Hanging by a Tether

Yesterday I started having some issues with my cable modem (a nearly 4 year old RCA DCM-305) that resulted in me being unable to access the Internet. In my attempts to resolve the situation, I wound up tethering my trusty phone and its 3G wireless connection to my PC so I could research the problem online. I must say that I’m really impressed with the performance — given the sometimes sluggish web browsing experience on the phone itself, I was afraid that the wireless connection was the bottleneck. It’s actually the phone/OS/web browser itself, not the connection. I was able to browse web sites on my PC at a reduced, but still entirely usable speed, without having to disable images or engage in any chicanery like that. Shockingly, even streaming videos such as the ones on my ISP’s home page worked. Color me impressed.

The one down side to tethering my phone is that it gets pretty hot when doing so — enough to make it a little uncomfortable to use for a phone call. Also, it sucks up so much power that it doesn’t really recharge while it’s tethered.

In the course of diagnosing the cable modem problem, I somehow got it into my head that my router (a Buffalo WBR2-G54, whose firmware was replaced by X-WRT) might be going flaky. Since my brother had recently installed the Tomato firmware and recommended it, I decided to give it a try and installed it. Of course, because I wasn’t really thinking things through, I wound up installing it via my personal PC over the wireless connection, which is not recommended, mind you. It worked, but the router still had problems getting an IP address from the DHCP service on the cable modem, which cemented in my mind that the problem lay with the cable modem.

Talking to the technical support people for Road Runner was interesting. The tier 1 or 2 guy that I talked with yesterday seemed more knowledgeable than the tier 3 person I talked to today — however, because the cable modem was intermittently working (after being remotely reset), this led him to believe that the problem was with my router. After discovering that things were still flaky this morning, I called again and asked about doing an equipment swap since I was pretty sure the problem was not with my router. Lo and behold, I swap out the cable modem (for a much more svelte Ambit model), everything works correctly, and I can finally stop using my phone as my primary Internet connection.

I have to say that so far I’m pretty impressed with the Tomato router software. It seems much more responsive than X-WRT/OpenWRT, and the UI is much better (very AJAX-y, in a good way). The only disadvantage that I see is that it doesn’t appear to support any VPN capabilities, which might be fun to tinker with. I guess I could always go back to X-WRT if I want to mess around with that some more…

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