After nearly 6 months with Zen Internet, I’ve decided to upgrade to their fastest package – Ultimate Fibre 4 – which should give me a top speed of 300Mbs download and 50Mbs upload. And it only costs an extra £8 per month.
As I work from home at least one day a week, it’ll get to the point where my home broadband will (vaguely) match that of the work connection – so using a VPN will ensure that any file transfers will remain fast.
All of the following apply to MacOS Mojave 10.14.4, iOS 12.2 and mid-2018 MacBook Pro and late 2018 iPad Pro.
Facetime on the MacBook Pro. On my work Mac Mini, if I open Facetime to make a phone call via my iPhone, I can type the number directly into the Facetime app and it’ll dial it. On my MacBook Pro which I primarily use with the lid closed, I can’t – since Facetime expects the camera to be active and will stubbornly refuse to show the entry field. I have to use Contacts app instead. Additionally, Facetime tends to get the audio devices wrong, leaving me with the person I’ve called unable to hear me.
I have 150Gb worth of 4G data with EE across my iPhone XS Max and iPad Pro devices. If I want to download an app on the iOS app store that’s over 150Mb in size, iOS stupidly insists I connect to Wi-Fi. Let me use 4G if I want to. Don’t nanny me.
Wi-Fi performance needs some serious tweaking under both MacOS and iOS for modern devices. Performance is seriously underwhelming in 2018/2019.
Time Machine backups under MacOS when using an encrypted USB 3 disk is unbearably slow. If you backup weekly or monthly, the time it takes for Time Machine to complete backups is stupidly slow. 11 hours to backup 99Gb worth of data? Even if the throttle limit has been removed (via sysctl).
Remove user selection when using FileVault – stick with a username and password prompt because this has the ability to leak user info before the Mac has even booted. I understand the reason behind this, but it’s time to change things up a bit.
This weekend I wrap up the pain in the arse Nighthawk X10 router and send it back to Amazon. In its place is Ubiquiti Networks’ Amplifi HD, a wonderful boxy router that actually looks good wherever it’s positioned.
It’s interesting to note that Wi-Fi performance isn’t spectacular. I’m still trying to figure out whether this is a Wi-Fi thing, or whether it has to do with single-thread performance (not necessarily to do with Zen Internet).
I can absolutely max out my broadband’s 141Mbs download speed from the iPhone if I launch multiple downloads from iTunes (single download lands around 100Mbs). Speedtest.net shows around anywhere between 35Mbs-80Mbs (multi). Across the network (with MacBook Pro acting as server, connected via ethernet), it’s around 195Mbs.
The Mac, like the iPhone and iPad, can also saturate bandwidth on Wi-Fi if multiple threads from the likes of Steam and iTunes are running – but single threaded operations aren’t great. And I’ve never understood why this 2018 MacBook Pro keeps reporting back that the link speed is 54Mbs. The iPhone too seems to report back a poor receive rate of just 6Mbs from looking at the client stats via the Amplifi iOS app.
I’ve also not ruled out that the latest iPhones and Macs simply just have exceptionally poor Wi-Fi transceivers in them. Hooking the Mac up to one of the Amplifi’s HD 4 gigabit ethernet ports yields 141Mbs speedtest.net download results every single time. So I’m keeping the Mac on ethernet for the foreseeable future despite a bit of cable management bodge work.
That said, there have been no problems with the Hive home network since installing the Amplifi, and quite frankly, it looks good sitting in the middle of the room:
Speaking of the Hive home network, they very kindly sent me a signal booster which sits in the middle of the room and ensuring – hopefully – a strong signal is sent between the thermostat and the Hive hub.
This weekend I’ll be adding a mesh point to the set-up. It’ll be located in the master bedroom and hopefully, will give me the strongest signal there. I have an Apple TV HD (3rd gen) which is connected via Wi-Fi. It’ll unlikely improve single thread performance again, but at least there will be no more Wi-Fi dead spots upstairs. If that works, I might need one more mesh point at the back of the house to ensure all over coverage.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
On Tuesday I had BT Openreach pop around to convert my master telephone socket to cope with the new G.Fast protocol which allows me to download speeds up to 330Mbs and upload up to 50Mbs (though I’ve gone with a package that offers up to 160Mbs down, 30Mbs up).
While everything checked out on the master socket, and a new fancy faceplate fitted, Openreach didn’t have sufficient instructions from Zen Internet to be able to test internet connectivity. It turns out that the FRITZ! Box 7350 doesn’t contain a G.Fast modem. It can support VDSL up to 300Mbs, but itself cannot handle the protocol. So Openreach had to pull out a – controversially some would say (though I have no problem with the company or its products) – a Huawei MT992 G.Fast modem. A white box that connects to the DSL line with an ethernet port to connect to LAN 1 on the FRITZ! box. Openreach had the PSU and the box itself, but strangely not a RJ-11 DSL cable. So I nicked the one from the Sky Broadband router.
The next part was to figure out how to get the FRITZ! box routing through the LAN rather than the DSL connection. The Openreach engineer called Zen and they talked me through doing so. After a while, the router established a working internet connection and all was well. Or so I thought. Initial speed tests were showing 100Mbs down, and 27/28Mbs up. Upload speed is fine, but I’m missing a potential whopping 60Mbs. We made sure that the cable between the FRITZ! Box and the Huawei modem was capable of gigbit speeds, and that LAN1 LAN port was set to gigabit speed. It was.
The Openreach engineer left – he tested the line and demonstrated it was connecting at expected speeds. I, meanwhile, took the MacBook Pro and hooked it up to ethernet with Cat6 cable to LAN port 3. I achieved a maximum of 140Mbs down – an improvement over the Wi-Fi test. Single thread download, however, wasn’t pleasant – around 37Mbs. Since the majority of multimedia stuff is going to me multithreaded anyway – this isn’t too big of a problem for me – but hardly the stuff that Sky Broadband was offering at £12 less per month.
One extremely annoying problem that cropped up with the FRITZ! box was that my HP OfficeJet printer would not establish a stable connection via Wi-Fi despite being line of sight of the router. No matter what changes I made to the FRITZ! box’s Wi-FI settings, or ensuring it received the same IP each time, it would not hold connection. I had a pear of Netgear powerline adaptors to hand and hooked up the printer via ethernet – a ridiculous situation given the Sky Q Broadband router had no trouble with this at all. I had restarted the printer several times too. But with the powerline adaptors in place, the printer was finally on the network. It should be noted that I changed all of the FRITZ! box SSID and WPA passwords to match the old router to try and avoid having to reconfigure all my devices – by and large it worked. Even my “smart” scales connected just fine. But the HP printer? What a stubborn git.
The FRITZ! Box definitely seems to have some strange ideas over QoS, Wi-Fi channel management – but it has terrible throughput/range. With my iPhone and iPad upstairs, I achieve less than half speed of that downstairs. Signal strength seems strong, but throughput is not what I thought it would be. Definitely much weaker than previous routers I have used.
I’m shortly going to be testing a Netgear X10 Nighthawk R9000 router. This is a flipping expensive piece of kit – more expensive than many of Draytek SOHO routers that I’ve been using on and off over the past (nearly) 2 decades. But as I have a Netgear ProSAFE switch to hook up all my wired kit, and previous ISP provided routers have been rebadged Netgear routers which have worked very well, it seems sensible to invest in something that I hope will last 3-4 years and provide good range and throughput. If it doesn’t do what I hope it will do, it’s going right back. I need a stable home network & internet access for work AND play, and I’ll pay what I need to get it – though I will frown upon Zen’s choice of router if this thing fixes all the problems.
BTW, in Zen Internet’s customer portal it’s possible to find stats relating to the connection. I’m currently connected at 146981Kbs which equates to the kind of speeds I was seeing when connected via ethernet.
However, last night I did see substantial performance problems during the evening in which I couldn’t get download speeds above 30Mbs and upload speeds of around 10Mbs. Whether this was Wi-Fi or the broadband connection itself, I can’t say as yet. We’ll see what kind of speeds we get with the Nighthawk.