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Monday, November 16, 2009

My AT&T U-Verse Experience (kinda technical)

I converted from Comcast to AT&T U-Verse service. I already have AT&T Yahoo DSL so the Internet service was a natural upgrade. I was pretty annoyed with Comcast lately. I was charged some mysterious fee, that ended up being an "in-house wiring" fee, for a many years and had no idea (yes, my fault I know). Lately, the HD channels were disappearing. I had to keep telling my TV to find channels again which wiped out all my preset favorite channels so I have to re-select all my favs again. The TV has also been freezing solid. I think the cable card crashed every few days, not sure about this freeze thing. Plus the guide feature built into my TV stopped working. Comcast could not help with the guide but I eventually figured out that it must use an analog signal which Comcast killed support for a few months ago.

AT&T U-Verse has been pestering me for a while. We were one of the first neighborhoods to get it. I checked online and the current deal was $250 cash back (visa debit card) for TV and Interwebz. I decided to switch. The signup and appointment setup was easy. Unfortunately the installers were an hour later that the 2 hour arrival window and never called. I called after 2 hours and they "could not get in touch" with the installers. They eventually did and said it would be another hour. This worked out to be true. I met the guys for a second but had to go back to work so I left the missus in charge. A couple calls to me (while interviewing a job candidate!!) but I guess the conversion went OK. Unfortunately, the install has the new router next to the DVR under the TV which is on the opposite side of the house from where DSL was. This screws up the network. A moment about my network...

I have two wireless routers. One was connected to my DSL in the family room. The other is in the living room some 70 feet away. I ran CAT5 under the house to connect the two routers as they refused to work as access points. So, Wifi in the living room was transported 100MB Ethernet to the family room and off to the internet. A couple computer in the family room all Ethernet connected to the main router. WiFi in the family room lets us sit out back or in the garage wirelessly. Same with the Living room. This was all working just fine and naturally very fast.

So, the new Router is across the living room from the old one. I have no way to connect the two without running a new cable under the house. The new router also has wireless and it makes no sense to have two wireless routers in the living room. The old ones and the new ones won't work together like access points either. My main desktop and web server are 50 feet from the new router.

How is this solved? Using power line network adapters of course. AT&T gives you these since the new router is probably always very far away from where your DSL was. The devices plug into the wall power outlet and use the electrical wiring as a network. Easy peasy right? Sorta. So, I plug the power line adapter into the wall outlet by the new router (living room) and one by my desktop (family room) and connect it to the old router. So I have living room old router (wireless turned off now) connected Ethernet to the old main router which is connected to the powerline adapter which magically connects to the powerline adapter in the linving room and then to the new router. This actually works. Sorta.

With the new U-Verse 3mb Internet, I am getting anywhere from under 1mb to 2.8mb speeds. Not impressive considering it dips down to under 1mb which is slower than DSL ever was. So what do I do? Upgrade from 3mb to 6mb (with a $20 cash card rebate, thank you) for $5 more a month. A couple days (yea, DAYS with no notification. I have to keep checking online over and over and over) later the order is complete and I should be at 6mb or close right? Wrong. Same speeds as before. I measure from three Ethernet connected computers. After a couple hours working with AT$T over a couple days (their support ranges dramatically from annoyingly bad advice to OK), we have not solved the speed issue. I repeatedly get routed to DSL support despite entering my Phone number and U-Verse account number. I have to repeat my problem over and over. Eventually I get routed to "someone who can definitely solve this issue" which ends up being tier 2 DSL support. Of course they can't solve it their DSL Support! They give me the U-Verse support number, "that is what I called" I say. They give me the account number to use, "that is the number I entered and gave the first rep" I say. "Oh" she says. Luckily tier 2 DSL are pretty swift and get me in touch with customer support who cannot help at all but does give me a credit and eventually transfers me to U-Verse support.

U-Verse tier 2 thinks all your problems are the desktop settings. I go through a series of annoying procedures, always two steps ahead of the rep. Everything is always fine on my desktop. Of course I tell them I have the same speed results on three different computers using both Vista and XP Pro. Eventually I get frustrated and force the point that it is not the desktop. They run some diags and look at the router but can't see anything. I give up and tell them to call me back later.

I go to a WiFi connected laptop and test the speed in the living room. 5.7mb. Huh? Whaaaa? I test a second WiFi laptop. Same thing. I test desktops in two rooms an both are less than 2mb. Ah ha! must be the powerline adapter(s) AT&T gave me. I connect one to the outlet by the old router (across the from from the new one) and disconnect the one in the family room. Speed test is 5.7 or so MB. I connect the one in the family room and test. 2.2mb. Ah Ha! The adapter is crappy! Swap adapters and same results. Oh, seems the electrical wiring between the family room and living room supports 2.5mbps or less. Usually less. This would have been handy information to know ahead of time. Apparently your house wiring is really really important and depending on the age and how it is all connected, your performance can be over 100mb or under 1mb.

So, I reverse the old network layout. Family room is connected to the living room over the CAT 5 Ethernet cable (100mb) The family room old router (basically just a 4 port Ethernet switch now) is connected to the powerline adapter which connects to the new router and then off to the interwebz. Everything is speedy and dropped 10 - 30 ms of ping time.

AT$T calls back. I advise how I investigated and diagnosed the problem and the resolution. All I get is an "OK". Case closed. Keep in mind that the installers set everything up and tested it. I guess since it was over 2mb when they tested it it must have been fine. I feel sorry for folks who are not network or computer experts.


Anonymous said...

I think I burned about 5 hours troubleshooting all kinds of things last night(which I thought were router related) before realizing that the powerline connectivity is shyite!

Speedtest is just like yours 5.7M -over wireless.. from the same laptop, wired>powerline I get just under 2Mbps. Also, I am not sure what stabilized it over night, but yesterday I was getting alot of drop-outs over the powerline. I'm gonna watch for the next two weeks and make a decision on whether I keep it.


Jomebrew said...

AT&T technical and customer service is marginal but probably solve most issues well. More technical or complex problems they were were not so good at.

I am satisfied with U-Verse. In hindsight, it seems obvious that in-home wiring, especially old wiring and old breaker panels can have unpredictable results. You have to try and see how it is. The 2wire routers do show the speed the powerline adapters are connected at but that can be misleading. Speed and quality are two different things. Additionally, noise from stuff on the same circuits caused problems. I think the Espresso and microwave don't mix well with the powerline adapters.

There are similar (but fewer) issues with wireless. a congested channel (the default is usually congested with neighbors these days) can result in diminished performance. Changing the WiFi channel can resolve many performance issues with WiFi.

My house has new and old wiring. The problems were crossing the two. On either the performance was OK. going from one to another was not.

With the layout of my house and location of the router, I used an existing network cable to connect the "old" part with the "new" part and WiFi in both sides and use the powerline adapter in the side to connect to the 2wire. It mean I actually have three routers (one acting as a simple switch) and two WiFi networks but once set up, it all works.

An interesting frustration with the 2wire modem is that it has a horrible interface and a really nasty "feature". the firewall will block lock access to WiFi connected devices. I have two webcams and a web server all connected WiFi. It blocked my access to all three. I had to do some serious hacking to get two to work but the third is still blocked. I am stopping using the WiFi in the router because of that. Most people will be unaffected.