Date: June 20, 2020
Recently there are some discussions regarding Internet Access at home. Almost all the people will use a program called “Speedtest” to test their speed to Internet. I would like to attempt here to explain what is my approach to “test” the home network to see if it is good or not.
To begin, I will attempt to explain how the Broadband Internet comes into your house, and how it is passed to your Wireless Access point or router.
Along the way, I will give some of my tips or what I have done at my home to achieve that result and give some explanation. These tips are purely my opinion, may not be the very best tips, but it works for me. I don’t have the best network, but I would like to have a network that my kids and wife will not complain. Hahahaha
Disclaimer first. I am not a network engineer. And I never was. I was graduated as software engineer (writing software), and later I was quite OK as a system engineer (running servers and writing software), but I never was a network engineer. So, my network knowledge is quite limited. But thru my experience since 25 years ago dealing with SingTel, PacNet, HomePlug, ADSL, ISDN, dialup network, to the recent WiFi routers and Broadband Internet, I gain a certain knowledge thru the hard way. And I tends to read a lot to have an understanding too. so, it is purely my opinions. So, hardware vendors, ISPs and users, please do not scold me. Hahahahahaha
Let’s get to it.
This is my home network cabinet. As you can see, I have my Fiber Termination point, ONT, Router, Switches, 1 of the 5 Eero wireless mesh access point, patch panel and even a small lousy Synology DS419slim here. Very simple design.
My Internet is provided by a local ISP. Very small ISP, and I would call it boutique ISP.
When you ordered a Broadband Internet from the ISP, they will ask NetLinkTrust (or Singtel) to bring in the fiber optics network into your house thru a Termination Point (TP).
This is what the NetLinkTrust TP box looks like. It is just a box to terminate your fiber optic network. The ISP will have to buy or lease the fiber optics from the NGBN player such as NetLinkTrust. So, this box belongs to NetLinkTrust. It is just a box and fiber optics cable.
The yellow fiber optics cable then is connected to the ONT (Optical Network Terminal) modem. This equipment usually is provided by ISP. And it is to terminate your fiber optics and deliver the IP network via some GE (GigE) ports. This is where you connect to the Internet Service Provider.
So, normally, IF YOU WANT KNOW HOW HOW FAST YOUR ISP SPEED IS, you will have to plug your laptop into this GigE port, and run the Speedtest program on the website to test it’s speed.
This is the first point of contact with your ISP. So, if you want to know the speed of your ISP, you must connect the laptop here. If you do the speedtest elsewhere and if you pass thru multiple switches and cables, or even wireless, those speedtest result will not tell you the speed of your ISP. Of course, please use a decent laptop. Something in my opinion like a MacBook Pro, etc.
I will tell you where I do my speedtest result from later and share with you the result. But that result will not be the best representation of my ISP speed. As it has passthru a switch, and a distant of Cat6E cable from my network cabinet to my study room. I will explain that later.
The, I connect this GigE port to my ROUTER. You can use any router you want. For me, I choose to use a SME enterprise grade router. I am using EdgeRouter Lite (ERL) from Ubiquiti network.
On this ERL router, it runs DD-WRT firmware. It is a firmware based on Linux that will give the router “ultimate” performance. Of course, you must have a nice hardware specs in order to run DD-WRT.
You want to know more about DD-WRT, click below.
If you are follower to my miniLiew blog, you will know I love to use Small Network Builder to find what is the best router to buy.
As you can see in the Router Charts. I set to search the best performance under the benchmark of “WAN to LAN Throughtput – TCP”. This basically says that find me routers that have the best performance for IP traffic from the outside world (WAN) into my network (LAN).
So, my small factor little Uniquiti EdgeMax Edge Router Lite is ranked no. 6.
It is not the best router, but it runs DD-WRT. This router does not have any other thing, and it is very hard to configure because I lacked of network admin knowledge, but it does only one thing best, which is ROUTING. It’s job is to route packets from the WAN to LAN.
As you will notice, I do not run Wireless AP functions on my router. Because I am a very stubborn guy who always believe that you don’t overload or multitask or put too many task on a certain equipment. If a router job is to do IP routing, let it do sorely the IP routing. Hahaha So, my router will not have wireless function on it.
Imagine, so many IOT devices and smart devices connecting to your WiFi and if it happens to run on your router, how much and how stressful the CPU on router will need to do while doing the IP routing to the outside world. The IO (Input Output) on your CPU, memory, Ethernet port, etc etc is doing extra work.
So, tip #1, separate your WiFi from your Router. No matter what the marketing message says, don’t believe it. Hahahaha This is sorely my humble opinion.
Tip #2, ISP only responsible to sell you Broadband Internet and deliver to you at the first point of contact. There are not responsible to deliver good router or WiFi router. This is called “marketing bundling”. Thru out my years in Pacific Internet I learned that we always bundle the “OK only” router but cheap to bundle router. ISP have to earn money too. So, they will say I bundled with this XYZ router that comes with what XYZ router market their capability. So, my humble opinion is, sadly, for most case, don’t get it. Because in my humble opinion it might not always be the best router.
So for me, almost 10 plus years ago, I already learned that and always buy my own routers. For Asus Black Diamond, to Netgear Nighthawk, and to Uniquiti ERL. I think I finally found my best router that I would recommend to people. But beware, it is damn hard to configure (for my limited network knowledge). So, I just leave it as what the ISP engineer configure as default for me. I am a simple guy and I don’t do complicated configuration on my network.
Next, buy a decent GE switch. I am using a Cisco 16 ports switch. Cisco is the brand for networking. So, it should be good. No question ask. Of course there are other brands, but I don’t know about you, if it is small and make of cheap plastics I don’t usually trust it. Hahaha because this is where your home network starts to AGGREGATE your home PC, smart devices, IOT devices, etc etc. The packet running in the switches is so fast and so many, and it will generate heat. So, if it is make of metal plastic… hmmmm…. I rather stick with bigger and better casing switch and a good brand too. Hahaha
OK, you may plug your laptop here too to measure the Speedtest result. It should have no significant difference from measuring it from the ERL router or the ONT. As all three equipments is just merely side by side.
After this, I plug every single ports into a Patch Panel which is a cable organizing box that have CAT6E cable pulled to every single parts of my home where I think I will need Internet. Yes, I have 15 such locations at home. I.e. Kitchen, maid’s room, bedrooms, living rooms, dining room, roof top, study room, attic, etc etc.
You can see how need my cable is. So, there are internal wiring at home.
Let’s talk about Speedtest. One of these port connect to my study room, and it is connect to a small switch there and then reach to my iMac on my study table. There is where I measure my speed test.
This is my latest speed test on my iMac.
As you can see, my home broadband network is 1Gbps. So, if I am getting this kind of figures, which is about less than 10% away from 1Gbps. I am very happy already Liao.
Tip #3, make sure you sent the server to your ISP. If you get from ViewQwest, so, you test your speedtest to the ViewQwest server. If you get from Starhub, you test the speedtest to the Starhub server. There is no point to test from Starhub to Singtel server (a different network server). because it will only introduce more uncontrolled variable.
If you subscribe to 1Gbps ISP network and from the first point of the contact (router) you get much much much much lesser than what they sell you. It is time to call that ISP to question them. For example, if you buy 1Gbps, and your speedtest connecting to the first point of contact i.e. router is 400Mbps only. Then, you should call your ISP. There might be many reason behind it. 1) Your fiber is dirty. So they might need to clean it. 2) There are problem with the fiber from your home to their network. They need to check point to point. That is why it is important to speedtest to the same ISP network. 3) That ISP might have misconfigure your network. 4) That ISP is congested. Because speedtest to their own speedtest server also slow. 5) Any other reason they can come up off.
This is my Mesh Wireless Access point. It is called Eero. It is Amazon’s Eero. (Amazon bought it). Hahahaha
I started to use it since 2016 until know I think. And now I am deploying 5 of them at home to cover 3,000 sq feet with zero blind spot.
Tip #4. In my opinion, if you deploy mesh WiFi using pure WiFi signals. It will be a crap! Hahahaha. Because we are not wireless frequencies engineer. So, we do not understand Wireless signals and how they bounce off the material or surfaces, etc. And we also live in the most congested housing estate, HDB or Condo. All your neighbors are fighting for the wireless channels. If you want to have the best MESH WIRELESS network, connect all your mesh wireless router/AP with LAN cable at GE speed. Yes, no matter where you put your Mesh WiFi router, connect it into your switch via Cat6E cable. That is the only way to get the best our of your network. If you do so, all your Mesh WiFi router or AP will get full close to 1GE speed. And when they shoot wireless to you, you will get the full 200-400Mbps WiFi speed with thru 200-400Mbps connection to Internet via the GE upstream.
Although the WiFi devices are smarter now, but physical limitation is still there. You know the notation of 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, to the latest many other notations such as 802.11ac or 802.11ae. Each notation will tell you their limitation.
Read here to learn more.
Tip #5. Don’t believe whatever marketing statement given by the Wireless router or AP vendors. Hahahaha… It is “Marketing” material.
So, if you read the above link, where other many people already tested out and give their opinion, you should know that… if they say 802.11ac can deliver 1300Mbps, you will not get 1300Mbps. That is called “THEORETICAL” speed. So, most likely you get 200Mbps or 300-400Mbps on a better one.
Now if you connect your Mesh WiFi AP without WIRED LAN CABLES, your N+1 AP will received lesser and lesser upstream thruput. Because of this Wireless technology.
Wireless technology is convenient but not the best medium to transport IP data packets. Fiber optics is using “Lights” to transport. Traditional cable is using “electricity” to transport. And Wireless is using “AIR” as a medium to transport. So, you guess which one is worst. Hahahaha
OK. Let’s look at the Speed Test using WiFi at my home.
So, I am standing just below my Eero Wireless. This is what I get. So, you might ask, why I cannot get close to 1Gbps speed? Because no WiFi can give you that speed. May be in vacuum, and in a lab, you can get that, but not in real world. Too much interference, too much reflections, signal bouncing, etc.
Every Eero at my home delivers at speed similar to this. Because I hard wire (LAN cabling) all these Eero WiFi router.
One thing bad about Eero is you can’t configure much things. And you cannot see how things run. because the vendor purposely think that this device should be idiot-proof and need not to know how it run. So, you can’t troubleshoot anything. And best of all, it is not available in Singapore. It only available in US. Please google to find how to get it and how to make it work for Singapore. I did this way before Amazon bought them. So, I can use it. Now I no longer know how to do it. Hahaha
As a conclusion, especially during this Covid19 period where HBL (home based learning) and WFH (work fro home) kicks in. Your network becomes very important. And you do not want your family to complaint about network is slow, network is not working. So, if you understand how the Internet deliver to your desk, it is very easy to understand who should you talk to.
You can use any ISP, any router, any switches, any Mesh wifi you wish to use. But before buying, always do a lot of googling and search for reviews. Real users feedback and reviews. Not those endorsed reviews. Always question from the angle of facts. You must gain a certain experience and knowledge and then ask the question. Remember, what you buy from the ISP’s marketing bundles is not necessary the “best” networking tool. But I am sure it is the best cost effective bundling that can make the deals sweet. So, if you want a network that is stable and fast, you got to spend more time to do research and see what other people has. And what other people really experience. For me, I am not saying my design is the best, but I am happy about it because I do not reset my router or modem, I do not get much complaint here and there. Of course, when ViewQwest sometime screwed up the DNS, and cause a Internet slowdown or unreachable, I will call up the support to ask them too. When that happen, I will usually set my DNS to Google’s DNS to temporary fix the problem. Once the network ok already, make sure you switch it back. That is quick fix, but is not the one good fix. Hahaha Enjoy reading!