Posts tagged ‘virtual office’


What Vodafone’s Super Wifi is really like in practice

04.04.2021

While I saw Vodafone’s Super Wifi commercials, I never thought to act on them, since (mistakenly) I thought it was something to do with cellphones. Might have been the gadgets they used in the commercial.
   But, after talking to Raghu, their sales’ rep in Pune, a city outside of Mumbai that I know well, he convinced me to upgrade not just my cellular plan (which was from 2012 when a gig of data were a lot) but the home internet to Super Wifi.
   This is really a layperson’s post as there isn’t much online about it, at least not from a New Zealand perspective.
   The set-up consists of the Vodafone Ultra Hub (a modem that I was already familiar with, since I had mine since 2018), and two TP-Link Deco X20 units, which are for all-home wifi. The idea is that they transmit the wifi signal over the house. They’re equipped for wifi 6, which really just tells you the speed—and not 6G was I was told on the phone (a minor slip).
   I knew about mesh wifi units since a friend had already told me how she and her partner used them in their home.
   We’re in a 290 m² home so I had a suspicion that the two units would be insufficient, but Vodafone’s protocol is to begin with two.
   The Ultra Hub is identical to the old one—the copyright notice on the box says 2017—so I’ll be returning it. The two Deco units plug in, one to the Ultra Hub, the other in another part of the house. The theory is that they communicate between each other.
   I downloaded the TP-Link app first before plugging in the Deco units—in fact I had them the day before—and I was fortunate that it could be found at a public APK site, since I do not have Google, and, God willing, never will, on any cellphone of mine.
   It’s a remarkably easy to use app, fortunately, with a Speedtest built in.
   I’ve always had problems at one end of the house where I have a desktop PC that’s not wifi-enabled, and putting in a PCI-E adapter wouldn’t work due to space restrictions inside the case. My only option to pick up wifi would be a USB 3 adapter, which coincidentally was also made by TP-Link (it’s the Archer T9UH).
   I disliked the D-Link Powerlink units, which, despite the manufacturer’s claims, lost 90 per cent of their speed between the two points. The signal at the modem end would come in at speeds of between 700 and 1,000 Mbit/s, but 40 to 90 Mbit/s at the other end was commonplace. The 1 Gbyte promised by all the marketing was a fantasy.
   The previous owner of this house also used Powerlink units, but at different points.
   Computer geeks still tell me these are good and I suspect they could work well in smaller homes or ones with newer wiring.
   For context, using the old Saturn fibre cable that I had installed in 1999 at the old house, I would easily see over 300 Mbit/s via a cat 5 ethernet cable. Having to live with speeds between a ninth and a third of that in a house with Chorus fibre was tough going, and life proved too busy to get an extra internal cable installed.
   I was glad to see the tail end of those powerline units as I was promised that 600 Mbit/s was going to be possible at the end of the house with the mesh.
   It wasn’t. In fact, the second unit failed to pick up the first, and I was forced to bring it closer to the first in another room.
   Speedtest’s first result was 106 Mbit/s down and 58 Mbit/s up, which was an improvement, but not a good one, and far short of the promised levels.
   The TP-Link app had a Speedtest result of over 916 Mbit/s no matter where I went. I didn’t realize that it was giving me the results at the point of entry on the first Deco unit.

   Therefore, it should show a higher number. When I realized this, I began running Speedtests via speedtest.net, and was disappointed to see, even at the first unit via wifi, results in the 120 Mbit/s region.
   I called tech support. The first person didn’t know much, but I explained that Raghu had promised two additional mesh units should my experience not be up to expectation. She said she was only authorized to send one. I decided to take it. She was also authorized to give me unlimited phone data for seven days in case I needed to use the cell as a hotspot.
   I called again later and got to speak with a tech, Paul, who had the units at his home, and could tell me more.
   First, the X20s have two LAN ports on the back. I had read somewhere that these were for the modem-to-unit link exclusively. It turns out that was wrong. You can plug in an ethernet cable and run it straight into your computer—rendering my purchase of the TP-Link Archer adapter redundant. Secondly, I should employ a wifi test if I really wanted to see what was going on: I should plug in a device via ethernet into the Deco unit.
   The results were then markedly different: between 600 and 700 Mbit/s from the first unit, but still low numbers with the second.
   The third unit arrived and this helped somewhat, with 300-plus Mbit/s in a ground floor room when connected via ethernet.
   In the meantime, I had got back in touch with Raghu and suggested that a fourth unit might do the trick, and get me at least back to the speeds I had in the late 2010s. Interestingly, he was only authorized to send two, which meant I would be in possession of five such units, all of which I had to pay the courier charges for.
   Units four and five arrived. The fourth unit went into the upstairs office and I had a 3 m ethernet cable running from it, on the floor, to the PC. The speeds were still poor: 178 Mbit/s down, 175 Mbit/s up.
   One thing TP-Link’s app does not tell you, at least not in diagrammatic form, is how the Deco units are all connected. I discovered through the web interface (tplinkdeco.net in a browser, using the password that you signed up to the app with) that the office one was stretching to get its signal from the first one—and not the other two in the house.
   This Reddit page told me what I needed to know: you reboot the unit that you want reconnecting elsewhere. I did that, and it found the third unit in the “den” (as we call it) and speeds went up to between 200 and 270 Mbit/s both down and up.

   I’m still dealing with speeds lower than what I had in 2018 using a 1999 cable but getting into the 200s is a far sight better than being in the double digits. If I have any serious downloading to do, there’s always the option of the laptop and a direct connection from the Ultra Hub, where I can work away at 700–900 Mbit/s.
   I’ll continue to tinker since the laptop managed to get over 300 Mbit/s during the tests, and I believe that that was down to the location of the office Deco unit. However, I’m hampered by the 3 m ethernet cable and I’m going to need 5 m, possibly (no one sells a 4 m). Possibly going to a cat 7 cable might do the trick there, too.
   So there you have it, a real-world trial of Vodafone New Zealand’s Super Wifi. Not as great as promised but less of a let-down than what powerline modems do in real life. And yes, you can hook ethernet cables from the units to your computer.

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Google isn’t working

22.04.2020

I’ve done several Zoom meetings since the pandemic was declared, and two Google Hangouts. While I’m not thrilled at having to use two companies with patchy (to say the least) records on user privacy, the meetings (three for Medinge, one for another board I sit on) have been productive, and the only bottleneck has been, of course, Google.
   I’ve never known what to do with those meeting.ics files that come in but I assume they are digital diary entries for those who don’t like paper. But I can open them in a text file and figure out when meetings start and end and with whom I’m having them.
   If someone sends me a Zoom or Google Hangouts’ link then I’m all good, as I can head straight there and attend the meeting. But for one organization, which has been on Google for longer than I’ve been on their board, I’m expected to get this from the ICS file itself. Fortunately they have an excellent secretary and convener who sends me the link privately since I’m the only one out of the 10 or so who attend these Google-based meetings who can’t figure out how to use this technology.
   Apparently, for everyone, they receive the email and they get a Google Hangout link inside a Calendar entry like this:

and for me, and I’ve spent two hours on this, this is all I get:

   I can tell you it’s not inside the ICS file. There’s no link at all.
   Before you say, ‘Jack, you have non-standard privacy settings on your browser and computer,’ let me answer that now: I’ve downloaded a fresh copy of Opera with no privacy blocks whatsoever, and instead of retrieving the ICS from my usual Eudora email client, I’ve gone into Gmail, where they’ve sent the same invitation, and pretended to like Google and tried to do everything within their ecosystem. This is my only Gmail account, which we are all required to have on this board.
   I’ve opened the email containing this link. If I click on ‘Add to calendar’, I get the screenshot of mine above. Next to the meeting.ics attachment is ‘Download’. If I click on that, I download exactly the same file I had on my regular email, with no Google Hangouts’ link. Surprisingly, there is no way to add an ICS file from Gmail to your Google Calendar—not even a customized right-click option—which must rank as one of the stupidest things that Google could do if they expect us to use their products as a suite.
   There is no obvious way to open meeting.ics from within Google Calendar. However, you can import (Settings, then Settings, then Import/Export) the file, and the result? Same as before.
   Our notifications are sent through a service called Our Cat Herder, and when I click for the full meeting details, I just get taken to that site, again with no Google Hangouts’ link.
   I get that our brains are all wired differently, but there must be a simple, logical explanation on why everyone else can see this link and I can’t.
   I realize that when I spot something Google does, and write about it on this blog, I usually go, ‘That’s dodgy. These guys are a bunch of wankers,’ and 99 per cent of people go, ‘That’s dodgy but I’ll put up with it because free stuff,’ so I know we are different. However, I’m struggling to think how anyone has managed to navigate Gmail, Google Calendar and all their non-search crap to find this link.
   I’ve asked the person convening the meeting to show me in person how they get to their Google Calendar window after we come out of lockdown, but I really have clicked everything under the sun in Gmail, Calendar, Google Account, my profile, and anything else they let me access. I spent 90 minutes one morning and another half-hour today: two hours of letting this Big Tech crowd know all about my computer and invade my privacy. It just cannot be done. Except logic tells me if nine other people can, then their brains must be wired so differently that they are clicking on something that I obviously cannot see. That Google has made it that invisible or that illogical to my 1 per cent brain. But, Gmail users, what else should I click on? There isn’t anything else. I’ve clicked on everything that’s obvious and even on things that were obvious dead ends.



Above: I’ve clicked on what I thought are the obvious links, so where’s this mystery Google Calendar file that reveals a Google Hangouts’ link?

   But logic also says that if we are all receiving the same emails and the same meeting.ics file then why are they different? Even the time is different (theirs is 4.30 to 6 p.m., mine is 4.30 to 6.30 p.m.) as is the title (theirs has the name of the organization in it).
   This is yet another case where Google doesn’t work. I’ve written plenty about why this company’s products are bad for us, their record of censorship, their exercise of a monopoly, their taking and exposure of user data, and their general incompetence. We all know about their failure to be transparent, especially with the one product which makes the most money—their (independently unaudited) advertising. Recently I wrote about how Google Drive does not work, and now you can add Gmail and Google Calendar to the list. Conclusion: this hodgepodge of services is a waste of time. Like Microsoft Word, I’m glad I didn’t get laboured with them early on—and know to stay well away from them in the general course of my work.

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