Our Changing Internet Connection

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Our Changing Internet Connection

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Connection via Landline

Moving into the house in May 2013 we took on the telephone line that was already connected to the house and transferred the account with our ISP from our previous property.

Broadband speeds varied between .08Mbps and 2.0Mbps. That was hardly surprising as the house was in excess of 1.9 miles, as the crow flies, from the "local" cabinet, and probably a mile further when following the route taken by the cable.

Wireless Option Explored

We approached two companies that were offering wireless services locally, "WiSpire" and "Thinking WISP". Because of the terrain - take no notice of those who tell you Norfolk is flat - and our location, neither could offer a service to Ruston House as such services require a near perfect line of sight to the customer. Had we been elsewhere in the village it seems connection might have been possible.

Satelitte Broadband

The only remaining option to improve broadband speeds was a satellite connection. This requires three different pieces of kit, seen in the photographs below, and we employed a local firm to supply and install them.

The Satellite Dish The dish is fairly conventional other than being about twice the size of a typical TV dish.

The Satellite ModemA modem (a modulator/demodulator) just converts the signal found on a telephone line, cable or dish into something a computer can use. A bit like old dial-up modems this device has no router facility built into it. As can be seen in the inset image (top right) showing the back of the unit, the only "extra" socket is a USB port. The others are for the 30v power supply, an ethernet connection to a router and the aerial.

Our installers also arranged an account with an ISP. Much as it is with telephone lines, where OpenReach maintain all the basic infrastructure, at the time "Tooway" was the only available supplier of a satellite service and like OpenReach they don't supply customers direct but only work through resellers. Ours became "BigBlu" as they took over our original satellite ISP.

The Cable RouterAfter a power cut, following a nearby lightning strike, the original router failed and was replaced with a second hand one bought from our installer. The model we have is more sophisticated than some. As seen in the inset (bottom right) the top is exceptionally plain. It needs a 12v power supply and is capable of connecting to either a telephone or cable/satellite and a number of hard-wired pieces of kit. In our case that includes our printers, and a shared hard disk.

The satellite option is very much one of last resort. With the technology available to us at the time our connection was limited to 22Mbps download and 6Mbps upload and with a latency of 700Ms. Faster satellite speeds are available now, but nothing can reduce the latency.

Most people will be familiar with the implications of upload and download speeds for their normal use of broadband. High latency is the killer! Most people are familiar with reports from far flung places on TV news broadcasts. The anchor man says "Over to John in Timbuktu". You sit staring at an inert reporter for almost two seconds and then he starts talking.

That's what everything is like on a satellite broadband connection. You click a link and it takes that long for anything to happen. While a delay of a second or two before something happens is acceptable when all the traffic is in one direction, such as when streaming a video, listening to a podcast or downloading a large file, it makes it somewhere between trying and impossible to have a conversation on Skype, gaming or anything else involving brief exchanges of of information. So, for example, making a change to satellite broadband means you can't get rid of your phone line if you don't have decent mobile coverage.

Our Mobile Connection

A couple of years ago we became aware that our local mobile phone mast had been upgraded to 4G standards. On upgrading a phone to one that was 4G capable, sure enough, sometimes it would indicate we had a 4G signal inside the house. That opened up another possibility for further improving broadband. As the planned 1,000Mbps DIY (Dig It Yourself) full fibre service for the village could still be a year or two away it seemed worthwhile trying the move to a mobile broadband connection.

In the spring of 2019 OpenReach had installed a new fibre-equipped cabinet in the village. However, this is still 1.2Km away and the speeds that our neighbours get are between 10-20Mbps. At those speeds a switch back to a landline for our broadband was definitely marginal and research had indicated that we could do significantly better than that.

The Dilham MastWith the software telling me where to look, then using Google Maps and StreetView, it was easy to confirm the mast existed.

We'd need a router able to take a SIM card rather than a landline connection and with mobile phones indicating an intermittent 4G signal signal in the house, it would be wise to go for an external aerial to boost the signal. A free app downloaded from Google Play was able to tell me where my nearest mast was. It turned out to be 1.9 miles away in the corner of a farm yard at Dilham. Others in our village would find that one on the water tower at Hill Sixty would provide a better connection for them. The Daftlogic web site allowed me to plot a direct line to the house and work out what the furthest object I could see was that was in the right direction - one of the trees in a neighbours garden.

Then it was just a matter of buying the kit. A bracket for the aerial came from eBay and the other two bits from Amazon. Fitting them was a simple DIY task.

The Antenna PackageThis antenna is highly directional so you do need to know the direction in which to point it.

The Antenna In PlaceThe much larger satellite dish would have obscured the window upstairs and consequentially needed a much longer cable run. That was not an issue for the smaller mobile signal antenna. The 5m of cable that was supplied with the antenna was all that was needed.

While I waited for the kit to arrive I ordered a SIM from GiffGaff. That was slipped into the router and activated. We now have an internet connection providing around 30Mbps download, 15Mbps upload and 30ms latency at £20 per month (if we don't use more than the 40GB data allowance). One of the advantages of GiffGaff is that one can always buy the next months allowance early if you do go over the limit. It's much cheaper than buying a few extra GB of data on a top-up basis.

More recently, GiffGaff have announced that from 26 February 2020 the data allowance of the "Goodybag" we buy is to be doubled to 80Gb. This should relieve us of any worry about running out of data in the future!

Others might want to go for Vodafone's unlimited data packages at around £30pm depending on the duration of the contract. Our choice of supplier is limited. In this area Vodafone and O2 share masts while other suppliers, such as Three and EE have no coverage.

The SIM RouterYou just slip your SIM in the back of the router rather than connecting a telephone cable. As with all modern routers, this one includes modem facilities, so a second box is not needed as it was with the old satellite connection. This particular router is probably over the top given its 4G+ facilities and our distance from the mast. Because of the need to maximise the signal the two "hare's ears" aerials, that come with the unit, were dispensed with and the cable from the external antenna connected instead.

Is this a good deal? The set up cost may put some off. The kit I bought cost a little over £200. However, our satellite broadband package cost £42pm. We barely used our landline. In our last quarter we made just four calls within our calling package and were charged under £2 for additional calls - the bulk of those was because I let the phone ring for too long when hunting for a mobile phone that was misplaced somewhere in the house! The line rental cost us £12pm - you get a discount for not running a broadband account on it - but it had reached the point that we couldn't justify holding on to it.

Now we are paying £20 per month for our Internet connection plus £2.40pm to hire a local landline number for those who don't want to call us on our mobiles. We could buy a set of VOIP phones but have decided that we'll let callers leave a voicemail message. The messages are emailed to us as the caller hangs up and appear as an audio file attachment. We then return the call on our mobile phones. We never use even a small proportion of our talk-time allowance on our mobiles. The net result is that the new kit should pay for itself within eight months, well within the time we can expect BB4ER to have got us our 1,000Mbps connection!

Greg Chapman
Ruston House