Three Months in to 4G Only Internet

Last year I cancelled my ADSL connection and went 4G only on my EE 64GB contract.  It’s been an interesting three months, so I thought I’d post this info in case anyone else was considering going 4G only.

Background to why I went 4G only

In August 2017, I noticed that the ADSL connection had been causing problems with my internet access.  I was running a 4G contract with EE and ADSL with Zen load balanced through a pfsense server with secure traffic going ADSL and everything else via 4G.  Connections to websites were taking an age, or not loading at all.  I happen to have a thinkbroadband quality monitor on the line and checked it only to see that the ADSL connection had a red patch at that exact moment.

While I was looking at the quality meter, I went back through the last months’ worth of graphs and saw that on one particular day there was a large (more than 4 hours) outage of internet which explained why I’d thought the internet was slow a few weeks back too…

What ensued was a series of calls backwards and forwards to the Zen technical support as I knew that nothing on my side had changed.  The wiring in the house has previously been minimised to only the master socket with ADSL filter plate, one cordless telephone base station plugged directly into the filter plate and one ADSL modem cable.

The first call to the technical support was effectively a wait and see… a few days later the same thing happened so I called back and was asked to try a different modem – well unless you’ve got a lot of money, you don’t tend to buy two of everything, so after 30 minutes on the phone saying it wasn’t my kit, I asked for Zen to send me a modem which I’d post back… they were having none of it – apparently they don’t have spare kit to send out – not amused!

The issue dragged on and on and I managed to beg and borrow a modem off a colleague at the middle of August and that didn’t fix the issue, but by confirming the fault existed with the different modem, Zen FINALLY (It shouldn’t have taken this long) agreed reluctantly to an engineer (note reluctantly – I was not impressed at all with the Zen technical support on this case issue).

The engineer came on the 25th August, the line dropped just as he picked up the telephone, but he was unable to find any issue with internal or external wiring.

In the next month, the line would drop a number of times more, but no significant outages – I decided to wait and see, plus I wanted the ADSL connection for my holiday in late September/early October, so I could VPN back to home.

A week in to my holiday, I was a little bored surfing the internet one night and checked the thinkbroadband quality graphs again – to my horror, the ADSL connection had been off for a large proportion of my holiday so far!!






In a moment of anger, I emailed the Zen accounts department and told them I’d like to cancel.

“Since my broadband is incredibly unreliable at the moment, I want to cancel my broadband.  I will fall back to using my 4G connection permanently which is an awful lot more reliable at the moment!  I’ve had two or more months of unreliable broadband, which at over £20 per month for poor internet isn’t sustainable.”

Zen accounts sent a rely back within an hour confirming my request to cancel and on the 23rd October, my ADSL connection was stopped.

1st Month on 4G

The first month on 4G was an interesting (and expensive) learning curve.  I’d just come home from holiday and needed to re-install my laptop – hard drive failure.  This meant I downloaded far more that month than normal and we ended up using the 64GB of data on the contract 5 days before the next period!!

CRAP!

I can’t live without internet for 5 days, so I purchased a 1GB top-up for £5 and thought I’d see if that would last the 5 days.  Well it didn’t… it lasted precisely 47 minutes!! £5 had gone – poof!

I reluctantly paid for an additional 10GB at £15 and told the household to limit their internet video watching or there will be an internet blackout when the next data purchase runs out.

Having saved £20 odd pounds per month not having an ADSL connection, in the first month I’d already spent £20 for extra data on the 4G connection!

The Following two months on 4G

…Have been ok, we’ve not had any overspend on extra data (thank goodness!) but when my contact is up next month, I’ll be pushing EE hard for some extra data or two lines for the price of one.

Would I have cancelled my ADSL connection with hindsight?

Yes – Zen pissed me off big time with their technical support.

I’m pretty certain my modem was fine since the line dropped with a colleague’s modem too.  I paid them £21.40 per month for years and I expected more support for the money – heck If I knew I’d have no support, I should have gone with a cheaper provider!

It has been rough on 4G only, but now we know how quickly data can run out, we’re a little more aware of when a website is loading a video at the bottom of a page.

I would only recommend going 4G only if you have enough data on your contract – 64GB sounds like a lot, but when watching 1080p videos on YouTube or if you have Netflix, its potentially going to be tight each month.

I’ll certainly be getting another internet connection as soon as they fibre the village I live in -ConnectedCounties, you’ve promised it, so now you need to deliver on that promise!

Load Balancing WAN Connections

I’ve previously posted about how slow my ADSL connection is (5Mbps max!) and that I bought a 4G router just over a year ago (http://blog.v-s-f.co.uk/2014/10/fed-up-of-waiting-for-superfast-broadband/). Before I bought the 4G router, I decided to look at how to load balance the connections. There were two reasons for doing so. One was that I planned to buy another ADSL connection to get a stunning combined* max of 10Mbps!!! And the other reason is that the 4G connection has a few quirks that mean I prefer to send and receive certain traffic down the ADSL connection.

I did a lot of research and bought a Netgear FVS336G v2 off Ebay. At the time I bought it, I only had the ADSL connection, but the device only lasted a month. The device wouldn’t work on the newest firmware, would work for a few days and then grind to a halt and also my tablet couldn’t access the internet! Needless to say, it went back on Ebay…

After more research I then found pfSense. At the time I had a spare media centre pc lying around which had become redundant, but ran at 80 watts idle. I repurposed it for the task of determining if pfSense would be suitable.

pfSense is brilliant and free! As a router it does everything I could possibly want (Port forwarding, OpenVPN, Firewall and Load Balancing to name but a few). The administration portal never crashes or decides not to load a page – it simply works.

I started off again with just the ADSL connection and then bought the 4G router. Setting up the load balancing took a bit of time along with determining what firewalls to put in place.

I’ve recently upgraded the hardware to use a low power cpu on board motherboard and the entire system now runs at a max of 20 watts.

Even when the 4G conection was running at 50Mbps for over 10 minutes, the cpu never went above 5%.

pfsense-windows10-download

(Example of the firewall rules for sending traffic down ADSL for banking and email)

firewall-rules

* Load balancing WAN connections does not mean you will achieve A+B – you would need to bond the connections to get close to achieving A+B speeds. For example in the screen shot above where 50Mbps is being transfered, it’s all across the 4G connection as the connections are not bonded. Load balancing however in my situation is great as a family member can watch iPlayer and I can still browse the internet without affecting the video stream as the data will normally be distributed across the connections available according to load.