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4G Modems (Optus and Telstra)


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Hi,

 

To cut a long story short ...

Our landline and its ADSL1 internet connection has gone pear shaped; Telstra are either unwilling or unable to fix it.

We can't get NBN fibre of any flavour or NBN fixed wireless; ie. satellite only, which is unsuitable for 3 adults working from home.

My 3G and 4G phones can barely get one bar of signal and can drop out.

 

We are in midstream, trialing a 4G modem (Netgear Nighthawk M2) on loan from the local Telstra shop.  It only receives signal when hung high up in one particular window in a string bag hung from the curtain rod.  Works OK then.

We have tried an Optus data sim; works OK too.  The Optus throughput was good (30Mb).  The Telstra throughput was a bit more erratic with some very high highs (92M) and some lows (8M).

 

Therefore we need an antenna; probably on the roof; there is a tech coming in a week or so, so hopefully with measuring device and ready to install with an internal "repeater" to service modem and phones.

 

We now have a decision ...

The Nighthawk is not really designed for permanent in-home use.  It has a battery which you have to connect or disconnect from a charger (USB3) or computer on a regular basis (irregularly daily).  If you let it run down too much it chucks a willy and can't find the Telstra 4G service.  Several re-boots later and you might be right.  If you remove the battery and run it directly from a power point adapter as you are supposed to be able to do, it either can't find Telstra, or won't run the ethernet port or the wifi disappears.  Lack of power??  Anyway with the battery in, it works OK perched up in its little bag.  It's internal wifi is weak and you really need to be in the same room.  OK, too many negatives for my liking.  We already have a wireless access point, so the lack of useful wifi from the Nighthawk is not a biggy.

 

Optus has a permanent in-home 4G modem (Huewei B818) that seems to be designed for what we want, but I can't try it because the local Optus shop doesn't have a borrow-able unit.  The Optus web site says that this device and its plan is "not available" at every address that I tried, but the Optus shop person said that that is OK, cos Optus just doesn't want to guarantee anything - yeah, maybe.

The Optus plan has larger data (500GB) than Telstra (200GB) for the same price so that is attractive.

 

So now to my question.  I don't want to change ships to find that the Optus offering is no better than the slightly flawed Telstra box.  I think it will be ... but

 

Has anyone had any experience with the Optus Home 4G modem (Huawei) that they would care to share?

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Hi, I was in a similar situation to yourself a couple of years back.

 

I was on naked DSL and as the pit and exchange works started in my street for FTTN, the stability and performance of my connection went south really fast. I took up a deal at the time with Optus and switched to 4G internet.

 

I have experience with the Huawei and Netgear (both Aircard 800S and Nighthawk) which is below. I highly recommend the Netgear Aircard 800S for the Optus service over the Huawei and the Nighthawk due to the CA and band support. The Aircard accepts all Optus licensed bands where the Nighthawk accepts all Telstra bands. There is crossover so they both work on either, it is only when you starting fine tuning your configuration where you might find it falls short.

 

As an aside for the Optus service there is a fixed list of permitted 4G modems that can be used with them which can be found here.

 

https://yescrowd.optus.com.au/t5/Mobile/Optus-Wireless-Broadband-eligible-device-list/td-p/512447

 

Mobile data offerings aside the setup I have settled on which provides me the best connectivity, short of externally mounting an aerial as I rent, is below. 

 

Hope this is of some help. If you any further questions or something isn't clear let me know :)

 

Omnidirecitonal MIMO Outdoor/Indoor Antenna

This can be mounted outside just sits nicely on the inside ledge of a front facing window upstairs. It is not obtrusive. 

https://onwireless.com.au/4g-3g-omnidirectional-mimo-outdoor-indoor-desktop-mobile-broadband-antenna.html

 

Connecting this to the modem below improved my reception and the number of band associations I could have. Very simple, very effective.

 

Before settling on an antenna though do you research for towers and bands in your area and, get on foot or in the car and wander around with a laptop and a 4G modem to get some data first hand. It is a bit amateur but hey, it works. It will inform which part of your house / property an antenna is best placed.

 

There is an app that provides access to great data for this in the next section below.

 

You may find you just need a simple omni antenna which I have or you would benefit more from a pair of yagi's. This will make it directional and it is important to mount them with an offset of 45 degrees to each other. This is also true for desktop antennas I learnt. The radio configuration in Australia is 45 degrees and can be 90 or 30 degrees (from memory) in others.

 

A cheap antenna from Ebay is likely only suitable for China / SE Asia where the radio offset is not the same as Australia. Plugging it in may give you better reception but worse performance due to this. Or, you might even find your upload speed blows your download speed out of the water as I found on occasion. Nice number sure but, useless.

 

Netgear Aircard 800S

I have tried a about three of the Huawei 4G wireless routers and whilst they were decent the ones I tested either were not a minimum of CAT9, the the latest Aircard is CAT11 which I have settled on.

 

The Netgear allows configuration of band selection which is very important for me. Some of the Huawei devices allow this also but often require third party software, and sometimes a cracked firmware change, to do any config. With the Netgear I can get into the guts of it via telnet. 

 

Devices will automatically switch to bands that allow that achieve the highest RS-SINR and this sometimes means that the band has a lot of associations and is 'busy' with other 4G modems, mobile phones etc. Through the terminal on the Netgear I run my setup locked to B40 and with a minimum CAT9 modem I can associate to 3xB40 which provides me the performance and stability that I need.

 

The erratic performance you experienced could be directly associated to how the modem is managing associations. If you lock it you should be able to stabilise it. Unless that erraticism is due to tower load. Only trial and error will resolve this for you.

 

Here is a handy mobile app to identify towers and their available bands;

https://apps.apple.com/au/app/aus-phone-towers-3g-4g-5g/id1488594332


The Netgear is connected via USB to the wireless router below. The battery stays in and I have no issues. It is powered via USB and is set with software and hardware control to not accept charge 100% of the time so the battery gets a bit of workout which is good.

 

Asus RT-AC88U

I am a big fan of the ASUS kit and the AC88U is my second wireless router, prior to this I had the AC68U. I upgraded only to improve my indoor wireless reach and performance. Feature wise both units are the same. Nearly all ASUS gear runs the same firmware and any differences in features are easy identify and depending on your use case, may not be an issue.

 

The ASUS runs all of the routing and wireless service in my home. Whilst the Netgear modem has a decent WiFi capability as a stand alone unit which is great as a travel device but when setting it up at home there is value in having devices perform the function that they are best suited for.

 

In this setup the Netgear handles all of the radio communications and a little bit of IPv4 forwarding leaving the ASUS to manage all of the WiFi associations, IP leasing, IP forwarding, etc.

 

Mobile Repeaters

I don't need one today but I have researched them for colleagues. They sound like a really good idea but they deliver a false sense of performance more often then not. The biggest constraint if you are regional will be line of sight to tower, the configuration of the tower - supported bands, CA capabilities, number of associations (load) - and, the uplink from the tower to the carriers core network.

 

The repeater has the same radio challenges that your 4G modem does but what it does differently is in your house will present to your devices an excellent radio signal to associate to. Your phone and the 4G modem has full bars to the local repeater but as the middle man, it is constrained by its connection to the tower. You will not get any more performance out of it.

 

You will guarantee that your mobile devices have signal and maybe that is all you want from it.

 

The radio bands and CA that the repeater supports requires the same consideration I mentioned earlier with the Aircard vs Nighthawk vs Huawei.

 

 

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Thanks Bigev.

 

Both Telstra and Optus transmit from one close tower and they both use B28 (700MHz) band.  And they have another along the highway some K away. 

 

I really have only 2 choices and they are "through the trees" to the close tower in the centre of town (3Km) or to a far distant one on the Pacific Highway.  At least with the distant one, apart from a few close trees, there is a line of sight - but probably too far.  Will see what the antenna man says next week.  Were I to get any antenna it would be a quality brand installed by a pro and possibly by him next week.  I expect that an external antenna will do what I want and get a few more bars than the modem itself hung in the window.

 

The internal "booster" (sold via Telstra) is mainly for the phones but the modem could use it too and thus be in a more central position in the house.

 

Today at lunch time there was no throughput at all even though there was relatively good (for us) reception and the Nighthawk was working properly.  Resumed to normal all by itself in about an hour.  Congestion? Someone pulled a plug?  All very frustrating!  Still I suppose that it is better most of the time than 1M download via the ADSL.

 

/Insert frustrated sarcasm

666 Blind Spot Road, Black Stump via Bullamakanka yet only 3 min to Dan Murphy's

/End whinge

 

 

 

 

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It is frustrating that only B28 is available for you and a real shame that B3 isn't there as you could at least get a decent CA profile with them.

 

Curious, have you tested this or just relied on what you can get with you setup from home and/or tower research?

Edited by bigev
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14 hours ago, bigev said:

It is frustrating that only B28 is available for you and a real shame that B3 isn't there as you could at least get a decent CA profile with them.

 

Curious, have you tested this or just relied on what you can get with you setup from home and/or tower research?

Yeah, my mistake.  I was using cellmapper on the web, which didn't show all the towers around town and seemed to be rendering its map incorrectly.  Anyway ...

 

Yesterday I "discovered" the ACMA (RADCOM) map on the web with definitive government data and fine detail.  There are indeed 3 towers in town doing mobile frequencies, not 1,  and 1 of them does B3.  Another will do B3 but was only "authorised" last week so may not be working (or even built).  Strangely the huge one (71m) in the town centre at the Telstra exchange doesn't do B3 for Telstra (only Optus and Vodaphone).  I could be misinterpreting the frequency/registration data.

 

On all 3 (or maybe its just 2) the line of sight just touches an intermediate hill, so that seems good, so our problem is more likely to be big trees in the way.

 

Another tower to the north along the Pacific Highway is 10Km away and the line of sight is excellent except for the few huge trees on our place and next door.  I can see it from the road out the front.  It is an Optus tower and only does B28 for Telstra.  Viewshed from there misses our place by 1 square, but still might be a candidate.

 

In fact all the Viewsheds have us with a fair bit of "white" surrounding us, or close by.  Then add big trees and a double brick house and one has problems.

 

I'm not sure that CA is going to work; don't know enough about it.  Will investigate.

 

All very interesting.  At least I feel more comfortable now when talking to a reception/antenna tech.  All this has been new to me; a former corporate IT person didn't need to know this stuff!

 

Thanks for your help.  Nice to talk to someone about such things when I am learning.  I just wonder how non-IT people get on with this sort of trouble shooting; buy another house with NBN FTTP; haha.

 

 

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Glad I could be of assistance :)

 

I am not in the same position as yourself with this (regional) but radio comms I am interested in. Even though the problem space for me is constrained to the inner city as part of my research I tend to deep dive and want to know it all.

 

I'm sure you have been reading a number of articles on the topic but I just came across the following which is quite straight forward;

 

https://www.telcoantennas.com.au/buying/smart-guides/guide-to-4g-antennas-and-mimo/

 

Your antenna guy will be all over this and should be able to do the cell mapping for you referenced in that link. They will also know the best antenna hardware paired with the 4G modem you are looking at. The radio strength of your modem also plays a role here as well.

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I use the Optus 4g offering on a 500Gb plan, Had it over a year now as Telstra cocked up my NBN connection. All started out well with good connection speeds but this has slowed down over time and am lucky to see 25mbps compared to over 100 when I started.

Optus say I am in a black spot, when I asked if they had moved or removed the tower that was giving us the great speeds initially the operator said I was being difficult.

I use it just to play internet radio these days and connection speed is plenty for that.

I now have NBN through ABB at 99mbps solid via the old foxtel cable.

 

Please note the modem I have is the older version of the B818 a B525 or something like that, so may not reflect what you would see.

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On 27/11/2020 at 5:15 PM, aechmea said:

Has anyone had any experience with the Optus Home 4G modem (Huawei) that they would care to share?

 

I spent 2yrs using Optus 4G and an Optus (E5186) modem at our new house in a bushy area.  (hilly, patchy reception, terrible adsl apparently).  
 

Before committing to Optus I tested reception with an E5573? Pocket wifi modem  ($30 with sim) then  bought the e5186 ($50 used) once satisfied it was reliable enough.      
 

All in all it was very good.    Speed initially averaged 5-10mbps and gradually improved over 2yrs to 160+ on a good day, 50 on a bad. 
 

It was good enough for mrs and I both working from home with 3 kids being TV  minded or home schooled during lockdown earlier this year.      I even thought about staying on once NBN finally hit my street because it was cheaper.  

 

The only gripe was dealing with Optus customer service.    The are particularly infuriating but eventually get stuff right. 
 

In the right location  the Optus modem worked well enough without separate antenna for me.      Not quite hanging from a sack on the curtain rod, but pretty close. 
 



 

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

A short update.

 

Had an external antenna installed with a CEl-Fi Go Stationary box inside the house.  [All 3 towers in town are the only useful ones and they are all in roughly the same direction, so can't tell which is being used at any point in time].  It boosted reception from 0 - 1 - 2 bars to 2-4-5 bars on 4G devices, but made no difference to 2 x 3G phones (normally in the cars but brought in to test).  More importantly the data throughput with the Nighthawk and using the "booster" was worse than just the Nighthawk in its string bag with no antenna.  Presumably using different bands or something.  Don't understand yet.

 

Have tried antenna to Cel-Fi, antenna direct to Nighthawk, no antenna at all, Optus data sim and Telstra data sim... all sorts of combinations  Erratic and unpredictable results.  I am not seeing any pattern.  At one stage the Nighthawk said it was using band 7 (2600) (not a band that is often mentioned and not even available in the Cel-Fi) and on another it was using band 1 (which I thought was 3G, yet was getting 50M download with the antenna but almost 0 without).  Weird.  Seems to jump all over the place and sometimes when it does settle, then the data throughput is not all that flash... or is extraordinary.

 

I have read plenty of web pages (both general ones and ones specific to the hardware) but none seem to explain how the firmwares in the different boxes arrive at the decisions that they do.

 

Not happy yet, Jan.

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@aechmea

 

Where do you live exactly? We are the same as you, have the Optus modem....plus Skymuster, but haven't bothered to turn it off yet. I need a modem that we can turn the wifi off on first

 

The the Nighthawk Optus approved? They have zero tolerance on anything not "approved" i.e. simply wont work or wont work at all well.

 

We had telco antennas do a survey for us (about $250). Got an antenna and modem, works well. I cant use Skymuster for work (latency), so use the Optus for that.

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1 hour ago, Peter the Greek said:

@aechmea

 

Where do you live exactly? We are the same as you, have the Optus modem....plus Skymuster, but haven't bothered to turn it off yet. I need a modem that we can turn the wifi off on first

 

The the Nighthawk Optus approved? They have zero tolerance on anything not "approved" i.e. simply wont work or wont work at all well.

 

We had telco antennas do a survey for us (about $250). Got an antenna and modem, works well. I cant use Skymuster for work (latency), so use the Optus for that.

Yeah, that sounds just like us.  My (adult) son is attempting to run video tutorials (uni maths) from home.  Fortunately they have ended at the moment, so we are spending time trying to get 4g working to our satisfaction.  Earlier this year he was able to get by by using a FTTN connection at his grandmother's house.

 

The Nighthawk is Telstra branded (even if you buy one direct from Netgear) but seems to accept an Optus data sim and connect just fine.  If we decided on Optus we would buy their modem which is supposedly locked to Optus.  It would appear that the Nighthawk, whilst branded Telstra is not actually locked - well, this borrowed one anyway.

 

Unfortunately because we can't borrow one to trial, we don't know whether the Optus 4g home modem will latch onto the signals, which would appear to be at best "weak" to "fair".

 

I seem to be spending my days watching which bands are being used and the dB numbers via the diagnostics page of the Nighthawk.  One day I will work out why things are happening as they are!  It really is counter-intuitive that adding an antenna and a "booster" has resulted in poorer throughputs via the Telstra frequencies; these are the ones that the Telstra locked Cel-Fi is programmed to boost.

 

While typing this, the Optus bands being used (using Nighthawk on Optus without antenna at the moment)  have been B3, B1(4G), B1(3G), and B28.  B7 just flicked on for 20 seconds or so - now back to B1 (4G).  It is starting to appear that the promoted B28 is a furphey - doesn't seem to function at all well and is rarely chosen by the algorithm.

 

I am almost tempted just to buy an Optus Home 4G modem, to see if it does have performance comparable to the Nighthawk.  If not, then it might still be $200 well spent just to see.

 

As a general observation the Optus bands are faster (even using a Telstra modem) - less congestion? and their monthly data allowance is much more (500G vs 200G) for the same cost.  So somewhat attractive.

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Are you doing your analysis via the terminal or the WebUI?

 

The former will give you more data + control. The WebUI on either unit don’t break down CA, they only show the primary band association. 
 

Use the terminal and you can start tuning. 

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On 27/11/2020 at 5:15 PM, aechmea said:

 

Optus has a permanent in-home 4G modem (Huewei B818) that seems to be designed for what we want, but I can't try it because the local Optus shop doesn't have a borrow-able unit.  The Optus web site says that this device and its plan is "not available" at every address that I tried, but the Optus shop person said that that is OK, cos Optus just doesn't want to guarantee anything - yeah, maybe.

The Optus plan has larger data (500GB) than Telstra (200GB) for the same price so that is attractive.

Optus used to have an Optus branded Netgear 4G modem. I've got one, I bought a Netgear dock for it that adds 4 ethernet ports and decent Wifi range. Do they still have them available? 

I'm fortunate to live about 300m from an Optus tower, sparsely used, I've had a max of 125Mbps download and usually get at least 50Mbps. Upload varies from 40Mbps to 5Mbps

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On 11/12/2020 at 8:18 PM, bigev said:

Are you doing your analysis via the terminal or the WebUI?

 

The former will give you more data + control. The WebUI on either unit don’t break down CA, they only show the primary band association. 
 

Use the terminal and you can start tuning. 

 

Via the WebUI.  Yes, know that I am only seeing the primary freq.  That some scenarios have much increased throughput show that aggregation is going on.

 

I take your point on using the "terminal".  However, it is nearly 45 years since I last did that sort of programming and delved that deep.  Prefer to use something "out of the box" at the moment.

 

[In the last 5 - 10 seconds, it has flicked from B3, to B28, to B1, to B3 to B1 to B3. B1 seemed to have the best SNR dB but it didn't stick???  Geez, now a quick flick to B28 and now to B3, and B1, now 3G, B3, B1.  Seems to be trying everything.  Reception bouncing from 2 to no bars.  Just one of those days.]

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14 hours ago, proftournesol said:

Optus used to have an Optus branded Netgear 4G modem. I've got one, I bought a Netgear dock for it that adds 4 ethernet ports and decent Wifi range. Do they still have them available? 

I'm fortunate to live about 300m from an Optus tower, sparsely used, I've had a max of 125Mbps download and usually get at least 50Mbps. Upload varies from 40Mbps to 5Mbps

Thanks Prof.

 

Yeah they still do.  We disregarded it the first time around because of no ethernet.  Didn't know of the cradle so worth a re-think.

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17 minutes ago, aechmea said:

Thanks Prof.

 

Yeah they still do.  We disregarded it the first time around because of no ethernet.  Didn't know of the cradle so worth a re-think.

 

Look here

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8 hours ago, aechmea said:

I take your point on using the "terminal".  However, it is nearly 45 years since I last did that sort of programming and delved that deep.  Prefer to use something "out of the box" at the moment.

 

I have all the commands with descriptions documented. More than happy to send them to you and you can give it crack if you feel like it. You cannot do anything in the terminal that factory reset with a hairpin can't fix.

 

You get basic (advanced compared to UI) commands to radio control but cannot execute anything crazy like mounting new storage and wiping things. It is just a standard AT command set.

 

PM if you like with an email and I'll send it over.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I should end this thread with the final? solution that we have arrived at...

 

Originally, Slow ADSL (2Mbps) died unexpectedly one day.  Telstra restored it but even slower (1.5Mbps).  No NBN cable or fibre or fixed wireless available.  NBN satellite not suitable for 3 adults working from home.  Investigated 4G home internet.  5G not available.

Trialed Nighthawk M2 modem on loan, with Tesltra and Optus data sims.  Widely varying results.  Band usage changing by the second.

Used Telnet to inspect band and CA usage. 

Installed antenna and "extender" (Cel-fi) which made data throughput worse - unexpected.  Returned Cel-fi, now hoping for a refund. 

Antenna direct into back of modem no different to modem hanging in window - unexpected.

 

Eventually chose Optus 4G home internet sim with Huawei modem.  We locked the modem onto band 1 (2100Mhz) which while not the fastest is most consistent and predictable (about 30Mbps download, 15Mb upload).  Band 7 similarly good.  Other bands are RS.

 

Advantages of Optus were

  • a cheap modem ($216 up front or "free" if on a plan) cf. $384 for Nighthawk
  • plugs into wall ie no regular connecting and disconnecting of charger
  • works just as well on window-sill as hanging up
  • monthly data of 500GB ie 2.5 times Telstra (200GB)
  • marginally better reception (3 bars not 1) (I suspect a different tower)

 

3 things warrant comment ...

 

The touted band with lower frequency and therefore further range (band 28 , 700Mz) was poor in all respects (throughput and reception)

 

The Cel-fi extender only extends the one single band that its algorithm chooses.  This was not the best band for us and actually 1/3rd-ed throughput.  It will only extend either 3G or 4G at one time so devices using the alternate technology had no benefit.  Might help some people but an expensive failure for us.

 

We had to do our own technical support throughout all of this, apart from that offered here and the occasional search on Whirlpool and the ACMA maps.  It seems that all of the service providers sell hardware and "plans" without a support structure or knowledge system in place.  Sure, it's complicated and somewhat difficult but someone needs to know how it hangs together and what actually happens.  We taught the Telstra shop people (not Telstra employees) heaps thru our feedback.  However they were very helpful and interested and very kindly lent us a modem with no time limit for return.  The Telstra admin system does not appear to have a function to facilitate the return/refund of a Cel-fi - I guess that the Telstra shop people are still frustratedly working on it.

 

 

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