It’s been 15 months since I blogged about the poor state of broadband internet in our area. In that time, steps both forwards and back have occurred, so I thought it would be useful to summarise the current state of play in our household.
We are still no closer to getting fibre optic cables laid in our neck of the woods, despite some initiatives from commercial companies. Our hopes were raised last year with announcements that ten Local Authorities (including ours) had signed a declaration of intent with an investment company to finance the commercial rollout of a fibre optic network. The company had already done similar projects elsewhere in the Netherlands, and things were looking good. However, after starting two projects in neighbouring Local Authorities, things seem to have slowed right down. The company refuses to commit to further projects in the remaining areas, and has said we must wait until September before any further news. The Local Authorities will be exploring other alternatives, but I see little hope of getting a fibre optic connection here to the Witte Wand before at least the end of 2018.
So, what to do in the meantime? In the absence of fibre optic, some are saying that its time has passed, and that broadband internet will be delivered to the home by 4G and 5G networks. It’s certainly true that 4G can help, but it is not a complete solution, and it is an expensive alternative. It’s far too early to predict what will happen with 5G – the technology is still being developed, and I suspect that when the telecom companies make their initial investments, they are going to look to recoup their costs as quickly as possible. So when 5G does finally arrive, I’ll wager it won’t be cheap.
Last year I mentioned that KPN had introduced a “4G fast internet for the home” product. Since then, T-Mobile has introduced a similar product. Although cheaper than KPN’s product, it still costs €50 per month for 100GB, and once your data allotment is used up, you have to buy extra blocks of data if you want to continue access to the internet.
I’ve decided, as a (hopefully) temporary solution, that until the arrival of a fibre optic cable to our door, I will supplement our slow ADSL internet connection with a second, separate, 4G internet connection from T-Mobile.
In effect, it doubles our internet costs from €50 per month to €100 per month.
On the other hand, while the 100 GB per month data allowance lasts, our internet download speed goes from 4 Mbps to 40 Mbps, and our upload speed goes from less than 1 Mbps to at least 35 Mbps. T-Mobile also offer free access during the night (midnight to 6 am), and they are currently trialling free 50 GB bundles during weekends.
I don’t want to stop our current ADSL subscription with XS4ALL (a Dutch ISP). For one thing, the subscription also covers our telephone usage, and T-Mobile do not support telephone usage in their 4G for the home package. Another reason is that our data usage is more than 100 GB per month (I’ve often seen it reach 200 GB).
So I needed some way to manage simultaneous access to two internet service providers, in a transparent manner.
A neighbour working in IT suggested the solution: use Sophos UTM Home Edition running in Hyper-V on my Windows 10 server that I use for our home cinema. With his help, I set it up, and after a couple of head-scratching moments, it’s been running flawlessly. Sophos UTM is firewall and router software that usually runs on dedicated hardware, but running it in a virtual machine on a server that is doing other things means I can kill two birds with one stone. It’s also free for home use. I have it set up so that the 4G connection is used preferentially, but if it goes down, or my monthly data allocation is used up, then the system automatically switches to the ADSL connection, and this is transparent to all the computers on the internal home network. Here’s a picture showing the two external internet connections and part of the internal home network.
I’ve just completed my first month of operation of the new setup, and so far, it seems to be working well. However, it does come at a cost. As I wrote last year, those of us in the Dutch countryside must remain in the slow lane, or pay through the nose for fast internet.