CenturyLink Gigabit Fiber in North Portland

October 20, 2015

Ookla Speedtest results for CenturyLink Gigabit Fiber: 944.75 Mb/s down, 942.40 Mb/s up, 11 ms ping.

The image above pretty much sums up the whole deal, here. As of today, you can unleash total raw carnage on the interwebs with the help of fiber optic internet. The results above were obtained on a CenturyLink 1Gbps symmetric fiber line in North Portland, Oregon.

I enjoyed reading Max Ogden’s post about fiberoptic in SE Portland, so thought I’d provide the internet with a second account of an end user’s experience with the service.

Howcanbe Bandwidth So Good?

Maybe I don’t actually really need all of this bandwidth. I could make a plea for some of the popular Fiber-to-the-Home use cases as others on the internet have, about backing up 1TB hard drives to the cloud, doing 4k video streaming, blah blah.

And all that stuff is totes badass, and Good and True and Rad. But suffice to say, my motivation for having really fast internet is primarily just Internet for the sake of Internet.

From a technical standpoint, though, the main selling point to me was actually the upstream rate. 950 Mb/s vs. 12 Mb/s is night and day when you’re trying to run a web server that relies on a good uplink to clients. With this, I can now serve huge files, to as many people as want them, as opposed to waiting a half hour for a fairly modest file to creep its way over Comcast’s flimsy uplink.

Let me know if you want to download a huge file super fast, and I’ll post one for you.

History with Cable

More or less since it became commercially available when I was a teenager, I have always had cable internet service, and in particular, cable internet service from Comcast. As a very rough estimate, that’s about $8,500 my family and I have paid into the Comcast system over the years.

For the last six years or so in particular, I have had the “Performance Internet” with “Blast!” speed increase package, typically achieving these kinds of results:

Ookla Speedtest results for Comcast Xfinity Performance Internet with Blast!: 121.04 Mb/s down, 12.47 Mb/s up, 17 ms ping.

For most people in the U.S., that constitutes a rather “fast” internet service, and over the years, it has been quite stable and reliable. Dealing with Comcast is usually a bear, but they eventually do get things right if you make enough noise and call enough people.

Without any deals or promotions, etc., that costs me $82.95/month. It’s $10 more if you lease one of their cable modems. (I recommend purchasing an ARRIS SB6121 or better, both because it’ll save you money versus renting from the ISP after a short while, and because it will probably also perform better.) There are of course cheaper service options than what I had, but that’s not the focus of this post.

Switching to Fiber

Fiber optic cable as a viable media for consumer internet transport had been on my horizon since the announcement and initial roll out of Google Fiber in ~2013.

Verizon and Frontier Fios have been available in the Portland metropolitan area for some time, claiming good broadband speeds, but unfortunately, neither have been available in my part of town, leaving Comcast as the best service offering available here.

On October 8th, CenturyLink was going door-to-door up my street, trying to get people to sign up for internet. This was timely as a I had just discovered that Comcast had been over-billing me for several years, and was Pissed about it. (As a tip, when you receive a bill, give it a quick look over, don’t just assume that you’re not getting fucked.)

As such I answered the door and figured I’d hear them out, and I’m glad I did, as they informed me that fiber was available in the neighborhood at up to 1000 Mbps, symmetric. It did not take me long to get signed up, and we scheduled an installation date for 10/19 (eleven days later.)

Jameson Williams with CenturyLink field sales technicians.

This was my first dealing with the company, and so far everyone I’ve interacted with has been polite and friendly, although it does come across like there is massive internal disorganization at CenturyLink and just about every thinkable field service role is contracted to outside entities. Not ideal, but so far it hasn’t caused any tremendous issue for me.

Frankly, I imagine most ISPs operate that way, but I think also because CenturyLink’s fiber expansion is new for them as well, we are all sort of in the same boat trying to figure this thing out and get the process bomb-proof.

Pricing wise, the bundled promo package (1Gbps internet, Prism TV, VoIP) runs me about $110/month, good for 12 months. Installation and other fees were waved at signup, perhaps because I was transfering from Comcast, perhaps they do it for everyone? One thing I have noted about dealing with ISPs is that products and pricing are rarely if ever cut and dry.

Installation Day

CenturyLink showed up right on time, perhaps early even, with three or four technicians, one of which seemed to be a CenturyLink rep, and the others subcontracted from another company.

They were easy to work with and asked for my input on how the line could be run, and where to put the equipment. Whereas the cable line drops into my house from Williams ave., CenturyLink had old copper running to the back of my house from a distribution pole two yards over. So they pulled the copper down, and re-ran fiber to a stay at the corner of the house:

CenturyLink fiber line reaching house from neighborhood distribution pole.

From there, whereas an old copper line would go into a simple wire splitter box on the side of the house (to accommodate for multiple lines of service), the fiber line goes into a Calix 711GE Optical Network Terminal (ONT):

Calix 711GE ONT box closed up on customer premises.

The cables dangling out of the bottom are old Cat 5 lines for the previous telephone system that was installed and run the rafters in my basement to provide obsoleted hookups in some of the main rooms of the house. Upcoming weekend project: remove all this old cabling, and cleanly install a grid of Cat 6 with RJ45 terminals in all rooms in the house.

Calix 711GE ONT front panel.

From what I have read so far, this device is basically a media translator, that allows the same ethernet frames on the fiber optic line to move into standard ethernet cabling (cat 5e UTP was used in my case), more suitable for a deployment at a customer site. Since there is no need to change protocols or re-encapsulate the data, it is well, quite speedy.

The cat5e and a power line run out of the ONT, down along the house, and into the basement:

Cat 5e and power cable for Calix ONT.

The cat5e terminates in a standard RJ45 wall mount box, and the power line goes into this Cyber Power battery backup unit:

Cyber Power battery backup unit for Calix ONT.

Actual battery inside the Cyber Power unit.

From what I’ve gleamed from reading numerous articles on the internet over the last few days, this unit is installed basically as a fail-safe for phone service in case of a power outage. (Since the Plain Ol’ Telephone System used to work even without power, in an emergency, this type of deployment provides a battery backup to power the ONT, to provide similar protection.)

The last leg of the journey (as far as the CenturyLink customer site deployment is concerned) is this Actiontec C2000A modem-router:

CenturyLink-branded Actiontec C2000A modem router, front panel

CenturyLink-branded Actiontec C2000A modem router, back panel

(An upcoming afternoon project, before my previously mentioned weekend project, is to get this thing mounted cleanly and nicely in an appropriate location. Right now it does not look like it is owned by a nerd of the extent and sophistication that it actually is, and looks are important.)

802.11n Now a Major Bottleneck

Over the last thirty or so hours, aside from sleeping and making sure everything’s cool at Intel for the time-being, I’ve mostly been reading about broadband technologies and tinkering with various pieces of networking equipment in my personal arsenal, runnning various benchmarks between different APs and clients in different configurations:

Jameson Williams' personal arsenal of home networking equipment

As a first point, as you can see it in the speedtest, my WAN connection is now at least as fast all of the gigabit networking gear I have in my house. In particular, my wireless network (mostly 802.11n APs and clients) is now the biggest bottle neck. I already have a 1Gbps wired network in the house, and while the new connection may actually be able to achieve faster speeds, upgrading this to 10Gbe is cost prohibitive — and, given that the supplied C2000A is capped via hardware to 1Gbps, certainly a fruitless endeavor, if you’re using it.

Actiontec C2000A

The C2000A is an interesting little device, and I’ve spent a few hours poking around it via telnet. (For those interested, enable the telnet interface in the web gui, then log into it with the same credentials you use for the web gui.)

Telnet session on the CenturyLink C2000A modem router

It also has TR069 configuration management software running on it, which is essentially a (fairly standard) backdoor for an ISP to configure your equipment. You can see more by navigating to http://192.168.0.1/tr69.html. There are also a bunch of support pages available via the router’s web interface, but these appear to be locked down with CenturyLink credentials and I haven’t figured out howto uncover those, yet. (We’ll see what john –fork has to say, when he gets back to us.)

All in all, the C2000A is not a bad consumer unit, but going forward I would prefer to have a simpler gigabit router and an 802.11ac wireless access point to help reduce the WLAN bottleneck I’m seeing.

The one major show-stopper I’ve seen so far from the C2000A is that it does not support NAT reflection. So I can’t visit my own website from inside the network, without doing kooky things like DNS-splitting or bandadging things up with records in /etc/hosts on all of my clients, etc. Currently this is driving me slightly nuts.

IPoE?

While the C2000A does contain modem functionality, it is not in use in this deployment: instead, the router WAN port goes directly to the Calix optical network terminal. The router is configured to access the ISP via IPoE (IP over Ethernet), which is a fairly new and little documented protocol — a successor to more trodden Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet (PPPoE.)

The C2000A has a VLAN configured and tagged to the WAN interface. Through some magic I have yet to discover, the configuration is sufficient to authenticate the router, use DHCP, and get access to broadband service.

In fact, most people who have blogged about CenturyLink service are accessing it via PPPoE. Like Kevin, who was able to remove the (similar) C2000T from his “rig.”

So far I have gleamed that IPoE is used:

  1. for subscribers of the Prism service (bundled TV and VoIP service), while PPPoE might be in use broadband-only customer, and;
  2. increasingly more frequently, as CenturyLink is probably transitioning to this for newer activations.

The Juniper Networks Broadband Edge documentation seems to provide some worthwhile clues on how IPoE clients are configured and authenticated, so I’m digging through that currently.

Given that there are only a few vendors able to support this kind of thing, my guess is that CenturyLink is either using the above, or more likely, a Cisco ASR 9000 (see “Establishing Subscriber Sessions“)

One response to “CenturyLink Gigabit Fiber in North Portland”

  1. Sarah says:

    Glad to see you’re blogging again! Awesome to read a hardware review for what comes standard with CenturyLink. Now I know that though it may be miles ahead of what I currently have, it may be nice to have a router that doesn’t cap wifi at 100Mbps.

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