CHOICE membership

A new kind of network router

Hello CHOICE community!

My team have been collaborating with the New Things Team at CHOICE over the last few weeks, looking at creating new products that help people with problems in their connected home. We’ve had some great conversations with people here. Thanks so much for your generosity.

Something we’ve discovered is people are having problems with connectivity: with Wi-Fi in the home and with the Internet connection in general. (I’ve been looking closely at the criticism of the NBN in threads here and in other CHOICE articles).

Something we’re exploring with the New Things team is a new kind of router.

It would have features on it that help you understand your home network better: why things aren’t working as expected and what you can do about them. These features would be accessible on a screen on the router, going beyond what can be done with simple indicator lights.

Last week, we looked at the problem of not knowing why a device isn’t connecting to the Internet, particularly what part of the network is causing the problem and how to get help. This week, we’ve built upon it with features that help people track Internet connection speed and performance.

We’ve focused on giving people constant, live reporting of how fast and reliable Internet connection speeds are. On top of that, we’ve thought about some interesting things we could do if Internet speed was constantly monitored:

  • Looking at how fast your Internet connection is over the long term
  • Automatic complaint filing with your ISP or the TIO
  • Sharing your performance info with CHOICE to help their coverage of Internet connection problems
  • Comparing your speed locally, regionally and nationally.

This is a sketch of how we think this would work, please take a look.

We’d like to gather support for something like this to actually exist. Some of you have mentioned the inadequacy of ISP-supplied routers, and we want to take this opportunity to explore alternatives.

Take a look at the prototype, and let me know if you’d find something like this useful. I’d particularly like to know your thoughts on the design, and if the kind of information about your home network and your broadband connection you find in it would be useful.

Thanks,

Ian.

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Hi Ian

I like the idea but have some privacy concerns about how you would be able to get the data and analyze it so the user could compare to others around them. If you have some means of collecting their information and sending it to some number crunching server that is secure and is non identifiable by snoopers then it would be safe sort of, but as has been shown recently there is very little that is secure.

I frequently use https://speedtest.net to check my speeds but this puts a strain on my ISP’s resources particularly if everyone on our service decides the same at the same time but perhaps a router based program could run a regular test as part of it routines, this has been provided by some manufacturers (obviously it would require placing a program within the router firmware/operating system to do this).

Another thing that could be useful but often not easily understood are logs entries that the router creates every time it starts, stops, refreshes connections and updates (some routers can be set up to email the logs).

Most routers will also provide current speeds, SNR, and a host of other information that perhaps could be collected by the user’s computer and bundled, encrypted and sent to your server for analysis. It has one major problem and that is to get current information the user’s collecting computer needs to be on.

Some links that may be useful reads on some routers (they are older models but still info is good) and even a tool that one router manufacturer did provide (Netgear’s Genie):

http://support.dlink.com/Emulators/dir330/112/support_status.html

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This wouldn’t work for us as we have NBN through Telstra and are basically locked into using the modem/router they supply because the phone line has to pass through it and apparently the landline phone won’t work through any third party modem/routers as they need some code that’s supplied ready to go in the Tesltra box, but doesn’t exist in the third party ones. Judging by many online forums on the subject, getting the codes out of Telstra and into a third party box is like asking KFC for their secret recipe. This also means we have to restart the modem/router multiple times a week because the useless ones that Telstra supplies periodically forget how to share the internet connection with random devices at random intervals even though the box has all green lights.

Semi related to this, there is an Indiegogo campaign running at the moment for the Fingbox.

I’ve been using Fing as my network tool du jour on my mobile phone for some time now, and it often even trumps desktop apps for the purpose of network diagnosis.

Fingbox is a new thing they are developing, kind of a device version of their network software which plugs in to your network and helps manage intrusion detection, device connect/disconnect troubles, network and internet speed trouble diagnosis, etc.

thank you benhelps…

that is rather interesting, and I am going to look into it!

Hiya Ian
It looks fabulous, easy to read, really useful information, and I want to know when I can get it and use it immediately!
I love the design, and it is certainly something I would find particularly useful as well as helpful in my home.

Please let us know when and where it is available!
Cheers!

Hi Ian,
It would be so nice to have a router such as the one you have suggested. I suspect however, that at the moment it is not in the best interests of ISPs to allow such a tool to exist in connection with their individual and collective broadband offerings. It could expose weaknesses and give clients objective information with which to question their poor services. I am an extremely frustrated wireless broadband user in a regional area where it is very difficult to maintain a broadband connection sufficiently long enough to complete a simple bank transaction. Service has deteriorated significantly over the last 2 years. I have a suspicion that this is the result of the politicisation of Australia’s broadband network and the funding problems with NBN as well as Telstra’s vested interest in maintaining its monopolistic hold over the national broadband network. As a consumer who needs an efficient broadband service I feel what is required is a powerful voice to advocate for effective services to meet our everyday needs at a reasonable cost. As much as I admire those with IT know-how it is probably a waste of time trying to convert technically challenged people like myself into nerdy broadband insiders. Cheers.

My D-link router pretty much does this now… And by using Windows 10 network configured and Netspeed tests, I have everything needed to work out where the issue is.

Hi Ian. I’m just curious about my home wifi router. I’m with Dodo, haven’t had any problems but if I choose to change to a different company would I really need to by another router for the new company or could I continue to use the one I already own? It’s suitable for the NBN. They cost a pretty penny to buy and I don’t want to have a stack of different routers. Also, now my home phone has to use VOIP, which I don’t like. The whole idea of me having a home phone connected the old way is incase of blackouts. We’ve had 2 three day long blacks outs in the past and no mobile reception. That’s why I got the home phone in the first place, so I can still call out during blackouts.

Once you have NBN (unless NBN Co wires the house for back to base type operations with a backup battery), you can pretty much kiss your landline goodbye during blackouts.

Telstra NBN uses their own modem/router for the landline connection, which means non Telstra supplied modems won’t have access to the codes required to enable the phone service (again unless you have the back to base type setup).

We’re stuck with the pathetic modem/router that Telstra gave us because that’s the only way our phone will work now. The modem/router needs restarting multiple times a day as it locks devices out of the Internet at random from time to time.

If we want to have our NBN box rewired so that we can plug the phone directly into the NBN Box instead of having to use the modem/router as the phone’s connection point, Telstra tells us we’d be disconnected from all services for a week or more and we’d then be treated like new customers and charged an $89 new connection fee, even though we’ve been with Telstra for years. No one mentioned any of this when the house was first connected. Had we known in advance we would have had it wired up for the back to base type of service instead. If you don’t specifically ask for it because you don’t have a back to base alarm system or medical emergency system in place then NBN Co just assumes that the landline via the modem/router option is adequate.

Surely it would just make sense to wire all houses up to the back to base connection style in the first place so that people can then actually get a back to base alarm or medical emergency service installed at a later date if needed without the need to send NBN Co out to rewire it all for an extra cost, including loss of all Internet and landline phone services while they sort it all out.

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Why would anyone use Tel$tra for NBN access?

We were originally going to use Optus, but when we moved into our house the area was flagged as NBN ready, yet we weren’t connected to the fibre pit out in the street. Optus basically told us that they couldn’t organise to get someone out to take a look because they’re based on the mainland and we’re in Tasmania. The only ISP that actually had staff here was Telstra and we ended up on a 2 year contract during the try and get everything installed process, which took a good three months to happen thanks to NBN Co and Telstra failing to communicate properly with each other and with their own people and failing to ensure that the NBN Co workers were allowed to use the Telstra owned poles in our long driveway in order to get the optic fibre cables connected to the house. The Telstra NBN is wonderful. The modem they supply is occasionally terrible. If it wasn’t for the modem issues we’d be very happy with Telstra.

This looks like quite a useful device. I use FIng myself quite a bit, interesting to see them moving into hardware.

Hi, I’m under the impression that it will depend on a number of things as to whether your router will work with a new ISP. Some routers can be locked to specific services. It will be depend on the age of the router and what sort of connection it is receiving.

I’d love to hear more about your experience with the modem you have. What is it that makes it sometimes terrible?

Hi. It’s a new wifi modem, NBN capable from Dodo. I have no problems but I do hate it how my phone line now has to go trough VOIP. I don’t know if it’s locked. I’ve had it for about 3 months.

So much disinformation from the old ADSL players (eg. Dodo, TPG) and the telcos (Telstra, Optus) trying to keep customers locked in :frowning: In the NBN world, they are all just retailers of NBN as the wholesale service. Like anything else, you should shop around the retailers as they are all offering you the same underlying product, although sadly they will be the last people to tell you so or give you an reasonable education on your options.

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Hey, seems the reply to your message thing in discourse leads me here, so I’ll comment here.

I had a couple of minutes play with the tool mentioned above. Ignoring for a moment the trouble of initially accessing a web based tool that tests if you are on the 'net, it sitll gave some false positive problems for me.

I told it to test my laptop a few times, and it ALWAYS said I had ‘NBN’ troubles accessing the choice website. Each time I opened the choice website fine in a new tab.

The internet test appeared to wrongly diagnose most attributes. Unless it’s way upstream, I’m not with AusConnect - I’m with Telstra. It tested me at 3Mbps down which a new tab and oz speed check saw as 12.32Mbps down.It shows last disconnect 2 hours ago and avg disconnect 6 hourly, which my modem answered was last 4 1/2 days ago (dmittedly, if it can be trusted).

Do these attributes perhaps presume (wrongly in my case) that the user is on the NBN?

It is not an actual test but a demonstration of how it would work. So the answers remain the same and they are just asking how the system, if it were real, would be usable by you and what you like or dislike about it and any improvements you might suggest. Too many and’s in there but hope that helps clear the misconception of the results you are getting.