Better Internet for my company?
April 4, 2014 6:56 PM   Subscribe

The company I work for is located in the midtown area (30th St./Park Ave) of Manhattan, New York City. We (and the rest of the building) are using Time-Warner Cable, and it's slow and unreliable. We're an Internet startup, so when the Internet is down, everybody leaves to go work from home. What options do we have, aside from moving our office?

We have explored several alternatives:

DSL. We had Speakeasy DSL for a while, and it was worse than Time-Warner. Eventually a guy came by and told us off the record that they would never fix it, because the physical copper lines themselves were bad, and they were moving away from copper. Go figure. Apparently we can't get any kind of DSL in the building, not even crappy ADSL.

LTE/4G. Verizon and AT&T both offer a "mobile hotspot" device that connects to their network and allows several devices to share the bandwidth. Unfortunately, it's unreliable — after getting a test device a few weeks ago, we have experienced several embarrassing video meeting disruptions. It's pricey for the amount of data you get; incredibly, there is no unlimited data plan. Sprint has unlimited plans, apparently, but everyone says their network is terrible.

Microwave radio. A company called Rainbow can provide this. However, it's about $1,300/month, which for a small company like ours is very expensive. Also, it's completely unknown to us whether it would be fast and reliable; all I know is that microwave bandwidth and latency is very sensitive to distance.

Ethernet. We looked into this, and apparently it was as (or more) expensive than microwave.

Anything else?
posted by gentle to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
FiOS? T1/T3?
posted by phaedon at 7:21 PM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's what I have done in this situation:
- Get the maximum speed Time Warner deal.
- Get the maximum speed DSL deal.
- Set up your routers so that when the cable is down, it switches to the DSL.

You say you had Speakeasy DSL, but you can't get any type of DSL? Does this mean you can't get Speakeasy back? For the sake of completeness, you are missing one option: satellite. Satellite is horrible. The latency of going back and forth to space is terrible, but you can do it in New York. For the rest of this comment, when I say "DSL", just read this as "DSL or whatever cheapo consumer grade backup internet you can get, which might be DSL, might be FIOS, might be LTE, etc..."

They both suck, and they'll both go down, but for a couple hundred bucks a month, you'll have way, way better performance than the other options. It's highly unlikely that they will both go down at the same time. They run on completely different networks. If something upstream goes down that takes out both, your expensive internet is probably going to go down too.

You can call up commercial ISPs and get internet with SLAs and stuff, but the SLAs don't really do you a lot of good. Basically there are two ways companies price SLAs: one is as a sort of insurance product for your lost business during the time the internet is down (hard to measure for you and very expensive) and they other is basically "you don't pay for downtime" which, ok, who cares. Getting $40 taken off your bill while you lose a day of productivity doesn't really lessen the pain at all.

Also, high-grade commercial internet service is phenomenally more expensive than Time Warner Cable per unit bandwidth. A T1 is something like 1.54Mbps and it starts in the hundreds of dollars a month. Time Warner is available at up to 100Mbps and is much cheaper. Of course, they are very different products. Time Warner makes no guarantees about actual performance, who you are sharing your subnet bandwidth with, latency to specific routes, etc. But in practice, for normal office work, it is vastly higher-performance.

The times when metro networks make sense is when you need specific routes between specific places: you are a HFT shop, you have multiple offices that need to be linked up, you are building a data center of some kind. None of these fit what you are doing.

Just go belt and suspenders: DSL backing up cable. If you set up the routers right, you might have downloads break, SSL sessions die, or a minute or so of non-responsive internet while the router switches over, but it's really not that big of a deal. And you'll get extremely close to essentially perfect uptime.
posted by jeb at 8:25 PM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

jeb has it. You're looking for a failover router. This one's good.
posted by thejoshu at 6:07 AM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are an Internet startup and $1300 is a lot of money, when the alternative is sending people home?

Rainbow is great and is such a better value than Time Warner. I have two clients who use them. You can get plans for less bandwidth / money if some of your building neighbors also sign up. Just one neighbor will approximately halve your cost (and bandwidth). $1300 gets you 10 mbps symmetrical right? You probably don't want less.

A failover connection is still advisable as is a business class router. It is also possible to use a router that fails over to a 3G/4G card so your existing LAN and wireless is still in use. This works way better than the hotspot they provide as no one has to do anything differently to connect.
posted by ridogi at 7:47 AM on April 5, 2014

posted by suedehead at 10:43 AM on April 5, 2014

If you want reliability, you need to go fiber service. I work for a company similar to Time Warner and work with fiber customers. From inside that kind of an organization I can tell you, the type of service you're getting an a cable modem from Time Warner is completely different than the Ethernet/Fiber service that is so expensive. Good point above btw about getting together to share the cost/bandwidth with the neighbors in the building. If you're an internet startup, you should have people around with enough networking skills to make that work.

The problem that you're running into is that you're getting service on coax right now. Coax is a good technology because it's cheap and in an ideal world, it can handle a lot more bandwidth than copper. The problem is that coax is very susceptible to noise. Anyone in your neighborhood puts up an amplifier to strengthen their video signal, it could destroy your reliability. Coax is notorious for going out and then being totally fine by the time a tech gets on site. It can take considerable time and outages just for TWC to figure out what it is causing the problem. Problems are somewhat rare but when you're in neighborhood with a problem, the story sounds very similar to yours. They are probably trying to fix it, keep complaining and try to get technical supervisors in the area involved with you. You probably want someone at a "system" level to be investigating this. Cable companies usually have an entirely different group of techs who investigate problems that are bigger than a few customers.

Anyway, fiber/ethernet service is going to get you fiber ran directly from the provider to your building. That's why it's expensive but it's dedicated to you. This is the kind of services that carriers buy from each other. It's the kind of service where when it goes down, people lose their jobs. Even if the option is buying this kind of service from Time Warner, understand that it's a different level of service.
posted by zero point zero at 5:20 PM on April 5, 2014

I didn't know that there were routers that could fail over multiple WAN ports. That's very cool. Could we set it up to fail over to a mobile hotspot? The hotspot device only has wifi and USB, afaik.

From what I have been told, there is no longer any usable DSL in this building. We had DSL through Speakeasy until a year ago, and then it broke down; over the course of several weeks (while everyone worked from home) Speakeasy promised to fix it, but nothing happened. Eventually a technician told us off the record that while they were (for legal reasons?) pretending to work on the problem, they wouldn't actually fix anything, as the copper into the building would have to be replaced, and they were no longer doing anything new with copper. I don't know why they couldn't just say that outright.

There is no FiOS or fiber available nearby that I know.

suedehead: "Applications are due March 12, 2014 at 5 pm EDT." :-(
posted by gentle at 5:54 PM on April 5, 2014

Setting up routers that can failover is somewhat complicated. You'd want to have someone with a Cisco background to do the configurations. Equipment wise you'd need to have commercial routers or layer 3 switches to handle the kind of configuration you'd need. Nowadays you could probably pick one up 2nd hand for a few hundred dollars that would work well. Best Buy is not likely to have what you'd be looking for.

The problem is that the simplest way to configure the failover is for your router to watch for the primary interface to go down and the the secondary route would take over. When a provider like Time Warner goes down though, it's doesn't usually make your port go DOWN, you just lose your connection to the internet further down the stream. You'd want to set up tracking statements that would ping an internet address like your DNS to determine whether service is live or not. Kind of complicated to get going but doable and free once it's set up.
posted by zero point zero at 6:16 PM on April 5, 2014

If you can make sense of this, go for it. You'd need to tweak this configuration for your purposes but it should give you a good idea of what the config would look like.
posted by zero point zero at 6:20 PM on April 5, 2014

I'm not going to screw around with Cisco config, though. (I'm a developer and could surely do it, but I don't have any time to devote to this.) The load-balancing router mentioned earlier supports setting a per-WAN-port ping destination that will be used to determine whether the link is up. Sounds much simpler.
posted by gentle at 8:15 PM on April 6, 2014

So it looks like Verizon and AT&T only provide mobile hotspot devices that support wifi and USB. The TP-Link router only supports Ethernet. Are there any Ethernet-capable devices that support Verizon or AT&T's mobile networks, so we could use it as a backup?
posted by gentle at 8:19 PM on April 6, 2014

Some SonicWalls can take a USB or PC card. You're probably looking at about $1000 upfront for the device and subscription depending on what model you get. Unfortunately the LTE USB devices require 5.9.0.x which is a turd of an OS. I don't go above 5.8.1.x

There are many other vendors that will have the same capability such as Watchguard, Juniper, Fortinet, etc.

Ultimately even an LTE connection will grind your office to a halt, and video conferencing will still be a non starter. A 3G connection will be worse. I would go with a business grade connection and fall back to Time Warner, not Time Warner falling back to a cell connection.
posted by ridogi at 9:45 PM on April 6, 2014

SonicWall sounds like overkill. It's hard to even understand what it is from the web site (which is full of vague enterprise marketing speak), but their "data sheet" lists "WAN accelerator" as one of the products. Too expensive for something that might not even work, anyway.

> Ultimately even an LTE connection will grind your office to a halt

Actually, the Verizon hotspot is much better than TWC. It gives us about 30/30mbps, and works great for videoconferencing. But it's not completely reliable. You can go into a meeting and suddenly the signal degrades.
posted by gentle at 10:18 PM on April 6, 2014

SonicWall is a business grade router, as opposed to consumer grade. Consumer grade costs about $100. SonicWall (and other Vendors like Watchguard) are easier to use than Ciscos as they have a web interface and are price competitive. They are still more complicated and have more features than a $100 Linksys.

Actually, the Verizon hotspot is much better than TWC. It gives us about 30/30mbps, and works great for videoconferencing. But it's not completely reliable. You can go into a meeting and suddenly the signal degrades.

Verizon is great until it loses signal. That isn't great. And this is why my recommendation is Rainbow. It is a dedicated connection that delivers a consistent connection, unlike Time Warner and Verizon which are shared connections with others in your area and only deliver "up to" the bandwidth. I have a client in your area with Rainbow 10/10 and Verizon FIOS 50/50 (if I recall correctly) and they use the Rainbow as their primary and Verizon as failover.
posted by ridogi at 7:17 AM on April 7, 2014

I'm a developer and could surely do it, but I don't have any time to devote to this.

Looks like you're already spending a great amount of time on research here. If you don't want to spend time, spend money on the fiber connection and be done with all of this.

Or spend money on a 2nd hand Cisco and hire a guy to configure it for you. It's pretty simple for someone who knows what they're doing. There's much more support out there on the internet for Cisco boxes so I wouldn't even bother with other vendors.
posted by zero point zero at 5:56 AM on April 10, 2014

We don't have the money for fiber. No FiOS. Fiber would mean actually stretching cables to this building; that's going to be a lot more expensive than Rainbow.

My ideal solution (given the awful constraints): TWC with automatic failover to Verizon. The problem is that Verizon's USB thing doesn't work with the TP-Link.
posted by gentle at 10:13 AM on April 11, 2014

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