Monday, March 28, 2011


Two and a half months. Nearly three, actually. Four separate trips into Launceston. A dozen or more phone calls to Telstra, the longest of which lasted more than an hour and a half -- and that was AFTER I got through their labyrinth of recorded bullshit.

Today I connected up the high-gain aerial I bought last week in Launceston. Bought, I should add, from the Telstra Business Office in Mowbray, and not from the almost-completely-useless Telstra store in mid-town. (By which I mean: I ordered the aerial through them in early January. I went back in mid-February and asked about it. They were very apologetic, and went about ordering it some MORE. Firmly, this time. In mid-March, I went back to talk to them again... but this time the woman at the counter hit me with her Rudeness Raygun, and I left. That hour-and-a-half phone call? It confirmed that the Telstra office in Launceston had never at any time placed an order for a high-gain aerial to my account. What had they actually done? Nobody could answer that.)

Yes, I connected that metre-long black whip antenna to the base station. And then the real fun began. Naturally, I couldn't get it to speak Internet. So I tried reinstalling the base station, but it wouldn't recognise the password that went with the username. So... gritting my teeth, I phoned Telstra.

The recorded messages were painfully useless. Particularly the one that wanted me to cite the account number. That particular bit of good cheer told me I had to say "continue" when I found the number -- but then it stumbled. And repeated itself. And stumbled again. And repeated. And I couldn't actually at any point tell it the number.


Eventually I got a Telstra tech. Like almost all Telstra tech support I've ever dealt with, he had a strong accent that I was hard-pressed to follow, but we worked our way through for a bit. And then he told me that I couldn't update the password because I didn't have access to the user account.

That's right.

Two and a half months of work. I mean - the home phone is in Natalie's name, but we're both on the books as "people who can authorise changes". And this new Bigpond account -- the only reason it EXISTS is because I packed up my three kids, drove into Launceston, then waited forty minutes to see a service johnny, and then spent a further forty minutes working through the specifications of the account.

Except, of course, that the account is linked to Natalie's mobile, isn't it? And despite the fact that I was allowed to set up the account, rearrange Natalie's mobile payment details, authorise the purchase of the base station and decide which mobile broadband plan we were going to use... well, it's Natalie's mobile, right? And, you know, there's nothing on the books authorising me to have anything to do with that, is there?

I kept my temper. I asked the idiot on the other end of the line if he seriously expected me to ring my GP wife at her surgery so she could phone BigPond and spend forty minutes with a recorded system in order to authorise my access to the account I'd created in the first place.

Strangely, the pillock actually did think that was the way to go. So I asked for his supervisor.

Somewhere into the second quarter-hour of hold music, I hung up on them.

I gave 'em a few minutes. I tried again - because the recorded voice kept seductively promising that it could help me change the password. Except, of course, that every time I tried to supply my account number, the F__KING thing would stumble and repeat itself. Again.

Eventually, I wound up with another heavily accented tech. But THIS tech was far, far less stupid. Once he ascertained I was trying to reinstall the system, he told me to quit messing around, and gave me the URL of the control page of the base station/router. And of course, once I was there, it was child's play to enter the proper username and the password... and it worked like a charm.


Unfortunately, the signal strength still varied between 'low' and 'non-existent', meaning that I could get maybe thirty seconds of access at very infrequent intervals. But perhaps that was because the aerial was still sitting in the house, leaning on the wall. I put it out the window, fetched a ladder, and wandered round to the outside.

With a little electrical tape, I temporarily attached the aerial to a long rod, and I taped that to the top of the ladder. The aerial was now well over the roof height. I went back inside.

Signal strength was still deeply forked. Bummer.

I thought about it for a bit. Particularly, I thought about the nasty, finicky little joiner which had been provided to allow me to connect the skinny co-ax cable from the aerial into the back of the base station. Typical piss-poor design: the connect-o socket for the co-ax on the back of the base station doesn't actually connect -- you have to put a double-ended adaptor onto it, and each end of the adaptor has to individually screw into place: one on the cable, one on the base station.

The adaptor is about three centimetres long. And naturally, they've located the connecto-socket in a place where there's a kind of shield in the way, so you really can't get your fingers in to do the job properly. I'd done the best I could... but had it been enough?

I found a pair of electronics pliers. Then I tightened the two opposite-turning collars on the adaptor... and lo! All of a sudden, the signal strength indicator jumped to 'high'!

Instantly, I jumped online and tried a few YouTube videos. (Hayseed Dixie, if you must know. They're hilarious.) And by Odin's long and scraggly beard... IT WORKED!

Like magic it worked! I promptly tried three different broadband speed check sites, and discovered that this setup is about two to three times the speed of the crappy satellite link. About 1.3mbps, as a matter of fact. Whooo-HOO!

So. Next hurdle: I went upstairs, fired up Natalie's computer, and looked for the new wireless link.

Oh dear. Nothing.


At this point, a lesser mortal might have caved in and gone back to phone Telstra again. But not yours truly. Nope: I opened up that control-page URL again, and noodled around until I found a whole bunch of settings - including WiFi. Working with my little ASUS eeepc on my lap, I tweaked the settings until I could find a wireless signal, log on, and download. Then I trotted back upstairs, and had another crack at Natalie's computer.

Success! This time her computer not only found the new network, but logged straight on and happily took to reading the BBC news. Yes! Calloo, callay! O Frabjous Day! Genius = me!

But the job still wasn't done. Because, of course, the actual aerial was still taped to a paint-roller handle that was taped to the top of an aluminium ladder. And that configuration would almost certainly turn out to be sub-optimal in the event of inclement weather... or even me needing my goddam ladder back.

So I grabbed the coach bolts kindly provided with the aerial kit. And the hose clamps, yeah, them too. I loaded a decent drillbit into my cordless drill, found a socket spanner to fit the coach bolts, and trundled up to the top of the ladder with all my gear, plus the steel hockey-stick thing provided as an aerial mount. With balletic grace, I drilled a couple of pilot holes left-handed (since my right hand was involved in maintaining vertical integrity of myself, the ladder, and the hockey-stick thing). Then I coach-bolted the blasted thing into place on the eaves. Yay!

Up the ladder to the roof, going very carefully. I freed the aerial from the jury-rigging and duct tape, and placed it alongside the steel hockey-stick thing. Then I dropped the hose-clamps into place, and did them up nice and tight with the screwdriver I forgot to mention earlier. (Spanner. Socket. Screwdriver. Drill... yeah, lotta tools up there on the roof. Did I get them all down? Jeez, I hope so.)

And there it was. Solidly mounted. I gathered my tools and descended once more to earth. Then I put the whole lot away, and put the ladder back in the shed, and went back inside.

Miracle! The signal strength was still "high". I was still Net-enabled!

Ladeez and gennulmen, I have done it. After nearly three months, I have managed to activate and then render useful this Telstra 3G account.

And what do we get after all that effort? Well, there's our blinding new 1.3mpbs speeds. Yeeha. And there's 12 -- count them! -- TWELVE gigabytes a month available for a cost maybe twenty bucks down on the price we've been paying for 15gb a month from the satellite dudes. The thing to note, however, is that our new 12gb allowance is NOT restricted by time of day. No "peak time" bullshit, in other words.

Y'see, with the satellite people, only 3gb was available at what they called "broadband" speeds between the hours of midday and eleven pm. And if you used more than that 3gb during that period, you were 'shaped' back to 64kbps.

Can I just point out that most of the Internet -- even text-heavy pages like Wikipedia -- won't even load at 64k any more? It just sort of... hangs. And Cthulhu help you if you actually needed to access anything interactive. Ugh.

We never used our full 15gb in a month... but we frequently needed to buy expensive data blocks to avoid having our Internet access rendered useless for half of every day for the last week or so of the month. 12gb of broadband speed available 24/7 should hold us for a while.

What's that? Pathetic and expensive, you say?

Well... yeah. It is. I'm well aware of that. But it's an improvement of sorts. We'll keep the satellite maybe one more month to make sure this system doesn't have any hidden bugs - and then we'll switch over. And who knows? Maybe someday they'll connect us to that magic NBN which is only ten or twelve km down the road...

...ha. As if.

The worst thing about this situation? I'm back to dealing with Telstra again.

Fan. Fucking. Tastic.