Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Forced upgrade

I have been thinking for a while now about upgrading my internet connection from a 1.5 megabit per second ADSL and into an ADSL2+ connection that, given our house’s distance from the switch, should give us a bit more than 10 megabits per second.
The first inhibiting factor was feasibility. For a long while after the ADSL2+ technology became available, our switch was not ADSL2+ enabled. Blame Telstra, Australia’s effective telecommunications monopoly, if you will; I certainly do. By now, however, both iinet and TPG are offering ADSL2+ facilities in my area.
The second inhibiting factor was cost. At $50 a month for what is, by Australian terms, a generous download quota of 15 gigabytes a month, my ADSL account with Aanet was too price competitive for me to look elsewhere. Unlike the permanently evil Telstra and the recently evil Optus, Aanet do not count uploads in their quote, which is a definite advantage. That, however, does not detract from the sad fact that in Australia you do pay and pay heavily for the amount you download.
The third inhibiting factor was simple laziness. The entire procedure of moving from one ISP to another is a pain, especially when considering that our setup required us to install a central ADSL splitter/filter in order for ADSL2+ to work reliably. In simple terms, barring some major earthquake, I wasn’t about to make the effort and migrate.

The monkey was shocked, eventually.
A couple of weeks ago I’ve received an email from my ISP, Aanet, saying that they cannot avoid raising my internet access charge anymore, and that as of the next billing month I will be charged $55 a month instead of $50. I don’t know if the hike is because of a greedy Telstra charging Aanet more for the use of its infrastructure or whether it’s because of a greedy Aanet. What I did know, thanks to the excellent Whirlpool Broadband Choice website, is that TPG is now offering ADSL2+ at $50 a month for 18 gigabytes (and they also stick to counting downloads only) with no connection fees if you commit to 18 months. The plan is actually for 25 gigs, but as I like to sleep at night I disregard off peak downloads allowances (at least until I get a quieter desktop).
It meant that it would now be cheaper for me to move to an internet access plan that is not only significantly better but is also cheaper. The decision was made: Migration is the way.

As someone who has migrated at least once before, I can state the obvious: Migration is damn hard.
I took my time to read the TPG’s fine print but I still had many questions. The first time I called to ask about migrating from Aanet to TPG I was told that TPG does not recognize Aanet and that I would have to disconnect Aanet first and then connect with TPG. As the dude from Princess Bride would say, “Inconceivable!”
That would mean being off the internet for at least a week, and as someone who has the internet flowing up his veins I’m pretty sure that week would qualify for one of the more miserable weeks in my life (bear in mind that work does not offer me a proper internet replacement, not even on a short term basis). Sure, I can sort a temporary dial up connection, but then again – dial up? In this day and age? Not to mention dial up being one of Linux’ major weaknesses – the two just don’t go together.
Subsequent reading of the material on TPG’s own website changed the perspective. TPG maintains a list of ISP’s from which one can quickly churn to TPG; churning means that the migration from one ISP to another starts an ends with half an hour worth of adjustment settings on the switch's computer; instead of a week’s worth of internet disconnection, you get an hour’s worth. The main bit of news that was that Aanet, being that it starts with “Aa”, heads the list of ISP’s one can churn from.
So I called TPG again to verify I can, indeed, churn. In a lovely demonstration of professionalism, I was told that TPG does not accept churns from Aanet. Blood started boiling, tempers were raising, and I started arguing; a short while afterwards TPG did accept churns from Aanet.
That settled that, then. The next task was to arrange for a central ADSL splitter/filter to be installed on our premises.

I searched the yellow pages to find suppliers that do such work, and in a clear demonstration of the bad state Aussie yellow pages are in I wasn’t really able to find any. Eventually, through googling and such, I stumbled upon a company that will do it and is actually certified to do it. I called to hear this nice saleslady tell me that they charge $90 per visit and then $40 per quarter hour and that the work is expected to take 2 hours. I was shocked, so I asked for clarifications, after which it turned out that it’s actually 4 hours of work and you need to pay an exaggerated fee for the filter itself (you can buy it yourself for $25, but they charge $60 or so).
I called another company. They asked me for $50 per call plus $25 per quarter of an hour plus $40 for the splitter; their work estimate was three quarters of an hour. I booked them in.
The guy came in late, quite late, as befits a handyman worthy of his title. With much bravado he fiddled around and after 15 minutes started making his way out saying everything is in working order. It wasn’t; ADSL was indeed working, but our phones weren’t. So he went back in for half an hour more, sorted things out (as far as I could/can tell), and charged us for half an hour’s worth of work.

Next came the waiting for Telstra to move its butt and update the ADSL codes on our number, effectively churning us from Aanet to TPG. We were told this would take 3 to 5 business days, but in typical fashion it took 6.
After the changeover I had to update a few of my modem settings, and then… And then things went unexpectedly wrong.
My Windows XP environment, which should not have worked due to its previous setup, worked right away. Then again, who wants to use Windows? By now I got so used and so hooked on Ubuntu that using Windows, be it XP or Vista, is one easily avoidable curse. So I tried Ubuntu, only to find that while Skype works, Firefox doesn’t. Neither did my Asus Eee PC work. Was it the curse of the Linux computer?
I really don’t know what it was, but after some fiddling around with the router and such I suddenly noticed that everything is working. Of course, it took a few less hours of sleep till I got to that point, but hey – nothing works with computers unless you’re ready to spend those precious hours of sleep. The strangest thing is that as far as I know, I did make any lasting changes other than cancel my old XP DNS settings. Go figure.

So, now that we have ADSL2+, is the world rosier? Well, it ain’t. Let me explain.
First of all, we don’t really have ADSL2+. I am still using my old ADSL modem which can only go up to top ADSL speeds. This means my downloads are limited to 8 megabits per second as opposed to the expected 12 and my uploads are at 1. Is that a big deal and am I rushing to buy myself a new modem?
No, because while the extra speed definitely makes a difference overall, this difference is not a life changing one. The sad reality is that my internet surfing speed is still limited by the bottleneck of Australia’s international connectivity, mainly to the USA, so while my connection to the switch is now much faster the rest of my connection to the world is just as slow as it always was.
Still, things are nicer. I do wonder what the next major internet connection upgrade is going to be like.

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