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Fairpoint DSL Internet Service and Bufferbloat

By Andy Lumley


Update: For those who have been here before go to the bottom for updates on the IQRouter which includes additional information that may be helpful to you.


For those of us in Lyme that are within reach1 of the CO (Central Office, on the Common), or a DSLAM (fiber to copper Multiplexers like the tan box on the side of the road near the skiway snowmaking pond), the DSL service is pretty good but still many subscribers have periods of time that service is very poor or even unusable. A solution has been found that works for the above and It’s very possible that it could help those who are further away from the CO but I have no experience with that and the solution listed below.


This document is intended to be for information only and I will not be able to provide ongoing support other than possible updates & revisions to this document.


History


A small user group of Lyme residents were interested in getting better service. I commented on the Lyme Broadband mailing list that at times I had horribly slow service and ultimately tracked down that it occurred when a mobile phone at home started uploading pictures. While the uploads were happening, performance was terrible. When the phone stopped (or I stopped the uploads), service got better again. I also realized that very large Youtube videos we’re being uploaded and again, when these were stopped the problem cleared up.


The group started sharing information and it was eventually discovered that our problem was Bufferbloat. This is something the tech savvy guys figured out a long time ago and since I’ve got this problem solved I wanted to pass on what we’ve learned.


What is Bufferbloat?


From the bufferbloat.net website: Bufferbloat is the undesirable latency that comes from a router or other network equipment buffering too much data. It is a huge drag on Internet performance created, ironically, by previous attempts to make it work better. The one-sentence summary is “Bloated buffers lead to network-crippling latency spikes.”


The symptoms of bufferbloat is that sometimes the network feels slow or draggy. There’s a lag before anything happens. (The technical term is “latency”.) You’ve probably seen this at your house.


In almost all cases, the problem is caused by the Fairpoint modem and/or the wifi router you may be using. The router mis-handles the uploads, and to some extent, the downloads, causing the network traffic to get backed up in the router’s “buffers” (hence the name bufferbloat). A big upload frequently stops the downloads from working; hence, no service.


Tests for Bufferbloat


-->Before doing any testing be sure that none of your other devices is using the Internet. Best to shut off your wifi and or unplug.


To see if you’re affected by bufferbloat, go to http://www.dslreports.com/speedtest and run the DSL test. This test is very different than your typical speedtest (e.g. Fairpoint’s speedtestportland.myfairpoint.net, www.speedtest.net, speakeasy.net, etc.) because they don’t test latency while traffic is flowing, so the results may look pretty good even though you can’t stream Netflix. DSLReports measures latency during download & upload and then grades the latency from A to F. If your router doesn’t handle uploads well, you will likely get a grade of F, not much question about it. See the image at the end of this note to see what a good DSLReports test looks like.


Another test you can perform on a Windows machine is a msdos ping test.


Hit Start, type cmd and it will run cmd.exe and open up a black screen with a C:\Users\name prompt.


Type this: ping google.com -t and hit enter key.


Below will be similar to what you will see but it will run continuously until you hit the ctrl key + c. Run it for 5 minutes or so and keep an eye on it.



Microsoft Windows [Version 6.1.7601]

Copyright (c) 2009 Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.


C:\Users\Name>ping google.com


Pinging google.com [172.217.6.238] with 32 bytes of data:

Reply from 172.217.6.238: bytes=32 time=20ms TTL=47

Reply from 172.217.6.238: bytes=32 time=21ms TTL=47

Reply from 172.217.6.238: bytes=32 time=20ms TTL=47

Reply from 172.217.6.238: bytes=32 time=21ms TTL=47


Ping statistics for 172.217.6.238:

   Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),

Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:

   Minimum = 20ms, Maximum = 21ms, Average = 20ms



The above are good results with decent times (in red) and no packet loss. Yeah!


Now for the tests “under load”... Start downloading a file, and run this ping test again. Or upload a picture or some other large file and watch what happens to your ping speeds. For many users the results will vary widely with times as high as 1500 milliseconds (1.5 seconds) and even occasional timeouts. The reason for this is very likely to be aforementioned Bufferbloat.


Solutions for Bufferbloat


There are a few alternatives that can eliminate bufferbloat:


1) One way to avoid bufferbloat would be to turn off any and all automatic backups going to the cloud or over the Internet, which include Apple iCloud, Dropbox, and many others. The Fairpoint techs are aware of this and will be sure to tell you about it, but I don’t think they know why it’s the problem. This, of course, doesn’t solve anything, because you do need to make uploads from time to time.


NOTE: We learned that some folks were set up with both iCloud and Google Photo so when they returned home after taking many pictures with there phone there network was brought to a standstill trying to upload all those pictures to the cloud. Turn it off till you fix the problem.


2) You can install new firmware on your router. There are a couple options to choose from, although neither is a simple process.


  • OpenWRT.org (link) is opensource software that will replace the software (firmware) on your Router. Go to the OpenWrt web site and go to the “supported devices” link to see if your Router is listed, and if it is roll up your sleeves and go for it.


  • I have installed the LEDE firmware (with help), that spun off from OpenWRT. Again, use the supported devices link and if your router is listed then follow the link “Where can I download LEDE firmware for my router?”.


If you choose either of these packages, be sure to get a copy of the vendor firmware for your router as

a backup measure.


After installing the firmware, you will be able to adjust how much of your bandwidth will be used for uploads. This is Smart Queue Management (SQM). I have 15/7 service and my settings are at 16000 for download and 1175 for upload. You will experiment by adjusting the upload numbers up or down, running the DSLReports until you get the highest possible speeds with a good (A) grade for bufferbloat. This absolutely works. We have up to 6 people with smartphones, gaming computers, Netflix/Hulu all running while I’m working remotely. I did this on a TP-Link Archer 7 model AC1750.


3) A simpler option for the rest of us is to purchase a new router that has this software pre-installed.

The IQrouter is a TP-Link Archer C7 that has customized software that is pre-installed and requires very little configuration. Many people in Lyme have the previous model and at least most are very satisfied with it. This attaches to your Fairpoint modem (which may also have a wireless Router) with an included cable. Ideally you'll disable your existing wifi network and use the wifi on the new TP-Link or connect directly to your computer with a standard CAT cable. NOTE: Connecting your computer directly with a cable will almost always provide better (faster, more stable) service than with wifi. Do all your testing via cable.


Another problem is the condition of the copper wires that run from the CO to your house plus the wires in your house. The term is SNR which is Signal to Noise Ratio and if the noise is to loud your Internet will never work well. If you've tried the IQRouter and not had a meaningful improvement you should call FP, explain everything you've done to fix the problem and they'll send someone out to fix that problem. I know of a user near Goose Pond and Baker Hill that went through this process and now has greatly improved service.


What does a DSL Reports Speedtest look like?


Here are good test results from the DSL Reports Speedtest http://www.dslreports.com/speedtest


This test was made using Fairpoint 15mbps/768kbps service. The test results show the  download is 13.2 mbps, while the upload is 764kbps. This is pretty good. But the important result is the “A” grade for Bufferbloat: it means that uploads and downloads won’t affect other traffic on your home network.



A screenshot of my SQM setup



1: DSL distance is 1.2 miles, greater than that will reduce bandwidth and data rate.


Updates:


Subscribers as far as 1.5 miles away from the CO have reported excellent results with the IQRouter/Modem bundle.


The Last 50 Feet – The Phone Line (link is to Evenroute the IQRouter Developer).


They wrote about possible issues when using their Modem which can easily be resolved. As noted above this modem combo packaged is being phased out.


"Fairpoint will sometimes (not always) put new unknown gear in a 'Walled Garden' where any web request is redirected to a page on their site. Getting that lifted requires a call to customer support and requesting that they either add the MAC address of the new modem or 'reset' the credentials. not sure if they actually give you new credentials or if they just accept the new hardware on the line as the current valid MAC associated with this accounts credentials.