It’s been a long time since I posted anything on this blog, but I feel that I need to call out an IT experience that I have recently had.
Just like many people in the modern western world, I have been working from home.
Luckily, as I have mentioned before, I have a good UK ISP (Virgin Media) and I have upgraded my personal WiFi setup over the years. I have not changed my ISP’s router for many years as it just works (most of the time… more on that shortly), even after several speed upgrades (when they have “levelled up” all their customer’s packages).
For a few years now I have been running with Netgear’s Orbi mesh WiFi router & satellite system, which has been a brilliant addition to my home as we continue to add more devices to our home setup (security devices from Ring, more / updated Apple devices, smart watches, etc)
A few times this year we have had some issues with the WiFi, which has required me to reboot both the Virgin Media Router and the Netgear Orbi equipment. It’s unclear which device is causing the issue, whether it’s an issue with the Orbi or the Virgin Router, except for an issue a few days ago, where our Virgin Media broadband went down for a few hours.
When this happened, not only did my Orbi equipment become useless but I had to configure my iPhone to use it as a replacement WiFi (isn’t tethering brilliant). I have two issues with this, firstly despite my mobile provider also being Virgin Media, Virgin have not historically linked their Virgin Mobile service with their Virgin Media (TV, Broadband & Landline Phone). For new customers [it appears that] they now include a mobile SIM with their other services, so that, if there is an outage in their broadband, I believe that they configure the SIM to have unlimited data via their “Oomph” packages. Unfortunately (not surprisingly, based on their past lack of forethought and good customer relations / retentions ) they are not offering this to their existing customers.
The other issue that I have, is that I have considered possible network backup capacity for a while now, but these are mostly based on high end business network capacity rather than a home setup.
For a few hundred pounds it’s possible to get the TP-Link TL-ER5120 Gigabit Load Balance Broadband Router that provides 1 LAN and 1 Wan port and 3 ports that can be configured for LAN or WAN, with each link being a possible backup. The device is designed for “…needs of small and medium enterprises, hotels and communities with large volumes of users demanding an efficient and easy-to-manage network with high security…”. The issue is that you still need the alternative connections, ie other ISP’s or some device to connect to a 3/4/5G broadband via Ethernet.
When researching, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Netgear produced an Orbi LBR20 router that allowed a backup connection via 4G Broadband SIM. I thought I had a way forward, that worked with my existing setup. After a [a long and frustrating] discussion with Netgear support I was told that, for some reason, their view on the device is mostly for users who do not have a wired broadband and the promotional talk of using the 4G SIM as the back up concept is based on this Router being your main/only WiFi device. It appears that Netgear have not considered the device as being an addition to an existing Orbi setup and have not considered how this device could be integrated into such a setup. If you purchase this and want to admit to an Existing Orbi setup, then you have a tough fight ahead. Netgear’s Support team member I chatted to advised that you would have to either replace your existing Orbi router with this device (with your existing Router then being relegated to an (non Orbi) Access Point [ie you loose use of the Orbi backhaul; the connection between the Orbi Router and the satellite] and you also have to wire it using a cat5 UTP network cable to either the LBR20 or your existing Obri satellite]) or put this between your existing broadband and your existing Orbi setup, which means that you then have an extra set of WiFi signals (2.4GHz and 5GHz as well as the backhaul link) from his Router as well as your original, which in my opinion is just noise that both your existing Orbi equipment and your existing WiFi based equipment will have to deal with [Not to mention all your neighbours wiFi signals, cordless phones, etc].
Considering the load balancing Router is over £100 (and still requires a second broadband connection or 3/4/5G device with a network connection) and the Orbi LBR20 is over £300, it’s not cheep to obtain a backup for your home WiFi (and everything that relies on that, including your streaming media, Security cameras / Doorbell [Ring etc], Internet, e-mails, work VPN, Social Media, etc).
So far I have only found one device that appears to be a possibility, again from Netgear.
The Netgear 4G LTE Modem (LB2120) is a 3/4G modem that has:
- Simple fail-safe connectivity with 4G LTE/3G
- Connect to existing equipment to support fixed broadband failover
- Dual Ethernet ports for wired connection pass-through
For just over £100, this is not as expensive as the Orbi. It’s the same sort of price as the TP-Link router, but it appears to be everything you need, connect to the wired broadband and the other connection to the WiFi Router, insert a 4G SIM into the device and you’re ready to go. The basic setup appears to be already configured so that if your wired broadband goes down then it will automatically switch to the 4G connection. It can also be configured so that it can send you a test message [which can be sent to “up to” 3 mobile numbers] when it switches between the wired and 4G connections, which is will be easy to help you understand when you are getting outages. You can also define which websites [multiple] that the devices uses to check for outages, which should help it avoid false positive outages.
The only issue appears to be that the connection speed is not brilliant, 150 Mbps is not the best speed that you can get from a 4G. Netgear make better Wireless Broadband devices that support not only 5G but also faster speeds on 4G, unfortunately they don’t provide failover for your existing wired Broadband connection (although, if money is no option, the faster Wireless broadband devices sometimes have wired connections that could be connected to the TP-Link router).
The next issue will be getting a 3G SIM that won’t cost you the earth. I think that SMARTY could be a good option for some as they provide a 1GB data only SIM for £6 per month, with £1 back if you don’t use the data in the month and £1 per GB when you go over.
If you are lucky enough to be one of the Virgin Media customers that got a SIM as part of your deal then it could save you a packet on your SIM charges and also provide a reliable backup for your ISP.
I think that if you need (or want) reliability for your WiFi connection, and you have your own WiFi equipment (rather than relying on your ISP), I think the LB2120 could be a good option. Unfortunately I haven’t decided which route to take and I feel that, whilst it’s important to have a reliable Internet connection, it’s not something that I am currently willing to spend over the odds for.