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27 May 2006

Nerd Factor X Provocation Personal



A Tale of Two ISPs

The past couple of weeks have been very busy for the Girtby household, mainly due to the household moving into a new house. A not-rented house at that. Yaay.

There was the usual chaos with boxes, paint rollers, and furniture rearrangement. In addition to this there was internet withdrawal. We finally got the internet installed a couple of days ago after much turmoil.

Read on for the tale of one very crap ISP and one very good one.

The Crap One

We had Optus-brand cable internet at the old place, which I was very happy with, apart from a meagre upload speed, and so I naturally approached them first for Internet service at the new place. Unfortunately it took over six weeks for the following (approximage) dialogue to take place:

Me (to Optus): Can I please transfer my cable internet service to (new address)?
Optus: Certainly, we’ll just need to check some things.
[time passes]
Optus: Sorry, we need to do a “non-standard” (ie costly) installation.
[I think about it, and decide on a Telstra phone with ADSL service from Internode.]
Me (to Telstra): Can I order a phone service please?
Telstra: Sorry, that address is serviced by another carrier, it will cost $$$ to install there.
Me: Oh.
[I contact the previous tenants, discover where they get their internet service from]
Me (to Optus): Hey, remember that cable internet install that you said was “non-standard”? Well turns out you guys provide internet at that address, so what gives?
Optus: Oh yes, now that you mention it, that address has OptusDirect [a ULL service], we’ll get you migrated to that. It’s ADSL 1 now, but sometime in the next few weeks/months it will be upgraded to ADSL 2+. We Promise.
[more time passes]
Optus: Well, when we said “migrated” we really mean that you’ll have to order a new service, and cancel your existing one. But we’ll refund you some of the costs of doing that (ie a new modem). Me: OK then, order me a new service.
Optus: Certainly, it will be ready in 10 business days, your modem will be in the mail.
[10 business days elapse]
Me (to Optus): Where’s my service? Where’s my modem?
Optus: Sorry sir, it will be another week
Me: No it won’t. You people have screwed me around enough. Goodbye forever.

I can't help wondering whether any of the companies mentioned in this article will respond. I have had a pretty good track record of eliciting a response from companies when posting on this blog. Especially after calling them wankers. But now I no longer care, so I won't bother calling Optus a bunch of wankers. Aren't I nice?

The Good One

After that I reinstated the previously aborted order of a phone service from Telstra, and an ADSL 2+ connection from Internode. It was all up and running in under a week, less than the last estimate that Optus gave me.

I’m happy to report that the new service through Internode has been a vast improvement. Download speeds are less than I had hoped for (~4Mbit/s instead of the potential 24Mbit/s) but other than that I’m very happy. Internode are a very clueful ISP. Here are some of the things that I’ve noticed in my short exposure to them:

  • Extensive online documentation. This includes both “setup instructions for newbies with Model XYZ equipment” and “just the facts for people who know what they’re doing” styles of documentation. It’s even got the very rare “we’ll teach you about networking” style of doco. Brilliant.
  • Tons of mirrored and other “cool” content
  • SSL- and IMAP-capable mail servers.
  • Opt-out Port Blocking I really hate it when ISPs decide that I don’t know enough about my computers to keep them safe from others. And many times they don’t even tell you they’re blocking certain ports. Not Internode.
  • 10 hours per month of dialup access included. This was particularly handy while waiting for the service to come online.
  • Premium Usenet feed. OMG, I can feel another copyright violation habit coming on…
  • A cheap VoIP service. I’ll report more about this once I get my ATA box up and running.
  • Updated: Excellent support. Not only are the staff helpful and responsive over email, but they maintain an extensive online presence on Whirlpool and elsewhere. As evidence of this, check out the comment below from Simon Hackett from Internode. This is exactly how to do business online. Bravo.

This stuff is all prettymuch unique to Internode from what I can tell, and in combination it is easily worth a price premium over the other ISPs. But they don’t charge it, and so the rates are mystifyingly competitive.

I was going to finish this post with an illuminating discussion of how I configured my ADSL router and my OpenWRT box to talk together with the former in bridged mode for maximum throughput and minimum latency. Although I did get it working on the first night, something wierd happened and I reverted to using two routers in sequence. Or as I like to call it, the double-NAT palace. By the way, this configuration is not the cause of my limited bandwidth, I speed tested with just the one router in place.

Spot the Buffy reference in the previous paragraph for … umm … fun!


Posted by
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

That's really useful, thanks.

Did you have to put on a telstra standard phone line?

As an Optus cable user, I've been eyeing this new ADSL2 stuff. But I just did a 15MB download test at and it reports that I'm getting: 8.6234375 Mbps.

This is certainly not what I ever get to an outside internet site which is a whole other issue. Can you report the speed you're getting?



Posted by
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

Yep, got a bog-standard Telstra "Homeline Budget" phone line. Only $18/month line rental.

As of right now I'm getting 4361kbps using the Internode speed tester.

Still respectable but not enough to switch from cable internet.

The other stuff mentioned in the post is worth the switch IMHO, even if it does come at a speed penalty, which it will not necessarily.

Posted by
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

Agree on the other stuff... for example, a lightning strike killed the ethernet port on my Optus cable modem. I struggled on for a while using the USB port and windows internet sharing but eventually bought a second hand modem.

When I rang Optus to get it configured they told me I had to pay the full price for a new modem for a technician to come over and plug it in. All the tech did, when he came, was read the MAC address over the phone - which I'd offered to do.

Very annoyed.

The future is self install and self serve. Get with the program.

Posted by
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

I have had problems with Optus. Such as this.

One of my first support calls to Optus was to help set up my router, having set up cable internet with a laptop when I moved in. I think it was Julian or Alan who told me that every time the Optus install technician went near my computer I was to say "Don't do that!" This worked well.

Anyway, when I called for support the call centre technician said "I can't help you unless you're in the configuration the technician originally installed for you. However, if I were able to help you then I would tell you to try turning off your cable modem for a minute at the wall switch to force it to forget the laptop's MAC address and adopt the router's when it's turned on."

Anyway. I have other Optus stories that would curl your toes. My conclusion is that Optus' network operates enviably well, but the connection, support and disconnection parts suck bad. If you have a problem, need to change anything or otherwise need to interact with the customer service interface of Optus - steel thyself.

But, when the network is good it's very very good.

Test run on 28/5/2006 @ 6:42 P.M.

Mirror: Optus Test type: Cable (15MB Test)

Your connection speed:

kbps: 9711 KB/s: 1213.875 Mbps: 9.4833984375

Posted by
Typical Optus Customer
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

omg! This story is so similar to the crap our household has had to put up with. We had to change the account holder for an Optus phone/dsl package, so they sent us a form that they told us would take 14 days to process (waits a week for form to arrive). Having a sixth sense premonition that mailed items have a distressing habit of disappearing into oblivion when sent to companies like optus, we faxed the completed form instead. (waits 14 days). After no response, we call them and are told, No, Optus hasn't recieved your form, oh shit, the wrong fax number is printed on that official form, here's the real one and the secret handshake. So we send it through to the apparently new fax number (waits 14 days). We call up again. Nope, Optus still hasn't recieved anything, why don't we mail it instead. We mail it (waits 14 days). Hello? Oh I'm sorry, there must have been some mistake, you're actually on Optus Direct now, we have no way to do a change of account holder for you, you have to disconnect and reconnect, that'll cost $55, thank you, come again.

And with each and every phone call comes a lovely waiting period, now I know all the words to that freakin song "Give me the simple life", I think a better tune for Optus would be "Why don't you do something?". And of course the original account holder has to be there to verify her details about 3 times with 3 different departments each call.

I think finally I'll just reconnect the phone, but go with an ISP that actually gives a shit.

Posted by
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

TOC: That's quite a story too!

I'm happy to report that the Internode has been extremely positive. I probably need to post a followup on how happy I am with their service, including their NodePhone VoIP service. The only minor downside of Internode so far seems to be that they change my IP address quite often. Not a big deal, but I had to change my dynamic DNS registration from once a day to every two hours.

Even the Telstra experience was quite pleasant. Smooth order, quick assignment of the phone number, and the technician turned up on time. Telstra! Who'd have thought?

Posted by
Simon Hackett
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

Hi Alastair.

When you said: “ The only minor downside of Internode so far seems to be that they change my IP address quite often.”, you may not appreciate that this means your service is probably suffering from short term losses of line synch - a new IP address is only assigned when a new connection is made - an active connection never has its IP changed.

If you don’t already have a Central Splitter installed on your ADSL service, trust me - its worth getting a licensed cabler in to put one in, and it’ll very likely mean that IP address suddenly becomes very, very stable.

You can also try the online ADSL profile changer and try winding back to a more conservative ADSL profile. Counter to intuition, services running in the 3-5 Mb/s range often run more stably and even at higher speeds if you flip the service to ADSLv1 only (which you can, again, do with the online profile changer).

And if not (or if pain persists), have a natter with the support staff at Internode because they can help to make it stable in various other ways.

Bottom line: Frequent change of IP means your service needs some tender loving care to make it work better. And the central splitter recommendation is seriously, seriously the best single thing to do - you may find the results are surprisingly better in terms of achieved line speed, too - and may in fact have a substantial positive impact on your overall service results.

Regards, Simon

Posted by
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

Simon, the fact that you made the effort to comment on my blog speaks wonders for Internode, and I have updated my post to reflect this. I’m sure this will not go unnoticed by the various folks who have signed up with Internode after hearing my recommendation, and are likely to be reading this. So thank you.

As for the changing IP address. I hadn’t twigged that the modem might be losing sync but it makes sense. I have recently removed the double-NAT by reconfiguring the ADSL modem to bridging mode and terminating the PPP connection on my WRT box. I also upgraded the firmware on the modem. So far this change has resulted in fairly stable PPP connections, and hence IP addresses. Anyway I will continue to monitor it.

[It also occurs to me that a changing IP address is actually a pretty good idea from a privacy point of view. But first things first!]

On the sync speeds, thanks for the suggestion to change the line profile. I will do that.

I am less convinced about the benefit of a central line splitter. I had actually been in touch with Internode tech support who said that the line attenuation and SNR was actually quite acceptable, given the distance of my house to the exchange. Which implies that the wiring in my house was not introducing sigificant degradation and hence that a central line splitter would not make much difference. But I’ll think about it, particularly if the line sync continues to drop regularly.

Thanks again for the comments.

Posted by
Robbie I WISH
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

After waiting 2 days from disconecting from my old ISP, I put in an online request to node, ONLY on the 4th attempt (MANY days later)did node/telstra get it right, to the point were I got a “ confirmed/approved”, and I was told that telstra ( even though they found the log of my old ISP being disconected from day 1), had trouble getting rid of the old”codes” on my line. !, and that I should expect “around” 15mps on my new 24mps adsl2+ which telstra told them/confirmed for the 30th.last Thursday. based on my distance etc.

Long story short-er– Iv had my connection now for around 26 hours, and in that time I have NEVER got over 5-6mps(if lucky), I get drop outs,the internode game servers give’s me “conection problems” all over the place, and it feels at least as bad as my old adsl 1.5mps connection.(speed wise) I rarely got any drop outs or “connection” problems with escape net after 6 years and got a SOLID 1.2 on my 1.5 connection( which makes me think my copper wires/etc are OK-ish)

Iv spent TO MUCH time online,going through forum after forum/settings/firmware checks/ etc etc

I may only have built/maintained a few hundred computers in the last 15 years or so, but Im no complete idiot ! but I do feel So very sorry ( at the moment) to have recomended Internode to so many, after all the hype I had got from them. Im getting what….1/5th (AT BEST)of what I am paying for…not after 24 solid sync/15 would be nice BUT… 5 !!!!! ,closer to 10-15 would have been around the mark, considering, I WAS told to expect about 15 at the time I rang and spoke to node and had my line checked/distance ETC…and so decided to go with them.!!!!!!!! so about 5 just isnt cutting it. And telstra had no reports of problems with my line etc iether. everyone seems happy to line up for the $$$ but wot about the customer !!!!, like make sure your giving them close to what you say you can.

I wish I had a better story to tell

But at the moment, I really dont see much for all the BS I have had to go through. AND I dont see were the hell my $129 “connection” fee went. I feel like I got “averaged” out and, and 1 or 2 checks were skipped.

IF YA GOING TO ADVERTISE BMW’s( 24000k/1000k) Dont wonder to hard why people get pissed off when they end up getting a bloody FORD(5000k/750k) !!!….for the SAME price

The tech’s and sales staff I have spoken to have all pretty much….”well ya see, there’s things like… line noise and….copper wires and …..) well where was all that when I spoke to them (several times)about disconecting (because I have too first from my ISP) before doing an online sign-up and they were all Yea this and YEA that ? and all there “checks”.

I plan on spending EVEN more hours this weekend on “isolation tests”, etc, and by monday I have a feeling I am going to PAY THEM $65 !!!!!!! early disconect fee, and go back to my old ISP.

only time will tell.

Sorry for the long post. just had to get some of it out though.


Posted by
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

Robbie: have you got a central splitter? Read the comment from Simon Hackett previous to yours. It sounds like you are at the 15MBit point in terms of distance from the exchange, but there are other factors which prevent you from getting the full speed.

I understand the frustration, but you cannot seriously suggest that Internode renege on their promised speeds. Their ADSL2+ page is very clear about the limitations of the technology.

In any case 5Mbit is still pretty damn good. Good luck trying to go faster without using ADSL 2+, in Australia anyway. 5Mbit is s all I get — due to distance limitations — and I’m pretty happy with it.

Posted by
2006-05-27 20:36:49 -0500

yes, I have read there adsl2+ page well,

As I mentioned, THEY were the ones who said that I should get around the 15mbit mark AFTER they tested my line etc. so I feel they have in a large way reneged on what they told me on the phone, after all there testing etc, to get me to leave my old ISP and join with them, So are they just quoting higher speeds to get customers, and am I going to pay for a central splitter/installation to find it makes no difference.

The area i live in (golden grove) is not by any means an “old” area, and this leads me to believe that older copper wire is not the issue.

and no at this point I am waiting to find out what exactly the cost of a splitter, and the cost for a tech to install it, I have to wait till monday at least to get this info by the looks. ( has anyone else got a costing on this ?)

I wonder how many do get ANYwhere near 24mbits. My “frustration” in most is regarding speed, and reliability of the connection.

Yes 5mbits is “ok”, but as i said, i feel like i was sucked in with the people from node telling me that i should get around 15mbits,…..around 15mbits to me means that if it ended up getting at least half of that then fine, I can aqccept that but….1/3 of that speed is a bit hard to swollow.