Airport Express on Virgin broadband – and Virgin Super Hub troubles

Isn’t it strange how things always go wrong all at the same time? I’m fighting a weird issue right now, which started this morning: my Mac suddenly seems to freeze and react to UI events only infrequently. I think I tracked this down to something odd with the network connection, but I don’t have a final solution to this yet. Right now I think it might have been an ongoing TimeMachine backup that I recently reactivated. But for the time being, I’m also running without the Web Protection features in Eset Antivirus — will see what happens.

Meanwhile, I’d been planning to change my network setup to an Airport Extreme for a little while, because I read that this might help solve issues I was having with my Virgin broadband line. That line, when first connected, delivered ~150Mbit/s as it should, but then it somehow stopped doing that after a while for no obvious reason. I upgraded to 200Mbit/s at some point later, but still received rather mediocre 65Mbit/s and nothing more. I was using the Virgin Super Hub 2ac and that was occasionally giving me trouble anyway, requiring restarts and generally being sluggish in the admin frontend.

Now, the first thing that happenend when I decided to get on with it and switch the Super Hub to Modem Mode for connection to the Airport Extreme was that I couldn’t access the admin frontend at all anymore. I googled around for a while and I found that others have similar issues, but most items were a few years old and some pertained to older model Super Hubs. I tried restarting and factory resetting the Hub, but to no avail. Hm.

The problem I was seeing was that when I tried to access the admin page, the GET request result appeared to be completely empty. I played with different browsers for a bit: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera – no difference. Then I used wget on the command line and lo and behold, some HTML came through the wire! Go figure – apparently the bug that prevents the Hub from delivering its admin page to the browser is dependent on the browser itself.

I set out to find a browser that would allow me to use the page. I guess I might have had some luck with a custom user agent configuration or similar, but I tried other browsers first. lynx came to mind, but that’s very outdated. elinks installs easily through brew, but the recipe deactivates JavaScript support. Both of these were able to display the elusive admin page though!

Eventually I got lucky by trying Safari on my phone. Yes, really. I reconfigured the Hub through the phone without issues and then switched it to Modem Mode. Even now, the admin page still shows up empty – no change in that regard, I guess this is something Virgin will have to fix at some point. But I plugged the Hub into the Airport, Apple magic happened and the internet was working again.

And how it works. I can now get around 206Mbit/s when I’m in my office two floors up from where the Airport is located. When sitting right next to it, I get 211Mbit/s. So that part was a great success and highly recommendable — I used to be interested in configuring lots of stuff on my wifi access points and I’ve been doing this for many years, but the Airport is absolutely brilliant and just does everything on its own to a very high standard.

At least during the ten minutes it took me to write this up, my Mac hasn’t frozen again. Hopefully it stays that way now…

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