As the site name implies, I am a tech geek. Geeks can be broken down into various muddy definitions, one of which is what I proudly call the “Tim Taylor Geek.” This type of geek doesn’t care whether he actually needs MORE POWER from all of his tech toys, but by bog he is gonna tinker until he gets every last bit of performance he can eke out of it. Because, MORE POWER.
I am in this category. Since North Platte is one of the small percentage of communities in the nation that has access to gigabit fiber optic internet, I decided to give our local fiber optic ISP’s $99/mo 1Gbps symmetrical service a try. They already offer a $50 100Mbps symmetrical package, but if I can get 10x as much bandwidth for $49 more… again, MORE POWER!
To maximize the potential of 1 Gbps internet, there are a couple things you need to have.
1) A router with a gigabit WAN/Internet port that complies with the 802.11ac “Wireless AC” standard. 802.11ac permits wireless speeds that are actually faster than a hard line connection (up to 1300Mbps.) This router must say 3×3 or 4×4 on the box. Otherwise you won’t get gig wireless. Trust me.
2) If the router does not have built-in wireless, you will need an Access Point with similar specs as the aforementioned wireless router.
3) 802.11ac compatible WiFi adapters/cards in your computers and other devices. Again, must be at least 3 band or they won’t be able to connect at full speed.
On to the setup. Normally, I have various pieces of network hardware laying around the house to make my interwebs function better. Some I actually use, some are spares, and some I just like to play with. For this 1 gig experiment, I started off using my Netgear R6300v2 wireless AC router running the most up to date firmware from the manufacturer.
I bought this bad boy on Amazon while I was deployed to Africa last year so I would have WiFi access in the smoke pit 50 feet away from the shipping container I called home. Good power output on the antennas. Punched right through the steel walls of my abode and propagated nicely to the pile of rocks and concrete berms we used for chairs.
Anyways, got it all set up and plugged in. I hopped on my desktop (which is hardwired to the router) fired up speedtest.net and gave it a whirl. Speeds to my ISP’s test server were only around 380 Mbps. I was sad and confused. Time to troubleshoot.
First thing, I went into my closet and plugged my 7 year old Dell desktop directly into the modem/ONT. Speedtest again. Whaddya know, 868 Mbps down, 825 Mbps up.
That’s more like it! Unfortunately, that means that my nice and shiny router I paid $140 for was not performing to spec.
I consulted the universal tech support reference database (a.k.a. Google) and saw murmurings of NAT choking out high performance internet connections. Here is a quick, dirty, and imprecise explanation of NAT:
Network Address Translation is kind of like the phone system at a business. With a private phone system (or PBX as they are called in the industry,) each device inside the business has its own private number or extension that is used to communicate with other devices at the business. The devices can talk to each other with no problems, but to call out they all share one connection to the outside world. From the outside world, it looks like there is only one phone number/device at that location. The router serves as the switchboard, handling all the intercommunication and intracommunication.
This brings us to the problem with NAT. Everyone has to share. The router has to expend resources processing to make sure all the devices can share and be happy. The more devices on your network, the more slowdown. I have around 16-18 devices on my home network. 3 Kindles, 3 smartphones, 3 laptops, a chromecast, a smart TV, an Xbox, a desktop, my server, a wireless printer, and our (now destroyed thanks to our cat) blu-ray player. I don’t count our IPTV DVR set top box because it runs off a different port of the ONT, and is not part of our internal network.
I started to dig around inside the configuration page of my router, searching for a place to disable NAT, but other than switching between Secured or Open NAT, I came up dry. I did, however, test a few other things.
– Disabled my firewall
– Disabled QoS (Quality of Service)
– Disabled port scan protection
– Disabled SIP Application Layer Gateway
I even configured the router to put the test computer in what is known as a DMZ (this is where the router exposes the computer to the harsh nastiness of the internet like a spartan baby with a birth defect).
The next day, I asked one of the customer service representatives at my ISP for a better router. They gave me one of their extra special Pace 5268AC routers. This thing is a monster the size of an XBox 360. 6 antennas. All sorts of ports and connections on the back. Lots of mojo.
I scurried home and preconfigured the Pace so all my devices would connect right away, then plugged it into my network. I run to my computer and test. 690 Mbps! A little slower than spec, but much better. Then I let all my other devices connect. After each additional device connected the speedtests slowed down more and more. They finally leveled off around 420 Mbps. I called the gurus at my ISP and they went through a few procedures with me to try and improve the speed, but it wasn’t successful. I still have hope though. One of the Level 3 tech support guys was gonna send me a throughput tester, normally used for troubleshooting connections on MEF circuits, but that could take a week or two.
In two weeks the ISP is getting a shipment of Calix 844 802.11ac ONT/Router combos. From talking to the guys at the Network Operations Center, this particular machine has no problems reaching peak gigabit speeds, even with a large number of devices NATed on the network.
I was also perusing the possibility of turning my PE2850 CentOS server into a router/firewall, but I have no guarantees on throughput for the labor required.
In the meantime, anyone else have any ideas? Here is a list of the current network and enterprise hardware I have stashed around the house.
Linksys e1200 (dd-wrt firmware)
Linksys e2000 (dd-wrt firmware)
Linksys WRT160N (factory firmware)
Netgear WNDR3800 (dd-wrt firmware)
Cisco WS-C2950T-24 Switch (IOS12.1(14)EA1a)
Cisco 2621XM Router w/ 2 WIC-1DSU-T1 cards
Dell PowerEdge 2850 Server (CentOS 6.5)
50ft 1 strand single mode fiber optic patch cable
250ft Cat5e spool and RJ-45 termination tips