April 10, 2016

Adventures in Gigabit Internet

In my never ending pursuit of novelty, I recently acquired gigabit internet. I discovered back in November of 2015 that CenturyLink would begin offering gigabit internet in my Seattle neighborhood and that it was competitively priced with service about 1/5th as fast from Comcast. I thought it over for a bit and ultimately decided that I must have this new and shiny thing so that I may lord it over family and friends.

Brief side story: I often hear people complain about Comcast and how the service is always going down or the internet connection is slow or how customer service is poor. Ignoring the data caps which are a valid complaint, those individuals that have only had Comcast in Washington don’t know what bad Comcast service is. I lived in Texas and Florida, having had Comcast in both places and there were times I wasn’t sure the internet was going to work for days at a time, not just hours. In the time I had Comcast in Seattle, I only had one issue and it affected the entire West Coast.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming… so I signed up for CenturyLink Gigabit in November with an estimated installation date of about a month later in December. Apparently they were unable to roll out fiber fast enough and were working 18 hour days just to get people hooked up.

The December installation date rolls around and I noticed that at some point, someone had strung fiber to the house (probably the day before). The technician comes out, explains what he’ll need to do, asks if I have any questions and begins his work. The installation was smooth, taking about two hours, and requiring the technician to drill a single hole through my exterior wall to run the fiber into the house. I was pleased that he drilled the hole at a downward angle from inside to outside the house and filled the hole with silicone caulking after running the fiber to maintain the moisture barrier.

The technician finishes up, sets up the modem/router combo, and confirms I have connection with his tool. I begin playing with the connection while he’s cleaning up and notice that the modem/router seems to only be able to max out at around 600 Mbps versus the gigabit (1000 Mbps) speed I signed up for. Now 600 Mbps is nothing to sniff at but it’s not 1000 Mbps. I bring it up with the technician and he notes that it can take a couple days for the connection to get setup correctly on the CenturyLink side — I don’t really buy this explanation but I let it go at that. There’s likely nothing he can do any way as I have my own suspicions as to what’s going on.

Remember when buying a new processor was the easiest way to speed up your computer? That ended around the Pentium II time frame based on my recollection. How about when the easiest way to speed up your computer was to buy more RAM? That lasted till around 2010 or so when consumer grade SSDs became widely available at reasonable prices. So from 2010 onward, the easiest way to improve your computer’s performance was to install an SSD as the primary operating system drive. Well we’ve hit a new benchmark — gigabit internet is fast enough that the vast majority of SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) networking gear is no longer sufficient. Now we don’t buy new computers to speed up our experience, we need to buy new networking gear.

So I head to the always trustworthy Internets and begin searching for information about what router to get for CenturyLink Gigabit. I turn up two or three useful articles…

  1. Bypassing needless CenturyLink Wireless Router on Gigabit Fiber
  2. A bit internet upgrade: A real-world review of the new 1 Gigabit internet from CenturyLink
  3. I have CenturyLink’s 1gb fiber to the home and it’s glorious!

One of the articles (2) notes needing a new router while another simply wants a new router (1). The last article (3) seems to be able to get the elusive gigabit speeds with the default router from CenturyLink but it’s definitely a different model than the router I was given. Side note: you’ll notice that when those articles show their SpeedTest results, they show something like 930–940 Mbps and that’s actually the theoretical realistic limit for fully capable hardware. To get actual gigabit you’d need to spend an order of magnitude more for 10 Gbps hardware.

So those articles are fun and good but what router do I buy? I don’t just want a gigabit router because that just means the local network traffic moves at gigabit. I need a router with a good WANLAN speed. After some digging online, I found SmallNetBuilder and discovered the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite-3. It looked to be highly configurable and supported a key feature that is needed if you want to cut out the CenturyLink branded router — VLAN tagging. For whatever reason, the VLAN used by the ONT (Optical Network Terminator) is tagged 201 and so you can’t just use any old router to talk to the ONT.

Further searching on the internet and I found that the multiple individuals have had success getting the EdgeRouter Lite setup with CenturyLink so I went ahead and bought it. This particular router is complex to setup — or at least more complex than any I’d tried to setup in the past despite having used DD-WRT with some fairly complex settings. With a little searching though, I was able to adapt a config used by a forum user to get my EdgeRouter Lite setup correctly.

For your convenience: a scrubbed version of my config.boot for the EdgeRouter Lite.

This config will setup:

  • eth1 as WAN
  • eth0 as LAN (192.168.1.1/24)
  • PPPoE connection (look for @qwest.net)
  • WANLAN bridging
  • VLAN tagging for VLAN 201
  • OpenDNS as the DNS nameservers
  • the correct MTU of 1492 to communicate with the CenturyLink backend
  • enable DHCP server
  • firewall rules to drop all incoming requests
  • NAT

This should be a basic setup. I haven’t spent any time trying to look into opening up firewall ports so that’s decidedly outside my expertise. It was a wonder I got the above features working and stable.

The only addition to this setup is my Apple AirPort Extreme (802.11/ac) in wireless bridge mode to serve WiFi to the house. With that setup, my MacBook Air will get around 240 Mbps and my 3rd gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon will get closer to 300 Mbps.

TL;DR: Well I can get the 930 Mbps speed I was supposed to with the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite-3 if I plug in a gigabit interface directly to eth0. Keep in mind that you’re only going to see that speed if you have no real networking between the router and you — so eth0 wired directly to computer. That said, for $100 it’s one of the best routers I’ve ever owned and it’s been extremely stable with no speed drops or rebooting of the router. It just chugs along.


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