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In December 2010 I bought an ASUS RT-N13U wireless router for the specific purpose of using it to connect to the 3G network, for which it was advertised. It does not fulfil the requirements. The device came with Beta firmware and incorrect instructions, and produced error messages in Chinese, independent of the language settings. It also refused to accept any IP address except RFC 1918 addresses, which are useless for my situation. After finding out how to upgrade the firmware (those instructions were incorrect too), the Chinese messages disappeared. The RFC 1918 problem remained.

On 29 December 2010 I called ASUS support during normal working hours and received a recorded message. The complete support department (which I think consists of one person) had closed down from 23 December until 4 January. On 6 January 2011 I called again. On the positive side, the support person understood my problem. On the negative side, he wasn't able to do anything about it, and promised to contact Taiwan. I haven't heard back.

On 10 January 2011 I received a mail message from ASUS. Not to solve my problem, just a customer satisfaction survey (or, as they wrote in badly punctuated German, “ASUS Callcenter Kundenzufriedenheits Umfrage”). Yes, it was in German. Why? What earthly connection did my issue have with Germany?

My overall experience: ASUS is a mess! They deliver equipment with beta firmware, their documentation doesn't match their equipment, their implementations are sloppy, even their mail messages show serious breakage. There's much more detail below.

The details

In December 2010 I decided to try an Optus HSPA reseller in an attempt to solve my ongoing network problems. I had established that the NetComm 3G9WB that Telstra supplied was very easy to set up as long as you ignored Telstra's nonsense, so it seemed reasonable to use something similar. It wasn't easy: there's almost nothing out there except for the NetComm equipment (which doesn't support HSPA at 900 MHz). The closest I came was a wireless router with option to connect a USB HSPA modem.

After comparing what was available, I decided on the ASUS RT-N13U, which is really a wireless router with four port switch. It claimed to support the Huawei E1762, which appears to be the modem for Optus networks. The truth was very different. Basically, the unit is useless to me.

The main problems I had are:

I'd consider those two show-stoppers. There are many more irritations:

In summary, this is nothing like the “easy install” NetComm device. It offers nothing useful, and seems to have been built as an afterthought. It has seriously affected my previously good impression of ASUS.

The following are excerpts from my online diary relating to the problems I have had.

Diary entries

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 Diary entry
Not your old-fashioned networking

Spent the rest of the afternoon looking for hardware. Why is it so complicated? First there's the issue of compatibility between the modem and the router, a problem you don't have with an integrated modem. Ran into an amazing number of problems finding good hardware:

Finally decided to go with the ASUS router and the E1762. The E1762 may not be listed on the Huawei site, but it is listed as compatible on the ASUS site. Bought both on eBay, and was greeted by another surprise in checkout: the listed postage of $9.95 had suddenly become $12. Sent a message to the seller, who responded quickly with an amended bill, conveniently requiring me to re-enter all the details that normally get filled out automatically. Still, it's done: I have ordered a modem and router. What about an antenna? That'll have to wait until tomorrow: it was 18:00 before I finished this stuff.

Friday, 24 December 2010 Diary entry
Networking: putting it together

Note in the letterbox this morning that I had a packet to be picked up at the post office. That could only be the ASUS RT-N13U router. Was it worth it? On the one hand, I really needed the antenna to be able to do anything useful. On the other hand, today was Christmas Eve, and the way the feast falls this year, we'll have Monday and Tuesday off, and I won't be able to pick anything up until Wednesday. So I decided to pick it up anyway.

Back home and took a look at what I had. The router left a mixed impression. On the one hand, it states on the box:


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Diary entry for Saturday, 25 December 2010

 

That's certainly an improvement on what Telstra do. It also includes an afterthoughtsheet of paper with instructions on how to set the router up as a 3G router. It requires first installing on a Microsoft box. I don't know if that's just to ensure that you can localize any problems that may occur, but I've heard rumours that the Microsoft installation reconfigures the stick, and that you can't use them on FreeBSD without first installing on Microsoft.

On the other hand, it comes with a “Quick Start Guide” that really contains almost no information, not even the default IP of the box. It describes the switch on the bottom, with positions Router, Repeater and AP, stating to make a choice, but not describing what the positions mean. Fortunately, I've already established that there's a good manual, but who can use the quick start guide?

Saturday, 25 December 2010 Diary entry
3G network: installing the remainder

Then continued with the ASUS RT-N13U router. What a catastrophe! I've complained about stupid hardware in the past, but I think this takes the cake. I ran into one problem and irritation after another:

Gave up for the night; this stupid “easy install” router had kept me busy all afternoon. It looks like the others on IRC were right in asking why I wanted one in the first place. If I had known what I was up against, I would never have bought it, but now I want to see if I can get it to work. Others on Whirlpool have reported success with exactly this combination. Is this really what networking is coming to?

Sunday, 26 December 2010 Diary entry
Connecting to 3G network, continued

My attempts to connect with the 3G network yesterday ended with a failed attempt to upgrade the firmware in this terminally broken ASUS RT-N13U router. Tried again today, in the process noting the messages that appeared during normal startup:

Dec 26 09:33:13 dereel named[910]: client 192.109.197.163#57803: RFC 1918 response from Internet for 1.1.168.192.in-addr.arpa
Dec 26 09:41:19 192.168.1.1 kernel: klogd started: BusyBox v1.12.1 (2009-12-30 16:46:58 CST)
Dec 26 09:41:19 192.168.1.1 kernel: PROC INIT OK!
Dec 26 09:41:19 dereel named[910]: client 192.109.197.135#53569: RFC 1918 response from Internet for 1.1.168.192.in-addr.arpa
Dec 26 09:41:19 192.168.1.1 kernel: devpts: called with bogus options
Dec 26 09:41:19 dereel named[910]: client 192.109.197.135#56454: RFC 1918 response from Internet for 1.1.168.192.in-addr.arpa
Dec 26 09:41:19 192.168.1.1 RT-N13U: usdsvr_broadcast starts
Dec 26 09:41:20 192.168.1.1 RT-N13U: usdsvr_unicast starts
Dec 26 09:41:24 192.168.1.1 RT-N13U: watchdog starts
Dec 26 09:41:24 192.168.1.1 RT-N13U: ntp starts
Dec 26 09:41:24 192.168.1.1 RT-N13U: ots starts
Dec 26 09:41:24 192.168.1.1 RT-N13U: pspfix starts
Dec 26 09:41:26 192.168.1.1 WAN Connection: The cable for Ethernet was not plugged in.
Dec 26 09:41:34 192.168.1.1 USB device: usb device HUAWEI Mobile(12d1/140c) plugged
Dec 26 09:41:34 192.168.1.1 RT-N13U: ledoff starts
Dec 26 09:41:47 192.168.1.1 kernel: hub 1-0:1.0: port 1 disabled by hub (EMI?), re-enabling...
Dec 26 09:41:54 192.168.1.1 syslog: pppd started
Dec 26 09:41:54 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: pppd 3.3 started by admin, uid 0
Dec 26 09:41:58 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: Connect: ppp0 <--> /dev/ttyUSB0
Dec 26 09:42:14 192.168.1.1 RT-N13U: ledon starts
Dec 26 09:42:31 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: IPCP: timeout sending Config-Requests
Dec 26 09:42:37 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: Connection terminated.
Dec 26 09:42:53 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: Connect: ppp0 <--> /dev/ttyUSB0
Dec 26 09:43:26 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: IPCP: timeout sending Config-Requests
Dec 26 09:43:32 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: Connection terminated.
Dec 26 09:43:48 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: Connect: ppp0 <--> /dev/ttyUSB0
Dec 26 09:44:21 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: IPCP: timeout sending Config-Requests
Dec 26 09:44:27 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: Connection terminated.
Dec 26 09:44:42 192.168.1.1 pppd[608]: Connect: ppp0 <--> /dev/ttyUSB0

The messages in bold were logged with priority LOG_EMERG (“A panic condition. This is normally broadcast to all users.”), which vomited all over all my xterms. Why specifically these messages? And what doesn't get mentioned at all were the pppd messages, which show on the one hand that it appears to be attempting to connect, but it has some failure. Clearly not as much as serious as the discovery that a modem is connected. And the messages from named on dereel (there were many times the number shown here) shows the stupidity of limiting IP addresses to RFC 1918 ranges.

Tried the update again, and again it hung. So tried it with Microsoft “Windows XP” and “Internet Explorer”, and got further:


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Diary entry for Sunday, 26 December 2010

   
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According to the instructions, “After receiving a correct firmware file, RT-N13U Rev.B1 will automatically start the upgrade process. The system reboots after the upgrading process is finished.” But it finished and still didn't reboot. When I rebooted manually, I still had the old firmware version.

Why am I having this trouble? I'm doing everything according to the bookslip of paper supplied with the router, using “standard” Microsoft tools, and it still doesn't work. That's a far cry from the NetComm 3G21WB router. Once I got past Telstra's broken software and installation procedure and used my own method, everything Just Worked. That was the rationale for buying this thing at all, to avoid setup problems; instead I've found a whole new range of them. Out of interest, I'll call ASUS after the Christmas break on Wednesday, but it's almost certain that it'll have to go back.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010 Diary entry
ASUS router firmware upgrade problems: solved

I'm quite irritated by the fact that the firmware upgrade of the ASUS RT-N13U router didn't work. Took a look at the online manual, which pointed me at a different page on the router with a slightly different approach to the same procedure:

  1. Check if any new version of firmware is available on ASUS website.

  2. Download a proper version to your local machine.

  3. Specify the path of and name of the downloaded file in the [New Firmware File].

  4. Click [Upload] to upload the file to RT-N13U Rev.B1. Uploading process takes about three minutes.

  5. After receiving a correct firmware file, RT-N13U Rev.B1 will automatically start the upgrade process. The system reboots after the upgrading process is finished.

Followed that link. Yes, it's a download page. Once again this stupid “Select OS” box. But it's empty. No OS, no firmware.

So back to the other, non-linkable page that you can only access by climbing down multiple levels from the home page. To be on the safe side, downloaded the firmware file again and compared it with what I got last time. Same thing. Then it occurred to me: the file was a ZIP archive with a single file in it:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypk) ~/Desktop 220 -> unzip -l FW_RT_N13U_B1_2011.zip
Archive:  FW_RT_N13U_B1_2011.zip
  Length     Date   Time    Name
 --------    ----   ----    ----
  6060949  09-14-10 18:34   FW_RT_N13U_B1_2011.trx
 --------                   -------
  6060949                   1 file

Did they want me to unzip it first? That's contrary to the instructions. Tried it anyway, and Bingo! it worked:

 
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What stupidity! Incorrect links, something that they didn't have to break, incorrect instructions, and inadequate error checking: the upgrade application just needed to say “Invalid firmware file format, please unzip” or some such.

And the results? The Chinese messages are gone, but the thing still wants me to use an RFC 1918 address for the router. That makes the thing useless for me. Finally found the number for ASUS support in Australia (it's not under Support). You have to select the correct icon at top left from this collection:

 
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With the aid of a magnifying glass, it's easy to see that the middle of the five blue icons bears a passing resemblance to a stylized telephone, or possibly a floppy disk with a magnet attached. Run the cursor over it and the text “Contact” appears. Isn't technology marvellous? For reference the phone number is 1-300-278-788, which they write 1300-2787-88, and the opening hours are given as “(09:00-18:00 Mon.~Fri.)”.

Called the number, round 14:30, and received a recorded message telling me I was calling out of hours. After a while, it conceded that they had shut up shop last week, wouldn't be supplying any support at all this week, and they'd be back Tuesday next week.

I'm amazed. I had thought of ASUS as being one of the better companies. Everything I have seen about this product and the company itself had given me a very different impression. The router goes back, and it'll be a long time before I even consider buying another ASUS product.

Thursday, 6 January 2011 Diary entry
Contacting ASUS support

Called up ASUS support about the ASUS RT-N13U router, and this time got through to Andrew, who seems to be their only support person. At least he sounds more competent than most. He went through a few things with me (“Configure as AP instead of as router”), but that didn't work either. He promised to contact the people in Taiwan and get some information. But in the meantime I've applied for a return authorization.

Monday, 10 January 2011 Diary entry
ASUS responds

In the evening received a message from ASUS, from whom I bought the RT-N13U router. Solving my problem? No. It was clearly in relation to the incident, though it must have been too much trouble for them to say so; another reason not to buy more than one thing from ASUS.

What they wanted was to know how satisfied I was with their support. I'm continually amazed that people send out messages like this without checking whether the issue has been closed. But this one took the cake:

Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2011 15:25:06 +0800
From: "SIP" <sip@asus.com>
Subject: ASUS Callcenter Kundenzufriedenheits Umfrage
X-Mailer: Microsoft CDO for Windows 2000

 <http://support.asus.com/images/asus-logo.gif>
        Sehr geehrter Kunde,

wir möchten Ihnen Danken, das wir die Möglichkeit hatten sie zu
unterstützen.

Um unseren Service weiter zu verbessern, bitten wir um Ihre
Unterstützung.

Uns ist es wichtig Ihre Erwartungen zu erfüllen. Mit dem Ausfüllen
unserer Service Umfrage helfen Sie uns unseren Service weiter zu
verbessern.

http://sip.asus.com/Survey/Questionnaire/Survey_20100830134051.aspx?case
id=9C48D039-5079-D0E0-ADF5-0EAAE0D721DE???=en-us

Why in German? The whole issue took place in Australia. About the only thing that is even remotely related to Germany is the IP address I wanted to set. And that's so far from anything they have seen that it can't have been that. I'm completely baffled.

The letter is in relatively good German, except for the bad punctuation: verbs starting with capital letters, nouns split in two, missing commas—and a split URL! But of course, this kind of message is bound to be multipart-alternative with an HTML component. And that has to be legible. But:

 
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Broken HTML too, without any indication of the character encoding. Still, it has a usable link, so followed that and got an English-language survey concentrating on the support person, the only good thing I've found about the matter. Even there, there are errors. The questions have double numbers, and there are typos:

 
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If anything, this survey has just confirmed me in my decision to avoid ASUS where possible.


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