The first thing you’ll notice about the Netgear R9000 router is how much larger it is compared to other routers. You’ll also notice that it kind of looks like Hela from the film Thor: Ragnarok, what with the big, thick antennae poking out from back and sides of the machine.

Which is which? Difficult to tell..

It took some effort just to get the blasted thing out the packaging. But once you’ve got it out the box and plugged in, it’s an extraordinarily easy experience to get it up and running.

The box is nearly as big as my Drobo’s box
A router so premium, it’s on its own pedestal…

You have a choice of configuring the Netgear via the web interface or via an app on your phone. I chose to use the web interface. A quick set-up wizard prompts you to connect to your ISP. It was able to detect the encapsulation required, and prompt me for my ISP username and password.

Once connected, speed tests weren’t that much different from the Fritz! box, and having done a bit of digging around with the Netgear app, despite the line of sight, I’m only achieving 62% signal strength from my Mac. I also noted something really odd about the Mac. Link speed is 54Mbs despite the transmission being over 800Mbs?

54Mbs link speed on the Mac, yet connected to 802.11ac?
MacOS Mojave’s Network Utility confirms link speed

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years being an Apple owner – Apple’s Wi-Fi hasn’t been terribly great with different third-party routers and Wi-Fi. Over the years when I’ve had PCs, they seem to have done a better job working with different router manufacturers. That said, when I had Virgin Media and their 300Mbs broadband connection, the SuperHub 3.0 (which is made by Netgear) never had any issues.

I’m intending on moving the router away from the brick wall and to the centre of the room. In order to do this, I’ll need 2 x 5m Cat6 cables in order to bridge the Netgear ProSafe switch where the TV, Apple TV, Sony UltraHD Blu-Ray player and the Hive Hub all reside along with the G.Fast modem. It should provide a stronger Wi-Fi signal, though I’m considering just connecting the Mac via ethernet. By bringing the router closer, it’ll make it much easier to hook it up without too much cable mess.

The Netgar Genie app conveniently maps your network and provides stats for each device.

That said, the HP printer works perfectly fine with the Netgear. With the FRITZ! Box, it constantly dropped off the network. Now it’s rock solid.

Netgear Genie apps shows signal strength of each device.

The router has confirmed that it has been able to connect to the full negotiated speed of the broadband connection here, using the Netgear Nighthawk app. Ookla speed tests from the Apple TV show regular download rates of around 122Mbs.

Even with a less than ideal signal strength, the MacBook Pro is able to achieve decent download rates – again, around 122Mbs – from the likes of iTunes and Steam.

Overall I have been very impressed with this router (and less so with the MacBook Pro), and it has a lot more tricks up its sleeve. I’ll be covering some special features that this router has that no other router has in another blog post soon.

I’ll soon be changing my broadband ISP. I’ve been with Sky Broadband for a while, but as they are unlikely to re-introduce their Pro level package which featured a static IP address among a few other features that were extremely useful, so I had to look for an alternative – especially as (a) Sky are putting up their prices and (b) I’m at the end of the contract.

So I’ll be switching to Zen Internet – hopefully sometime this week. They provide a well-respected router from German firm AVM called the FRITZ!Box 7530 which arrived today via DPD.

FRITZ! seems like an odd choice of a brand name, as I always associate the word “fritz” with the phrase – “on the fritz”, which means something is broken. Hopefully that’s not going to be the case here!

The FRITZ! Box shares the same chipset as the well-respected Draytek router range

I’ll be going from a 80Mbs down/20Mbs up connection to a G.Fast 160Mbs down/30Mbs up. Useful for downloading UltraHD content from Sky’s On Demand services. It’ll also be useful for work – especially having a static IP (which will save me £65 a year via NordVPN).

A BT engineer will need to pay a visit to replace the faceplate on the master phone socket in order to make use of G.Fast speeds (which can support speeds up to 330Mbs down and 50Mbs up – and it’s about an £8 difference between the products – if Zen proves themselves worthy, I’ll happily upgrade later down the line).

I’ll report on how things go when they happen.

Internet security has never been more important. We’re getting to the point where everything has to be encrypted to ensure that prying eyes are kept well away from our data.

Even so, that still doesn’t stop data leaking, with the latest leak of 773 million records containing 2,692,818,238 rows of data having been released to the internet at large. I highly recommend using Have I Been Pawned? to check to see if any details (email or passwords) have been gathered across the plethora of public leaks.

VPNs are becoming more important when on the road where public Wi-Fi is inherently insecure and dangerous.

Now, it’s unlikely that any of the leaks are the responsibility of unencrypted traffic from your computer to the server, with man-in-the-middle attacks slurping your credentials when you’re at home and using your own router and ISP. But it’s possible but unlikely (though more likely if you’re connecting to terribly insecure public Wi-Fi). Most of the time these are going to be a combination of things: malware, unpatched exploitable security holes allowing attacks to access servers and their data directly, terrible methods of storing data, stupid password policies, stupid sysadminning, and everything else in-between.

But this still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take additional measures to ensure your online safety. A VPN can help you to protect your online privacy. Data will leave your device encrypted through your ISP’s (or public Wi-Fi) connection and exit through to the internet through a dedicated server. This makes it difficult to track back traffic to your computer, tablet or phone and stops your ISP (or Wi-Fi provider and any other potential third party threat) from spying on you.

VPNs can also bypass geographical restrictions. There are many US news sites that haven’t sorted out their EU policies and just block any EU user from accessing their web sites.

NordVPN offers 5,200 endpoints across 62 countries and 6 continents for a very low monthly price based on annual payment. And they also offer dedicated IP facilities where ISPs cannot

I’ve not been a big user of VPNs until now. But there is one big advantage of using a VPN service. And not all of them offer this particular feature: a dedicated IP. In my job (and as my hobby, running this server), having a dedicated IP makes it much easier to lock down a server and access it from specific IP addresses. IPv6 doesn’t seem to be making the kind of impact it should be these days which would make it much easier for ISPs to give each user a dedicated IP. Sky, my current provider, used to do this – but they then withdrew the service by the time I came back to them from Virgin.

I picked NordVPN for my VPN service. They’ve been advertising quite a bit on UK TV, and have had some very good reviews. I tested them out a couple of times via iTunes subscription, but have now committed to three years (paid up front) for around £100 (including VAT). Their dedicated IP service costs an extra £66 a year, but it allows me to use my own OpenVPN client across any device (so it’s on my iPhone and iPad Pro as well as my Mac). So far it’s been extremely useful, and most importantly, reliable.

I can still use my regular NordVPN account with random servers (they have over 5,200 servers (or endpoints) across 6 continents and 62 countries. They provide their own VPN client which makes it very easy to select different countries (and servers within those countries) along with speciality servers such as Onion over VPN.

Support is good, with live chat available. Most problems are easily fixed through the chat. It took a couple of days to set-up the dedicated IP, but that’s to be expected.

The only problems I’ve encountered with using NordVPN overall is that some WAF/CDNs tend to flag the IPs from some of the hosting providers that NordVPN as potential troublemakers. There were a number of occasions connected via a non-dedicated IP connection where “Access denied” popped up from an Akamai hosted site, and WordFence – a popular WordPress security plugin – also seemed unhappy with the IP I was using.

The problem is that with VPN connections, they will appear to come from a dedicated hosting company rather than an established broadband ISP. This can potentially have a negative impact as, in my line of business, this can potentially be flagged up as a potential bad actor or a bad crawler/robot – hence Akamai and WordFence’s response.

9.5/10

When I left university, my first job was working at a local company in Norwich that specialised in building, selling and repairing PCs. I learnt to build a PC from scratch – installing the motherboard, CPU, RAM, hard drives and CD-ROM drives and how to diagnose problems with existing systems. But the overall goal was to set-up a local Norwich dial-up ISP and offer other services such as web design and hosting. Thanks to having some experience with Linux, I got the job of running the ISP. I did the lot: building servers, running them, writing software for dial-up set-ups, providing technical support and finally web design for clients.

Norwich’s third ISP, Albatross Networks Ltd.

At the time (this was around 1996/1997), there were a few big national ISPs. Demon Internet was one of them. It was a techie’s dream ISP in many ways – it offered unfettered access to Usenet, gave you a static IP for free, provided a comprehensive internet web/email client (Turnpike) and a subdomain of your own choosing in which you could use to receive email to as many email addresses as possible.

For example, if you had a username of wibbler, your hostname would be wibbler.demon.co.uk. You could have [email protected], and you’d be able to use Turnpike or some other third party email program to filter incoming mail. This was all before spamming and phishing became a real problem.

Albatross’ front page. Which I designed. Badly. Hey – computers had much lower resolutions in those days, and you wouldn’t have seen that overlap! 😉

I implemented a similar system at Albatross (no static IPs though). Demon was the ISP that I wanted to emulate. And as of today, Demon Internet has been given its death sentence by current owners, Vodafone. RIP, Demon.