2km from another - no idea what EE is doing, though with the amount of building that's happening in areas which would be serviced by the first tower I certainly hope they're investing.

    That said, the resources available to find out anything about mast locations or capabilities aren't really reliable, so this is all guesswork. The strongest signals from the directional antenna at time of survey wash with the location of a mast on one of the mast mapping sites, so I'm assuming that one does exist at least.

    My house is 50m higher in elevation than the mast. I've eye-balled it from around the mid-point, and whilst I don't believe a straight line would actually hit ground level, it does pass through one house behind and lots of dense and mature trees.

    According to EE's signal checker, I shouldn't be able to use carrier aggregation, yet I am, so clearly the Huawei is making a good punt at what's on offer.
     
  7. Bede

    Bede Well-Known Member

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    Great writeup, thank you — sure this will become a handy reference for a lot of people. As ever with these things, your comment about how much you've learnt about radio strikes a chord; we never escape a complex without extra esoteric knowledge!
     
  8. edzieba

    edzieba Virtual Realist

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    To complicate things further: it's not enough just to have a clear line of sight to a tower. Any objects within the [Fresnel Zone[/url] between you and the tower will affect the signal, even if they do not physically block the path between.
    Best case is on the 2600MHz band to the 800m distant tower, the middle of the Fresnel Zone is only 4.8m in radius (9.6m across) there. Worst case is on the 800MHz band to the 1.2km tower, which ends up with a 10m Fresnel Zone radius (20m across) at the midpoint.
    [​IMG]
     
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  9. fuus

    fuus Rocking All Year Christmas

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    Loved reading about your experience here, I will start my own thread but I have a couple of questions I'm sure you will be capable of answering :)
     
  10. Mister_Tad

    Mister_Tad Will work for nuts Super Moderator

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    I may need to revisit this and remind myself in the not-too-distant future.
    Looking to move house to the countryside, just about the time that I have 1000/220 available here now

    I eventually got the speeds to around 120Mb down on the LTE - simple positioning is so important, not just where it is and which way it's facing, but even the angle of it. Tilting the B525 downwards by around 15deg was the difference between ~60Mb and 120Mb.
     
    Last edited: 26 Sep 2019
  11. fuus

    fuus Rocking All Year Christmas

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    @Mister_Tad revisiting this again too, having placed our 4G router in the loft we are finding speeds of 30 down (a great improvement from the paltry 5 down via ASDL!). This has a caveat though, moving one of the antenna by just 2mm is the difference between 30 down and no signal.....

    I'm going to buy one of these external directional(ish) antennas to hard mount inside the loft and hopefully that'll offer us some more rock steady speeds. Omni doesn't have much to offer us as where it'll be mounted it can only get a strong signal from one mast
    https://cpc.farnell.com/siretta/osc...-19/antenna-lte-mimo-n-type-socket/dp/RF00867
     
  12. GeorgeStorm

    GeorgeStorm Aggressive PC Builder

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    As I've posted elsewhere, definite improvement overall for me, just did a speedtest check now out of interest:
    [​IMG]

    Still haven't played around with moving the router, and haven't got my pi-hole working but still...
     
  13. fuus

    fuus Rocking All Year Christmas

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    @GeorgeStorm do you have any issues with weather affecting speed? Are you using an antenna?

    Cheers!
     
  14. GeorgeStorm

    GeorgeStorm Aggressive PC Builder

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    Only been using it for a week so haven't had much time to test, have noticed some issues with seemingly losing internet in the form of pages just sitting there not loading for multiple seconds before seemingly being back to full speed, never showing loss of internet in windows/browser, just crazy slow loading, so guessing maybe ping problems or something?

    Just using the router at the moment, when I play around with it (eventually) I may look into getting something external.
     
  15. Mister_Tad

    Mister_Tad Will work for nuts Super Moderator

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    Snow as good as killed the connection with the directional antenna, and had significant impact on speeds, though not quite as bad, without the external antenna.

    Rain and wind affected it sometimes, but it was inconsistent.
     
  16. IamJudd

    IamJudd Well-Known Member

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    I'm in the process of doing something similar - but I need to get a wifi card first so I can tether onto the phone... There's a lot to choose from! Any recommendations?
     
  17. fuus

    fuus Rocking All Year Christmas

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    did the snow sit on the antenna itself? Ours is going to be inside the loft rather than physically externally as I don't fancy getting a cherry picker
     
  18. Mister_Tad

    Mister_Tad Will work for nuts Super Moderator

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    The antenna was outside, but no snow sitting directly on it - just the snow in the air was apparently enough to totally kill the signal.
     
  19. fuus

    fuus Rocking All Year Christmas

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    Cheers for the info Mister_Tad.

    As mentioned by GeorgeStorm above we are getting the occasional websites failing to load until you hit refresh. On voice calls & video games it seems to work well though, albeit with slightly higher ping than you'd expect from a landline.

    I'll be sure to update once we get the antenna installed, but for now a reasonably steady 32 down, life changing from our 5 down landline!

    [​IMG]
     

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