LTE Advanced may finally mean the wireless future is here

For many of us who work remotely, when it comes to connectivity when out and about, Starbucks has always been a safe haven!  Great coffee, great smell and most of all good free connectivity.  Whilst I loved unlimited connectivity that the Three network gave me, I found that in many city centre locations connectivity was patchy.  As part of my fleet upgrade, and the move to the new 3rd Generation LTE enabled Apple Watch, I had to move over to EE.  Whilst I’m still missing the ulimited data cap of Three, the upgrade to speed and range has been incredible.  Even though I am still using an iPhone 6S as this current time, I’m seeing 200-300meg connections nearly everywhere I go.

Today I did my typical Sunday morning thing of jumping in the car heading to a Starbucks for a bit of research, study and surfing and found that the Starbucks in question’s Wifi was very patchy.  I’ve observed this behaviour before in other shopping centers and airports, where a free WiFi network seems to interfere with the instore wifi.

Here’s a look at a typical test ping page (bbc.co.uk) that I use to test here in the UK, packet loss, ping all over the place:

Typical Coffee Shop Wifi

Typical coffee shop wifi

That same test running on 4G, after all my cloud services had updated, settling into a standard 60ms ping, stable as a rock!

4G LTE Advanced

4G LTE Advanced on tether to iPhone

Which got me to thinking- as 4G, 4.5G and 5G services roll out, are we geninely going to enter a time when WiFi becomes a backup?  If the providers can get their fingers out and create entire device packages (as EE have for the Apple Watch I’d be interested) – maybe £30 per month for the phone, and 5 quid for each subsquent device you want to add (iPad/ Watch/Laptop) – I’d certainly be first in the queue!

How to utilise a gig – Project 2: Rip and replace the router

RouterGraphics

The second thing you do after you get used to the sheer speed of a gig symmetric service is start to wonder why you can only hit 850/900 mbit regularly on most speed tests.  Shortly after that you wonder why you struggle to max out a torrent beyond 30meg/sec.  This was the strange set of events that led me to do a bit of a deep dive and find an unexpected gem.

So yeah, I went from 15-> 820meg speed tests, and yet the geek in me wondered, where had those other 180 meg gone?  Now, I give you that at these speeds its a purely theoretical, intellectual exercise, but nonetheless where had that missing 20percent gone.  Research quickly finds that around about 900 meg is realistic with overhead on any gig service, so we’re hunting 80-100 meg.  A bit of fishing around reveals that the slow torrent speeds are likely as a result of a router that can’t handle the number of connections, that and the fact that most soho routers (ZTE in the case of Hyperoptic) just can’t give you full line speed, port to port all the time.  One of the nice things about the Hyoperoptic service is the fact that it’s basically a RJ-45 jack with DHCP.  Plug in any router and it will come up. So which router?  After several reads on forums, I went for a Ubiquiti Networks ER3-Lite, I’ve loved Vyatta long before it was purchased by Brocade, and the reviews of hardware professed it’s ultra high speed, with low overhead, indeed you can offload most of the processing to it’s DSPs.

300px-Edgerouter-original-packageI picked mine up at amazon ( link to amazon.co.uk for ER3-Lite) at under £70.  Out the box it’s a pretty sturdy wee beast.  Once I’d ordered I started googling, and found two fantastic videos on setup , the best one is probably this one .

The device is pretty simple to setup if you understand networking in anyway, plug a cable into the eth0 port, you’ll get a dynamic IP (if not just set your ip in the 192.168.1.0/24 range) then http to the routers IP: 192.168.1.1.   Once in run the setup assistant (shown in the video) there’s various different ways to configure the 3 network ports on the device.  I went for WAN+2LAN, this makes eth0 the LAN1, eth1 the WAN and eth2 the WAN2.  I have a subnet for my lab so will eventually use this segregation to router VPN traffic in.

Performance once configured is pretty breathtaking.  I only tweaked the MTU on the LAN  port (eth0) as my home switch supports Jumbo Frames:

Heres a wee graphic of it doing a quick 861, though I can regularly burst 920-970 depending on time of day and location of end server.  In short- buy it!

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Journey to Gig/Gig broadband with Hyperoptic

I live in the centre of a major Scottish city, which has according to wikipedia has an urban population of 1.75 million people.  That’s no small number of people.  I just assumed when I bought my place, that being in a large new development that when infinity began rolling out that it’d be available pretty much after launch.  Well thanks to the mystery of BT Planning, I’ve sat for the last 5 years and watched as promised date after promised date has slipped.

Late in 2014 it became abundantly clear that BT had no interest in enabling us, all the vague excuses piled up and I realised it was going to have to be a DIY approach for our building.  First the facts- our building is just over 7 years old, is a steel frame building with inbuilt ducting and services and false ceilings.  All these things make it super easy to install services.  Secondly, the location and pricing of the building means that there’s a lot of young professionals, and home workers (i.e. a captive market).  To me it made no logical sense that the building hadn’t been enabled (I’ve actually come to get information that makes me believe it’s not a technical reason but a planning/political reason holding us back).

So i began my search, which in all honesty I was expecting to be fruitless.  I mean- if BT the largest telecoms group in the country can’t get us cable who can!  My first port of call was Virgin, where I reached out and got positive noises from they cable my street team.  I registered my interest, had a few neighbours do the same, and had good conversations with one of their outreach managers on twitter.  After 6 months though we had no committal, no in person engagement and weren’t going anywhere.

Frustrated I looked at the market again and came across Hyperoptic – a company which on paper our building was purpose made.  I have to confess that due to travel I didn’t make the first approach, but a neighbour picked up the baton and made the initial contact.  I got re-involved in summer of 2015, after which time I assumed the role of Hyperoptic Champion for the building, and pushed the project.  I started by joining our residents association, primarily for a single task (i.e. getting the fibre fitted) and began to work with the excellent John McCabe at Hyperoptic.  Our residents association really lacked social media skills, a domain name and a Facebook forum later I had the ability to outreach to folk and begin campaigning.

I started by speaking to neighbours I new in person, however it’s a big development so I probably only knew 20percent of the folks in the development. Hyperoptic require residents to register interest on their page, and have a very transparent tracker.  To assist I was sent marketing flyers and materials, which allowed me to do a mail drop.  I took the basic materials, and made them a bit more personal by branding and explaining a few things on an accompanying letter.  I mail dropped them in early September, and by the end of that same month we were showing the adequate number of registrations to move forward.

Hyperoptic were true to their word and surveyed the building, reporting back that they’d be able to fit the service with no issues.  The only fly in the ointment was the lack of service hatches in the ceilings outside the units. Hyperoptic offered a solution of installing these hatches and picking up the cost. (The truth being that we should have had these in anyway).  As is typical we had the doubters who though that these small hatches would “spoil the look” but to be frank I never accepted that given that we have smoke detectors, lights and so forth already there.  Anyway, a vote sent out by the factor saw no significant objection and we were green light to get the way leave signed to get Hyperoptic in and fitting.

The internal cabling is high quality Cat6e, I’m not 100percent sure of the switch infrastructure but effectively the fitted network should be able to support 10gigs and beyond (technology permitting).  Cabinets were installed in the basement levels where the switches are housed, and cat6E cabling was run first below in the carparks, and then up through the 3 blocks of the building (10 storeys).  The install is first class, to the point where in a straw poll of folks visiting my house I said- do you notice anything? – to which the answer was – what?

Fibre install has been a bit of a bear, with the contracts (BT) wasting dates, and making delays, however we have the fibre into the basement, and jointing is to go ahead.   I’m already confident this service will have massive benefits to our residents.  To go from a 14meg internet connection which is beginning to struggle to support multiple over the top media services, to a symmetric 1gig service is going to be a huge change, and I’m going to blog about how it affects the day to day of what and how we utilise media.   Stay tuned for more articles.