I learn from my mistakes: no more black-box routers

For a series of (un)fortunate happenings at home, I decided to move the phone and ADSL subscription for my house from the previous owner (my mother) to myself as a business entity (since the main use of it is, anyway, the internet connection I use for work), back in November.

My previous provider was Wind/Infostrada; while the service wasn’t perfect it was mostly good enough, but I ended up switching provider. Why? Because their accounting system didn’t allow them to transfer my phone number from the previous (personal) account to a new (business) account: they could move it to business only by changing the number, but I really wasn’t keen to the idea of losing my main phone number that has served us for over twenty years over this.

A quick round calls of other providers turned out that the ex-monopolist (Telecom Italia), with their near-mob business practice refuses to move a personal account with a different provider to a business account with them (they suggested me to move to them, then change the subscription from personal to business, but also noted that “it would definitely cost a lot” — and if they consider the thievery of their mobile subscription a good offer, I’m not sure I ant to know what it would mean to “cost a lot”), and that half the other providers don’t provide with ADSL2+-modulated lines (while I cannot reach the promised 20MB because of the distance from the nearest exchange, at least ADSL2+ is generally more noise-resilient than the standard ADSL modulation pushed to 8Mbit — the default for non-2+ lines in Italy).

Tiscali, on the other hand, has a decent offer, it costed me just as much as I paid before, they provided the wireless router without surcharge, 20Mbit ADSL2+ line. The phone line was to be switched to VoIP but that wasn’t much of a problem, I thought, as I still need an UPS to power the cordless phone and I still keep it running for the two laptops. And they were ready to move my phone number from private to business, changing the account holder and provider all in one move. Cool, I thought.

The first problem came when Wind/Infostrada decided to cut my line seven days shorter than it was supposed to: after a few days of bickering with Tiscali people on the phone (not a toll-free call either, since I had to call from my cellphone), they finally told me that they knew of that particular business practice coming from Wind (and from another provider, FastWeb), and that they could only offer to manage the reimburse for me. Okay not their fault, still not a nice thing to have seven days downtime because of that.

Line worked fine up to yesterday: I connect at a variable speed between 4Mbit and 6Mbit, as usual (although I have a mostly-constant 900kbit upstream which is one thing I was very much looking for), static public IP address. One problem though: they don’t allow me to be directly connected to Internet. As their router also is the VoIP client (and provides two RJ11 connectors for the phones — only one is active, the other is for the two-lines configuration), it has to talk with their servers, so you cannot just ask for a DMZ host. The configuration pages for the router allows you to set a bunch of port redirections, even multiple ports at once, but then again you have a lot of “reserved ports” so you have to insert a long list of redirections ignoring the ports that are used by the VoIP connection (this sounded fishy, why couldn’t they assign an internal IP to the router and use that to talk with their VoIP servers?).

Yesterday, the shit it the fan: while I was updating the PostgreSQL installation on vanguard (the vserver hosting my blog), I lost entirely the connection. Thankfully I have a backup line on both the neighbour’s network and on the cellphone so I’m not entirely cut out, but it definitely was some trouble even just for the moment it happened. Okay, no hurry, wait the usual 20 minutes to see if it’s a temporary problem, but no it’s not that.

The router seems not to find the ADSL connection at all for a while, then it finds it, connects, tries to authenticate… sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it works, the connection is established for about 40 seconds then it goes away again. The funnier stuff? Each time the wireless network is also restarted entirely, so it’s a software-reboot of the router each time. And this is not all: when I was still waiting for Wind to give up the line to Tiscali I used the router as simply an access point, without Internet connection but with wireless turned on, and it worked great. Now, if it cannot establish an Internet connection, it disables wireless entirely after a few minutes.

What do you say? A firmware update? Yes, it seems to me as well. They can do remote updates, as they need to do that to change the connection parameters; most likely, something went awry with the update, or something in my use of the router is no longer well supported. The result is the same for me though: I’ve lost connectivity on my business line!

Once I called the tech support (again, not a toll-free call) they told me that technicians would be verifying the line, and that the ETA is between 24 hours and 7 solar days. What?! A whole week to check a line? A business line? When the problem is most likely the router itself? Terrific, I’d say. So I ask if they can give me the SIP parameters for the VoIP line (I have a VoIP-capable phone at home because I have my own, ISP-independent office number over VoIP), and they “obviously” tell me that it’s not possible, as they are only hardcoded into the router’s firmware and not available to their own users.

Oh shit.

So the result is that I’m now waiting Monday to call another service provider (Telecom Italia) and move my connection to them; even if the connection problems were to be solved Monday or Tuesday, there are way too many things that don’t work out with their setup:

  • the (static, public) IP they provided me is still masked in quite a bit of different spam blacklists as my provider is considered “unresponsive”; I have no idea what the status of Telecom Italia is but at least I get better chances with that;
  • the VoIP line was quite clear by itself, but having no voicebox, no in-call incoming call warnings, and no way to configure my own phone to handle that is a bit too much to compromise;
  • further, even though I can redirect most ports (I don’t care about the reserved ones) the redirection only works for TCP and UDP protocols, I have no way to configure IPv6 that way, as HE6 doesn’t get through;
  • and the two notes above ar combined with the fact that they force me onto hardware that I have no control of, and that they seem instead to have control of (as the behaviour changed, and the only way to do that is to reflash it remotely).

So at the end, given that from the website, Telecom will let me use my own hardware for connectivity, and will provide me with a real phone line, I’m going to be more than happy to switch. I guess it helps that a friend of mine works for them, so I would know who to “yell” at if something goes wrong.