Connectivity: Know Your Usage – Know How To Control
Regardless of living in the 21st-century global village, ‘most’ people in the developing countries of the Indian ocean still face numerous problems with their internet connectivity, due to poor infrastructure, the monopoly of internet service providers, or due to some other reasons. This article will highlight some of the problems that one such person faced and how he/she overcame those to stay connected with the world and ‘work’.
Please note that this is not related to any kind of promotion and is just a shared experience of a fellow Asian. 🙂
Purchasing 4G LTE router
A few years back (before Covid flooded the continent), this fellow Asian was staying at a boarding place near his workplace. Since he couldn’t apply for a fixed internet line while staying as a boarder, he applied for a 4G LTE router connection in order to stay connected with his family and work. After a few rounds of testing, everything was fine and the upload and download speeds were quite good. The portable 4G router enabled him to access the internet from both his home and boarding place.
Covid!!! – Working From Home started
Then the coronavirus started to spread across the world and with the increase of active covid cases, many companies encouraged the ‘work from home approach’. This fellow also started joining work, from his home. As his house was situated somewhat away from the main commercial city, the infrastructures related to telecommunication were not that advanced. Due to that and as so many people had started to work from home in his area, the guy started experiencing slow internet speeds and random network disconnects from time to time.
Trying different ISPs
Due to slow internet speeds, he started trying different ISPs, checking speeds using different temporary routers from his home. After running several tests, he got to know that still, the initial connection was the fastest in his area. At this point, he was reluctant to move to a secondary fixed-line connection due to the uncertainty of the work-from-home situation.
- Mobile Hotspot – existing devices, not good for phone battery, in the long run, signal strength depends on the location
- Internet Dongle – portable, not expensive, portable, powered from the USB port, signal strength depends on the location
- MiFi Devices – portable, internal battery-powered, signal strength depends on the location
- 4G Home routers – portable, signal strength depends on the location
- ADSL – fixed-line, reliable connection
Changing the 4G router’s mounting location – 2X speed
With no other option, he started further testing speeds, changing router placement, and found that one particular location was receiving double the normal speed and mounted the router to that location. There were no official outdoor antenna units available at his time of testing which were compatible with his router.
Note: There are outdoor units and external antennas available now in the market, compatible with 4G/LTE routers which you can purchase officially from ISP’s website to boost your connection. Please verify that an external antenna is mountable to your router before the purchase.
Purchasing Fiber Connectivity
A few months after, a famous ISP started promoting Fiber internet connections in his area and this guy purchased a connection. The speeds were very fast, seven-eight times better than the 4G connectivity in his area. The fiber connection served as a new connection rather than replacing any existing connections upon his request. With that, he was able to keep his copper line connection as well – while retaining some of the unsupported networking packages provided by the ISP.
Then there came the power cuts. No electricity – no internet. He had to find an alternative power source quickly to power up his router during the blackouts. There were mini-UPS and power tanks that allowed 3-4 hours of runtime during power cuts in the market. But he was able to power up the Fiber router with a mobile power bank using a 5v to 12v step-up converter cable. With this setup, he was able to power up his fiber router for more than 8 hours.
Note: The runtime depends on the router’s power consumption, mobile power bank’s capacity, and the converter’s efficiency.
Normally the mobile power bank capacities are advertised based on 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable battery voltage. So if your power bank is made out of such batteries, you might need to consider the actual rated capacity.
Powerbank advertised capacity = 20000 mAh
18650 battery voltage = 3.7 V
Assuming the connected device requires a 5 V input.
20000 * 3.7 = x* 5
x = 14800 mAh (theoretical value)
This value is specified as “Rated/Output Capacity” in some of the products.
Now the problem is solved. The router can be powered up during the blackouts.
Why is the data quota exceeding in mid-month?
Then there was this second problem. With higher internet speeds on the fiber-line, his monthly subscribed data quota started to evaporate in less than 2 weeks. So he installed some network monitoring tools on some of his devices and got to know some browsers and streaming services are eating up his data quota so fast.
Note: In case someone is interested, GlassWire – Personal Firewall & Network Monitor is a good freeware tool that supports both windows and android platforms.
Monitoring only not helping – need to control
After identifying that some of his apps consume a large amount of data, he started to address them individually.
- Marked the network connection as a ‘Metered Connection’ on PC.
- Disabled autoplay videos on sites.
- Set a fixed video quality for streaming services rather than staying on ‘Auto Quality’ mode.
Advanced Software Level usage control
Still, there were some situations where he couldn’t or forgot to address unusual data usage on his PC. So he installed NetLimiter 4 and created some rules to automatically trigger some actions based on application-level data usage. With these rules, he was able to limit his internet speeds both app-wise and time-wise.
Note: NetLimiter 4 also can be configured to notify you or terminate internet connections for a particular app depending on their behavior. It also comes with a windows toolbar (InfoBar) allowing you to identify your network’s current uplink and downlink without even opening the full application; which was very useful in capturing suspicious network activities.
Rule 1: Limit Upload/Download during peak hours. Allow full speeds during off-peak hours.
Rule 2: Set Quota alert
Software level restrictions were not enough
As the router was used by multiple persons to access the internet and as there were some other devices that an advanced network control software can’t be installed, the software level restrictions were not enough to save the data quota. So he started to look into restricting speeds at the network level.
Purchasing Xiaomi WiFi Router 4A
The default fiber router provided by the ISP does not have any advanced features to block/limit network usage individually for the connected devices. So after doing some market research, he was able to identify several entry-level routers that support the QoS feature to limit the bandwidth based on priorities or MAC addresses. From the list, Xiaomi WiFi Router 4A allows integrating with a mobile app to control the speeds.
Note: This is not a fiber router; so you need to keep the existing fiber router provided by the ISP (which of course you can’t change) and connect the Xiaomi router as an access point to it.
Note: QoS – ‘Quality of Service’, is a feature that allows you to prioritize the internet traffic of specific devices to guarantee a faster connection when you need it the most. Some routers support only pre-configured options while some support manual configurations.
Configuring Xiaomi WiFi Router 4A
Initial router configurations were pretty easy with the Xiaomi router. First, he tried attaching it as an access point via WiFi and it was successful. But the QoS features were not supported via WiFi repeater mode. So he had to connect the main (fiber) router and Xiaomi router via a Cat 5e cable and expose it as a wired access point. That was successful and the QoS features were allowed via wired access point configuration.
Once he installed the Mi WiFi android app, he was able to control upload and download speeds according to his choice for all the connected devices.
Network IP Configurations on the router. This can be kept as Auto DHCP as well.
As always, most of his issues related to connectivity are solved with some additional expenditure.
Associate Tech Lead • Software & Architecture