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User Experience: T-Mobile’s Continental Plans

TMobile-Phones-CoOmpositeEarlier this year T-Mobile altered their US Simple Choice Plans to include coverage in Canada and Mexico without roaming charges. The plans eliminate roaming while out of the country, but also eliminate international long distance when calling Canada and Mexico. Further, they include “4G LTE data in Canada & Mexico.” Since we go to Canada to visit family at least once a year the new plan sounded quite useful.

Change is hard…

Last month we made our annual trek to the Great White North. While making plans an associate, who is also a T-Mobile customer, recommended that I call T-Mobile and make sure that we had the correct plan. Failure to do so would result in us incurring the usual roaming charges for platinum-plated voice and data service while travelling.

On the very eve of our departure I remembered to call T-Mobile and make the change to the account. In fact, I called from the airport (IAH) while we were awaiting the departure of our initial flight to Toronto.

Of course, I called the from my mobile phone. The automated system advised that there would be some on-hold time, and I could opt to have them call me back, which I did. The callback took about ten minutes.

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Chances Are Your Router’s Firmware Blows

Linksys WRT-54G RouterYou surely have a lock on your front door. Do you have such a lock on your network? Though you may think so, but it may well be wholly unlocked. Or at least, you may not be able to know for certain that it’s locked. If you use a commercial Wi-Fi router from your ISP, or one of the big names like Linksys, Belkin, DLink et al, your network may not be as secure as you think.

At the outset let me state that, as someone who reads hereabouts, you’re no dummy. You’ve taken steps to ensure that the router doesn’t still have  the default admin password. You’re using modern encryption on your Wi-Fi. You’re being responsible, but there are things beyond your grasp.

The simple fact is that the firmware the runs most retail, commercial routers is closed source. As such, you have no ready way to verify it’s behavior. Yet, the manufacturer, by virtue of necessity, uses various common software modules to create their firmware. They may even use some open source modules, but end up with an closed source binary in the end.

The upshot of this reality is that you have a very small team of developers responsible for maintaining the code. That means updates come along slowly, if at all for older devices. By extension, serious security issues get addressed slowly, if they ever get addressed at all.

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Powerline Ethernet: Boldly Going Where Others Cannot Reach

asus-22.0.0Most people think that Wifi is awesome. It certainly is convenient, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. No matter how freaky your Wifi router looks….

Wifi Is Not Always Your friend!

The very nature of Wifi is in some ways problematic. It’s a lot like a hub in the bad old days. It’s essentially a single connection shared between all of the connected devices. As the number of Wifi devices in our lives continues to multiply, they must compete for access to bandwidth.

This contention for access is not always a problem. It doesn’t really matter if your Nest thermostat is slightly delayed in checking in with our largely benevolent overlords at Google. Nor does it matter if Outlook finds it’s access to the email server to be a bit sluggish. However, for real-time applications like streaming media, continuous, reliable bandwidth is utterly essential!

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Owning The Comcast CPE

Motorola Arris SB6141 cable modemFor the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about the Comcast issued CPE that lives in my office. It’s a modem/router combination from SMC. We’ve had the service a long while. All the while we’ve been renting the device for $12.95 a month.

I can’t recall exactly when we transitioned from consumer to business class service. If I assume that it was five years ago, then we’ve paid over $750 in device rental! This for a device that can be purchased outright for under $200.

Clearly, this makes no sense at all. So last week I replaced the Comcast CPE with a Motorola/Arris SURFBoardSB6141. The choice of the SB6141 was made by consulting Comcast’s list of approved devices, and cross-referencing the SmallWall forums where Lee Sharp had some helpful advice to offer.

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