In August 2019 1Gbps FTTH was finally available at my home (DSL was available since April 2006).

Eir's broadband network

Eir, though now private, was the incumbent telecom provider for the country (Telecom Éireann), and so operates all the traditional copper phone line infrastructure in the country. DSL over phone lines has provided access for the last 15 years or so, but is now being transitioned to fibre, due to its faster and longer range links. The fibre roll-out is actually happening first on the outskirts of towns, where DSL speeds fall off, and so where the benefits are greatest. Towns and cities are currently supplied with cable (500Mbps) or DSL (100Mbps), and where DSL speeds fall off below the minimum levels defined in the NBP (30Mbps down and 6Mbps up), is where the transition to FTTH (1Gbps) is happening first. The towns and cities though will over the next few years have access to a newer FTTH (10Gbps) roll-out from Eir.

For more rural locations (540K homes) there is the NBP, which Eir pulled out of and is being provided by Granahan McCourt at a cost of €5B, with 60% being provided by the government. That roll-out is planned for 2020 - 2027. Note given the minimum defined NBP speeds above, one might think some of this may leverage the copper network, but this roll-out is intended to be fibre and providing 150Mbps by year one, and under contract to reach 500Mbps by year eleven. The copper quality in Ireland is generally quite bad anyway, so replacing it makes sense. The cost per home for this scheme will therefore be around €10K over 25 years, while the more urban homes served by Eir will cost about €1K. Note also that Eir will receive about €1B from renting poles and other infrastructure to Granahan McCourt.

The best place to check the availability of Eir's broadband is at fibrerollout.ie, but note the conflation of DSL and FTTH there. When looking at the map you're looking for the fibre routes outside of towns, and the homes marked alongside. There is also the option to lookup by address, and if you're presented with the 100Mb/s option, that's DSL not fibre. In that case you'll probably have to wait for the newer FTTH roll-out mentioned above, rolling out from 2019-2023.

Replacing the Eir F2000 Router

The Huawei F2000 (HG659b) provided by Eir isn't too bad, but is a jack of all trades, rather than being particularly good at any. It provides ports for voice, DSL, Ethernet, and WiFi. Now I don't need the former as I no longer use my old landline number or phone, and DSL is moot here as we're on FTTH. Given FTTH provides 1Gbps it makes sense to maximize this rate throughout one's home through WiFi, but the F2000 just doesn't suffice in this regard. You get full speed a few feet from the device, but in other rooms, and especially for larger houses, WiFi speeds and reception falls off quickly. Also there are reports of lockups etc, so I replaced the device immediately.

The F2000 connects to the fibre network through an ONT, which is probably beside it on your wall. This connection is over standard wired Ethernet, so all you need to replace the F2000, is a standard router that supports DHCP (common) and VLAN (less common). I considered using an openwrt based replacement, but wanted to focus more on WiFi capabilities, so opted for a commercial mesh WiFi system from Netgear.

Note you could keep your F2000 if you wanted for some reason by disabling the wireless in its setup, but the F2000 power consumption is 24W max, so assuming 50% normal usage would cost €16/year, and also add extra latency. BTW the ONT is a Huawei hg8010h which uses 2.5W or €3.50/year in electricity. The power used by each node of the Netgear mesh system, is 10.5W on, 34.7W max, or about €20/year/node.

Note the ONT has max speed ratings of Rx:2.488 Gb/s, Tx:1.244 Gb/s, but only a GE port, so would need to be updated for Eir to supply rates faster than 1Gbps in future. Also note there is a newer Orbi system soon available (RBK852) that has a 2.5Gbps WAN port, and supports AX6000 / WiFi 6 / 802.11ax wireless, which is about 30% faster and has better bandwidth utilization when many devices are connected. However that's overkill and would give little to no advantage in this setup.

WiFi calling is also supported with standard protocols and settings and does not require the Eir router. This is a very useful feature to get better quality and cheaper voice calls, using your traditional mobile telephone number. The main reason it's useful to us though is because we have bad cellular coverage within the house due to insulation etc. With better more reliable wireless internet, WiFi calling is feasible to use to give an improved voice calling experience. Setting this up on the mobile phone (with an Eir sim) is trivial, with a single option to enable, and the certs etc. being read from the sim to setup the encrypted VOIP connections. Note I did test a call while doing a speed test (both up and down) to maximize use of the internet connection, and noticed no distortion in the call, so the default QoS in the Orbi works well for this use case. There is a hidden QoS setup page, though I didn't use it, nor am I sure it's even supported on the Orbi.

Netgear Orbi RBK50 mesh WiFi system

Here is a great technical review, but in summary this system has dedicated antennas and frequencies for extending itself (in a mesh) throughout your premises, while leaving the standard antennas and frequencies free to communicate with your devices. One can also connect the mesh with wired Ethernet if your premises has this available in appropriate locations, but my home does not and so will leverage the excellent 5GHz wireless mesh functionality of the system.

Setting up the Orbi

The Orbi system provides a router (RBR50) and between 1 and 3 satellites (RBS50), each of which should be placed no more than 30' (9 meters) apart.

The router can be setup in two modes, "router" and "AP". I was initially confused, but one should leave in the default "router" mode in this setup, as AP mode is for connecting to an AP, not acting as an AP. So only if you're leaving the F2000 in place would AP mode be used.

Note there is an iOS and android app available, but it's not needed nor sufficient for this setup, though it is useful later to view the mesh topology and what devices are connected to where.

Required setup

  1. connect the yellow port of the RBR50 to the ONT Ethernet port
  2. connect a laptop to another Ethernet port on the RBR50
  3. go to orbilogin.com (192.168.1.1)
  4. go to "advanced setup", VLAN, enable by VLAN tag group
    • keep the default of 10 for the VLAN ID

Optional advanced wireless settings

You can set the region to control the wireless radio power used, as there are per region limits on allowed WiFi power. I found US region to give the best connection speeds for my setup. This is mainly significant for the backhaul connection as the power will be significant to both the Rx and Tx sides of those connections. Note I set the 2.4G signal power to 25% to give more chance of devices using the 5GHz connections.

Allowing daisy chain is basically a trade-off between latency and throughput. I.E. depending on your layout of Orbis you may get a stronger wireless signal in daisy chain mode, and thus more throughput, but each hop ads about 3ms of latency. In my setup I was able to use a star topology and connect both satellites to the router, with strong enough connections to saturate my internet connection, and so not incur the extra (albeit small) 3ms latency.
Testing with the `mtr` command on my pc with a wireless connection to the router gives a latency of 11ms to google's DNS server, with the router -> ONT -> "Eir first hop" adding about 2ms to the total.

The rest of the wireless settings were left in the default disabled state due to various disadvantages very well summarized on the Netgear forum, though they may be appropriate for your situation.

Miscellaneous settings

Orbi command line access

Each Orbi node is a 4 core 710MHz ARM Linux system, with 4GB flash, and 512MB RAM on the router and 256MB RAM on the satellites. To login with telnet one first enables access at http://192.168.1.1/debug_detail.htm (note that setting is not persistent across reboots). The system is based on OpenWRT, though the standard package manager is not supported. One command I found quite useful was seeing the connection power (RSSI) of the backhaul as highlighted below. A value of 25 or more is best for reliable wireless communication, so this is useful when determining the positions for your Orbi nodes, and also whether to daisy chain or not.
$ telnet 192.168.1.1
Trying 192.168.1.1...
Connected to 192.168.1.1.
Escape character is '^]'.
====================LOGIN=========================
 Please enter account and password!!
==================================================
RBR50 login: admin
Password:


BusyBox v1.24.1 (2019-06-28 21:18:41 CST) built-in shell (ash)
Enter 'help' for a list of built-in commands.


root@RBR50:/# wlanconfig ath2 list
ADDR               AID CHAN TXRATE RXRATE RSSI MINRSSI MAXRSSI
3e:94:ed:28:b7:ef    2  157 1733M   1733M   44      31      47
3e:94:ed:28:b7:fe    1  157 1170M   1170M   39      33      47
© Sep 15 2019