Tech Alert (No. 1211) ๐Ÿ˜

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Yes, it’s that time again! – technology marches on, and I’m looking to replace my ageing BT router – the ‘Homehub 4’. It might only be around 6 years old, but that’s a lifetime these days for this sort of tech!

Our ageing ‘Homehub 4’

Why change? Well, normally, it would be simply down to more whistles and bells, but this time, things were different! Oh yes! Not only was the replacement going to have to have more whistles and bells, but it needed to be a lot more reliable too! Not that its unreliability was the router’s fault, as I’ll explain later.

As things were to turn out, I got all my whistles and bells, plus a few more AND the total price of our broadband package actually went down! ๐Ÿ˜

If I was to prioritise, the promise of a more stable wireless capability was the main aim, as this was desperately in need of improvement, especially for some of the radios and mobile phones here.

Why? Well, not surprisingly, we tend to push the router hard in this house – and that’s what was causing the unreliability. Not content with just the ‘normal’ typical family connections; say, a couple of phones, tablets, laptops etc, we’ve got so much more ‘talking’ the current router – see the list below.

Phew!

The result being in many cases, devices were randomly losing their connection and the speed-per-device was sometimes horribly slow. And no-one was surprised, not even BT when I told them how many bits of kit were connected!!! ๐Ÿ˜Š

After a lot of research, we simply settled on the latest router from BT – their so-called ‘SmartHub 2.0‘. Additionally, they promised no increase in the price of our contract (apart from RPI) at the end of the contract, but also a free techy visit if needed, and perhaps more importantly, ‘guaranteed strong wifi around the home‘ (using ‘mesh‘ technology). There’s quite a useful comparison between the various BT ‘Hub’s HERE.

Crikey! even Which liked it!

We had high hopes for the BT Complete Wi-Fi, and it definitely lived up to its bold claims. The Smart Hub 2 on its own is the highest scoring router we’ve tested, and with the added disc it’s one of the best mesh systems we’ve seen. It can give you excellent coverage and fast transfer speeds, even with lots of devices connected”.

Check out their full review HERE.

I must admit, even though the reviews of this replacement were glowing, I tend to treat all the hype with some caution these days – even from Which.

BT’s ‘shiny new’ SmartHub 2.0

“That’ll be interesting” I thought, “we’ve got close on 40 devices all needing to talk to the router, and I’m sure that’s well in excess of what’s recommended”

Our shiny new toy arrived a few days later. There was now even an app to help you set it up! ๐Ÿ˜

Long-story-short: It was a breeze to get up-and-running – and more importantly, after some thorough stress-testing, every device in the house was rock-solid in terms of its connection. I guess this ‘mesh‘ technology-marlarkey does the trick!

BT’s ‘Disc’

And just to be sure, I located a complementary piece of kit known as a ‘disc’ on eBay (half the price than direct from BT) that works with the router to boost the signal even further (some 15% apparently). That now lives upstairs and altohugh not strictly necessary, it could only make things even better.

Time will tell over the coming weeks as to whether it lives up to the hype – we’ll see!!!

Tech Spec:
Supports ADSL, ADSL2, VDSL2, G.FAST
1 x Analogue phone port
2.4GHz 3 x 3 MIMO 11n, 5GHz 4×4 MIMO 11ac
4 x gigabit LAN ports
2 x USB 3.0 ports
Serves as a DECT base station
7 x Wi-Fi, 2 DECT antennas
1 x USB 2.0 port

#CynicalBugger ๐Ÿค”

Update: Well, three weeks later, I’m happy to report that the internet is vastly improved. Downloads are a tad faster (although I wasn’t expecting that!) and every device has enjoyed a 100% connection since the router’s installation. Thanks BT!!

The Great (Fire)Wall of China!

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It’s our big holiday-of-the year soon – to China – with our long-time travel companions, Ralph and Karen. ๐Ÿ˜

But this trip is going to be a little different from our previous adventures together in terms of how we keep you up to date.

Why? In China, most western-based social media activity is completely blocked or banned, and therefore (officially) we’re not able to post to any of the ‘big’ social media platforms.

Click on the above to find out whether a particular online domain is available in China

Although the situation is pretty fluid, the smart-money suggests the situation isn’t going to change any time soon, and we won’t really know the latest until we get there. Realistically I’m expecting some (very) long periods of radio silence until we finish the holiday in Hong Kong where things are a tad more relaxed!

So it all looks a bit grim! ๐Ÿ˜ฅ

There is a glimmer of hope though! Whilst Ann has worked on a really interesting itinerary (see below), Ralph and I have been ‘on the case’, looking into the techy side of things – and the legal workarounds (more of which later). ๐Ÿ˜
…and just in case PRC’s President, Xi Jinping, and his staff are monitoring this, we’re certainly not going to be doing anything that’s illegal!

Phew!

What’s so different about China? ๐Ÿ˜ง

Well, as we all know, the Chinese Government already has a tense relationship with the good ol’ US of A. More specifically, ever since Google and the Chinese Government had a falling out a few years ago about censorship, the local ‘tech-landscape’ there has deteriorated. There is now a wider mistrust of the West, where even accessing the BBC is banned! ๐Ÿค

The State now proactively blocks/bans virtually all undesirable internet traffic both ways (and for ‘undesirable’ read – unsurprisingly – anything provided by Google – Gmail, Maps, Photos, Translate, Search etc etc). If that’s not significant enough, there are other tech-casualties in the shape of social media…

…quite a few more actually, so let me be as specific as I can! From what we’ve read and been advised, the following (as of September 2019) are also on the ‘naughty step’ ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Linkedin
  • Messenger
  • Pinterest
  • Quora
  • Reddit
  • Snapchat
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • WhatsApp (Although some recent reports suggest it works in some locations)
  • WordPress (to some degree)

That doesn’t leave an awful lot of choice does it!? ๐Ÿ™„

What about that workaround?

As I mentioned, fortunately, there IS a perfectly legal way round all of this, even though the solution sounds like it’s illegal!

And that solution is to use some software on your phone, tablet, laptop etc called a VPN (a Virtual Private Network*). Ralph and I have done our techy-homework and are now all kitted out with all we need (with a Plan B too) – Hurrah!

*VPNs are subscription services that encrypt your internet traffic and route it through an intermediary server outside of China. By installing a VPN app on your computer/phone and connecting to a server, you can bypass the ‘Great Firewall’ and freely access the web.

…but just to keep things interesting, the State monitors these official solutions too, and regularly blocks them. In fact, the past few weeks, leading up to the PRC’s 70th celebrations have been a nightmare, where many VPNs have just stopped working! – Boo!

Oooo, We do love a challenge! ๐Ÿ˜‰… and if we can get it all to work, you’ll be one of the first to know!

See you (virtually) on the other side – or not! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ