Monday, February 17, 2014

Two Cable Internet Services at the Same House

Paying more than you have to for something usually hurts. It's the type of pain that gnaws at you like you've been robbed or mistreated. Every once in a while, though, it feels great.

This is a situation that I encountered recently with regards to internet service. To sum it up, the existing service was exemplary (e.g. speed, up-time) except for the bandwidth cap. Being stuck with a cap below 100 GB in the age of electronic media distribution is a pain. It's an even greater pain when someone won't let you keep track of the data usage that necessitates playing it safe.
Two Cable Modems
 Cable or DSL?
The end result was that I decided to get my own internet service. I don't do that much downloading, but the shackles just became a pain and paying an extra $50 a week became more than worth it to me at some point. That psychological barrier was actually crossed a while ago. Deciding on whether to go with cable or DSL service was the real problem.

Good Old Cable
I just wanted the service set up in the most painless way possible, but it just didn't seem possible from my research. With an existing cable internet service, a cable drop was obviously already available. All I wanted to do was get a modem, plug it in, and go. Ideally, it would be an exact copy of the current service except for the paying twice thing.

After doing extensive research, I discovered that while technically possible, the local cable companies supposedly had a policy of requiring a separate cable drop for each modem. That meant potentially having to wait for the classic "cable guy" who would put more holes into the walls -- the last time one did, he trashed a room while doing exactly that.

DSL: Slightly cheaper, why not?
Going with DSL actually happened -- well, if you count signing up online and getting as far as the confirmation screen. I found out that a technician visit was once again required despite having a land line. Upon further research, it became apparent that telephone utility technology had developed quite a bit over the years. A tech would likely be required to install a POTS splitter, and the demarcation point issue probably meant additional fees to setup a new phone jack -- modem in the basement wouldn't work for me and existing lines were in bad places.

Back and Forth
It went back and forth for a few months between cable and DSL. If I need a tech to come anyways, why not get the cheaper service? Maybe I could go with cable and get lucky without having to install a separate drop? Screw it, it's too much trouble?

That loop finally ended when I was just about to pull the trigger -- again -- on DSL and did some scouting in the basement where the line would come in. What I discovered was that there was too much stuff by the service panel and running new lines for a jack would be a lot of cleaning work for me.
Three-way Splitter
Stacking the Deck for Cable
The decision was made to just go with cable and hope that a new drop wouldn't be needed. To stack the deck in my favor a bit, a new 3-way splitter was purchased to test the signal strength. I heard that modems were supposed to be on the first split due to their higher sensitivity to signal strength compared to televisions. This usually meant a 2-way splitter with a 3.5 db signal drop on each leg. The only 3-way splitter that I knew of were essentially two 2-way splitters with one 3.5 db leg and two 7.0 db legs. One modem would get a good signal and the other a bad one? Luckily, research suggested that 3-way splitters with equal signal loss on each leg were available. The only ones that I could find locally and were supposed to work with cable at a minimum:

Monster Standard RF Splitters For CATV Signals MKII - 3 Way RF Splitter
Two Gigahertz Low-Loss RF Splitters for TV and Satellite MKII (2 Way Splitter linked)

I was hoping that leaving a slightly better signal on each leg for each modem would help to avoid having a tech show up to tweak it. A $20 trip to Best Buy to get the cheaper splitter and a night of testing lead to success. The current modem worked without issue when it and only one TV were attached -- third leg left unoccupied. Time to put in the order.

All for Naught, Tech Must Come
Policy is policy. Avoiding the visit by a technician was not allowed, even after I told the company that the new modem was getting a good signal on the same line. On the day that the technician showed up, I had everything set up and plugged in with a laptop attached. He stuck around for a whole two minutes and just offered to change out the splitter, which I refused since I blew $20 on the new one. An hour after he left, the service was activated. Success. Both internet services continue to run and we are essentially getting double-billed, but I am happy.

A few hours were spent setting up the router on the day the service was activated. This was my first time ever having to configure my own router -- or buy one for that matter -- despite being a nerd. Have to admit that it was pretty simple since it was a really basic consumer-grade model.

The Damage
Aside from months of overthinking everything, there was in fact a fairly substantial cost associated with having a brand new internet service installed. Instead of renting the modem and router, I decided to get my own. The modem was easy enough as the cable company had a pre-approved list of models.

Finding a router was the biggest challenge. I had never had to shop for a router before as noted above. Either the utility provided one with the modem or someone else took care of it. Trying to take the easy way out by getting a wired-only router proved difficult and fruitless. Most consumer-grade routers these days have wifi built-in, and the few wired-only ones I could find available locally didn't have the features I wanted. Nope, another research adventure had to be undertaken. This one acquainted me with wireless-N, wireless AC, SPI firewalls, NAT, etc., etc., etc. I ended up settling with one of the cheapest ones I could find (Linksys E900 Wireless-N300 Router).

Here's a short summary of what this whole "paying more than I have to" adventure set me back, not counting the monthly fee:

Cable Modem:  $ 100
3-way Splitter:  $   20
Router:              $   25
RG6 Coax:        $     8
Activation:        $   50

TOTAL:            $ 203 + tax (all in CAD$)

It was fun?
Having a separate personal internet connection is great. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want without having to coordinate with anyone else. The cost was definitely pretty high and could have been avoided, but it was worth it.

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