Longmont's NextLight - How to actually get 1G from your fiber

Submitted by dnieweg on Sat, 06/02/2018 - 11:49

As Longmont, Colorado rolls out the 1 Gb fiber network called NextLight to the city's residents, a common question is, "Am I really getting 1000 Mbps Up and Down? I run speedtest.net, but am seeing a much slower speed."

First, let me reassure you: Yes, the City is giving you 1 Gbps. The problem is you are not setup to use it, nor test it.

I am going to quickly tell you why you are seeing the low speeds as well as potential solutions, how to fix your network, and then how to get a better picture of your actual speeds.

You are getting low test results for one or more of the following reasons:

1) You are connecting to a slow test server - In order to properly test your bandwidth, you need to connect to a remote test server that has a higher network performance than you, and the entire network between you and the test server needs to be able to pass the full 1Gbps. Many of the speedtest.net servers out there simply are not able to keep up with your speeds, and the networks between you and the test server are highly unlikely to be able to pass 1000Mbps for the length of the test. 

Solution: Longmont Power & Communications hosts a speedtest server on the City's network called LPC NextLight> Longmont, CO. Be sure to choose this server when running your speedtest. For those of you not using NextLight, see if your broadband provider hosts a speedtest server located on their high-speed network. XFinity does have one for XFinity users.

2) You are connecting to your network via WiFi - Even though Wifi speeds have increased, you will generally find performance similar to to the table shown below for a variety of reason. You can certainly purchase the latest WiFi technology, bond channels, and optimize your Wifi connection for maximum speeds, but for most people you will likely see performance similar to the table below.

WiFi Table

Here's my very fast network using 802.11ac connected to an equally fast Aruba AP.


Solution: Use a 1000 Mbps hardwired network connection to the computer running the speedtest.

3) You are using a a web browser to perform the test - Even though web browsers are  getting faster everyday, there is simply too much overhead in a web browser to run an effective test. 

Here's my results using Chrome (which is fast), on a very fast home network. You can see that even though the results are impressive, it's still not quite what we expected.

Speedtest Browser

Solution: When you visit Speedtest.net, go to the bottom of the page and look for the Products section. Choose the Desktop software.

Speedtest Products

4) Your consumer-grade router simply cannot process the traffic - Yes, this is the sad, but very true reality, that even if you bought the most expensive router you could find at Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, Walmart, etc ..., AND even though the router is a 1Gb router with claims of being the fastest darn router out there, it's still likely not up to the task. Worse yet, even if you are able to get to the point where your speedtest results are in the 900 Mbps range using one of the top consumer grade routers out there, behind the scenes these routers are underpowered and not able to deliver sustained performance for the variety of traffic users will throw at it.

Before I switched out my home router to a Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Pro, I was using a very nice NetGear WNDR 1000 Mbps router. The most I was ever able to pump through this router was around 600 Mbps. Good, but certainly nowhere close to the 1 Gb I was seeking.

Solutions(s) - There are a variety of solutions available to you. Which one you choose will be dependent on a) Technical capabilities, b) Budget, and c) How much time you have to mess with all of this. For each of the following solutions I specify the technical skill level, budget, and time you will spend.

Let's face the hard fact: If you can get 600 Mbps of throughput up and down to the internet using a consumer grade router, you've got really fast internet. 

Consumer Grade Router

[Technical Skill Needed: Low - Budget: Moderate - Time Commitment: Low]

Consumer-grade routers are really all-in-one devices that perform marginally well, at reasonably low cost. They almost always have several ethernet ports that operate as a built-in switch and come with a wide variety of built-in WiFi capabilities. 

Longmont's NextLight website offers some helpful tips on choosing a home router, and points you to another website where consumer grade routers are graded on performance with the best on top. This is a good start, and if you don't have a personal goal to have the fastest internet possible at any cost, then choosing a router from this list will get you by.  [NextLight - Get the Most from your Connection] [Consumer-grade Router Ranking]

Currently the NetGear NightHawk, and ASUS ROG series offer both great performance and a wide range of WiFi features that will work well for your home. But again, don't be fooled; these are consumer-grade routers intended for home use. It is unlikely you will ever post speedtest results in the high 900 Mbps range, and even if you do, behind the scenes these routers performance will choke on truly high-loads (which in reality you will likely never notice).

Commercial Grade Appliance

[Technical Skill: Medium to Medium-High - Budget Moderate - Time Commitment: Low to Medium]

Keep in mind when choosing an entry-level commercial grade product instead of consumer-grade, these units will not have a built-in ethernet switches, nor will they have built-in WiFi. You will need to add these items to your overall budget. I already had a 24-port GS728TPP PoE Switch, and an Aruba Instant Access Point, so the cost for this option was in-line with the cost of a top end NightHawk. In addition, I repurposed my NetGear WNDR to server as an AP only.

While there are likely many valid options out there, I personally chose the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Pro 8 (ERPro-8). I have never used a Ubiquiti product before, but it is popular in the video surveillance industry I work in, so I thought I would give it a try. It was affordable, and very close to the price of the high-end consumer grade routers coming in at $359 for the model I chose from Amazon. 

There are several different EdgeRouters you can choose from which scale in packets-per-second (pps) of 1 million, to 2 million+ for the ERPro 8, as well as the number of ports for subnets. https://www.ubnt.com/edgemax/edgerouter/

Remember, this is NOT a switch even though you see up to 8 ethernet ports on the appliances. The extra ports are used to bring disparate networks together. While you could combine various subnets, this would be at the expense of performance across subnets along with a lot of complexity you won't want to deal with. Point is, if you go this route, just buy a separate switch for your wired devices.

Setting up the router was not difficult, but it also involved a lot of Google searching to get familiar with the product. Most everything you might need to configure is in the web GUI, and some of the more advanced are accessed via the Command Line Interface (CLI). For those who are unsure how to setup SSH and a terminal app such as Putty to actually get to the command line, never fear because the web interface lets you pop open a command line terminal. So, if you actually had to check a setting, or make a change recommended by the manual, it's quite easy.

Be prepared though. You need to know your network, and have a firm grasp on the basics as this is certainly not just plug and play. The reward however, is that yes, you will be able to pump nearly 1000 Mbps through this thing. 

Speedtest Wired

Build Your Own

[Technical Skill: High - Budget: Medium to High - Time Commitment: High]

Routing, firewalls, DHCP, and all the things a typical "router" does is really just software. It typically runs on Linux, or some flavor of it, and yes you can simply load software on a PC and do the same things your "router appliance" does. There are several open source packages and options such as pfSense that can give you ultimate flexibility and performance.

There are many DIY article out there that can guide you step-by-step, and you can even grab an old PC to use and still get great performance. I had actually started down this path before purchasing the EdgeRouter. Since I already have a XenServer virtual environment, I figured I would just spin up a VM and have it going shortly. This plan was shot down rather quickly since XenServer is apparently not a highly compatible VM environment for pfSense. I then considered what hardware I could repurpose or buy, and then I started considering reliability, complexity, my time, all the things I do not know and am not ready to learn .. and decided on just buying a low-cost appliance. 

If you are interested though, a Google search will set you on your way as well as a couple of articles here:

  • https://www.pfsense.org/
  • https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2016/01/numbers-dont-lie-its-time-to-build-your-own-router/



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