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Author Topic: Three 4G broadband experience  (Read 4014 times)

re0

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Three 4G broadband experience
« on: February 27, 2019, 11:14:25 PM »

Introduction
I had been reading a lot about Three’s HomeFi and special offers on their unlimited phone SIM (which is £20/month and has no restrictions on being used in a 4G router) on various websites. After a lot of thought, I decided to take the plunge and delve into a world of 4G broadband by ordering the phone SIM.

I do not live very close to the nearest Three mast; in fact, it’s over 2km away. My handsets (on Three) very much like to switch to HSPA from 4G LTE very quickly indoors, and outdoors it can be a bit hit or miss whether 4G is preferable. Even in the window, held up high it would be a struggle to see past 20 Mbps download (perhaps upload was closer to 10 Mbps) on my handsets while on 4G. Situated anywhere else and … well, good luck; HSPA will work but speeds would be single digits. It was not looking like a great candidate to try 4G broadband.

Initial Testing
I first started off with the Huawei B311 router – it was basic and only cost £59.99 direct from Three (including 1GB PAYG data, which I had no intention of using). A perfect device for testing the waters since it is not exceeding expensive but is a decent enough device at a decent enough price point.

Once I got the SIM and the router, I hooked it all up and after a short while of faffing around I found the best location for it (in the window). I was very pleased to see speeds of mostly somewhere between 35-45 Mbps downstream (peaking at ~50 Mbps), ~20 Mbps upstream (peaking at ~25 Mbps). This was just on the internal antenna.

External Antenna
Since the B311 only had a single antenna, I could only use one of the pair of antennas I bought (HAUNT-BL315). Even still, in the right position (and ensuring the set the antenna settings to external) the downstream speeds were slightly better at mostly between 40-50 Mbps (peaking ~55 Mbps), ~20 Mbps (the upstream peak was a bit lower at ~23 Mbps, but not a massive difference). To me, it was a worthwhile addition considering the antennas can be found under £20 including shipping for 5 Mbps more downstream.

The Upgrade
I was at the crossroads, not sure whether a better router would make a significant difference to my speeds. It was a decision between not bothering or going ahead with either B525 or E5186. I took the plunge and ordered a B525-23a (can be found new for about ~£120) since it was slightly newer, has support for L2TP (even though I may never use it) and Bridging (which I may also never use).

With the B525, I found the speeds had increased again. Most results were falling between the 45-65 Mbps range for downstream (peaking at ~70 Mbps)! Upstream was mostly unchanged, hovering around the same range as before.

I am pretty sure there is a capability to go faster if I installed an antenna external to the building, since my phone has shown throughput of over 80 Mbps a few times for a few moments when in a room where the router can face towards the mast. But I have not counted this as a peak speed since it was inconsistent.

I should note that I used the included antennas with the B525 – they are the same as I purchased before (HAUNT-BL315, or HUANT-W315 if the white B525).

Another External Antenna
Given that I have limited options for antennas since external ones are not an option at present, I tried my luck buying a DMM-7-27-2SP for a smidge under £27. I will not go into a lot of detail since it was an utter disappointment, but the performance was inferior to using the B525’s internal antennas, so it was no match for its included external antennas. I guess I just got a bit carried away on my journey to improve the speeds further. Do not buy this, unless you only want to place your router no more than 2 meters away from a good signal spot.

NOTE: I have not tried any of the following antennas. I am going based on information that I have collected over the weeks.

There are better alternatives to using this external antenna, such as the Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0001 which, while any gain is essentially lost through its long cable length (5m), does allow for itself to be positioned in better signal areas. This may be one of the better choices if you do not have LoS (Line of Sight) to the mast.

4G-XPOL-A0002 is one of the better options if you have a direct LoS to the mast. Though will require some work to get it setup.

Do not buy any of the cheap junk that is advertising ridiculous double-digit gains for little money. You will only be left disappointed.

Experience
The general experience I have had so far has been positive. Speeds are great virtually all day, only with a minor slowdown during peak times. Speeds can still sit quite comfortably within the ranges mentioned above most of the time.

For general web activities such as web browsing, email and Video on Demand (VoD) I found it to be not much different to using my FTTC connection. The latency, being mostly in the 40-50ms range to UK servers, mean things respond a tiny weeny bit slower in comparison to the FTTC connection (~10ms to UK servers) but it is usually not noticeable.

While the latency is not ideal for gaming, especially competitive gaming, it can be done, and I did try it. Even though the jitter could sometimes be double digits, I did not notice anything funky. It was smooth, and I could not complain. I do not play often enough to test it extensively, but from the limited testing I did I can say it was no issue.

One thing I have not done is streamed live video from the internet. HD (720p), Full HD (1080p), QHD (1440p) and 4K UHD 30 FPS (2160p) should be fine. 4K at 60 fps may be inconsistent as speeds may occasionally fall below the video bitrate (range for live YouTube is 20,000-51,000 Kbps). Note, this is live video – VoD would be absolutely fine at the same resolutions.

Conclusion & Costs
For £20 a month, I would say it would be worth picking up an unlimited phone SIM if you are looking for a landline replacement or a connection to complement a landline connection (balancing, backup, etc.). Even the £22 a month HomeFi may be a nice option if you do not mind the 24-month contract (as opposed to the 12-month contract with phone SIMs), and you do get the added benefit of having the B311 included with no upfront fee.

From a cost perspective over a 24-month period, HomeFi costs £528 which is £48 more than the unlimited phone SIM which costs £480. Taking into the account the cost of a new B311 from Three being £59.99 (with 1GB PAYG, but you cannot buy without) effectively means the cost for the for the HomeFi SIM alone is £468.01 over 24 months (or ~£19.50 a month).

Quidco and TopCashBack also offer £70 and £55 cashback for Three SIM and HomeFI contracts likewise. If successfully tracked and paid, 24 months of a normal, unlimited Three SIM would cost £410 versus £473 with HomeFi.

In short, if you are looking to supply your own router, use your SIM for calls and texts or just want a shorter contractual term then the unlimited SIM is the better or possibly only choice. Otherwise, if you do not care about a 24-month contract, only planning on using the supplied router and never plan on using the SIM for calls and texts then the HomeFi is a good choice.

Of course, there are downsides to a 4G connection from Three, such as no static IP (which some people find important), questionable support for when issues arise, and potential bandwidth issues due to people using a lot of data on the Three network. There may be a few more things, but I cannot find any more to note right now.

Just to note, be prepared to fork out about £80-120 for a decently capable 4G router with good WiFi and Ethernet provisions. The B311 only supports 802.11/b/g/n and only has 1 Gigabit Ethernet which may or may not be a problem.

(Additional) Things to consider
Masts may have a lot of users or poor backhaul, which means your experience may vary wildly from mine. Fortunately, you can cancel within the 14-day period without penalty (only pay for what you use) if you encounter such issues. Even after the 14-day period, you may be able to convince complaints to release you from contract if it is terrible.

While it is possible to make and receive calls through your router with your SIM (if you have a phone SIM, not a HomeFi data SIM) by plugging in an analogue phone (I know some Huawei routers support RJ11 phones), bear in mind that no router (not even the B311 supplied by Three themselves) supports VoLTE on the Three network (and I am pretty sure Three disabled phone call capabilities on their own supplied device) so in order for it to work properly you will need to set the network mode on your router to 3G ONLY. Setting 3G/4G may induce some oddities, though I can’t remember if it was in relation to dialling or receiving calls.
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burakkucat

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2019, 12:53:46 AM »

Thank you for providing the report on your experiences. Most interesting.
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Alex Atkin UK

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2019, 07:56:33 AM »

I recently got Three Mobile WiFi myself as a backup for my home connection and to avoid garbage Hotel WiFi when I spend the odd weekend away from home.

It seems my tower must be pretty heavily used as I can get anything from 10-40Mbit.  More frustratingly though, its hard to keep it working as a backup sometimes as the latency under load will rocket to 2000ms with HUGE packet loss which understandably pfSense throws a hissy fit at.

I knew contention on cell towers can be bad, but I honestly thought 4G was supposed to have better handling than this.

So while its perfectly usable most of the time for simple web browsing, and it feels fast enough doing that, for downloads its an utter PITA.

I've decided instead to get a second line fitted for home and use this as a second SIM for data only on a Galaxy S10.  It will be interesting to see how the service performs where I can move it around more freely between towers and with better line if sight to my local tower, which granted has a lot of houses between me and it.

Perhaps the most dodgy thing about the deal is that Three advertise this service as up to 150/50 but the AP only supports 2.4Ghz, making 45Mbit the realistic maximum speed, unless you connect over USB which is contrary to its advertised purpose.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2019, 08:01:37 AM by Alex Atkin UK »
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ktz392837

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2019, 08:50:36 AM »

Re0 thanks for posting this in depth experience very handy.   

I have reasonable FTTC so it is more of a interest to me but a couple of points that may help other users is the 525 modem has a 65a revision which may be a better bet and there is at least one mobile "reseller" that let's you try for 25/month no contract (can't think of name, post if you can't find it and I will try searching for it).

Obviously do your own research though as I do not have experience of either :)
« Last Edit: February 28, 2019, 08:58:53 AM by ktz392837 »
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re0

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2019, 08:54:56 AM »

It seems my tower must be pretty heavily used as I can get anything from 10-40Mbit.
That's a shame. I know there can be bit of variance but presumably you mean even speed tests/average speeds can be as low as 10 Mbps?

Perhaps the most dodgy thing about the deal is that Three advertise this service as up to 150/50 but the AP only supports 2.4Ghz, making 45Mbit the realistic maximum speed, unless you connect over USB which is contrary to its advertised purpose.
I don't think I've seen Three advertise a speed for their service. The B311 supports LTE Cat 4, which is up to 150/50 Mbps with 20 MHz bandwidth (theoretical, of course). To my knowledge, Three only has 15 MHz of 1800 MHz (band 3).

Anyway, the most I could get out of Its WiFi was about 50 Mbps. Once a few devices are connected wirelessly, good luck. Fortunately, there is the option of gigabit Ethernet for wired devices.
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re0

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2019, 09:16:05 AM »

... is the 525 modem has a 65a revision which may be a better bet ...
In the case where you plan on using your router abroad, indeed (with another SIM, of course, because it's not unlimited out there) due to different bands. But none of the big boys home in the UK currently use bands other than 1 (2600 MHz), 3 (1800 MHz) and 20 (800 MHz) on 4G. Perhaps it may be more useful to have once spectrum is refarmed, but no crystal ball for that.  ;D

... there is at least one mobile "reseller" that let's you try for 25/month no contract ...
Since you have 14 days to cancel with Three and you'll only pay for what you've used, or if there are issues after that period then contacting complaints may (not guaranteed, never tired it) get you off the hook by releasing you from contract so it's not really a risk. Though what you suggest may be a better option for people who don't fancy being in contract.
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Ronski

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2019, 10:25:49 AM »

Nice write up, thanks. I get around 100/30 on my phone, but I have direct line of site to the mast which is about 500 meters away.

It's the lack of static ip and CGNat that puts the downer on it for me.

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Alex Atkin UK

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2019, 11:00:04 AM »

Nice write up, thanks. I get around 100/30 on my phone, but I have direct line of site to the mast which is about 500 meters away.

It's the lack of static ip and CGNat that puts the downer on it for me.

I may be wrong, but I don't think they use CGNAT on contracts, only on PAYG.  Although I wouldn't fancy gaming or running servers over 4G anyway.
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Router: i5-7200U appliance running pfSense.
ISP: Zen Unlimited Fibre 2 + Plusnet Unlimited Fibre Extra.

re0

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2019, 12:25:00 PM »

Even if they don't use CGNAT, based on what virtually every other provider is doing both landline and wireless it won't be long until it'll be implemented.

I have not found any significant evidence that supports the claim that they are using CGNAT, and I think I've been getting all public IP address. I would have to check to be sure. Not sure about PAYG either.
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re0

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2019, 03:53:02 PM »

For anyone interested in my stats and wants to compare, taken a few minutes ago:
Code: [Select]
RSRQ: -9dB
RSRP: -94dBm
RSSI: -63dBm
SINR: 16dB
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Alex Atkin UK

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2019, 05:43:05 PM »

Even if they don't use CGNAT, based on what virtually every other provider is doing both landline and wireless it won't be long until it'll be implemented.

I have not found any significant evidence that supports the claim that they are using CGNAT, and I think I've been getting all public IP address. I would have to check to be sure. Not sure about PAYG either.

Ah I found where the WAN IP is hidden and its 188.28.40.x, although not helpful as you can't set a static DHCP address or do port forwarding on this device.
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Modems: 2 x VMG3925-B10B V5.13(AAVF.12)C0-jumbo
Router: i5-7200U appliance running pfSense.
ISP: Zen Unlimited Fibre 2 + Plusnet Unlimited Fibre Extra.

Alex Atkin UK

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2019, 05:45:02 PM »

For anyone interested in my stats and wants to compare, taken a few minutes ago:
Code: [Select]
RSRQ: -9dB
RSRP: -94dBm
RSSI: -63dBm
SINR: 16dB

I wish I could get the stats, they are not visible on this stupid device, at least not the Three branded UI.
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Modems: 2 x VMG3925-B10B V5.13(AAVF.12)C0-jumbo
Router: i5-7200U appliance running pfSense.
ISP: Zen Unlimited Fibre 2 + Plusnet Unlimited Fibre Extra.

re0

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2019, 05:53:25 PM »

What device are you using?
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Alex Atkin UK

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2019, 06:05:45 PM »

What device are you using?

Huawei E5573Bs.  It appears to be a bargain basement type device with no frills.
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Modems: 2 x VMG3925-B10B V5.13(AAVF.12)C0-jumbo
Router: i5-7200U appliance running pfSense.
ISP: Zen Unlimited Fibre 2 + Plusnet Unlimited Fibre Extra.

re0

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Re: Three 4G broadband experience
« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2019, 06:29:46 PM »

Huawei E5573Bs.  It appears to be a bargain basement type device with no frills.
Note: The below assumes you are using the default IP address. Just change as needed.

I don't know anything about this device, but usually the stats are listed on the Device Information page, which itself is under System in the Settings (http://192.168.8.1/html/deviceinformation.html, directly).

If there are no stats or if the aforesaid page does not exist, http://192.168.8.1/api/device/signal should give you some information about the device's signal, as long as the API is not restricted for some reason. For me, it orders the stats like: RSRQ, RSRP, RSSI, SINR.

LTEWatch (https://www.lte-anbieter.info/ltewatch/huawei.php) can show these stats and can be used to monitor signal and quality as long as the device is using HiLink API. Huawei E5573Bs-320 is listed as as tested here, but if the above API does not show stats then I imagine it will not work as this probably accessess the same API.
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