Broadband on the Go: Nighthawk M6 and O2: It’s all Arabic to me (literally)

My expression when confronted with the M6’s default Arabic language setting

On Saturday I got my Netgear Nighthawk M6 4G/5G Mobile router along with the unlimited data O2 nano SIM to go with it. I unpacked everything, inserted the SIM and booted it up.


The built-in touchscreen LCD displayed text in Arabic only – with no option to switch languages unless one had a pretty good grasp of the Arabic language. So, I did a bit of Googling and found that Netgear had a Netgear Mobile app for this kind of router. I downloaded that to my iPhone, connected the iPhone to the M6’s Wi-Fi network and then used the Netgear Mobile app to connect to the router’s admin interface – in English – where I could then change the LCD display’s language from Arabic to English.

Before all that, however, I tried to fumble my way through the Arabic interface and ended up updating the firmware for the router entirely by accident. Had to be done anyway. But it still doesn’t explain why the sealed device shipped with Arabic as the default language. Has O2 been dealing with Trotter’s Independent Trading?

Once I was in properly, I changed the admin password, configured the DHCP settings to match that of the previous set-up (although Netgear omits the ability to set reservations), changed the settings on the Nighthawk RAX200 router that I was using with Virgin Media to become an Access Point only, disabled the Wi-Fi on the M6 and rebooted everything (including the Netgear switch).

Everything came back online as if my broadband never died in the first place. I had internet access for all my devices again, and there was an initial flurry of competing devices as to download updates, etc. which rendered internet access from the laptop almost impossible for several hours as O2 doesn’t have the greatest range or performance in this area – max. of 30Mbs (but usually around 10Mbs) download and 5-7Mbs upload. It took a while for everything to settle down before it was all usable again.

The M6 unit is much smaller than I expected, but everything is easy to get access to. It operates in three modes – battery optimised mode (but less performance), performance mode (with battery) and maximum performance mode (but you have to take the battery out). I’m currently running on maximum performance mode without the battery. When I travel, I’m going to need to get a case for the unit and battery along with the USB-C cable to power everything with. The supplied power dongle is a bit flimsy – but thankfully I always carry a UGREEN 100W wall charger with me that should be able to replace that on my travels.

I’m still going to need fibre broadband here as multitasking with different apps and devices puts a real strain on available internet bandwidth – and 4G connectivity (no 5G from O2 here – yet) can’t compete with that. But’s infinitely better than nothing, and better than tethering the iPhone to the one device. The big bonus of using the M6 is its replaceable battery (with additional batteries charged at £34.99) which makes it a much more viable option when travelling (along with sharing the connection with your phone, tablet, and other devices that you might be carrying with you – ideal for couples and families!).

Tip for manufacturers: NEVER put “latest” on these things. We’re up to Wi-Fi 7 now (well, ALMOST – just around the corner – but Wi-Fi 6E is the “latest”).

Toob invests £13 million for FTTP in Woking

Openreach may have no clue as to when they’re going to get around to installing the infrastructure needed for Fibre-To-The-Premises in this area, but I just found out courtesy of Thinkbroadband that the ISP, Toob, will be investing £13 million to bring FTTP to Woking.

The only problem I have with Toob is the web site doesn’t go into too much technical detail, but from it does say is that the 900Mbs transfers are symmetrical (e.g. download AND upload) and they can seemingly provide a static IP address – exactly what I need for both work and leisure. All this for £25/month (on an 18-month contract).

Whether this would allow me to change broadband providers after the minimum term is complete is a different matter – but while I still have wall space in the front room, I’d be happy to have Toob and Openreach FTTP units installed (alongside Virgin Media’s fibre termination which I already have).

It’s suggested that customers won’t be connected until the end of the 2023, but given we’re in August, that’s not long off. If the O2 mobile broadband thing works better than expected, I may cancel EE to save a bit of money and just wait for Toob to get back to me to say they can give me their broadband. Yes, of course I’ve registered my interest – this is a breath of fresh air for FTTP. My other concern is that I hope their network has plenty of capacity to run at full speed as I remember all the problems Virgin had back in the day. We’ll see.

No adverts in Google Workspace? Think again.

I am so incredibly angry with Google (but similarly with Microsoft and Apple who also pull this kind of shit). I pay Google for business-grade email that’s supposed to have no adverts. But this morning I discover this when logging into Gmail:

It’s an advert informing me that if I upgrade my edition of Google Workspace, I can protect my data with Google Vault. Firstly, this isn’t entirely true – Google Vault isn’t what you think it is. Secondly, why the bloody hell am I seeing this in my Gmail account? Do other administrators see it? Why did Google think it was such a good idea to put it in Gmail and not the administrative interface where it may have been better received?

In any event, promoting your own products this way is an utterly shitty way to go about things and it isn’t just Google that does this. Microsoft does it with Windows 11 and Apple does it with just about every device they sell. It’s intrusive, self-servicing, and potentially anti-competitive. And most of the time I’m already aware of what they offer, how much it costs, and what it does. Or I already have it. Pointless and <CENSORED> annoying.

I really hope that the EU commission and UK CMA investigate US Big Tech’s use of this kind of advertising and slap them with substantial fines, or – better still – threaten to break them up or kick them out.

5G/4G Broadband Plan of Action

This Saturday will see the delivery of my Netgear Nighthawk M6 5G mobile router and unlimited data O2 SIM. I cannot wait. Very excited. I intend to:

  • Disable Wi-Fi on the M6, change the DHCP settings to match current subnet and enable In-Home Performance mode. Ensure DHCP reservations for the Netgear switch (did I mention all my networking at home is Netgear?) and possibly the RAX200 router (will need to check the MAC address first).
  • Turn the current Netgear Nighthawk RAX200 router into a Wi-Fi access point and plug that into the M6’s ethernet port. Reboot everything (especially the switch with all the wired gadgets). Test by logging into admin interface and verify existing Wi-Fi devices can reach the internet.

Everything should then work.

That’ll buy me some time until Openreach activate the line and EE Broadband is installed. I’ll then relegate the M6 5G router as a failover (it has the ability to do this with existing connections, apparently). If I’m travelling or staying at hotel, I’ll take it with me to avoid horrendous Virgin Media Business performance and charges (the irony being O2 and Virgin are now the same company).

Broadband Trek: The Wrath of Drake

Or: My Smart Home Turned Dumb Very, Very Quickly

Computer artist’s impression

Over the last week, my village suffered a power cut during the middle of the night. I know this because whenever it happens the lights come on when the power is restored. Usually not a problem, I just need to wait until everything boots back up and I can remotely turn off the lights from bed using my iPhone. This I did, and went back to sleep.

I woke up again when the lights came back on about 20 minutes after the first incident. But this time I couldn’t turn them off with Apple’s Home app. Going downstairs, the lights of the Virgin Media Hub 4 were on, but a static white. Logging into my Netgear Nighthawk router, it wasn’t t able to get an internet connection from the Virgin Hub. Checking Virgin’s web site on my phone (which initially wouldn’t tether to the Mac) there wasn’t any reported issues at the time (nor were there later on in the morning) apart from some work being carried out on the 8th August.

Thankfully I could turn off the lights without internet access (but if I were to use Siri, it requires internet access to turn off devices which is absolutely bloody ridiculous) and just went to bed. I called Virgin later on and after a period of 9 thousand centuries, I was put through to somebody who tried all the remote tests and couldn’t access the Hub at all. So, they booked an engineer. I said it’s likely only to be the hub – it probably didn’t like being interrupted like that (for example, given the time of the outage, it may have been performing a firmware update which must never be interrupted). I asked if they could just send out a replacement Hub and I’ll return the old one. Nope, it’s got to be an engineer and I can’t get one for two weeks.

At this point I also check my contract and was surprised that in 10 days time the minimum contract term expires and I can cancel otherwise face an extra £15/month. While Virgin have generally been very good, this was one situation where I feel they could have done much better and failed. And that’s cost them.

But it’s also cost me too, because I’m still without broadband here and I’m just thankful that I have EE’s top tier package for the iPhone that allows a very generous tethering allowance. But it got me thinking – what I really need is a backup line. Something that doesn’t require physically cables but I can easily switch my entire home network to it should I need to.

As my contract on an o2 phone is coming to an end soon, I’ve bought one of these doodads: a Netgear Nighthawk M6 5G Mobile Wi-Fi router along with an unlimited O2 data package. What this means is that not only can I take it wherever I go (as it can be battery powered), but also keep it at home and hook up the switch with all my devices to it as a backup router. It hasn’t arrived yet, but I’ll give my opinions as to how well it works and how cost effective it is when I do.

Meanwhile the search of a replacement broadband provider begun, and it is the biggest pain in the arse I have endured in many, many years. Firstly, many of the providers that had G.FAST products don’t have them in this area anymore. In English: packages with over 300Mbs or over are not available anymore. Whether this is because the local exchange is at capacity, or whether the ISP has dropped it, I don’t know. I looked at going back to Zen, but the best they can do is 80Mbs. A shame, because I could do with a static IP. Bearing in mind I’ve been used to gigabit speeds for downloading and 100Mbs speeds for uploading.

I also looked at Andrews & Arnold Ltd., a highly respected ISP within the tech community that could provide me with everything I wanted. Except – bloody hell – it’s expensive. The current quote is:

£100 + VAT for the installation
£60 + VAT for the modem (which is, presumably, the Huawei (thought they were banned) MT992)
£65 + VAT per month for a metered package (2Tb/month)
£20 + VAT for a hardware firewall (the Wi-Fi router I have would sit behind that)

Expensive. I spoke with a couple of sales folk and they said that their experience with the G.FAST speeds (e.g. 300Mbs and up) wasn’t as mature as their slower and more mature offerings. Plus the ordering system is broken too (and still is at the time of writing – when you ring them they ask you to email them).

So I’m not happy about any of that.

There was an alternative provider called Cerebus Networks Ltd. which could offer what I wanted, in a similar vein to A&A, but their prices are even more expensive when it came to the set-up fees. And this is without buying a router from them. It’s not stipulated how the connection is presented, either. Do I need to buy an MT992 modem from them? In any event, they’re out of the running.

The stupid thing is that I don’t need a new telephone line. The BT line I have here was last used with G.FAST many years ago and probably only needs a bit of TLC from an engineer to get it working and activated again. It has the necessary filters and has separate telephone and RJ11 jacks. Even so, nearly £200 for an engineer call out to activate a line is fecking silly money.

Looking at the regular consumer ISPs, I was also bitterly disappointed. Especially with Sky which is now offering a Wi-Fi 6 router but is advertising it incorrectly. It’s only available for VSDL2 and FTTP customers, it doesn’t feature G.FAST or ASDL support. But that’s not mentioned on their site, and I spent two days with Sky trying to figure out why it couldn’t be added to an 145Mbs Ultrafast order.

And this is what REALLY pisses me off – the complete lack of technical information on ISP sites. The situation comes close to the following conversation from my favourite of books (with apologies to Douglas Adams for changing “notice” to “specs”):

“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the specs, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

– The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

What I’ve effectively got to do now is to use the ISP’s router for main internet connectivity and DHCP (the ability to assign internal IPs to devices) and my existing Wi-Fi 6 Nighthawk router as a glorified access point. That’s fine. I chose EE in the end because I already have so much with them as it is, so there are some benefits to using them (more data allowances, discounts, etc.) but the downside is, like BT, they increase the price every March in line with inflation which – at the moment – is an absolute bastard. And I’m committing to 2 years.

I looked at Plus Net, but they don’t have the speeds. TalkTalk has a reputation plus their router doesn’t have good DHCP configuration options, apparently. BT is more expensive than EE despite being practically the same product, so EE it is. Vodafone, BTW, simply fell over and did this – hardly encouraging as a potential customer:

And that’s not without technical glitches during the EE ordering process: