Router swap

With all the working from home over the last 18months and the fact I now work for a 100% remote company I decided it was time to have another look at my home broadband setup.

I currently have a FTTC install supplied by A&A which currently tops out at about 60/15 and while a FTTP setup would be nice I’ll have to wait until OpenReach get their finger out and actually fully enable my exchange (A recent new build development is already full fibre, but the existing properties will have to wait).

The line has been pretty reliable but I decided it was time to add some backup capability if I’m going to be relying on it all the time. I decided to add an LTE/4G link (no 5G out here in the sticks yet either).

I already had a LTE USB stick but the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter X that I was running didn’t have a USB port so I looked at putting the stick in Pi and adding a second low priority default route via the Pi. This worked but meant that I lost IPv6 (finding a UK cell provider that will offer IPv6 on Pay&Go is a problem I’ve looked at before) and others won’t be able to reach my web server or the other services I host at home. I’ll cover the 4G network provision later.

A&A offer a L2TP service which can route the fixed IPv4 and IPv6 ranges over any connection if your main line is down for any reason. This can easily run over a LTE connection, but it does have one slight niggle. If the L2TP tunnel is running at the same time as the FTTC line then it will take priority which means it should only be started when the FTTC line goes down.

The EdgeRouter X only supports L2TP Tunnels when paired with IPSEC so can’t easily be used with this option. I could run something like xl2tp on the Pi with the LTE USB stick but then I would need a way to trigger it on the Pi when the PPPoE link goes down on the EdgeRouter. All of this combined with Ubiquiti’s apparent pulling back from the EdgeRouter line as they focus more on their Dream Machine range I thought I’d see what else was available.

MikroTik

If you poke around the internet in the places where people talk about Ubiquiti kit they also mention MikroTik and RouterOS so I thought I’d have a look and see what was available.

MikroTik hEX s router

The closest match to the EdgeRouter X looked to be a MikroTik hEX S. It has the same 5 Gigabit Ethernet ports, PoE powered and also has a USB port and a SFP port for if I ever want to add fibre support.

I already had a Huawei E3372-200 LTE stick to plug into the side. This supports up to 150Mbps connections and has connectors to add external antenna if needed to get the best signal. I also grabbed a 90° USB adapter, because everybody knows that USB sticks work better when pointed straight up.

Router & Switch

I plugged the hEX S into my desktop ISP setup to work out how configure it and play with some of the settings.

There are 3 ways to configure most RouterBoard/RouterOS devices

  • Winbox – a native application that supports Windows (can be run under Wine on Linux and OSx)
  • WebFig – a web interface
  • Console/SSH – a command line interface

I’ve not tried Winbox, I did most of the setup via the console interface, but I used the WebFig to check. Most of the time WebFig works just fine, but occasionally it would throw javascript errors. I’m hoping that most of this is down to the fact I had to install a 7.1 release candidate build to get LTE stick to work properly. I’ll check back once 7.1 gets a proper release.

Using the console I managed to setup the LAN IP address range, DHCP server and pre-reserved all the static IP addresses to match my old setup.

Getting the port forwarding and hairpin NAT setup was a little bit more challenging than on the EdgeRouter but I have something that looks to behave the same for everything I had setup before.

I set the LTE device to be always on but with a static route to the L2TP endpoint and a script that run when the PPPoE device goes up or down. When the PPPoE goes down it will connect the L2TP client and disconnect it when the PPPoE device comes back up. The easiest way to test is to unplug the ethernet cable between the router and the modem running in bridge mode.

Cellular Contract

The next question is what mobile data plan to use, this is meant to be only used as a fall back, so I don’t really want to be paying for a monthly contract and then not using it, which means I’m looking for a Pay & Go sim card. I also want a plan that has the longest possible lifetime for any credit. Luckily Terrence Eden had recently collated a list of the best deals for this kind of data sim. It looks like the Three 24GB or the matching Vodafone 24GB plan are the best fit.

I opted for the Three as I have reasonable coverage at home, it comes with 24GB pre-loaded and it will last for up to 2 years (unlike a lot of the others that expire every month). It’s list price at time of writing is £44.99, I got mine for $39.96, but it’s been as low as £31.29 on offer recently.

Next

At the moment the router only fails over if the PPPoE connection goes down, it would be nice to try and detect if the PPPoE link stays up, but traffic stops flowing and change over. The challenge here is how to know to switch back since the L2TP tunnel takes priority. I’ll have to think about that one.