Cable Internet in 10 Easy Steps

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After what seems like a nightmare week of aggravation, it looks like I'm finally connectivity-wealthy. Downloads take seconds, uploads are relatively quick, and I'm probably even redundant connection-enabled. Though tests of the load-balancing and failover router have exposed some uncertainty around it's operating capabilities. Maybe it's something to do with the fact I bought the $250 one instead of the $1900 one that my colleague (who works for Cisco) recommended. I think he's planning a world cruise, and had his eye on the commission.

Mind you, the LinkSys RV042 is a neat piece of kit. The default setup was easy, though mainly because in my case it just connects to two separate modems (rather than having to handle PPoE or something equally esoteric). When configured to do load balancing, it pings a specified address to determine which connections are available, and shares the load between them - though it sometimes seems a little reluctant to pick up a lost connection when that service comes back up again. I suppose that repeatedly pulling the cables out of the back and plugging them in again confused the system after a while.

TIP: Run a tracert to a Web site to see the IP address of your ISP's host server that you connect to (the first entry after your own router), and use this in the service detection settings. If you point to the default gateway, it may not detect a fault beyond your own modem or router. If you point to your favorite Web site and it goes down, the router will think that the connection has failed.

The only other downside I found so far is that setting up protocol bindings seems to be a hit and miss affair. I wanted to direct all SMTP traffic from my internal server (such as status messages from WSUS, the UPSs, and other bits of kit) through one of the WAN connections and have everything else balanced across both WAN connections, but an hour spent playing with protocol binding rules proved totally futile. The help file is suitably vague about doing something as complicated (?) as this. It does say that you can have up to 100 protocol binding rules, so maybe I just gave up too soon. To be honest, I couldn't be bothered setting up one for every protocol for both connection ports to see if that worked...

Of course, as you can imagine, most of the aggravation this week was not with the router, but with the cable company. So, based on my experiences as a Virgin in this area, and there being No Time Like the present (if you're in the UK, this is a hint as to the cable provider), here's my top ten easy steps to getting cable-enabled:

  1. When you originally talk to the sales people, and they happen to mention that your next door neighbor's address is "coming up on their system" but yours is not, immediately put the phone down and call another company.
  2. If you failed to follow the advice above (which is likely in England because there is only one cable company), stand outside your neighbor's house when the surveyor or installers are due. Despite telling them several times where you live, they won't believe you.
  3. If you really depend on your connection, or do anything other than plug a couple of computers into the back of the modem, brace yourself and order a business service. And make sure you understand which packages can be configured with a static IP address if you need one (though they are not actually public static addresses), and the variations in upload speed between packages. Strangely, there may be "business rules" that prevent you having a static IP address on the packages with higher upload speeds (a situation for which nobody can explain the logic).
  4. Be nice to the fitters. Make them cups of tea and talk about football and cars. It also helps if you prepare the ground up front, such as digging the trench and putting in conduit for the cable so that, when your wife decides to plant geraniums in the flower bed next to the cable box, she won't dig though your cable.
  5. Buy some hefty cable clips to cope with the several extra yards of half-inch thick coax they'll leave curled up inside your server cabinet "just in case you want to move the modem somewhere else" (like next door perhaps?)
  6. After the installers have gone home, if you are wondering why your modem is running hot enough to fry an egg, remove the sticker with all of the dire warnings about connecting and registering the modem. This reveals the air vent holes. In fact, underneath the warning label you'll probably find another smaller one that says "WARNING: Do not cover these vent holes".
  7. Phone you supplier immediately after the installation is finished to see if they know who you are. If you are lucky enough for them to accept your address and the order number on the installation paper as being valid, ask them for a pin code so you can talk directly to technical support. It won't actually help, but you do get to listen to some different "on hold" music.
  8. Alternatively, if you find that the company actually doesn't know - or believe - that you exist (recall that your address is "not coming up on their system"), make a decision about whether to just keep quiet and see if you've actually got free cable, or whether you have the energy and patience to persuade them that you're not just a fig leaf of their imagination.
  9. Test all of the applications and services you use. They'll suddenly remember to tell you (after the installation is complete) that, for example, you can't connect to a VPN if you have not ordered your service with a static IP address. Don't panic, however, because this isn't true - it often does work with a dynamic address. However, if you want to send email from your SMTP server, that won't work unless you find a way to route it through their email servers. But if you are only sending yourself status messages, you may be able to set up a filter at your email host that allows you to bypass the Dynamic User List (DUL) checks on received email.
  10. Run a speed test several times to get an idea of whether you got the package you ordered. A good site is http://www.speedtest.net/. You will probably find that the results vary, though they stabilize after a few runs and should come close to the advertized speeds unless you run them at the busiest time. If you are running them from a laptop connected over your own wireless connection or through a 10MB switch, don't expect to get results higher than they can manage (and, yes, I fell for this one)!

So, after all that, was it worth the aggravation? The jury is still out on whether they will actually come round to accepting that I do exist, and I'm a little concerned about the technical capabilities of the support people in connection with business issues, but time will tell. But at least there are lots more pretty flickery lights in the server cabinet now. Maybe in December we can drag it into the lounge and save on buying a Christmas tree...

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Cable Internet in 10 Easy Steps