Gigaclear and FTTP

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My Roadmap to Success
In 2016, Aylesbury Vale District Council was keen to plan a rollout programme for villages in their district that delivered great broadband. BT were a little behind the curve on this and are still a number of years away from renewing the existing copper based infrastructure; apparently with fibre along poles to premises. Approached by Gigaclear in early 2017, AVDC found what they believed to be a route forward. For me, a householder in an AVDC village, the opportunity to sign up for one gigabyte broadband with the option of Voice Over IP (VOIP) telephony was close to my wildest IT dreams to update our aging systems; well, close-ish anyway.

The initial network set up was handled well by Lynden Contractors. They dealt with issues courteously and efficiently. The network was substantially on time and the final FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) connection to my house, installed by Comex 2000, went well. This company paid attention to my requests for covert trunking and utilised pre-installed 20mm piping that I had installed during the summer.

I had researched the Gigaclear provided Genexis DRG 7820 router. This had some poor press, but in my experience it is a reliable, if low powered, multifunctional device that does all it is asked to do. It provides 100 megabits per second (mps) Internet over my local area network (LAN) connection to my PC’s, TV and beyond. Gigaclear also offer up to one gigabyte speeds. I have tried many speed tests over my LAN from my PC; the download speed is constantly just over 100mbs as is the upload speed. Latency is below about 5 milliseconds too. This is great performance. WIFI performance was, as predicted, underpowered and poor with a maximum of around 20mps only if you got close to the router; otherwise under 10mps. The deactivated WPS button (discussed later) was a pain but has recently been reinstated by Gigaclear (you need to reset your router to implement this change). The removal of WPS cost me a lot of time figuring what the issue was when I tried to set up my WIFI devices. My other concern about the router was the constantly flashing Internet light; what did this indicate?

Gigaclear initially kept to their brief that their “responsibility” began and ended with the supply of the contracted line speed to the router. I did contact Genexis about their router’s performance, having spoken to Gigaclear (the ISP). The next day I had a reply from Gigaclear stating the Genexis had asked them to take up the enquiry. However they missed my question regarding the occasionally flashing Internet light on the Genexis router. Gigaclear’s first response to this was to say this was nothing to worry about. Further emails and I at last got the reply I was looking for:
“Blinking of light does not indicate that there is any problem with the network. These lights are send/ receive lights, not the power lights. These send and receive lights are indicators of network activity going on between ISP and customer CPE (customer equipment).

ISPs usually sends ARP requests to check whether the IP address assigned to customer via DHCP is active and still in use. ISPs also use this to check the health of network. Its known as scanning process in which network, customers devices are checked.

In conclusion, the blinking light means monitoring and traffic flow.”
The temporary light out does not therefore indicate a loss of Internet service as as one might expect. Having looked at other suppliers’ manuals, I think this is generally case on all routers. It would have been nice if Gigaclear or Genexis could have been clearer on this method to double up on the function of the light without telling anyone. My WIFI experience was my remaining concern.

The WIFI Protected Setup (WPS) button is the user’s route to linking the router to other WIFI devices easily and quickly. Although now reinstated, I was without it, & spent a couple of days trying to figure out that it wasn’t working. My initial solution to the poor Genexis WIFI was to connect a cheap Dual Band WIFI extender (TP-Link AC 750). This took a 45-minute premium rate call to TP-Link in China to work out how to proceed without the WPS switch. The extender worked but the speeds were never above about 35mps. I then tried a TP-Link AC-1900 dual band router. Attached to my LAN in my sitting room, it worked well as a WIFI amplifier, but again speeds were not good, reaching about 40mps. The range was not good either and I clearly needed a WIFI amp with more power.

I had been delaying the decision on this because everything was pointing to a relatively expensive Mesh system. My home has a lot of steel in the construction and this alone will absorb anything but a strong Radio Frequency signal including mobile phone or WIFI. I frankly ran out of patience in trying the various cheaper options. The Netgear Orbi came out top in my analysis. I took the promised 5000 square foot coverage (I needed 2500) with a pinch of salt and installed the two-element system – router and satellite as recommended. Everything worked out of the box.

But how well? I didn’t think 40mps from the relatively expensive Orbi system was great. In fact I thought I had been done! A call to Netgear’s support in India provided some good support by a guy who knew exactly what to recommend as he talked me though a number of Orbi router settings. By the end of the call I had WIFI throughout my house at up to 100mps over WIFI. Yes it falls off a little towards the extremes, but this is a great system. I will leave you to read the spec, which you can find on line. A snippet that may help anyone with aging I-Phones 4S; they don’t support more than about 40mps on 3G. Modern routers are dual banded at 2.4G and 5G for WIFI. Mobile phone networks support 3G, 4G and sometime soon 5G. The higher the frequency, the lower the range for the same power amplification. Different technologies require different hardware and software solutions.

The 100mps rating is an average. The actual mps fluctuates wildly on WIFI and almost certainly on the connected LAN line to cable. I surmise the reason for this is the asynchronous nature of the traffic flow over WIFI, LAN and fibre optic cable. However, this is the standard solution for networking to the home and is unlikely to change any time soon.
A visit to a relative this weekend revealed that BT have reduced their price on some Broadband solutions in some areas. They are contracting 55 mps Broadband speeds with landline phone with at least two add-on options for around £42 per month. I measured 74mps download & 19mps upload from a BT Hub 6 (WIFI enabled) router. That is very competitive and presumably Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC). This is food for thought for Gigagclear and its customers who are in my case paying around £56 per month for 100mps both ways with a VOIP phone, plus of course an installation fee of several hundred pounds & WIFI amplification costs. BT are, they tell me, at least 3 years away from providing a comparable solution in our village although they have 500mps running in new homes in our nearest major town.

I have been well served by Gigaclear and their contractors. They have seized a marketing opportunity and provided a great service, at a price. However, hardware suppliers could do more to explain the differences in their solutions. Removing WPS button did no one a favour. 100mps Internet and WIFI is a great solution. Local businesses have a major opportunity for modern dispersed communications.

Now to put it all to use! Thank you for listening.

David Marlow
21st November 2017

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