Most — not quite all, but almost all — of the home broadband connections sold in Australia come with a network attached. I’m not talking here of the internet that you pay money for and connect to, but the wired/wireless network delivered by a router of some sort. It’s certainly possible to set up a broadband connection using only a modem, but they’re becoming increasingly rare in the marketplace. Most ISPs push the router option over a simple modem if you’re buying from them, and even store shelves are stacked high with combination modem-routers, with a tiny section at the bottom for the basic modem models.
From one perspective, this makes a lot of sense. A router acts like a digital post office, sending your internet connection to any computer (or other device) you’d care to share your internet connection and files with. There are some pretty well known problems with security — especially wireless security — with routers, but there’s a bigger and more fundamental problem. Most routers can be utter torture just to get up and running.
I was recently at the launch of a new range of Belkin routers where the company revealed some of its support statistics. Belkin, like most vendors, offers two different ways to set up one of its routers. Those with plenty of networking knowledge can dive right into the web-based interface, tweaking MTU, VPI and PPPoE settings to their heart’s content. That’s not most folks, however. Most people will opt for the installation CD provided with the router, hoping that the automated setup wizard will step them easily through getting the router working.
Quite how many fail is rather eye opening. Only 10% of those who buy a router, according to Belkin, will get it working without having to call tech support, and even those folks have to interact with the router some 45 times — presumably that’s a lot of button clicking and password entry — before things are up and running. That’s a lot of stress in an area that few people are all that au fait with, really. I’m in a position where I do know my way around a router, but to put it in a context for myself, if I had to interact with my car 45 times before I could get it started, I’d give up and take the bus every time. And I really don’t like the bus much.
There’s a certain undeniable extent to which networking can’t be made easy when and if things go wrong, as there’s a lot of failure points to deal with. One solution would be to go for a product that’s either pre-configured by your ISP, which often comes with the extra dangling carrot of being “free”, or at least rather cheap. You can’t get something for nothing, however, as most of the models sold this way are locked to a single ISP, and they’re not always optimally configured in terms of wireless security in any case. Change ISPs, and you’d have to wastefully get an entirely new router, or pay a penalty fee for “unlocking” your own property. This isn’t always the case, so be sure to check carefully upfront.