As more of our lives depend on Internet access, it has become increasingly important that the Internet be up all the time. Most providers are pretty solid these days but no provider is perfect. My primary provider has few outages but I’ve had at least two multi-hour outages and occasional 5-minute glitches. I work mostly from home coaching busy executives over Zoom and don’t want to waste their valuable time with technical glitches if I can help it — if you have 5 minutes of downtime and it’s the wrong 5 minutes, it can be super-distracting. And from a family perspective, if the Internet goes down at home, everyone immediately yells out for me to fix it. I decided to solve the problem by getting a 2nd inexpensive Internet provider and it has been awesome. Here’s how I set that up.
When it comes to tech gear, I’m a little like the guy who constantly tweaks a hot rod in his garage even though in reality he really only needs to drive to the grocery store. In that spirit, my home router is an enterprise-grade Unifi Dream Machine Pro. For an enterprise router, it’s not that expensive — $379. (I setup a VPN on it a while back because I *could*, not because I had any use case. . . but then I found myself outside of the US trying to watch an NBA playoff game and VPN’ed into my home network to get around the geo restrictions that were blocking me from watching the game. If you’re tried to use commercial VPN services, you’ve probably seen that they’re increasingly unable to evade the major streaming providers so this was a big win. If you build it, they will come. . . )
The Unifi Dream Machine Pro (UDM Pro) has two WAN ports. For the less technical, WAN means “wide area network” but just think of it as a connection to the Internet. Consumer-grade routers usually have just one WAN port for the provider you are using but since the UDM Pro has two, you can connect two providers to it. The device OS for the UDM Pro has a WAN Failover capability meaning that if your primary Internet provider goes down, it detects the outage immediately and flips to the backup. When the primary comes back, it automatically flips back.
Having two Internet providers for very occasional outages sounds expensive, and it could be — but I noticed recently that Verizon started offering a $25/month 5G wireless router for existing Verizon Wireless customers. Given the nature of my business and all the things in my household that depend on the Internet, $25/month seems well worth it to have rock-solid Internet. (Sure, you could tether off of your phone when your Internet goes down, but setting up other family members at a moment’s notice is a pain. And what if you — the full-time home network administrator — are not home?) With the UDM Pro and WAN Failover, your existing wireless network can theoretically just keep working. I like the idea of the backup to my cable Internet being wireless since presumably if there was an incident like a cable cut in the street, my failover would be less likely to be affected (though I haven’t tested that assumption).
So how did this work in practice? I got the Verizon 5G router to use as my backup Internet. It was easy to set up. Like any wireless device, it needs to have good reception so I set it up near a window and plugged it into the backup WAN port on my UDM Pro. The video at the bottom of this post goes through the rest of the setup details. It’s also easy if you have basic network knowledge.
My primary cable connection tends to get about 300 mbps down and 50 mbps up when I’m using my laptop around the house and the secondary (the 5G) gets about 30 mbps down and 10-15 mbps up so the service. To test out if this would work for my family’s typical usage, I unplugged my primary Internet for 48 hours and didn’t tell anyone in my family that I did it. I randomly asked my wife and son if they had noticed any Internet issues and they just gave me puzzled looks. To further test, I re-enabled the primary Internet and then randomly unplugged it when I knew everyone was using their devices. I got notifications on my admin apps that the Internet had failed over to the backup. No cries for help! Everything just kept humming along.
Now I unplug the primary Internet occasionally just to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Once I even had people over to watch a big football game and the Internet went out during the game, which we were watching on a streaming service. No one noticed except me since I got the failover alert on the admin app.
So, in the final analysis, setting things up this way was a Very Good Thing. If you can spring for the UDM Pro ($379) and 5G service ($25-$35) in addition to your primary Internet, you can set this all up for yourself in less than an hour.