for some time, I’ve been struggling with inadequate broadband, that is, dish-based broadband from a local company here in Southern Spain – a company who have recently merged with another, who are something of a monopoly in the area and who’s customer skills need a lot of work.

Our dish which talks to an in-town antenna

I’ve included various links below – in no case am I associated with any of those companies or products – the information is there to be helpful only.

A little background.. we recently made the move to Spain after being here only part time for many years and accepting the limits of dish-based (not satellite) broadband accordingly. There were/are no landline fibre alternatives in our exact location (and please don’t plug Starlink – that is a VERY expensive dish option right now).

Part of the initial attraction was the ability to lower the cost/speed for the times we were back in the UK, without penalty.

Then, last year, after promising fibre “soon”, the company dropped twin bombshells (after their merger). “We don’t offer a reduced rate service” (ignoring having done just that for many years) and “sorry we can’t fit fibre, you will have to fit poles first”. After a lifetime of running businesses and more, I’m retired and not inclined to kitting out our entire street with telephone poles. The local (Habland) dish system provides enough download speed (at best 30Mbps) for reasonable quality TV watching but a pathetic 2-3Mbps upload – not very good for conferencing and quite useless for YouTube video creation.

In addition to above, in bad weather, the dish system shuts down for short periods, presumably for safety reasons though we’ve never been told why (and I’ve never noticed local mobile masts going off).

So, I’ve been looking to broadband alternatives – there are (at least it seemed) very few viable alternatives – when put to the test, no-one else would take on the job of installing poles up our street (which is on a hill). There is of course Starlink but right now that’s a TAD expensive to fit and to use. Then I hit on the idea of using 4G/5G mobile tech. We get no 5G but a good 4G LTE signal at our home and an even better signal above roof level. At first it sounded great, then as I started to check, virtually all the mobile companies had limits too severe to use their mobile offerings as broadband alternatives.

In addition, inside my home the signals were not that good, so an external 4g antenna was needed. I only recently found out how expensive these can be and none of my existing 4g-capable routers had external antenna facilities so I’d need an antenna and a waterproof router.

And then two things happened – I discovered a mobile operator offering lots of data – enough for a month’s worth of TV, my normal downloads and of course, being mobile, enough UPLOAD speed for YouTube video creation.

KuWFi 4G router

At the same time, I stumbled on an inexpensive external 4G router with POE, that is, a weatherproof 4G router with WiFi output AND Ethernet which also handles power requirements in the Ethernet cable. I’ve never used POE before so this was all new to me – it isn’t now.

Essentially I bought the KuWFi external router (pretty much a random decision based on Amazon availability – for no other reason than “if it doesn’t work, return it for free”) which has 2 4G antennas. 2 WiFi antennas, an Ethernet output and which came complete with a tiny plug-in-the-wall 48v (POE) power supply.

After much experimenting I found an ideal spot on the roof for the router, increasing the download speed to over 60Mb/s and maybe 20-30Mbps- at least 10* faster than the dish uploads.

With a new SIM on the way I was all set for a personal revolution – and then the shock… I use a VPN (Wireguard) server for local access when I’m on the road (not to be confused with a VPN client typically for watching TV etc. i.e. Surfshark or ExpressVPN both of which give access to UK iPlayer etc.)

Then I received a PM from Mr Shark – friend and regular contributor in here, to say:

“check with your provider… usually none of them give you a public IP you can use, they all do NAT so you’re behind a NAT network – you have a public IP, of course, but you can’t go IN from there”

Essentially, despite using the NOIP service to ensure the non-fixed IP address given by the mobile operator isn’t an obstacle for VPN access, it seems that OpenVPN and Wireguard are STILL out of the running.

But then I remembered ZeroTier, a per-device VPN I’d used in the past (free for personal use). With this, my VPN operation was/is back in action. Zerotier is installed on all internal devices which need to be accessed remotely, as well as the mobile device doing the accessing – and they all become part of a secure private network.

Zerotier setup is trivial on PC and mobile devices – but THEN I read an article about using Zerotier on Synology NAS.

TailScale

My thanks to first responder “Rogan” (minutes after I put the blog up) for pointing out TailScale similar to Zerotier but on initial testing possibly even easier to use – DEAD easy to set up on Android, PC and RPi. Even works on my NAS.

The upshot? Both Tailscale and Zerotier rely on a cloud service for initial connection only, so best to have both for safety? I can access my home control and my NAS, remotely no problem – the 4G router works – I get reasonable speeds and all I needed was is the SIM from the mobile operator to go into the router (I did all my original testing with a SIM from my normal mobile operator – with very limited data).

Update May 5, 2022 – I love it when a plan comes together

New Router

So, firstly I contacted the new mobile company and after an initial hitch wherein they neglected to mention that their SIMS arrive deactivated and stay that way until you send some personal info to them (easy in English, not quite so easy when you are speaking two different languages), my connection is up and running. 300GB a month which now looks like it will be enough. Time will tell. I have to say this particular Valencia area, Spanish-based company have been very helpful even though I only speak a few words of Spanish.

I then spent all afternoon mounting my new aluminium pole and finally the router – I then realised that instead of insulating the cable I could simply put it in the tube (which is very solidly affixed to the wall). As I got everything into final position I got a decent overall speed increase.

It is possible I can do better with careful positioning but right now I’m doing better than my original fibre installation back in the UK..

It looks like I’m in business and that rather ugly dish system (lower left of the image above) is going back to it’s suppliers.

Some figures for interested parties – as you can see below, I WAS on a fixed IP, labouring under the belief that this was necessary to run an internal VPN server – and as such was paying €6 + tax for that alone – in addition to the normal monthly charge for broadband. If nothing else I’ve been enlightened about that. Since the end of April 2022, I’ve been on the dynamic addressing used by the mobile provider. While being aware from the start that I’d no longer have a fixed IP address, I’m still not sure why the address changes apparently at random, even though the connection hasn’t been broken – but it’s not adversely affecting my new VPNs.

Update May 14, 2022 Typical Speeds

Before changing the broadband over, speeds were typically 20-30Mbps down, 2.6-3Mbps up. Above are typical speeds on the new 4G setup.
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