One Router to Connect Them All

One Router to Connect Them All

Summary: Sunday afternoons are the few times I actually get some peace and don't have to think about major IT problems. I fire up my Weber smoker, throw on a couple of racks of ribs, fire up a bucket of hardwood charcoal and fruit wood chunks, and I chill for a few hours watching TV and otherwise vegetating, patiently awaiting tender BBQ goodness.


onerouter.jpgSunday afternoons are the few times I actually get some peace and don't have to think about major IT problems. I fire up my Weber smoker, throw on a couple of racks of ribs, fire up a bucket of hardwood charcoal and fruit wood chunks, and I chill for a few hours watching TV and otherwise vegetating, patiently awaiting tender BBQ goodness. That's how I wanted to spend this last weekend. In peace.

So at 2:30PM, while I was munching on a bowl of popcorn and watching some brainless action movie in the living room, savoring the odor of the slow cooking meat wafting in from the deck, the phone rings. My wife, Rachel, answers it. I can tell by the level of annoyance in her voice that I'm going to be given the handset any second.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Rachel: It's dad. YOU deal with him.

Me: @#$%! Why do I have to deal with his @#$%^& computer problems all the time? You're perfectly competent!

Rachel:  It sounds like something you need to fix. I'm going upstairs to watch the Olympics on the DVR.

Me: @#$%!  I grab the handset from my wife. I can feel my baby backs overcooking already. Hey dad, how's it going?

Bob: well, we had some painting done upstairs over the weekend, and this guy came, and we had to unplug a whole bunch of cables from the computer. The Internet doesn't want to come back. I spent a few hours on the phone with Linksys and Cablevision and we can't seem to figure it out. Also we had a power outage the other day and I think something might have gotten zapped.

Me: Well, is the Linksys and the Cable Modem plugged into the surge protector?

Bob: Uh, I think so...

Me: Well, then a power surge probably didn't kill it. Are there lights flickering on the cable modem and the Linksys?

Bob: Yeah...

Me: Okay.... Well, unplug the Linksys and unplug the Cable Modem... plug the Cable Modem back in... wait for all the link stages to come up for a few minutes until you get the amber light on the Surfboard.. then plug in the Linksys.... Wait a minute... Okay try this IP address on the browser... ... okay try Google.. not coming up, okay, lets try it again...

And that's pretty much how the conversation went for about twenty minutes, until I finally figured out that the CAT-5 had been unplugged from the cable modem and it was taking a while for the Cable Modem to come up. Dad's broadband is working fine again, but then it dawned on me, why the hell does this have to be so complicated?

I mean, never mind most people who have a single broadband access device like a lone Cable or DSL modem attached directly to the computer, or a modem and a SOHO router. My own home networking setup is ridiculously complicated. I have a Cable Modem which is attached to a D-Link VOIP router that is supplied to me by AT&T CallVantage, behind which I have a NETGEAR Draft N wireless router set up in a DMZ, which has all kinds of firewall and port triggering/forwarding rules on it, and behind that I have several NETGEAR Gigabit switches going to my servers and desktops.

It seems that every freakin' week, due to some brief Optimum Online service outage or some summer brownout, I have to do this infuriating Infocom-style puzzle sequence (Think "Babelfish" for those of you who remember) where if I don't do it in the correct order and correct timing, my ‘Net connection doesn't come up and I spend about half an hour plugging and unplugging like some frantic 1950's switchboard operator on amphetamines. Can't they put my wireless N router, VOIP router, Gigabit switch, and cable modem all on one box, so the functions are all nice and integrated? I switch one box on and it all works?

Well, it appears that SOHO networking equipment manufacturers used to make stuff like that, but nobody has brought the technology up to date. Motorola has version of the Surfboard with an integrated router, but it's only a Wireless-G, and the hardware hasn't been updated since 2006. CISCO itself abandoned its own, business-class Cable modem gateway routers, and Linksys's integrated Cable Modem product isn't any better than Motorola's.  The only manufacturer who seems to be doing any Wireless N integration with broadband at all is NETGEAR, and they only make ADSL-capable converged routers, none of which are Gigabit Ethernet capable PLUS VOIP service integrated.

It seems to me that it would be a good  idea for one of the major manufacturers to come up with a "Modular" residential gateway solution. It would consist of a primary router module, which would include 4-port Ethernet hub, two RJ-11 phone jacks for VOIP, two USB ports for external storage/NAS capability and a significant amount of flash memory to allow for plug-in ISV software modules, such as AT&T CallVantage or Vonage VOIP, and 3rd-party firewall suites and customized firmware for vertical applications. The primary Wireless-N router module would have "Snap-in" expansion blocks, such as a DOCISS cable modem, a DSL modem, a fiber module for those lucky to have FIOS, additional Gigabit switch ports or even an additional Wireless-N MIMO module or 3G HSDPA cellular data module (perhaps a PCMCIA slot to accept a standard Aircard?) for a backup wireless data line if your provider goes down or you are actually unlucky enough to live where you can't get cable modem or DSL. This way, you only buy the expansion blocks you need, and it makes for a more universal software/firmware design. One power cord, vastly simplified network setup, integrated software stack and improved performance due to better bus and chipset integration. And ideally, the whole thing should be built on embedded Linux, using a low power processor like an ARM or PowerPC.

I'm sure that a Wireless-N primary module, a gigabit module, a cable modem module and the VOIP software could be all integrated into a single package for less than $200.  Are you too looking for better residential gateway integration? Talk Back and let me know.

Topics: Broadband, Hardware, Mobility, Networking, Telcos


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • One Router

    I agree--I'd love an 'all-in-one' unit, and great post, as always. I have been spending many frustrating hours with my new (you advised me against it) LinkSys WRT54G2 V1 Wireless Router/4-port Switch. All seems well with it and it was supposed to grab the info from my old router but we just never made a connection.
    I don't think it's me--after all, I too am a 'computer guy' so this must be extremely frustrating for non-IT folk.

    I'm still using my old LinkSys from 2002.
    • Linksys

      made the mistake of buying a Linksys Router.would never buy one again,was nothing but a big headache
  • Get DSL - If Possible

    Cable broadband sucks. The quality of service from the cable providers is terrible. I've had residential ADSL for 4 years. 2.8mbps Down, 384kbps Up. It has only gone down once...2 years ago when an ice storm covered the town in ice. That's it. I use my own DNS server, a Watchguard firewall/router and a 3COM GB switch with all of it connected to APC UPSes. I never go down, don't need a bloated software firewall, and have yet to be infected with malware. It can be done, you just have plan and maintain.
    • God awful from where I live

      Read my "Harsh reality of suburban broadband" piece

      It all depends on the distance from your CO. As annoying as the occasional downtime is with Optimum, DSL can't even come close in terms of speed. But I'd get FIOS in an instant, its supposed to be coming to my neighborhood within a year.

      I have a friend who has Verizon DSL and is maybe a 1/2 mile from the CO, not even, and gets outages for several hours at a time at least once a month.
    • re: Get DSL - If Possible

      OK......cable sucks?? you get 2.8 down, I get an average of 10 down. I'll admit I've had to reboot my modem more than 1 or 2 times a year but I think the 4-5x more speed than dsl more than makes up for it. And I believe that's the reason why serious PC users use cable instead of DSL even though it's less "stable" speed wise
    • it depends on where you live dsl here sucks. but cable here

      it depends on where you live dsl here sucks. but cable here rocks. the cable company ran fiber lines. our connection has never went down. we have a 20mb/ps down and a 2000kb/ps up. no matter what time of the day or night does our connection slow down. the DSL here even though we have 5 choices of dsl providers. the speeds they offer and the quality of service is to say the least nothing to brag about.
      but when you look at it the ol phone company here has not laid one foot of fiber, and you have 5 company's pushing data from lines that have not been upgraded since they were laid.

      i've been to places where dsl was better than the cable internet. like i said it depends on where your at Werther the dsl is better or the cable is better.
      SO.CAL Guy
  • Good Idea !!!!

    I like the idea as I have a Cable Modem, Vonage Router, wireless router, gigabit switch. The only problem is that the Cable modem went out and needed replaced, the Vonage router went out and needed to be replaced, and the wireless router went out and it needed to be replaced. Of course this all did not happen at the same time. That would have cost me $600 to replace. I was lucky that the cable modem was replaced by the cable provider, and the Vonage router was replaced by Vonage, both at no cost to me. I only had to pay $60 for a new wireless router.

    The issue is if I am out of town and my wife has to reset the system due to a power outage she does not know what to do. I know what to do and have told her. It would be so much easier if it was just one unit to do everything.
    • Wives and out of town

      I have the same problem. I usually get infuriating phone calls where I have to talk her through the whole device reboot process each time, and she forgets how to do it.
  • RE: One Router to Connect Them All

    This will not fit into your dream budget... but...

    1) ADSL & DOCSYS capability
    2) Load balancing and failover for the above
    3) 6 GigE ports w/ PoE
    4) maybe VoIP capability w/ 2 analog ports (I'd be more willing to give it a go again w/ load balancing)
    5) VPN w/ 2 concurrent session capability (minimum)
    6) Pre-N of course
    7) WDS so I can create a link to another AP if need be
    8) QoS (goes without saying)
    9) Firewall w/ DMZ

    Have I left anything out?
    OutsideThe Box
    • Could probably be done for 300-500 bucks

      as a "business" or branch office version.

      If we took a Intel Atom motherboard, and found some PCI cards that did mulitport GIGE switch, wireless N, RJ-11 VOIP, and threw it into a mini-ITX case, it could be doable. Might be easier to have the motherboard custom built with the integrated chipsets, with maybe 128MB of RAM and some small SSD for storage, and run it on some embedded linux. Would kind of be like an Asterisk box with some extra stuff in it.
      • Might be worth a shot...

        ...A PepLink Balance 30 or similar is $300 and they are a bear to setup. Might as well go through the effort to self-build...

        A 'quick' Google search found the following...

        Multi-port PCI Ethernet:

        DOCSYS PCI Cable Modem:
        Too numerous to list, would take some research to see which are Linux capable. One issue, most were DOCSYS 1.1 compliant, I believe the standard is at 2.0 now.

        ADSL PCI Modem:
        Same as with the cable modem, would have to research Linux capability

        The above is probably the 'tough' components to bring together, the rest is fairly standard stuff.

        Here's the kicker... that 4 port Ethernet card above is about $600+ alone, although there might be cheaper on the market (again, all I did was a quick search).
        OutsideThe Box
        • Integrated ASICs versus peice job

          The problem with a piece job is that a lot of the circuitry here is being duplicated between components, you could probably do a lot of this with a specialized ASIC or a programmable telecom/comms chipset. There's no question this is doable, a vendor just needs to go ahead and do it.
          • Agreed...

            ...Wholeheartedly. And while it would be interesting to build and customize, the fact of the matter is that the job and the 'wife' factor will make it a 6 month project (at least).

            On the OEM side, between market studies, engineering, and sales... I'd say two years before any realistic product is out on the market (even though the tech is available today)...

            Netgear, D-Link, 3Com, Cisco... you listening?

            OutsideThe Box
  • Sign me in, I want one.

    You made a point that we all techies have to deal each day from our parent's friends and costumers, always have to be on the phone for hours giving instructions on how to plug and unplug cables.

    I'll buy one like the one you described, eventhough upgrading every network device to gigabit connections isn't any extra cash expense but worth having it and not using, else loosing.

    Jorge @ Mexico
    • Me too!

      While they are at it, might as well include instructions for wiring a home patch panel to accommodate all the new digital entertainment devices!
  • I have an ActionTec GT704WG....

    That I've had for several years ('04)
    It might now be considered old or lacking some of the newer features. It is a DSL Modem/Gateway, 54G b/g wireless, & 4 port 10/100 wired, router/firewall/switch.
    All for $50 (back then)

    Gigabit would be nice, but this/it serves my home rather well

    There are also others Zoom (or Xoom) X4, X5, X6 as well as other Actiontec models which have VOIP etc. I would even hazard a guess that there are newer models, with more modern features, Gigabit & draft-N etc, (DSL or Cable) at or around $100.
  • RE: One Router to Connect Them All

    I disagree. I use a boundary router to connect to the ISP and an internal router for my network. The boundary router is wired and the internal router is wireless. I attach my Vonage NID to the boundary router and have another router for my FIOS TV service attached to the boundary router.

    I've changed ISPs twice and had two different routers for FIOS - they replaced the original DLink with an ActionTec when I got FIOS TV. I have not had to make a single change to my internal network because it is always connected via the internal router which doesn't change. All of the routers are connected to UPS equipment and I rarely have a power outage long enough to outlast the UPS. When there has been an outage everything comes back up regardless of the order that it powers up. Recently the power supply died on the ActionTec and it took two days to get a replacement from Verizon. The only thing that was affected was the TV guide function on the FIOS set top boxes.

    Having everything on one router is a single point of failure and single point of compromise if something gets hacked...
  • RE: One Router to Connect Them All

    The real answer is though would people be buying it. Most do not want/need this sort of functionality and so they will not be selling a lot of them. In this case that means higher cost if available at all.
  • What a loser (Linksys)!

    You would think that Linksys' parent company, Cisco Systems, could turn out a better product than this, wouldn't you? That's why I chose Linksys as my 802.11-N Wireless Router. I got it from Circuit City and had one of their "wizards" from their tech support group, 'Hotdog' (or something like that), install the equipment. It only took them 2 visits and a total of 6 hours to do this install for one machine. Some wizards... :-(

    Maybe I should've gotten the Geek Squad to do it (from Best Buy).

    Anyway, that was 6 months ago and the Linksys no longer works. Now I run a 100 foot Ethernet cable from my DSL modem to my laptop in the living room (from the den). It isn't very convenient but it works.

    I would lke to go wireless again but don't know which wireless router to choose. Any ideas?
    • I'm pretty happy with NETGEAR lately

      The Wireless-N routers from NETGEAR have been pretty solid. You can't control the cable modem downtime but from a configuration and reliability standpoint of the router itself, its a very good device.