Sunday, 19 May 2013

Back on home broadband again...

You'll recall from the previous Blant that my broadband went ***s-up the other day, when the wall-plug  power supply unit (PSU) to my TalkTalk-supplied Huawei HG521 modem/router failed.

Now, the part in question that failed was a mass-produced power supply unit that probably cost less than two quid to mass produce, and which took the mains-supplied 240 Volts Alternating Current at 13 Amps, and sent it through a built-in step-down transformer in the plug, down to the required output of 5 Volts Direct Current at 1 Amp, with voltage and current regulation built into it. Variations of these units, differing only in output voltage/amperage, are bog-standard mass-produced bits of kit that, these days, come with most modern personal electronics devices you buy in the shops (such as mobile (cellular) phones, cordless phones, and so on). So, you'd think that suppliers would carry spare or replacement units, given that unit longevity appears to be a tad lacking.

Not so.

Following the circular illogic of talking over the phone to their 'customer care' person the other night, I found the @talktalkcare twitter feed, and complained there instead, then having to fill in a form to get them to be able to email me directly (ye gods, so much for existing customer databases!), I finally got hold of someone who actually followed what I was trying to get them to understand. However, even though they now understood the problem, they wouldn't help. "Unfortunately your router is now out of warranty. We are unable to place orders for power supplies independently of a router. If you require a replacement router they can be purchased from..." was the reply.

You'll note that there was no form of empathy, no apology, not even sympathy for the problem I was experiencing, just a words equivalent to a flat "it's out of warranty and we can't help you. We can sell you a new modem, though". Now, I will freely grant that companies exist to make money, but bloody hell, this was taking the bodily fluids. By now, spitting nine-inch nails through the walls, and turning the air a vivid shade of electric blue as a habit, rather than a hobby, I was beginning to understand what all the ire about their lack of customer service was all about.

Previously, when dealing with other companies customer service departments, the response has usually been something like "OK, sorry to hear that, but that unit is no longer supplied by us, and is, at two and a half years old, no longer in warranty; we can supply a new PSU, but it'll cost £xx". This, I would have swallowed without fuss had TalkTalk offered it up, as the unit, being two and a half years old at the time of installation, was well and truly out of warranty. Never the less, given that this was needed to access their services, one could have been forgiven for thinking that they'd keep a few spares lying about their warehouse, in case of failures. Guess not. Silly me (add more nail purchases and a new can of vivid electric blue air paint)...

However, given that the output voltage is a common one (5 Volts is, by the by, the same voltage supplied by the USB sockets on your computer to to devices you plug into it, although they only give half an amp to those per socket), and that the manufacturer, Huawei, still use the same PSUs on other devices they currently manufacture, I find it a bit bloody rich that TalkTalk cannot get hold of spares for the damn thing. Frankly, it's beyond ludicrous, and well into the scale of Victor Meldrew-isms.

As a result, and given that they weren't about to help, I had to get a new router or PSU. Huawei don't, from what I could find out, sell replacement PSUs to the public, instead preferring to push mobile phones to their customers over here, so that meant finding an alternate PSU.

Before I did that, however, I decided to check that the router still worked. Using my variable output PSU (most hobby electronics buffs will have something like this, and - like me - most radio amateurs likewise), I supplied the unit with 5VDC, variable draw current. Nothing. It failed to power up. Typically, this meant one thing: When the PSU had died, it sent a surge of unregulated power to the router, and fried its circuitry somehow. It was now just a paperweight (and a light one at that).

So, I needed a new broadband modem/router. I wasn't about to reward TalkTalk for their complete lack of help, humanity, or empathy, so decided to get a new one from anyone other than TalkTalk.

In the mean time, I was accessing the net from home using my 3G mobile dongle from 3, which, while being effective (full strength signal at home, unlike Vodafone on my mobile - and guess who's getting my business come the current mobile phone contract expiry?), was a tad costly in the long run, compared to home landline broadband costs.

This wasn't an acceptable long-term solution, so I started in on my homework, and researched routers. I'll spare you the details of the saearch, but the short version is that I settled on a Netgear N300 N300 Wireless ADSL2 + Modem/Router, specific Netgear model number DGN2200. I found, exceptionally, that instead of it being cheaper from online sources such as, that it was cheaper, when you factored in shipping costs, and the fact that there is a store on my route to work, to buy it in person from PC World - by a tenner!

So, Off I trundled to PC World, bought it, and installed it that evening (after a long eleven and a bit hours long shift at work) - it was a doddle to set up, with the manual being clear, simple, and straight-forward to follow, to the point that within ten minutes of unboxing and laying out the router, stand, filter, PSU, and two cables (phone and ethernet), I was again surfing the internet!

This was practically a first for me - most times with a new bit of electronic kit, I find that I'm buying stocks of nails and air paint, but not this time, so kudos to Netgear! Whoopee!

I chose, by the way, the Netgear DGN2200 for a couple of reasons; first, as a well known and respected brand, Netgear has a reputation for making good quality equipment, and for having excellent customer service; second, the reviews of this model mentioned that due to the chipset used in this model, it had good resilience with higher than average signal-to-noise ratios on telephone line copper-based broadband (as opposed to fibre-optic broadband, or cable); high signal-to-noise ratios tend to happen when you're a fair distance from the telephone exchange (as is the case with my phone line: I'm close to the maximum ADSL range from the exchange); it's to do with the way that the signal over a copper phone line degrades over distance; this doesn't affect speech to badly, but digital signals are very susceptible to this degradation over distance, which is why fibre-optic cables are all the rage - and why those fibres can increase the speed of your broadband tenfold or better over copper.

Since I'm on a copper wire telephone-based broadband connection, the signal-to-noise ratio is somewhat important, and the DGN2200 has good reviews on that score - they weren't wrong. I wasn't expecting miracles, but checking my broadband speed today showed that my throughput had increased slightly, from around 5.2 Mbps to around 5.85 Mbps, over the failed Huawei RG521 - this during the daytime on a weekend, when most hardcore network gamers are online - at the times I'll normally access the net (when I get home in the well small hours, after a shift at work), I'd imagine the speeds will be even better, so colour me reasonably pleased and impressed!

My Broadband Speed Test

Job done!

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