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Sick of being ignored by your current Internet provider?

Habland Internet dish and external modem

This entry is predominently aimed at readers in our corner of Spain who are looking for a better broadband setup as against moaning continuously – a popular and increasingly repetitive activity on Facebook and local Facebook broadband groups . In the area where we live and in our village in particular, choices are limited as to Internet providers… or are they?

This, then, is for people in the outskirts of Galera in Granada region (and probably other areas including Huescar) who have broadband issues and actually want to solve them. It COULD however have some interest for pretty much anyone looking to escape the clutches of their broadband provider where there is a reliable 4G/5G signal available.

I’ve pulled out of the local FB group (and attempted to block any entry with the word Habland in it) – if my experiences seem like they might be of use to you, then under Solutions you would need a half-decent mobile signal and be prepared to pick the right Spanish mobile (yes – mobile) provider for the job – keep reading….

Where We Began

For well over a decade now, here in Galera we have had a WIMAX-like dish-based broadband supplied originally by Iberbanda (or as we used to call them – Iberbandits). In more recent years by Habland, now part of Excom. Since maybe 2020 we supposedly paying Habland for 30Mbps (MAX) download (TV, surfing etc.) and 3Mbps (MAX) upload (conferencing etc.)

The actual AMOUNT of data used in a month is unlimited like any decent broadband service (I probably go through 200-300GB a month – not to be confused with SPEED above). At its best, this scenario is OK for HD TV and general Internet browsing and email, but this Internet setup is limited in many ways… speeds are rarely if ever at the contracted rate and in bad weather, the local antenna in Galera is often turned off, presumably for safety, given storms and dodgy electricity here.

Broadband Speed

The download (TV watching etc) speed provided by Habland is OK but nothing to write home about, sometimes people complain of poor speed when in fact it sometimes could be their own internal WiFi at fault, other times the speed genuinely drops. Others are on a different antenna to us, some have old dishes and all of these issues and differences are lumped together into one local Facebook group – which seems not to be achieving anything – hence this article. Some (who are lucky enough to have telegraph poles nearby) are using the Habland fibre option and complain about that, too. We recently had Sarara dust on the dish and it occurred to me that would not help? If you are still reading and not in Spain – we’ve recently had the most horrendous dust storms in various places but there are genuine issues with Habland.

Habland POE power supply

So, DOWNLOAD SPEED is ok but only at best. As for UPLOAD speed, 3Mbps and below is not really fast enough for modern life – video calls (Zoom, Skype, Discord, WhatsApp, Facetime and others) and as for sending video to YouTube – uploading under Habland was like watching paint dry.

Then there is the question of reliability. We’ve not done that badly at our home but others have regular problems with little if any feedback from the provider. I thought, as almost no-one in our area seems to be getting anywhere, that I’d start up something constructive in here without getting over-technical (I have a technical blog for that and I HAVE written a tech article elsewhere for further reading for those with some tech background who are interested).

On February 28, 2021, Habland offered our street fibre broadband “soon” – Antonio at Habland emailed me directly on this – see below – even though I told them we have no phone masts here in our area – they would supply fibre anyway, so they said:

“No need to put your order, as soon as the fiber is in your street we’ll call you to switch free of cost. Then you can ask for the speed and IP.
Due how the market is moving… may be on the summer we only sell 1000 Mb fiber plans …. who knows..…”

The above was followed by another short email on April 8, 2021:

“We’ll contact you as soon as it is available (anyway you will see our crew laying fiber in town soon)”

On June 2021 , Jesús at Habland wrote to me:

“I’m Jesús. I’m writing from Habland. I do my best to help you.
We still do not have the fiber optic installation finished in Galera.
Before the end of the year we are sure that we will have this service.
We are very sorry for the inconvenience.”

Then September 16, 2021, things changed…

“We have been reviewing the map but we see that it’s too far from the box to be able to pull a fiber cable there. I’m sorry but it’s not possible. We throw our own fiber.
Regards, Rubén”

Finally – October 8, 2021:

“I regret to inform you that our fiber does not reach your property, we have sent a budget to your neighbor of the Cueva Encantada to install fiber in that area, if you want together you can pay that budget, so we can install the optical fiber in your area.

Regrets,

Lucía G.”

I informed everyone – response at first seemed enthusiastic – then with one exception, nothing. I hoped Habland-Excom would have a re-think. Later it did occur to me “if we are too far from the box, how will us taking responsibility installation costs help?!?”

Then the merger with EXCOM and all hope was lost… the first thing to magically disappear without explanation was the long-standing ability to drop to lower speeds and price (just enough to support security cameras) when we’re not here. Habland would not explain, stating only that they did not offer such a service – which was utter nonsense of course, we’d used that option for many years while liviing here part time – and I mentioned it in here in January and probably much earlier).

Late in 2021, tHabland changed the story to one which said they would give us fibre ONLY if we installed our own poles, fibre was left to the house owners – and we’ve all seen how well collective action works – NOT. As you might imagine with our next door, retired neighbours and us being the only ones really committed to getting fibre from Habland – after the above initial promise “soon”, that idea went no-where and I don’t now believe it ever will – I got sick of griping and worse – listening to others griping.

There is, of course always Elon Musk’s world-leading, revolutionary Starlink low-altitude satellite network – but it remains stubbornly expensive at this time both for monthly rental and installation. For those who already insist on paying €100+ (and occasionally far more) a month, Starlink should come as no shock – good luck to them I say. I was happy at €35 a month on the now broken promise of faster service “real soon”, but that amount was always my unstated limit.

Testing the Speed

Before I go further – TESTING – what’s that all about? There is a PC web page and both PC and Android APPS for something called speedtest.net which I’ve used for years. Habland don’t recommend people use the latter that, they say it tends to give lower speed results than some other testing software due to being over-used – but I like to keep it handy. Here are also couple of web-based speed test systems – the first from testvelocidad – the one recommended by Habland.

Here is a measurement of Habland speed I took in April 2022 using the above web tester, simply by running the web page in my PC browser (Chrome) and pressing a button. I did this on my PC which is cabled to the router – NOT WiFi (always a mistake using WiFi for testing as internal WiFi issues could influence the speed adversely).

TEST VELOCIDAD
SPEEDTEST.NET

Next, right and below (black images), SPEEDTEST.NET on my PC. The first test here shows nearly 30Mbps download, 3.12Mbps upload and that is the BEST that Habland’s dish network can achieve on a good day. You CAN test using your phone but that introduces a whole slew of issues – phones are connected wirelessly, could be subject to poor internal connections and not everyone knows how to ensure their mobile data is turned off – I always test on my hardwired PC or tablet.

PING (latency – Latencia) simply means the return time in thousandths of a second for sending a “packet” a small block of info and getting a response – this info is not that useful to the majority but is generally automatically included in speed tests.

SPEEDTEST.NET

Anything from 20ms to 60ms ping seems to be reasonable – much longer could indicate that something is amiss.

The second result taken 5 minutes later is pretty similar, slightly lower upload speed but all within reason. Same day (April 30, 2022) in the afternoon, Speedtest.net – 27.6Mbps download, 3.06Mbps upload.

All of these were done in one day. There is a continuous testing utility called StarTrinity for those interested in continuous testing – I’m not that familiar with it. And finally, an over-enthusiastic test I simply do not trust: TestDeVelocidad… a new one on me – not to be confused with testvelocidad above. Check this out.. Bajada is download, Subida is upload – ping, latencia – same thing.

This is all very pretty but the upload speed is WAY higher (at 4.5Mbps) than we are subscribed to and higher than ANY other tests show – download results are similar to others – but overall I’m going to ignore “test de velocidad”.

SO, with a dish maybe a year or so old from Habland and a clear view to their antenna in Galera from here in the hills above (there must be no visual obstacles – important), the results above are all within reason given what we’re contacted for, above the norm but generally something belonging to a bygone era – others in the area claim they get far lower speeds on average.

GL-iNET Convexa-S router

As it happens, our broadband has been FAIRLY reliable much of the time, with typical speeds of 20-30Mbps and 2-3Mbps respectively – sometimes lower, sadly, and I for one need more consistency. The Habland dish until May 2022 fed into my own GL-iNET router which then routes to the rest of the building.

Earlier in April 2022, the Internet went off on a Wednesday night. I emailed Habland and on Thursday they said they would send someone out on Friday morning. They did – the engineer spent a good part of the morning checking our dish and inside the house – to no avail. He then spent quite some time on the phone to head office and in the middle of that, as I was watching my PC screen, the broadband magically came back up all by itself.

I can only assume someone in the office had made an incorrect change remotely on Wednesday and corrected it on Friday. Communication is not Habland’s forte and that’s part of the problem – that and download/upload speed ratio which they cannot alter and which is not for everyone. The reason for the outage was never explained and I hate being treated like an idiot.

Up until 2021, I occasionally used my phone as a “hotspot” to ensure this was a viable emergency backup option and then moved onto the dedicated 4G router (GL-iNET PULI), image on the right (any half decent phone will have a hotspot facility) but I didn’t have a spare phone.

Since 2021 I’ve had my own amateur-night-out 4G backup (low cost, low data, low speed) using that GL-iNET 4G router (white – right image) feeding secondary Internet to my system on demand in case of Habland failure.

I say “low data” because SIMYO and other mobile company’s limits typically make even their most expensive offering unfeasible as a full replacement for broadband and so I have been paying for one of their lowest tariffs, just 5 Euros a month (7GB a month (update June 2022 : now 12GB for the same price) – handily they often offer special free bonuses (for example an extra 30GB) but this is good for emergencies only and would not cover more than a few day’s TV viewing per month at most.

Low Speed” because I really needed the 4G router raised maybe 5-10 metres to get decent speed – 100Mbps+ down, 50Mbps+ up is feasible, my next door neighbour can get that on his phone (Orange as the provider) and I’ve had 200Mbps on my Xiaomi phone for short periods.

I can’t hardwire the output from the above-right router into my main router – it connects only by WiFi (which might be fine for some folk). Positioning that (designed for mobile use) router high up externally is not feasible and it isn’t waterproof anyway.

In summary, my backup until May 2022 allowed only wireless connection from the above 4G router to my main router – hardly ideal – and there are no “external antenna” options on that 4G router anyway.

June 2022 Update

The above is the history. Now I have an alternative solution, a permanent replacement for Habland – it has been running for over a month.

Solutions – Practical alternatives to Habland?

For the data LIMITS issue, I stumbled on a company called XENET who have a €21 (all inc.) a month plan including 300GB max download data (amount, not speed) a month (supposedly unlimited but on enquiring they said it was “fair use” 300GB dropping to 64Kbps if exceeded – no-one else seems to come close to this offering). This seems to be enough for heavy TV/Movies and typical web use with one small caviat – see below. I emailed Xenet and got a quick and helpful response which indicated that there were no catches so I signed up and by May 6, 2022 had this new SIM arrangement and running.

The caviat is: I soon exceeded the 300GB/month due to excessive use 3 days in a row. I discovered that I’d turned off the TV at night but left the TV box on overnight and the particular service was constantly downloading shows – took me 3 days to realise, but I’ve cracked that now – the box and TV now go to standby when we go to bed – problem solved. In the process of getting to grips with this, I had a heavy day on the computer and watched high quality TV in the evening – 7GB total data consumption (7 * 30 days = 210GB, well below the monthly quota).

By mid-june 2022 we now enture the TV box is on standby overnight (hence not un-necessarily consuming data) and we are now using well under 300GB/30 on a daily basis without taking any other precautions or reducing general data use.

Hotspots as alternative?

Of course, one could stop at this point… all modern Android and Apple phones have wireless or even USB-wired “hotspot” ability – but to get the speed I need, for me it is necessary to mount the router (or at least an antenna) above roof level and I don’t want to dedicate my phone to household broadband.

For the SPEED issue, I found out an EXTERNAL 4G router with POE (power over Ethernet – see below) on Amazon.es, reasonably priced i.e. sub-€70. It also has WiFi but that’s not of interest and is turned off in my case, others may find that useful.

Siting such a router (Amazon.es link) on the chimney with some careful positioning would, I thought, give us the height needed for speed. It’s a gamble but I took the plunge and went for it.

Another potential stopping-point here – as the router puts out WIFI this could be used with no further work needed – but it isn’t ideal and likely lowers the ultimate speed.

I have Simyo (Orange) on my mobile and that works very reliably here and has done for years. Both Xenet and Simyo use Orange.

This new router is now wired back into our main router inside, superceding the Habland connection. For a few days I ran my 7GB (€5) a month pay-as-you-go backup Simyo SIM as a test SIM in the new router until I took the plunge and then signed up with Xenet.

KuWFi 4G router

I’ve been using the new 4G modem/router for over a month now and it works but I did need to mount the modem outside on a pole to get a clear signal above the roof – thankfully the router has POE (power over Ethernet – see the end) and so only needs the one cable. I bought cable from the new Chinese store in nearby Baza complete with connectors already fitted on each end – for just a few Euros – no tools needed.

In our first test with the router in the window I got the same download speed as Habland, i.e. 30Mbps, but an upload around 4* Habland speed – i.e. maybe 12Mbps. In our best tests so far, near the top of our Chimney with a phone on Orange (i.e. Simyo initially) we briefly managed 150Mbps down and 50-60Mbps up.

Holding the ROUTER near the top of the Chimney I achieved maybe 60Mbps download and 30Mbps upload – not as good as a phone but good enough. Either way this blows Habland’s dish broadband offering out of the water for less outlay (total monthly €21 inclusive).

Ultimately I picked a convenient location which does not offer the top theoretical speed but is currently pumping out upwards of 50Mbps in one direction and not far off in the other.

For most, the above would be end of story – but there is more for anyone interested – also more detail..

The Xenet deal includes calls but no texts if you want to get clever – I don’t – I just want speed and support for my data useage. This all seems to be coming together.

Here for reference is the inside setup (photo right)…. ignore the irrelevant mess of wires in my office. The bits to watch are the black power supply (included with the router) on the left, plugged into the wall – and my black router on the right.

my main router connected to the 4G router POE supply

There’s a single black cable coming out of the power supply/POE unit and into the top of my main router. The top-right disconnected lead is from Habland’s modem.

So where does this take me? Time for a quick testvelocidad. 56.1Mbps download, 38.8Mbps upload, 38ms ping. I put the cable inside the aluminium pole for protection from the sun. I’m also still on the lookout for a weather-shielding wooden bird-hut or something similar.

The aluminium pole came from our local Ferreteria – i.e. hardware store.

While I can’t achieve with the router what I can with a top-of-the-range phone, this rig cost a fraction of a top-of-the-range phone! Here’s a typical reading bearing in mind I’ve not finished optimising direction:

testvelocidad

The speed results are not a million miles away from the Vodafone fibre I used in the UK for some time – in fact, the upload is faster – and there is hope, once I’ve done more optimising, of even higher speeds. The difference beween griping and acting is exhilarating. My thanks to my next door neighbour for his help with early mock-up versions of this final setup.

I’m pretty confident this is working fine, so much so that I’ve just ordered another identical router for our new UK base and with the help of a good friend, will soon fit a SKY SIM there. Sky do a SIM-only deal with several months of data rollover, ideal for this application as we don’t plan to spend a lot of time there and a fixed monthly fibre service fee would be a waste. I’m sure this argument would apply in reverse to many who might be looking in.

Explanation and further info for techies:

POE simply is a system for sending power down the same cable as signal – typically broadband routers/modems with POE (like Habland for example) rely on a similar plug-in-the-wall power supply to carry (say, 48v) power down the same cable as the signal back to the router/modem/dish. Using 48v means normal Chinese store Ethernet wire will be ok, internally the router/modem/dish will convert that to 12v or 5v….. essentially it means you can ignore power questions as the router arrives complete eith the power unit.

For me, the final step at this point required VPN (not the type you use for TV such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN – they work just fine) to allow access to my internal home controls when I’m on the road… in the past that would mean paying Habland extra for a “static-IP” and that’s as technical as I’m going to get in here – in-depth tech over at my tech blog.

And in the end…

Finally, in addition to switching from Habland to Xenet for our broadband as above, I’ve also switched mobile providers just in time for Simyo to stop offering their super bonuses we’ve seen in previous months. Previously I was paying Habland €35 all in, and Simyo €5. As I’m down to €21 for broadband, I can manage a slight increase in mobile cost and still win out. €10.50 gets me unlimited calls and 40GB data a month with Xenet – which means I have some spare data for emergencies – my main router will automatically switch to using the mobile hotspot if it is turned on – All sorted. In summary, my broadband + mobile costs have gone from around €40 to €31.50 and overall speed is increased to something more suited to 21st century living. I just need Habland to remove that dish now.

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