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