Truckee-Tahoe Internet: Broadband in the Mountains

Residential Internet Service Providers in Truckee/Tahoe region and some Internet troubleshooting tips https://tti.ourlaketahoe.com

2021-11-08

Tahoe/Truckee-specific information and general WiFi and Internet troubleshooting and configuration

Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Residential ISPs servicing the Truckee / North Tahoe area, values shown are typical, rather than their advertised rates:

technology ISP bandwidth (down/up) ping time data limit (“bandwidth cap”)
fiber optics AT&T, Charter Business 1Gbps / 1Gbps ? ?
cable Suddenlink 10Mbps-1000Mbps / 1Mbps-400Mbps 40ms 250GB-unlimited
cable Charter Spectrum 10Mbps-200Mbps / 1Mbps-10Mbps ? ?
DSL (ADSL&VDSL) AT&T 3Mbps-6Mbps / 300Kbps-1Mbps 25ms unlimited
fixed wireless Oasis, Sky Fiber 85Mbps / 5Mbps ? unlimited
fixed wireless AT&T 35Mbps / 15Mbps 40-45ms ?
Starlink satellite Starlink 200Mbps / 10Mbps 45-80ms unlimited
geosync satellite HughesNet, Viasat 25Mbps / ? 540ms+ 10-50GB
cellular Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, Oasis, etc. 1Mbps-80Mbps / 1Mbps-3Mbps 60ms(LTE), 300ms(3G) unlimited (*)

bandwidth: typical bandwidth according to speedtest.net using in-home Ethernet (not WiFi). Video streaming consumes the most bandwidth, and exactly amount depends on the streaming service and how well that service compresses their video – Netflix claims their SD quality streams consume 3Mbps, HD 5Mbps, and 4K 25Mbps. Some speeds are only available in some locations. For example, some houses can only obtain 3Mbps downstream from AT&T. 1Mbps = 1000Kbps. See speed tests below.

ping time: measures interactivity, lower is better. ms is milliseconds so 500ms is half a second, 1000ms is one second. Human perception is approximately 150ms (maybe 100ms if fully caffeinated). This is the ‘delay’ shown by speedtest.net or by doing a ping with a major Internet site, such as www.google.com. The lower this number, the more interactive and responsive all applications will feel – from changing songs on Spotify to loading new web pages.

data limit (“bandwidth cap”): monthly data transfer limit or penalty, which can vary based on specific service plan. Video streaming and other activity can consume streaming can consume a lot of bandwidth over a month. Per Netflix, streaming video consumes 3GB per hour for HD, 7GB per hour for Ultra HD, and 7GB per hour for 4K. Note on ‘unlimited’: cellular networks are famous to claim unlimited bandwidth, but reduce speed if excessive data is consumed in a month (AT&T 2019 lawsuit, T-Mobile 2010 lawsuit). For reference using Netflix, a two-hour movie consumes 2GB at SD resolution, 6GB at HD resolution, and 14GB at 4K resolution.

Service Areas

Communities where each technology or ISP provides services. Satellite requires line-of-sight to the satellite (that is, not obscured by trees or mountains), and cellular signal quality can be checked by a smartphone on the same carrier (see troubleshooting section, below).

An area is considered served when a large majority of homes can receive service – say, like, 80%. For example, Suddenlink provides service throughout all of Tahoe-Donner except a few streets (such as upper Skislope). Similarly, satellite and cellular are available everywhere, but trees and interior antennas means the service quality can be lousy for that technology at a particular house.

Location fiber cable fixed wireless cellular satellite
Alpine Meadows no partial Suddenlink Oasis yes yes
Donner Lake no Suddenlink no yes yes
Donner Summit no no Oasis planned 2021/2022? yes yes
Glenshire no Suddenlink Oasis yes yes
Highway 89 Truckee/TC no no no partial yes
Incline Village partial AT&T/Charter Charter Sky yes yes
Juniper Hill no no Oasis yes yes
Kings Beach no Charter Sky yes yes
Kingswood no no Oasis yes yes
Martis Camp no Suddenlink Oasis yes yes
Northstar no Suddenlink no yes yes
Prosser Dam Road no partial Suddenlink yes yes yes
Russell Valley no no Oasis summer/fall 2021? no yes
Sierra Meadows no Suddenlink ? yes yes
Squaw Valley no ? Oasis yes yes
Tahoma no Suddenlink partial Sky yes yes
Tahoe City no Charter partial Sky yes yes
Tahoe Donner very limited Oasis Suddenlink partial Oasis yes yes
Tahoe Vista no Charter Oasis yes yes

cable network diagram

Suddenlink has bandwidth typical of a cable provider, but their network deployed to Truckee has high ping times (delay).

Suddenlink is locally infamous for performance and reliability issues during busy times (Christmas break, ski/skate week, July 4th).

A connection probe on Suddenlink in Truckee showed 99.87% availability for September 2019 (disconnected 56 minutes total) with outages of 1-8 minutes and two 10 minute outages, and showed 99.91% availability for May 2021 (disconnected 38 minutes total) with outages of 1-9 minutes.

Charter

Charter Spectrum provides residential cable Internet mostly on the north shore and Incline Village.

Charter Business provides fiber optic Internet to Incline Village and some north shore communities via

Sky

Sky Fiber Internet provides fixed wireless around Lake Tahoe, primarily West, East, and South shores.

Oasis

Oasis provides fixed point-to-point wireless and LTE wireless. As of summer 2021, Oasis is also starting to deploy fiber to homes and condo buildings.

The point-to-point wireless service is available in several communities and provides LTE service elsewhere. Check Oassis for details at https://survey.oasisbroadband.net.

For both point-to-point and LTE, line of sight to an Oasis tower or an LTE tower is necessary requiring a site survey to determine the available service quality. As of March 2021, installation is free.

AT&T

AT&T provides both fixed wireless and fiber to some local communities.

AT&T Fixed Wireless provides speeds 30-40Mbps down and 15-20Mbps up. Unknown where available, and unknown if this is actually fixed wireless or cellular. Email details so I can update.

AT&T fiber is available to residences in Incline Village, initial deployment is along Lake Shore Blvd.

HughesNet, Viasat

Both HughesNet and ViaSat provide geosynchronous orbit satellites.

Both HughesNet and Viasat have their own satellites in geosynchronous orbit (about 22,000 miles away) which relays all of the home’s Internet traffic. This means over half a second (540ms) to send a request and another half a second (540ms) to receive its response. Interactivity is harmed by this delay because a typical web page involves dozens of connections to dozens of servers. Once the data starts downloading, though, it is pretty fast – satellite provides a lot of bandwidth.

Note: Neither Dish nor DirecTV provide satellite Internet; rather, they re-sell HughesNet and Viasat.

Geosynchronous satellite is generally not recommended because the high latency harms experience. But it can be okay for low-interactivity Internet usage (with tremendous patience!) or an off-the-grid house or RV.

MacOS can simulate a geosynchronous satellite connection using Apple’s Network Link Conditioner (NLC), which is available with a (free) Apple developer account. Assuming your Internet connection is faster than geosynchronous satellite, a custom profile with downlink delay=540ms and uplink delay=540ms will simulate the experience of geosynchronous satellite. Network Link Conditioner

Starlink is the only low-earth orbit Internet satellite company, using a cluster of thousands of satellites. Their service is now available in Truckee (as of 8 February 2021) for for $99/month plus $500 equipment. Early tests show 30Mbps download speed and 20ms ping times. See a person’s experience with Starlink to understand their current service level. Also see Starlink review by Tom’s Hardware.

Note: as of November 2021, Starlink has announced to some beta customers that due to chip shortages they can expect equipment summer/fall 2022.

Because Starlink’s low-earth orbmit satellites move across the sky, the Starlink dish needs to communicate with the satellites while they move. Thus, a view of the sky without obstruction is generally necessary for Starlink’s satellite system. This means heavily-treed lots are poor candidates for Starlink service, such as most lots in Tahoe-Donner and Glenshire. Starlink provides a free app to determine if your location is suitable for Starlink (Android app and iPhone app), which shows obstructions from trees or mountains.

Starlink app trees

Note Starlink is not (yet) suitable for taking on the road, but as of March 2021 they are trying to make Starlink portable.

Starlink review by Verge,

“Reality, it must be emphasized, is very irritating.”

Second, all the people dreaming of Starlink upsetting cable monopolies and reinventing broadband need to seriously reset their expectations. At best, Starlink currently offers reasonably fast access with inconsistent connectivity, huge latency swings, and a significant uptick in time spent considering whether you can just get out the chainsaw and solve the tree problem yourself.

Starlink diagram

Cellular

It is possible to connect to the Internet using a cellular provider (Verizon Wireless, AT&T, or T-Mobile). There are two ways to do this:

Location, location, location: the device needs a (1) strong cellular signal and (2) needs to be close to WiFi devices to provide them a strong WiFi signal. Achieving good signals for both cellular and WiFi can be difficult in many homes. Choosing the right cellular provider is important, because a small hill or trees can influence which cellular provider is best.

Cellular coverage

Cellular coverage and cellular tower locations are available from FCC, CellMapper, or RootMetrics (for RootMetrics, enter ‘Truckee’ into search box in upper right, and toggle between AT&T/Verizon/T-Mobile networks in the middle). If those are not satisfactory, see Weboost for other cellular mapping services.

DSL

AT&T DSL used to be available nearly anywhere that had have normal telephone service (POTS, Plain Old Telephone Service). Locally, AT&T provided both ADSL service (usually called “DSL”) and VDSL service (marketed as “U-Verse”). As of Septepmber 2021, it appears AT&T is still marketing and selling U-Verse in Truckee, notably in Martis Valley, but unconfirmed.

Important: AT&T is not signing up new DSL customers after October 2020, see AT&T kills DSL, leaves tens of millions of homes without fiber Internet.

Announcement from Lake Tahoe OnLine on 16 March 2021,

“Effective October 1, 2021, Lake Tahoe Online’s DSL Internet service will be discontinued. All current DSL subscribers are encouraged to find alternate Internet access before the final disconnect date.”

Cellular phone at home with poor cellular service

Many homes have poor cellular service inside because the building interferes with cellular radio signals. There are three technical solutions:

Wi-Fi calling


Network Configurations

Cable

A typical home network with a cable ISP, the dotted line indicating the three functions are sometimes in the same device, other times the cable modem is physically separate from the combined device providing both WiFi and router/NAT functions. Click on image to embiggen.

DSL diagram

The Starlink satellite antenna is connected with an Ethernet cable and powered using proprietary power-over-Ethernet injector. This power both aligns the antenna’s interior parts with the satellites and melts snow.

Starlink diagram

DSL

A typical home network with a DSL ISP, the dotted line indicating that the three functions are often in a single device. Click on image to embiggen. DSL diagram

Troubleshooting

The problem of “Slow Internet” can be caused by in-home WiFi, connection to the ISP connection, the ISP’s network, the Internet, or the remote server. Consult the diagram above for your DSL or cable Internet.

Troubleshooting is easiest from the local network (closest to the smartphone or PC) to the next component, and progressing to test along the way to eventually testing the Internet connection itself. Said another way: a poor-quality WiFi connection means everything will be bad. And said another way: a poor-quality ISP connection means everything will be bad. All connections have to be working well for a good overall experience.

The ping time (also called “round trip time”), downstream bandwidth, and upstream bandwidth are all important. ISPs only like to advertise the downstream bandwidth but a healthy connection requires many things: low ping times, little packet loss, sufficient downstream bandwidth, and sufficient upstream bandwidth. Upstream bandwidth is used to upload pictures and videos, of course, but upstream bandwidth is also used to request content to display and also acknowledes receipt of data. If those acknowledgement messages are lost or delayed, the sender will slow down.

Speed tests

Speed tests using Ethernet are best, so that WiFi issues can be isolated from Internet issues.

On a smartphone Speedtest by Ookla is a good testing application available for Apple iOS or Android.

On a computer visit either speedtest.net or Netflix’s fast.com. The ping time, download speed, and upload speed are all important.

Troubleshooting WiFi

Like FM radio, WiFi signals do not travel far and WiFi loses strength quickly between rooms or trying to transmit through mirrors. Problems with WiFi can be complicated by Internet connectivity problems. Testing both WiFi and Internet connectivity at the same time is difficult, if not impossible. To test WiFi, first establish a baseline of the Internet connection itself – using Ethernet, not WiFi. If unable to use Ethernet for testing, test WiFi within a few feet of the WiFi access point (the device with the WiFi antennas). Then test again at the location where WiFi is not working (bedroom, living room). The results of the Ethernet test, nearby WiFi (within a few feet), and WiFi at the desired location are all useful to diagnose and resolve WiFi issues. Collect ping time, downstream bandwidth, and upstream bandwidth from each location.

If Internet performance is adequate when using Ethernet but inadequate from the desired location (living room), the solution is not upgrading to faster Internet from the ISP. Rather, the solution is improving the in-home WiFi network. There are lots of products that improve in-home WiFi, and some products that do not improve in-homne WiFi. Recommended is Google WiFi which forms a mesh connection between the devices. If possible, wiring them together with Ethernet creates an even better experience.

Channels: 2.4GHz WiFi should be on channel 1, 6, or 11 – which are the only channels that don’t overlap. Choose the channel that is least used (least noisy) in your environment. Some access points can perform their own scan or you can scan using Windows Vistumbler) or the scanner built into MacOS, and ideally stick with 20MHz wide channels. 5GHz WiFi is more complicated but again choose non-overlapping quiet channels by scanning your local environment. On 5GHz with 80MHz wide channels, the non-overlapping channels are 42, 58, 106, 122, 138, and 155. For both 2.4GHz and 5GHz it is best to choose a channel explicitly rather than allowing the access point to choose itself (“auto”) because it confuses client devices which have to re-connect when it changes the channel.

Even more details on Wi-Fi in Ars Technica.

Troubleshooting connection to ISP

The connection to the ISP can degrade or fail over time because of galvanic corrosion (like rusty ski edges), loose connections, improperly-connected neighbor house, or physical failure at the ISP itself.

When testing the ISP connection, always use an ethernet cable connected directly to the router and turn off your WiFi. After testing the laptop can be moved back to its normal location. Tests performed over WiFi are actually testing the WiFi connection and the ISP connection, which is unnecessarily complicated. Once the ISP connection is tested and has known characteristics (good or bad!) the in-home WiFi can be tested separately; see previous section on WiFi troubleshooting.

When testing Suddenlink, use Suddenlink.speedtest.net or Netflix’s fast.com, because those tests are within Suddenlink’s network. Other tests go across the Internet (to varying degrees) and are testing both the connection to the ISP and also testing the ISP’s connection to other parts of the Internet (that is, their “peering” connections).

If your router is a Netgear Nighthawk, the Netgear Nighthawk app (iOS, Google Play) works by triggering a speedtest from the router – effectively taking WiFi out of the speed test. This is a nice easy way to test.

Some troubleshooting is specific to the technology connected to the home’s ISP:

troubleshooting cable

Speed test: For testing speed with Suddenlink, use Ethernet (not WiFi) and use Suddenlink’s speed test. It’s important to avoid using WiFi for testing so that only the Suddenlink connection is tested, rather than testing both Suddenlink and WiFi at the same time which obscures problems.

Line quality: Every cablemodem maintains line quality information which indicates if the wiring from the cable provider to your modem is working properly. This wiring is often a cause of problems. To see this line quality information connect to your network and visit http://192.168.100.1. The username/password combination is usually admin/admin, admin/password, or similar – see username & password to look up defaults for your modem model.

After logging into the modem, find the cablemodem status page which varies by manufacturer and model. This page will show correctable errors and uncorrectable errors and the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).

The SNR should be above about 36dB (see guide for details). While watching the values, perform data transfers (such as speedtest) to exercise the modem and reload the screen to determine if uncorrectable or correctable errors are increasing. Increasing uncorrectable errors cause data re-transmissions and indicate something is wrong with the line to your house. If the error numbers are not increasing, yet speedtest still shows slower-than-expected performance, the problem is likely elsewhere, and not a problem with the cablemodem and not with the line to the ISP. The problem could be with the in-home network (Ethernet or WiFi) or within the ISP’s network itself. Further diagnostics can uncover the exact problem. See the WiFi troubleshooting section to diagnose problems with in-home WiFi.

Note: Some modems reset their error counters to zero when rebooted, while others retain their error counter values.

Cable modem status page

troubleshooting DSL

If the house telephone has no dialtone, that needs to be fixed before DSL will work. After confirming dialtone, check the modem’s statistics, especially decibel levels and trained downstream/upstream rate and error counters. If the router and modem are combined into the same device try http://192.168.1.1 to see the modem statistics. If the DSL modem and router are separate devices, consult the DSL modem’s user guide for how to view modem statistics; manuals can be found online search for the modem manufacturer (e.g., TP-Link, DLink, Alcatel) and model number (from on the FCC sticker on the bottom or back, or printed on the front or top) and “user guide” and “PDF” will usually find the manual and login information for the modem.

An example of a poor-quality DSL signal which is causing a lot of errors (high values in channel uncorrected blocks and corrected blocks), DSL modem status page - poor and example of a good DSL connection, DSL modem status page - good

troubleshooting fixed wireless

Fixed point to point wireless has an antenna or dish that points towards another antenna or dish which need to be in alignment and free of snow. Snow or rain can harm the signal.

troubleshooting satellite

The house-mounted dish needs to be properly aligned. Rain, hail, and snow can degrade the signal. Snow accumulated on the dish can also harm the signal and should be removed manually or by installing a dish heater. Starlink’s dish has a heater built-in.

Troubleshooting ISP network

Suddenlink is rumored to use microwave wireless from Truckee to the peak of Northstar where the signal is transmitted again. In severe weather events this microwave link does exhibit some problems. It is unknown how other providers in the area backhaul their connections to the Internet.

Common command-line tools:

    % ping 8.8.8.8
    PING 8.8.8.8 (8.8.8.8): 56 data bytes
    64 bytes from 8.8.8.8: icmp_seq=0 ttl=56 time=45.879 ms
    64 bytes from 8.8.8.8: icmp_seq=1 ttl=56 time=45.982 ms
    64 bytes from 8.8.8.8: icmp_seq=2 ttl=56 time=39.546 ms
    64 bytes from 8.8.8.8: icmp_seq=3 ttl=56 time=38.490 ms
    ^C
    --- 8.8.8.8 ping statistics ---
    4 packets transmitted, 4 packets received, 0.0% packet loss
    round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 38.490/42.474/45.982/3.477 ms
    % traceroute 8.8.8.8
    traceroute to 8.8.8.8 (8.8.8.8), 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
     1  192.168.1.1 (192.168.1.1)  2.479 ms  2.603 ms  1.387 ms
     2  * * *
     3  173-219-237-113.suddenlink.net (173.219.237.113)  17.016 ms  11.163 ms  11.343 ms
     4  173-219-166-48.suddenlink.net (173.219.166.48)  43.373 ms  40.944 ms  40.173 ms
     5  173-219-153-3.suddenlink.net (173.219.153.3)  41.925 ms  39.293 ms  41.478 ms
     6  108.170.243.1 (108.170.243.1)  43.416 ms
        108.170.242.225 (108.170.242.225)  39.190 ms
        108.170.242.241 (108.170.242.241)  42.710 ms
     7  72.14.235.3 (72.14.235.3)  51.536 ms
        74.125.252.151 (74.125.252.151)  42.244 ms  41.600 ms
     8  dns.google (8.8.8.8)  40.288 ms  41.160 ms  41.392 ms
    % mtr 8.8.8.8
                               My traceroute  [vUNKNOWN]
    mac.local (192.168.1.53)                               2019-10-14T20:32:41-0700
    Keys:  Help   Display mode   Restart statistics   Order of fields   quit
                                           Packets               Pings
     Host                                Loss%   Snt   Last   Avg  Best  Wrst StDev
     1. 192.168.1.1                       0.0%    35    1.9   2.2   1.8   8.2   1.1
     2. (waiting for reply)
     3. 173-219-237-0.suddenlink.net      0.0%    35   10.0  11.4   9.1  15.0   1.7
     4. 173-219-166-48.suddenlink.net     0.0%    35   47.4  42.5  39.1  53.7   3.6
     5. 173-219-153-3.suddenlink.net      0.0%    35   39.9  40.9  38.4  47.4   2.3
     6. 108.170.242.241                   0.0%    34   40.1  41.3  39.4  44.8   1.5
     7. 209.85.248.35                     0.0%    34   39.3  39.9  37.1  43.1   1.1
     8. dns.google                        0.0%    34   38.8  40.2  38.3  48.3   2.2

Recommended Equipment

For flexibility, purchase a separate modem-only device and separate WiFi device. This allows upgrading either one as needs change, or to improve WiFi coverage, or when changing between ISPs.

Many sites review cablemodems (approved modems, Wirecutter) and review WiFi (Wirecutter WiFi Routers, Wirecutter mesh, CNET mesh).

Cablemodem

If your service speed is 400Mbps or less, consider Netgear CM600 (about $90) or Motorola MB7621 (about $78). Avoid modems with the Intel Puma 6 chipset.

For faster service speed a DOCSIS 3.1 modem is required, such as Arris SB8200 (about $150) or Motorola MB8600 (about $160), or Netgear CM1100 (about $170).

WiFi

For WiFi in a house, hard-wired systems are best but can be complicated to set up and configure (such as Ubiquiti).

Second best is a mesh system and the current market leader is Eero Pro (about $400 for a base station and two “beacons”), for details see Wirecutter WiFi Mesh. For smaller spaces (condo or a single room) a single device that includes a router and WiFi works well, such as any of the devices listed at Wirecutter WiFi Routers.

Diagram of Eero mesh network, showing how Eero Pro can be hardwired to each other or to a Smart TV, and Eero beacons are pure WiFi repeaters. Most vendors of WiFi mesh vendors sell just ‘beacons’, but a few WiFi mesh systems have units that include Ethernet connectors, and it is always better to use Ethernet instead of WiFi.

Eero mesh diagram

Power Conditioning / Power Outages

Electrical brownouts, surges, and outages can harm sensitive devices like modems, routers, tablets, smartphones, and computers. Summertime lightning and wintertime transformer explosions are common enough to Truckee to invest in protection.

Surge suppressors: Who knew, but most surge suppressors lose their effectiveness after protecting from 2-3 surges and quietly revert to becoming a power strip! Annoying. See Wirecutter for recommendation for a Tripp Lite surge suppressor that protects equipment when its surge protection is exhausted (about $43). Or consider Tripp Lite two-socket surge suppressor, about $35, which also protects equipment when its surge suppresor is exhausted.

UPS: Better than a surge suppressor is a UPS, which protects from surgues and other electrical problems such as outages and brownouts. There are three basic technologies for UPS: standby (least sophisticated, cheapest), line-interactive, and online (most sophisiticated, expensive). Increased sophistication means more protection from more kinds of voltage faults. A reasonable overview and discussion is available at Wirecutter UPS. Many larger surge suppressors and UPSs also include protection for RJ11 (telephone) or RG6 (cable) connections, too, which is another source of surge that can fry components.

My experience with Suddenlink is their equipment continues to operate for about two hours after a power outage.

News

June 2021, Moonshine Ink: Internet service in the Truckee area by Becca Loux, including details on fiber-to-the-home from TDPUD and Oasis

May 2021, The Verge: Starlink Review: Broadband Dreams Fall To Earth by Nilay Patel

October 2020, The Verge: SpaceX begins public beta testing of Starlink constellation at $99 a month by Loren Grush

November 2020, Moonshine Ink: The Woes of Wi-Fi: As Truckee/North Tahoe continues to fill with people, internet lags and agencies seek alternative solutions by Alex Hoeft

Feedback

This page https://www.employees.org/tt-internet maintained by Dan Wing <danwing@gmail.com>.