Sunday, April 29, 2007

SkyDSL Installation: A Recap

I applied for a SkyDSL account three days ago. It is now up and running and I am using it to write this blog entry.

Below is a description of the installation process that was followed, which I hope will be useful not only for my future reference, and also for anyone else who is trying to set up their own DSL modem.

To clarify, SkyDSL is actually BayanTel's DSL service. The only difference is that under the SkyDSL brand, you don't need to get a BayanTel phone line; you are literally getting DSL only.

Basic Installation

Installation began yesterday, when two BayanTel contractors arrived to set up our phone cables so that a BayanTel phone outlet can be added to our home office. Although we have existing phone outlets in the home office, they're all from another provider.

After looking at the various options, the installation guys decided to use the spare third (red) wires in our existing phone lines inside the house for the DSL connection, so they would not have to lay down a new set of cables. The entire installation process took around two hours, although the bulk of that time was spent tracing the phone wires from room to room inside the house.

Overall, the installation process went well. There was one catch however: I didn't have the presence of mind to check our existing phone lines before the installation guys left. I learned too late that one of our phone lines was no longer working: we had lost the dial tone, and people who call the number can hear it ringing on their end, but the phone inside our house doesn't actually ring. More on this later.

Before they left, the installation guys advised us to expect another guy to arrive, either later that day or sometime the next day, to setup the DSL modem. Apparently, the first set of guys were experts on the phone cabling, and a different guy with networking skills was required for the computer-specific stuff.

As expected, the second guy arrived today just before noon to install the cable modem. The process was straightforward, and took around 15 minutes. I think anyone who has worked with a modem before would have been able to figure it out on their own.

Before long, one of our PCs was online, and speedtest results were looking good.

The Challenge: Extending Access to Other PCs

The next challenge therefore was to set up our home network so that the other PCs at home could also get on the Internet. I knew from reading the fine print that SkyDSL only accepts responsibility for getting one computer online. The customer is free to connect as many other PCs as they want, but they're on their own when it comes to setting up that kind of network. It was therefore no surprise when the DSL guy kindly but firmly declined to assist me in figuring out how to get the other PCs online as well.

Anyway, it turns out that all the instructions that I needed to share the DSL connection with the rest of the computers via our Linksys router was fully documented in the User's Manual that came with the DSL modem.

Modem Background

The unit they gave us was a Huawei Smart AX MT880 ADSL Router. As the name implies, the modem actually has a built-in router that can act as a DHCP server. It also has a software dialer that can be configured to automatically dial and create a connection to the ISP.

Out of the box, the modem defaults to "Pure Bridge" mode, which means its router features are disabled, and your PC's dial-up networking settings are used to initiate the connection to the DSL provider.

Since we had an existing Linksys router (which all our PCs connect to either directly or wirelessly), I knew I had to connect the modem in series with the router. I also didn't want to have to boot up a "host" PC to initiate the dialing if other computers needed to get online. So "Pure Bridge" mode was definitely not what I wanted or needed.

After examining the various options, I concluded that what I needed was the "PPPoE Mode," which (a) enables the router capabilities of the modem; and (b) enables the modem's auto-dialer so that a PC was not needed to initiate the dial-up process.

Modem and Network Configuration
Updated: May 1, 2007

Here's the process that I followed, for future reference:

  1. With the DSL modem connected directly to my PC, I changed the default IP address of the modem, to make sure it doesn't have the same IP address as the Linksys router. I kept both routers in the same subnet, so they can find each other.
  2. With the DSL modem still connected to my PC, I followed the instructions in the User's Manual to set the DSL modem in PPPoE Mode, using the user name and password provided by the SkyDSL installation guy. I also rebooted the modem as instructed.
  3. I went to the TCP/IP settings of each PC's LAN card and set them all to "Obtain an IP address automatically" and to "Obtain DNS server address automatically".
  4. I also set all of the PC browsers to "automatically detect network settings".
  5. After all the PC settings were changed, I reconnected the PC to my Linksys router, then connected the DSL modem to one of the ports on the Linksys router as well (making sure it's not connected to the Linksys WAN port).
  6. I logged into the administrator panel of the Linksys router and disabled its DHCP (since the DHCP on the DSL modem is enabled). After that, I reset the router.
  7. I next forced the PC to re-acquire a new IP address by disconnecting and reconnecting the network cable.
After making all these changes, I tested each PC and found that they were all up and online, using the DHCP router of the DSL modem. Step number 5 was the one that took some figuring out, since the instructions on the modem's manual didn't assume the use of another router.

I had originally connected the DSL modem's ethernet port to the Linksys WAN port and was getting frustrated when it wouldn't work. A search on the Internet led me to a page that advised against using the Linksys WAN port.

Next Steps

I'm not completely convinced that the setting I chose (PPPoE) is the best option, especially since the modem is not connected to the WAN port, and therefore it probably doesn't take advantage of the built-in firewall on the router. So my next step is to explore some other mode and see if it will work.

If you've had some experience setting this up, I'll be happy to get your advice.

Busted Phone Line

One final thing to add to this entry is my frustration dealing with the customer service people at BayanTel when I reported our busted phone line.

The BayanTel customer service trunk line (412-12-12) advised me to call the DSL support guys, since the problem is not with a BayanTel phone.

I called the DSL support guys (411-2000), who advised me initially to call their telephone support (171) until I explained that the busted phone line was from another provider. Their next advice therefore was for me to call the other provider since it's "obviously" a problem with their line. They gave me this advice even after I had explained that the problem started after the BayanTel telephone cabling guys had messed around with our phone wiring inside the house. Talk about passing the buck! * sigh! *

The SkyDSL cable installation guy was listening to my side of the phone conversation as I talked to the customer support guys, and I guess he could clearly see my mounting frustration at getting the run-around, because he volunteered to take care of raising it with the guys who did the installation. That was nice of him. Only time will tell whether the issue will truly get raised and resolved.

So there it is. A recap of my latest adventure with internet connectivity. After our disappointing experiences with our cable modem provider (whose service declined steadily after typhoon Milenyo hit last year), I am hoping that I'll be able to join the company of other friends who are happy BayanTel DSL users.

See also: Busted Phone Line: An Update