Monday, October 26, 2009

U-Verse internet update . . . 46 days and counting

Our U-Verse internet has been up now for 46 days without a single glitch. No downtime, and no noticeable or sustained dips in speed or ping time. I am probably jinxing myself, but I find this absolutely amazing. I guess I shouldn't find this too stunning (wait, you mean we're actually getting the service for which we paid?!?) but in over 10 years of service with Sunflower, we never went for longer then 7-10 days at a time without some downtime (if even for a few minutes), and frequently the outages and slowdowns were much worse.

I'd actually be interested in know why this is so, from a technical standpoint. I would think coaxial cable would be more reliable then copper, but perhaps it has to do more with the network management rather then the medium. Alas, it is a mystery.

Now, if the AT&T folks who run the U-Verse network could only give the guys who run their cellular data networks a few clues...

Monday, October 5, 2009

U-Verse Internet caveats

Our U-Verse internet has continued to be rock-solid (keeping fingers crossed) but during the month we've used it so far, there have been a few minor issues we have come across, which I will document here for Google and posterity. Two of these have easy workarounds, and the other two will not really matter to most people, but might to you, if you are a special read on....

First, the two issues that have workarounds:

1. The U-Verse gateway's DNS doesn't like Apple computers.

The workaround for this is easy. If you use a Mac, simply set your DNS to use OpenDNS (or if you have a bunch of Macs, you can do this in the router)

2. U-Verse's head end blocks outbound traffic on port 25 for non AT&T email accounts.

This is the port that is used by most mail programs when they send outbound email. This isn't something you can change locally in your router, but luckily AT&T will unblock it if you ask them. We were able to get this done in 5 minutes via their online chat support, but other people have had to call in to tier 2 technical support.

And second, the two issues which might be deal-killers for some folks:

3. U-Verse utilizes interleaving for their data transmission.

Interleaving is a method of transmitting data in non-sequential chunks to increase overall performance. This is good for things like TV, but it has a side-effect with internet...slightly longer ping times, up to 20 milliseconds or more. This doesn't matter to most people....unless you are an online gamer. Online gaming relies on very fast response times from the servers, and the added overhead of U-Verse's interleaving may degrade game performance in some games. This isn't a "100% for sure" depends on the game and the server, but it is certainly something that should be at "yellow alert" for any gamers considering U-Verse. Take advantage of the 1-month free trial and test with all your favorite games.

4. There's no way to get pure unrouted internet access to a local device.

U-Verse allows you to set up a DMZ, which for an individual PC will allow in all internet traffic. This is considered dangerous and only experienced folks who know what they are doing should use the DMZ. However, some physical devices, such as hardware VPN routers and firewalls do not like being in a DMZ; they prefer pure, unrouted "raw" public connections to the internet. U-Verse's residential gateway cannot be placed into the "bridge" mode that is required to do this, so if you need this functionality, make sure you test your devices with U-Verse during the free trial period to make sure they work.

U-Verse TV parting shot and wireless gateway weirdness

As I mentioned last week, we decided to go with Sunflower Broadband for television, keeping U-Verse for internet. This weekend, I disconnected the U-Verse set-top boxes in preparation for shipping them back to AT&T (this shipping is handled by the UPS store; AT&T has an account with them, so we just drop the boxes off there).

This gave me the chance to snap a couple extra pictures of various aspects I hadn't mentioned before. Specifically, you can now get a good view of the various ports on the back of the unit as well as seeing how the two units stack up right next to each other. (the smaller box is the secondary unit, sans DVR hard drive.)

Interestingly enough, once AT&T shuts off television service to your home (which they do remotely), you can't even use the DVR to watch previously-recorded shows. This is different then other devices like the TiVo, which allows you to watch shows previously recorded even if you no longer are paying for service.

Wireless weirdness

Last Thursday night, our U-Verse residential gateway's (RG's) wireless interface failed. Basically, it was randomly dropping connected wifi devices, and if you tried to connect a new device, sometimes it would connect, and sometimes it would not connect. Even if it connected, it would drop after a few minutes, or the DHCP server wouldn't assign an IP address to the wifi client. I determined that this was not any type of new interference or signal issue. My solution was simply cycling wifi off and turning it back on from the RG's admin interface, after which everything went back to working properly.

Needless to say, this glitch didn't fill me with confidence as to the robustness of the residential gateway. In comparison, our previous wireless router, an Apple Airport Extreme, ran uninterrupted for over a year without any glitches like this. I should also note that the DSL signal (i.e. internet connection) was fine through this entire episode. The problem is local on the gateway itself, not the upstream connection.

Although the RG allowed wireless to be reset without requiring a full reboot of the entire RG, we noticed later when we tried to watch a television show that was recorded during this time period that it was blocky, pixellated, and skipped a lot, indicating that the RG was really having some issues. We had already decided at this point to drop the U-Verse TV service, but this certainly reinforced our decision.

As of now, the RG has been performing fine, both wired and wireless since then. I will certainly be keeping an eye on things though. File this under "reliability, long term, questions of."