So after 18 months in our current home we decided to move out into nature and try and get away from it all for a while. Not only did this mean we could get further into the mountains, and start to enjoy the wilderness a bit more, but it also meant we were walking away from our superb internet connection (100mb up/down). I was fearful about the prospects as we wouldn’t be connected to any phone lines. We are fortunate enough to be close to a ski resort, so there’s a decent 4G/LTE connection there, but no hard line. I began to research what would i need to swap out my PPPOE connection for a mobile one. I dreaded the thought of having to reconfigure my whole network again. To remind you, my network consists of the following (affiliate links, they might pay me a small commission if used, but won’t cost you a penny extra): a Qotom i5 box I bought from aliexpress and a unifi ac pro (with a small gigabit switch to help manage the hard wired devices). After some reading, I decided to opt for a Netgear LB2120. I went this way because it was budget friendly (£120), provided ethernet (gigabit) out and would go into bridge mode relatively painlessly without me needing to hack or flash any firmware.
I needed to check the overlap on LTE bands (I’m currently in the mountains of Almaty, Kazakhstan) and this is a UK spec. modem. I checked the frequencies here versus the frequencies listed in the modem specs:
Satisfied there was overlap, I bought the modem and waited for it to be shipped out to me, courtesy of Amazon Prime.
About a week later the modem arrived in all its glory. I was itching to test it. You basically get the unit itself, a small powerbrick and a short cat5e cable. I plugged in my LTE sim, connected the laptop to the WAN port of the modem and started it up. I needed to wait a minute or so for the unit to come online. I navigated to the default 192.168.5.1 where I was met with the password field. The password is located on the base of the unit next to the serial number and mac address etc. I plugged that in and hey presto, we’re in. I immediately updated the firmware and on restart I set the modem to bridge mode.
Ok, so far so good. Again the unit needed to restart itself. Once back up and running, i navigated to the mobile section and on the APN tab I added my provider’s internet access information. I did this manually and found the information on the provider’s website (using an Android phone you can also drill down into the connection settings to pull out the information that you need).
At this point I set up the modem to continually connect to the internet in the event of a disconnection or power loss etc. I hit connect and patiently waited. It took slightly longer than I thought it would (2-3 minutes). Slowly but surely the signal indication bars on the modem itself switched to green.
Once I received internet access, I immediately went over to speedtest.net to see what I was getting…
I was initially disappointed (I’d been used to 100Mbps up/down) previously. That being said, that connection was strong enough to allow us to stream netflix, access plex servers, and most importantly allowed me to play Call of Duty: Warzone. Aside from the bragging rights, it was ok. Considering I am living at 2200m at the start of the Tian Shan mountains, I cannot complain! Not wanting to rest on my laurels, the next step was to insert this in to my pfsense set up so that I could maintain my existing network infrastructure, wireless APs etc. I was previously using a PPPOE connection in my last home. So as to not duplicate all the firewall rules again, I thought it was best to connect the Netgear Modem directly into the “WAN”port of my Qotom box. For those of you who are interested in learning more about my pfsense box you can check out the equipment I am using here. I clicked on the WAN interface and reconfigured the details from PPPOE to DHCP. That was literally it.
Previously, i was using a PPPOE connection with a VLAN tag from the ISP for internet, and also a VLAN tag for their IPTV as well as the IGMP Proxy service. As this was no longer needed, I made a note of the settings (in case i ever go back to the city and to that ISP) and disabled the IGMP Proxy and removed the IPTV interface. At this point for good measure, I restarted the Qotom box. A few short moments later, all interfaces were green, WAN was receiving an IP address from the 10.x.x.x range and my Unifi AC Pro was dishing out internet access liked a hacked campus network!
Our voice assistants sprang back into life, as did my Home-Assistant installation and the various wireless and zigbee plugs and sensors we’re running. All my firewall permissioning and block rules remained. My separate IOT and guest VLANs were working as they should. This was the easiest reconfiguration I think I’d ever done. I know I could have added the Netgear connection as a WAN fallover, but seeing as it was my main internet connection now, there wasn’t really any point, and I couldn’t be bothered re-routing the traffic on an OPT interface through the rules manager.
Below you can see my current set up. I really cannot recommend this Qotom box enough. It never breaks a sweat, is considerably cheaper than the intel NUC and is silent. Sitting on top of it is a small TP-Link switch which is serving my main workstation, a Unifi AC Pro, my 6th gen Intel celeron NUC which runs my Home-Assistant installation (complete with the zigbee router sticking out of the front- more info on the cc2531 here). The modem is sitting at the top.
And finally, in case you’re wondering, was it worth sacrificing 90Mbps of bandwidth? I’d say yes (view from the terrace)!