Archive for August 7, 2022

Why You Should Never Use Your ISP’s Gear For Your Local Area Network

Posted in Commentary on August 7, 2022 by itnerd

I’ve gotten a few emails asking me to explain in detail why I feel that one should never, ever use the gear supplied by your ISP. The reason why I feel this way is multi-faceted. Let me walk you through the logic behind why I feel this way starting with the above statement.

  • Telco Lock In: Telcos are all about ARPU or Average Revenue Per User. And the best way to do that is to supply the gear that you need to use their Internet product. Bell does that, Rogers does that, everybody does that. Average consumers are happy to get this gear from their telco as the don’t have to go to Best Buy to figure out what router to buy, and they get tech support from the telco. It all sounds great until they want to switch telco’s. And that means trying to figure out how to set up all your smart home gear, you computers, your Xbox, and everything else on the new telco’s gear. For a lot of people, that’s enough to dissuade them from switching. Thus they’re locked in and the telco continues to get paid.
  • Security – Part 1: Security is the next thing. Telco’s aren’t known for spending the time, effort, or money into making sure their products are secure unless they are forced to. Which is another way of saying that a security issue appears and it embarrasses them into doing a fix. Contrast that with ASUS, Linksys or some other router company who typically spends a lot more time, effort, and money to make sure that their products are secure as a security issue that slips through could be business ending for them. While router companies aren’t perfect, they are a whole lot better than your telco when it comes to security.
  • Security – Part 2: Then there’s what the ISP can do via the gear that they supply to you. Every telco has access to the hardware that they supply you. Which means that they can potentially have access to what’s behind that gear. In other words, your network and what’s on it. That should really concern you as you are one rogue telco employee away from getting pwned.
  • Telco Supplied Gear Often Doesn’t Have The Same Level Of Functionality: When I say that ISP gear doesn’t have the same level of functionality, I mean telco gear is purpose built to get you online and perhaps support other services like landline phone and TV. And it often lacks the level of customization that you might need for specific applications. For example, if you work from home and your company supplies you with a SIP phone that connects to your employer’s phone switch, you may need to do some extra configuration to make that work. And your telco’s gear may not have that level of customization to make that happen. Or another example is the WiFi that your telco’s gear might have may not have the same speed or power of a router from ASUS or Linksys. Which means that if you have a large house or you want fast WiFi speeds, you’re out of luck.

So, how can you avoid all of this? You can use your own router and connect that to the telco’s gear. Just choose your router carefully and you can be assured that you’ll get the security and reliability that you need. And setting this up while not dead easy, is not all that difficult. Rogers for example has support for bridge mode in their hardware. They don’t like talking about it, and they don’t like it if you use it if you phone into their tech support, but it’s there. Bell has PPPoE passthrough that accomplishes something similar. Whatever your telco offers, you should use it. The advantages are:

  • You avoid telco lock in by making it easier to switch telcos as it can be as simple as unplugging a cable, or at most you unplug a cable and reconfigure your router. And you don’t need to “blow up” your network and it from scratch. This is because you reduce your telco’s gear to something that simply supplies your Internet connection. In other words a modem and nothing more. When I did this during my recent switch from Rogers to Bell, here’s what I did:
    • Unplug the Ethernet cable to my ASUS ZenWifi AX XT8 mesh router from the Rogers modem.
    • Plug the Ethernet cable to my ASUS ZenWifi AX XT8 mesh router into the Bell modem.
    • Log into the ASUS ZenWifi AX XT8 mesh router and change my WAN (wide area network) settings to PPPoE which is what Bell support from DHCP which is what Rogers supports.
    • Enter my PPPoE login name and password, click apply, and watch the router connect to the Bell network.
    • Done in 2 minutes and time to declare victory. And if it wasn’t just before 10AM when I was doing this, I would have had a beer too. Now I did do some other stuff, but this was the minimum that I had to do to get online.
  • You get better security on multiple fronts as your own router is going to be more secure as long as you keep on top of firmware updates, and your telco can’t access your gear as they can only see their own gear and the firewall in your gear will stop them in their tracks.
  • You get much higher levels of functionality.

Thus if you’re stuck on your telco’s gear, you should really consider getting off that train by using your own hardware to connect to the telco’s gear. Now I know that this might be a challenge for some people, which is why if you have any questions, leave a comment or email me and I will be happy to answer them.