Broadband or 4G / 5G mobile? That is the Question!

For some years on and off, I’ve been struggling with inadequate broadband, that is, dish-based broadband from a local company here in Southern Spain – a company who have recently merged with another, who are something of a monopoly in the area and who’s customer skills need a lot of work.

Our dish which talks to an in-town antenna

I’ve included various links below – in no case am I associated with any of those companies or products – the information is there to be helpful only.

A little background.. we recently made the move to Spain after being here only part time for many years and accepting the limits of dish-based (not satellite) broadband accordingly. There were/are no landline fibre alternatives in our exact location (and please don’t plug Starlink – that is a VERY expensive dish option right now).

Part of the initial attraction was the ability to lower the cost/speed for the times we were back in the UK, without penalty.

The Habland Fiasco

Then, last year, after promising fibre “soon”, the local broadband company (Habland) dropped twin bombshells (after their merger with Excom). “We don’t offer a reduced rate service” (ignoring having done just that for many years) and “sorry we can’t fit fibre, you will have to fit poles first”. After a lifetime of running businesses and more, I’m retired and not inclined to kitting out our entire street with telephone poles. Their dish system provided enough download speed (at best 30Mbps) for reasonable quality TV watching but a pathetic 2-3Mbps upload – not very good for conferencing and quite useless for YouTube video creation.

In addition to above, in bad weather, the dish system would shut down for short periods, presumably for safety reasons though we’ve never been told why (and I’ve never noticed local mobile masts going offline).

So, I’ve been looking for broadband alternatives – there are (at least it seemed) very few viable alternatives around us – when put to the test, no-one else would take on the job of installing poles up our street (which is on a hill). There is of course Elon Musk’s Starlink but right now that’s a TAD expensive to fit and to use. Then I hit on the idea of using 4G/5G mobile tech. We get no 5G but a good 4G LTE signal at our home and an even better signal above roof level. At first it sounded great, then as I started to check, virtually all the mobile companies had monthly data limits too severe to use their mobile offerings as broadband alternatives.

In addition, inside my home the signals were not that good, so an external 4g antenna was needed or so it seemed. None none of my existing (internal) 4g-capable routers had external antenna facilities so I’d need an antenna and a waterproof router.

And then two things happened – I discovered a mobile operator offering lots of data – enough for a month’s worth of HD TV, my normal downloads and of course, being mobile, enough UPLOAD speed for YouTube video creation.

KuWFi 4G router

At the same time, I stumbled on an inexpensive external 4G router with POE, that is, a weatherproof 4G router with WiFi output AND Ethernet which also handles power requirements in the Ethernet cable (via POE – power over Ethernet).

Essentially I bought the KuWFi external router (pretty much a random decision based on Amazon availability – for no other reason than “if it doesn’t work, return it for free”) and which has 2 4G antennas. 2 WiFi antennas.. But see the end – I had to send this router back and by the time a replacement arrived I’d bought a more expensive TP-Link router.

After much experimenting I found an ideal spot on the roof for the router, increasing the download speed to over 60Mb/s and maybe 20-30Mbps – at least 10* faster than the dish uploads.

With a new SIM on the way I was all set for a personal revolution – and then a shock followed by a revelation… I use a VPN (Wireguard) server for local access when I’m on the road (not to be confused with a VPN client typically for watching TV etc. i.e. Surfshark or ExpressVPN both of which give access to UK iPlayer etc.)

Then I received a PM from Mr Shark – friend and regular contributor in here, to say:

“Check with your provider… usually none of them give you a public IP you can use, they all do NAT so you’re behind a NAT network – you have a public IP, of course, but you can’t go IN from there”

Essentially, despite using the NOIP service to ensure the non-fixed IP address given by the mobile operator isn’t an obstacle for VPN access, it seemed that OpenVPN and Wireguard are STILL out of the running.

But then I remembered ZeroTier, a per-device VPN I’d used in the past (free for personal use). With this, my VPN operation was/is back in action. Zerotier is installed on all internal devices which need to be accessed remotely, as well as the mobile device doing the accessing – and they all become part of a secure private network.

Zerotier setup is trivial on PC and mobile devices – but THEN I read an article about using Zerotier on Synology NAS.

TailScale

My thanks to first responder “Rogan” (minutes after I put the blog up) for pointing out TailScale similar to Zerotier but on initial testing possibly even easier to use – DEAD easy to set up on Android, PC and RPi. Even works on my NAS. Update: I’ve been using TailScale for several weeks and I love it.

The upshot? Both Tailscale and Zerotier rely on a cloud service for initial connection only, so best to have both for safety? I can access my home control and my NAS, remotely no problem – the 4G router seemed to work – I got reasonable speeds and all I needed was is the SIM from the mobile operator to go into the router (I did all my original testing with a SIM from my normal mobile operator – with very limited data).

Update May 5, 2022 – I love it when a plan comes together

New Router

So, firstly I contacted the new mobile company and after an initial hitch wherein they neglected to mention that their SIMS arrive deactivated and stays that way until you send some personal info to them (easy in English, not quite so easy when you are speaking two different languages), my connection was up and running. 300GB a month which after 2+ months experience looks like it will be enough. I have to say this particular Valencia area, Spanish-based company have been very helpful (they do speak English).

I then spent all afternoon mounting my new aluminium pole and finally the router – I then realised that instead of insulating the cable I could simply put it in the tube (which is very solidly affixed to the wall). As I got everything into final position I ended up getting a decent overall speed increase.

It is possible I could do better with careful positioning but this was doing better than my original fibre installation back in the UK..

So now at last it was possible to say that the rather ugly dish system (lower left of the image above) was going back to Habland.

Some figures for interested parties – as you can see below, I WAS on a fixed IP, labouring under the belief that this was necessary to run an internal VPN server – and as such was paying €6 + tax to Habland for that alone – in addition to the normal monthly charge for broadband. If nothing else I’ve been enlightened about that. Since the end of April 2022, I’ve been on the dynamic addressing used by the mobile provider. While being aware from the start that I’d no longer have a fixed IP address, I’m still not sure why the address changes apparently at random, even though the connection hasn’t been broken – but it’s not adversely affecting my new per-device VPNs mentioned above

Typical Speeds Since moving to 4G “Broadband”

Before changing the broadband over, speeds were typically 20-30Mbps down, 2.6-3Mbps up. Above are typical speeds on the 4G setup (or were until I spotted an issue with my new 4G router in summer heat – see further down) .

Using a Mobile HotSpot as Backup

This section is a bit specific. I’ve been using my new 4G company with no issues other than initially, during which I used FAR too much data… ie 40GB a day average over 2 days instead of the more typical 8GB average a day.

This issue was resolved by putting our TV Android box on standby overnight. My GL-iNET router can accept data from the main WAN (in this case the TP-Link router who’s WiFi I’ve turned off), hardwired or a WWAN (i.e. in this case my phone’s WiFi hotspot). Switching on the hotspot and switching off my main 4G broadband would do the job, but I wanted the switchover to happen automatically if the hotspot was turned ON and switch back to happen automatically when the hotspot was turned off.

I could not get this to work as the WAN or main incoming connection would always take priority. Now from here, this only applies to folk using openWRT-based routers. There is a text file in the GL-iNET router called /etc/config/network which controls the priorities of the available WANS (option metric “10” or similar). So, if WAN is value 10 and WWAN is value 20, the lower priority wins in a contest – easy – except when it isn’t. SO, I swapped the metric value for WAN and WWAN and rebooted – no change. I changed them back and rebooted as I don’t like living dangerously. I then went off to GL-iNET’s forum and discovered that there may be another file who’s values are more important. /etc/config/mwan3

I went to the bottom of that file to discover:

config member 'wan_only'
	option interface 'wan'
	option metric '2'
	option weight '3'

config member 'wwan_only'
	option interface 'wwan'
	option metric '1'
	option weight '3'

Originally those metrics were ‘1’ and ‘2’ – I simply swapped them over and didn’t even have to reboot the router – that solved the problem. I now have a large-amount-of-data 4G service which does the job but if for any reason I do run out of data (unlikely), I can simply activate the hotspot on my phone and the phone hotspot will begin to supply the Internet to my network.

The Internet address coming from my phone hotspot, sitting in the office – the incoming address (in both cases) is dynamic before anyone says I’m giving too much info away…

mobile phone signal

and now – I turn off the hotspot, wait a moment, try again and – back to main broadband..

router signal

Router Update July 22, 2022

As hinted at above, that KuWFI router did not seem to like operating in a Spanish heatwave with no box – also the 4G antennas on mine were not that sensitive and when the hot weather struck in Spain (35-40c) I decided I needed a re-think. We’ve seen the odd TV drop-out and I put that down to signal – until recently when the signal started failing consistently – the router talked to my network reliably but the 4G droped out – I checked and it appeared to be the heatwave – so I brought it indoors – that seemed to solve the issue but of course defeated the object – I started using a GL-iNET router I had handy (no external antenna, not intended for outdoor use) on the assumption it would not rain in the next few weeks – perfect but not that good a 4G signal pickup. Now with the GL-iNET Spitz (model 1) router our HD TV was just fine – several episodes of sun-avoiding Jack Reacher episodes later – not a single issue.

I am waiting for a replacement KuWfi also the arrival of the new GL-iNet V2 Spitz router which reportedly has markedly improved 4G antenna – meanwhile, on a hunch based on web reviews) I ordered a TP-Link 4G router – the Archer MR600 V2 – strangely – one of you readers recommended that this router at the same time – just as it was arriving in the mail. It is not waterproof but works just fine in the corner of my office – see the comments for more updates but the future looks bright (and to complete that phrase, yes, the future looks Orange 🙂 )

TP-Link MR600 V2 4G router

11 days in… I’m getting 70 to 100Mbps download and 13 to 50Mbps upload (normally at the higher end in both cases) using the TP-Link router as 4G broadband supplier to my main GL-iNET router.

I think this is one of those blog entries that will continue to grow and remain popular over time – your experiences are welcome in the comments below… meanwhile another company called MiFibra.Online came to my attention, promising fibre in our area (The Spanish government has received (or at least been granted) billions of Euros to kit out rural areas – but it seems up to now that companies are being selective where they do installations)… there could be possibilities there – when I checked they had #25 opposite us as containing several chalets and the availability of fibre – both utterly incorrect. That small property has only dish broadband of the kind we just removed and houses one couple only. When I insisted their records were wrong, there was a response delay which I thought was them ignoring me but then I received a series of personal emails and a call. It turns out that Movistar must provide the poles before the likes of MiFibra can provide a fibre broadband service.

I continue to use the Xenet 4G service (sitting on Orange) without issue on the TP-Link router and occasionally switching to using my phone hotspot (automatic switchover) also with the same company, to make sure I’m using up all my phone data (no month-by-month rollover on either the house 4G or phone 4G). Works for me!

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29 thoughts on “Broadband or 4G / 5G mobile? That is the Question!

    1. Hi Andy – strangely last night I ordered the TP-Link Archer MR600 (ver 2) and it JUST arrived. I’m a LITTLE worried about long external antenna lead losses but I am getting a refund for the KuWFI – the company came back to me this morning with an offer that saves me sending it back to china. So one way or another this will get results. Do you have any experience with the MR600 you can share? I know nothing about it.

      I have 2 external antenna on the way – supposed to arrive today amazon but somehow now the Amazon.es site says they will send me an email when they have a delivery date. Meanwhile it isn’t raining so my GL-iNET router will do for now.

    2. And as if by magic – the new TP-Link is here, plugged into power and my SIM (with TP-LINK provided nano-to-micro adaptor). My PC sees the WiFi and connects (password on bottom of the router – 5Ghz WiFi 3 metres from the PC) – 53Mbps down, 22Mbps up according to speedtest.net. Good start. 52ms ping but there you are. Not complaining so far.

      Update – next day: 84.30Mbps down, 21.94Mbps up,43ma ping.

      1. Hi, Since my comment posted on 8th April on your thread about “Xiaomi Redmi AC2100 and Xiaomi Mi 2100 Routers” I too have purchased an Archer MR600 V2 and installed it back in early June. I have increased my 4G download from 15Mbps (mobile phone via usb to Openwrt router) to 40Mbps.

        I see, from your comment, you have a reasonable connection speed indoors but you mention that two external antennas will arrive soon. I know everyone’s location and mobile reception varies but thought this might be helpful to someone who wants to connect external antennas. The only 4G mast in my area is 6.3km away and over a hill out of sight (even from the roof, hence no signal at ground level).

        Having the same concerns as you about long cable lengths to the external antennas, I calculated the minimum I would need would be 10m of cable per antenna. Looking at http://www.cellmapper.net and checking with the Network Cell Info Lite app, I found the band/frequency that my provider’s 4G mast was using (pretty limited in north west Scotland – band 20, 800mhz) then ordered two LPDA antennas from Ali Express suited to band 20. They each came with 10m of RG58 cable attached (not the best but that’s what they came with).

        The following post has a good explanations and images of 4G MIMO and antennas https://community.tp-link.com/en/home/forum/topic/272342

        After mounting the two antennas, at the top of the chimney pointing directly at the 4G mast, angled -45 and +45 degrees I connected at 40Mbps download and 2.7Mbps upload. The router shows signal strength 50%. Not having any test equipment for this sort of thing I was relying on trial and error and speed tests. Various other antenna configurations didn’t improve anything so I stuck with the original setup.

        I think the low upload speed is down to signal loss in the antenna cables, the Archer MR600 V2 sending out a signal that gets reduced along the 10m of cable then has to be transmitted over the hill to the 4G mast. I’m presuming this is a weaker signal than that being sent from the 4G mast that gets received by the antennas and reduced along the cables to the modem.

        I now have 20m of lmr400 cable that I am going to replace the rg58 with. It’s a lot stiffer so will take a bit more time/effort to install. Hopefully the reduced signal loss will increase the signal strength and both the upload/download speeds. I’ll keep you posted.

        If anyone has better knowledge of these things I hope they might advise of any improvements I need to make. After having been connected for a few weeks, I noticed that the Archer MR600 V2 suddenly switched to a 3G connection (10Mbps download) even though the 4G was there. Changing the following 2 settings within the Advanced/Network/Internet menu seems to have fixed this – Network Mode: 4G Only – Band: Manual (B20 in my case).

        1. Some really useful info in there, KB. I’ll adjust that 4G only setting right now. Do let me know KB if that LMR400 cable makes a significant difference.

          If anyone else with experience of similar setups wants to comment, we’re all ears.

          I’m fairly happy with results so far but I do know that my Pocophone X4 can do better. Correctly positioned nea the roof, the Pocophone at one point (I could not repeat it) achieved 150Mbps down and 50Mbps up.

          Right now I can fairly easily get 80Mbps+ down and 22Mbps up from the TP-Link indoors on an outward-facing wall (so that’s TV taken care of) but it’s a matter of principle – if I could get a reliable 50Mbps upload, I’d spend half as much time sending videos to YouTube 🙂

  1. I am having seriuous problems using Wireguard (and in this context TailScale) when in a hotel or a holiday home. Many (most, nearly all …) of them block UDP traffic and ports above 1000. Wireguard uses UDP and some high port number to establish connections. So when in those locations, Wireguard (and I suspect ZeroTier as well) cannot establish a connection. I use OpenVPN, since it can be set up to use TCP and port 441 (which cannot be blocked since https would not work).
    Of course this does not work out of the box and you must have your own OpenVPN server running in your home network (on a Raspberry for instance).
    I would love to use Wireguard, because it’s footprint is much lighter than OpenVPN …

    1. I’m using Tailscale on my mobile signal without issue – perhaps the solution may lie in using mobile in hotels? I know the temptation is to use the free WIFI but I usually dfind mobile preferable – of course you may be in a situation where there is no mobile signal. I seriously recommend talking to Tailscale – they were very helpful when I first installed it.

      Does this help? If it does, let us know… https://tailscale.com/kb/1082/firewall-ports/

      I was using Wireguard as it is more simply, FASTER than OpenVPN, BUT my NAS was not happy about entertaining Wireguard. Now, having gotten over the fear of change, I’ve moved to TailScale backed up by Zerotier but I’ve not tried either on hotel WiFi – as it happens, we have a hotel in the village here where I’ll be drinking in the next few days – I’ll give it a shot.

      I’ve not checked this out for Zerotier – but maybe there is something in here of use. https://zerotier.atlassian.net/wiki/spaces/SD/pages/6815768/Router+Configuration+Tips

    2. Apologies if I have misunderstood your problem but surely the port number as sent from your remote device is for your routers sake so it can then know what traffic to redirect to your wireguard server whilst changing the port number to that that the wireguard app is monitoring. So no need to run high port numbers externally to your LAN except for obfuscation purposes.

  2. Hi Peter!
    I went thru the same process last summer. I have a house in Galicia (north of Spain) and no way fiber (or cable…) will reach the house.
    I checked near mobile antennas and researched for one that had straight visual line (using https://antenasgsm.com/ and google earth to show path profile).
    I found one at 4km distance and checked the company the antenna belongs to. Then I looked for a virtual mobile operator using the same network (because offers are cheaper). Bought an external antenna, SIM router and joined the operator. Now I have unlimited traffic and speed in the range 20-40Mbps (depending on rain 😉 for only 25€/month.

    Same problem found: with the “real” operator you can use the public IP, but not with the virtual one. As of today I’m using realVNC subscription to access my raspi. I will investigate your solution though.

    If someone want details of equipment or telcos, please let me know 🙂

    1. Hey, thanks for that feedback, Jose. There are lots of folk here who could benefit from what we’ve achieved… if they prefer to sit and gripe, that’s up to them but I know one or two already who are just waiting to see how my experiment pans out. I was also told in the ad UNLIMITED – but when I challenged the company – 300GB a month then reducing to 64K – hoping it will be enough… while pushing them to offer more. Trust me, my two end VPN solutions work (one as a backup) – and simple to implement – really simple. I’m SO happy I don’t have to mess with the original VPNs any more… for some reason I THOUGHT I needed total internal access – in fact the RPi and the NAS will do it. Anyway, good luck.

      Equipment – I am most certainly keen to hear more Jose. While I’m happy with the router speed, my phone returns higher speeds. I’ve just been reading that routers typically have older-designed hardware than modern phones – so knowledge of external 4G LTE router brands and models would indeed be helpful.

  3. Have you looked at Starlink ? Becoming available in Spain now I believe. Although it’s not cheap!

    1. Hi Andy, of COURSE I’ve LOOKED at Starlink 🙂 (There’s not much about Musk’s activities I don’t know) but by the time you factor in the monthly cost and the installation (and no doubt the back-handers) it is WAY too expensive. I know one guy over the hill here who has it but he’s no-where near retired. Typical broadband here in Spain at the coast is €25-35 a month. Our current dish including fixed IP is €35 all in. Were it not for two things it would be fine (the company is TERRIBLE at communication and (2) their dish is aimed at passive types who use their broadband to watch TV.

      At 2-3Mbps upload the current service really isn’t good enough – but you can get a lot of HD TV out of 27-30Mbps download… what’s really good for me is how much I’ve learned – like not actually needing the fixed IP, detailed in the blog. Got to go, a mast is awaiting my input… just stopped for 10 minutes to recover from fitting it (my only sources of help are out of the country). See upcoming update in this blog if you enjoy watching suffering 🙂

  4. Hi Pete.
    Soon be joining you out there. Very interested in this piece of kit. Just read a review on Amazon and it states that the router can also be powered via the micro usb so the reviewer uses it in his car? Handy.

    1. Hi Gary

      Its all down to the SIM provider now. I don’t know if you caught the end of the last update – now using TailScale so secure access to house gadgets despite what mobile operators do which would make other VPNs impractical. All working – just waiting for the new SIM..

      Right I’m off to enjoy the last of the fine weather – rain for the next couple of days.

      Pete

    2. You know I’d not thought of leaving a 4G modem running permanently in the car (security etc) on a minimal contract (I know one who does 100MB (not 100GB) and a 20 minutes of calls etc for €2 a month. I have a couple of mobile routers and the amount of power would certainly do the battery no harm, but I wonder how you’d get such a router to send an SMS on an event.. like open door or broken window – the sensors are easy enough… could use Raspberry Pi talking to the sensors and router but that’s a bit overkill….

      1. Old android phone running tasker might be a better option in this case. Internal phone sensors could notify you of movement and location and if you want door opening/tampering you could have the phone hotspot to a D1 mini or similar with appropriate sensors attached.

        1. Good steve – I’ve just finished selling or giving away all my oplder phones.. but the thought is good. Yes, GPS on phone would know if the phone has moved and where it is – of course… tasker talking to a WIFI door sensor over MQTT? Certainly sounds like fun to progress.. I just happen to have a door sensor… had it in the UK telling my phone (voice) that someone had opened the front door – so why not.. 🙂

  5. Another option to consider is Tailscale. Also free for personal use, built on top of WireGuard.

      1. Twitter feedback is just off the charts about how easy it is to use.

        Glad you had the same experience!

        1. Never been easier – all that guff you get on the ZeroTier panel is missing and NAS installation was explained prefectly.. so many companies havn’t grasped the importance of the follow up support – it looks like these guys have. Good tip.

    1. Rogan – that was sterling advice – I LOVE TailScale. I’m using the MagicDNS and have my important devices hooked in – it’s wonderful. thank you. This just keeps getting better.

      1. Glad it is working out well for you. I haven’t used it myself (yet), but have only heard great things about it.

        1. Funny you should menion that Steve… after reading your response, I went to the Adguard Pro Application on the GL-iNET router, realised that adguard was turned off – tried to turn it on – and it would not – so I went to router manual DNS settings – turned that off (I had no idea it was on or why), and ADGUARD spring to life…. I just checked, my mobile phone can still access the RPi via TailScale (IP), so no harm done apparently… erm, yes and by name as well, just checked. And the PC can access BBC news. All of this is slightly on the edge of my comfort zone but seems to be working…

          Yup and it’s blocking stuff ok… wow, in the space of a couple of minutes it has blocked 307 DNS queries… apparently without any setting adjustment in MagicDNS..

          But I’m so glad you mentioned this…because my new 4G contract has a limited amout of data – even 300GB, I guess I don’t want to be wasting data with un-necessary ads, so that’s all good. In 6 days (I’m making a guess on the rest of today and the first day wasn’t a full day) I’ll have used (adjusting) 30GB…

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