Friday, October 07, 2016

Vumatel and Cool Ideas: A setup guide

Vumatel has done what Neotel should have done 10 years ago. It has got internet fibre to my home. And the big losers are going to be Telkom, MTN and MWEB. But I digress.
The frustrating thing is that the office park next door to the flats where I live has had fibre since the beginning of the year. I have been struggling with a bad Telkom ADSL line that manages to lose 7% of my packets. I've been measuring it for months. I even tried buying a new ADSL modem, but the line quality was so bad the new modem never managed to maintain a connection for more than 2 minutes. So I exchanged it for a wireless hub instead, saving lots of mobile data in the process.
The Aldara Park Residents Association managed to get enough enthusiasm in our small suburb to persuade Vumatel to install FTTH cables in our area. They started in late August and our area went live this week. I also helped to get the cable and distribution equipment installed in our block of flats. I'm fortunate that I ordered my installation early, which is why they arrived today to install the last 50m cable.
So far everything has run pretty smoothly, with the exception of their tech support. Emails to info@vumatel.co.za seem to go into a black hole and replies aren't forthcoming. Getting a manual for the CPE (Consumer Premises Equipment) has proved to be a mission. I don't know why why can't just email it to me. It's only 4 pages. It turns out the CPE is not router at all, and can't be used as a firewall or to do port forwarding.
Everyone (including Vumatel Tech Support) kept going on about a WiFi router, and I kept saying that I don't need a WiFi router because I want to connect PCs to the network, not laptops or phones. One bright spark then tried to tell me I needed to buy a Linksys router. Actually it turned out to be a lot simpler. And quicker. I called Cool Ideas on 010-593-2665 and spoke to Bheki. They are based in Parktown North, which is not far from where I stay. He explained what I needed and was very helpful. they would supply me with a WiFi router that also has Ethernet ports that can accommodate normal PCs without WiFi. Simple.
So by the time the Vumatel technicians left at 2pm and the blue (power) light and the orange (FX) light were working, I was ready to go to the Cool Ideas office. All I needed was my bank details, and I took my ID book and proof of residence just in case. Cool Ideas are at Suite 207, Parktown Quarter, Corner 3rd Ave and 7th Ave, Parktown North, Gauteng. Its very confusing having a suburb where numbered avenues intersect with other numbered avenues, but I digress.
The receptionist helped me fill out the online form and issued me with a brand new TP-LINK TL-WR840N 300Mbps Wireless N Router. And a single page of instructions, shown below. (The user manual for the router is here.)
Important note: the TP-LINK router comes with old EU firmware. When you update the firmware, the router loses all its settings. So it is best to do this before you make any other changes. You can backup and restore settings using the web interface, but don't try this using the WiFi connection unless you absolutely have to. It's a 3.8MB download, so your old ADSL connection should manage that ;-) Extract the ZIP files to a folder, and then use System Tools in the web interface to create a backup file, config.bin. Then use the Firmware Update procedure, and select the newly extracted wr840nv2_eu_3_16_9_up_boot(160406).bin file. Once the firmware is updated, the router will reboot back to its default settings. Connect once again and restore the config.bin file. If you do the update before changing any settings, you don't need to create the backup file, or restore it. But remember to make a backup file once you have got everything to work correctly.
I got to step 4 of the Cool Ideas instructions and the wheels fell off, because the instructions assume you can connect to the WiFi part of the router. But Bheki had assured me that I could also connect using one of the 4 Ethernet ports on the router. So I plugged in a network cable from the WAN port on the router to the LAN1 port on the CPE, and then connected my PC's network cable to the LAN1 Ethernet port on the router. With my network connection set to "Obtain an IP address automatically" and "Obtain DNS server address automatically" I assumed I would be able to connect. No such luck. So I called Bheki.
It turns out there is a bit of a trick to do first: unplug the PC cable from the router and plug it directly into the LAN1 port on the CPE. And wait. Eventually the CPE assigns you an IP address and then when you type in www.vumatel.co.za it redirects you. Except Chrome complains bitterly about this and you have to click "advanced" and then tell it to go ahead and redirect you anyway. Now you can follow Step 6 by clicking on the "register" button on the Vumatel portal. It's a step-through process during which you get to choose your Cool Ideas package and so on.
After that Bheki could check that I was registered and the package was set up. Then I connected the router's WAN port to the CPE, and connected the PC to the LAN1 port of the router, and restarted everything. Again, the router took its sweet time about assigning me an IP address, but eventually I could connect to 192.168.0.1 and log in to the router. I confirmed with Bheki that I was now able to connect the internet, and tested it by logging in to Twitter. All was well.
Now for the fun part. I can't use the default LAN address of 192.168.0.1 because my network setup is a bit more tricky. I have to use 10.100.10.1 instead. And then I have a port forwarding list that has 12 entries in it. And an additional routing entry. Fortunately it's all set up in my old ADSL modem, so with one PC connected to the new router, and another PC still connected to the old ADSL modem/router, I could copy the settings across. I also disabled uPnP and changed the password on the router, and set up the WiFi hotspot to work with my phone. A quick test on https://grc.com/shieldsup to test that the firewall was working, and we are good to go. I could at last unplug the old ADSL modem and connect the new router in its place. And what a difference! 20Mbps for both upload and download speeds is awesome.
Here's and example with the old MWEB speed on the left of the graph. Then the connection is broken, and then the Vumatel connection is made. Carbonite (my online backup software) took off, and the upload speed went off the top of the graph. I actually had to tell Carbonite to throttle back its internet usage for a while. One of the "joys" of my MWEB connection was that they restrict P2P traffic at certain times of the day, particularly early evening. They call it "shaping". I call it annoying. No such restrictions with Cool Ideas, which is great.
Another noticeable change: when I use DropBox on my Android phone to upload pictures, it often displayed a "waiting to upload" message, even when connected. Those "waiting" messages simply don't appear any more.
Warning: don't put your WiFi router in or near your bedroom. Put it as far away as possible, or switch it off when you sleep. Put your cell phone in "flight mode" when you sleep too. That radio radiation isn't good for you, and you don't need it for 8 hours.
What About MWEB?
All my emails go to the mail servers at MWEB, and I have used their ADSL service for years. So it would be simple to just upgrade my ADSL contract to an uncapped FTTH contract, surely? Actually, no. Firstly, they would have to send me a router from Cape Town via courier. Which means that I would get it sometime next week. And then they want to charge me R699 for an "uncapped" product that is only 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up. And it's still "shaped" which is not good. Granted, its a bit cheaper than the R769 I'm paying now for 4Mbps down and 0.5Mbps up, but that defeats the whole point of fibre in the first place. And it would take 14 months to pay off the R999 connection fee. By contrast, the R899 fee with Cool Ideas gives me an uncapped, unshaped connection that is five times faster with downloads, and twenty times faster with uploads. For an extra R130 per month.
MWEB could offer me a shaped 20Mbps package, that includes 500GB of data, but that would cost an extra R100 per month, and it's shaped and capped. Its R150 more expensive that a 200GB capped product, which works out at R50 per 100GB of data. Yet if you go over the cap you pay R89 per 10GB for a "booster", or R890 for 100GB. They couldn't give me any assurances as to what would happen if I went over to 500GB cap. Would I be downgraded to 4Mbps, or disconnected?
Given that I upload about the same as I download, thanks to Carbonite's online backup running on 3 different machines, and given that my upload speed has just increased by a factor of 40, I'm not willing to risk going from 300GB per month to "only" 500Gb per month. Especially not on a "shaped" package at R999 per month.
On Monday I will downgrade my ADSL package to a capped package of 75GB at R149 per month, which I will share with my in-laws who are still on ADSL and use less than 5GB per month. If the fibre stops working I can connect via ADSL and use the data sparingly for a few days. That's assuming the ADSL line doesn't stop working altogether. At some point in the near future I will cancel my phone line and port the number to VOIP, so I don't have to pay Telkom any more.
If it wasn't for the fact that I am paying for my in-law's ADSL connection, I would just have to downgrade my MWEB ADSL account to email-only so I don't have to change my email address. But the cost of this is outweighed by the fact that my new fibre connection is "unshaped". Worth the money.
I really don't understand why MWEB has adopted such a weird approach to FTTH. Maybe they are just too big and too arrogant to realize that they will lose customers. They have lost R600 per month from me. Not a good business model.

Update Sunday 9 October: Cool Ideas don't offer POP, IMAP and/or SMTP services, so if you don't use Gmail or some other webmail service, you'll need to have an email-only account with your old ISP. I also did some random speed tests:
Not bad for a busy international cable connection. The one below is to the local Rosebank test server.
Compare those to the ones I did in May when my ADSL line started playing up. Both to the same Rosebank server:
This one, done at 6pm, didn't even finish:

Update Monday 10 October: It turns out that MWEB can send me my ADSL password in plain text. They claim it's encrypted. That's really not good from a security point of view. They also neglected to tell me that their new Capped packages don't allow for concurrent connections. They just don't specify whether they are or not. Bad advertising. But then they keep a lot of secrets these days.

Update Wednesday 12 October: It seems that Cool Ideas is a little less cool than I thought. If you have a complaint, you have to send it to "complaints@cisp.co.za", except that when you do, the mail bounces because there is no "complaints" mailbox at cisp.co.za. Weird. Or extremely devious. You decide which. They have now created the mailbox.
My complaint refers to their claim of "free installation" on the Vumatel website. They say this refers to a technician coming to my house and setting up the free WiFi router. Seriously? They gave me the router with the cellophane still sealed on the box. Nothing was set up, and the firmware was not upgraded. What I thought it meant was that they would cover the cost of the Vumatel installation, of R1710, like other ISPs do. There is no clarification on their web site either, but they do claim to pay the Vuma monthly line rental.

They claim that their "free installation" wording was put on the Vumatel site before the other entries, which followed later. I guess that's plausible, but still its not exactly clear advertising. They say they aren't like other ISPs. I'm starting to wonder what that means, exactly.
[Their reply deleted as per their demand]
Their internet speeds and service may be better than MWEB, but the support ticket system is still broken, and my support ticket from last Friday remains "Open" and ignored. I'm not sure if the "take it or leave it" approach is going to earn them any friends in the long run.

Update Thursday 13th October: I decided to write to the co-founders of Cool Ideas:
Dear Paul Butschi and Andre Jooste
I am writing to you to register my complaint about the misleading term “Free Installation” in relation to your Cool Ideas packages on the Vumatel portal site. I think the explanation that it refers to “free router installation” is unsatisfactory and misleading advertising. I am not the only new Cool Ideas customer who thought that it refers to the R1710 Vumatel installation fee.
I’m also perturbed by the “take it or leave it” attitude that seems to be part of your support culture. While I got great support while setting up my router, I am not at all impressed with the responses below. Nothing seems to have been done, other than fixing the mailbox for complaints.
I am therefore asking you guys as the founders of the company to intervene and fix the problem so I don’t have to go to the ISPA or ASASA to report false or misleading advertising.
Thanks in advance
Donn Edwards
Update Monday 17th October 2016: Still no reply via email, but They have changed their entries on the Vumatel portal. Nothing on their own website though. They did eventually manage to close my billing support ticket after over a week.

Update Friday 21 October: After two weeks eight days I have received a reply from Paul Butchi, in which he writes: "I ... request that you remove Lee-Roys email from the public page as it does have a legal disclaimer stating it is solely for the addressee which is yourself obviously". I'm really not sure what to make of that, since the legal disclaimer is so small it is illegible. Can you read it? It's only 8 pixels high.
Dear Paul
Save yourself the legal costs. I have removed the “offending” email from my blog. Unfortunately you now look even more bolshy than before. And please cancel the R1710 credit. I wasn’t asking for money. I was asking you to treat your customer with respect. You have only partially succeeded.
Best wishes
Donn
I called Paul. They refuse to update their own website to clarify about the Vumatel installation cost. He seems to think I'm the only person who was "misled" and doesn't think it's worth their time to clarify matters and be honest with the public. After all, he's too busy running a business to actually care about the customers. How very sad.
I'm not sure that Paul's "dont't f**k with me or my business" arrogance is going to earn him much respect either. It certainly hasn't earned mine.

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