AT&T Deathstar

Working with Uverse and DNS. Part 1 – Installation and Testing

Help for new customers, and a first week review of AT&T Uverse.

Too big to function

When AT&T announced that they were bringing Uverse service to my neck of the woods,  I found myself checking their availability web page more often than I checked my old rusted mailbox. It was only a matter of time before my dreams of tripled internet speed came true.  I’m pretty sure I simultaneously shouted in joy, signed up for service, and possibly peed – just a little. I’m a bit ashamed, but how else can I explain it? For a techie, the anticipation created by “faster internets” is equal to a junkie knowing he is about to triple his supply. It was probably that same geeky-level of anticipation that made AT&T’s gloriously botched install job all the more painful. In typical “too-big-to-function” fashion, it took no more than two “IP-DSL tier 2″ tech-support phone calls, five on-site tech visits, and ten days of waiting before they finally got me up and running.  Not exactly smooth transition from DSL, but I was confident that together AT&T and I could thaw that icy start into water under the bridge.  All I needed to do was witness my first Uverse-delivered web page. 

The Speedtest

Of course the first page, was speedtest.net. Because what good is tripling your internet speed if you don’t have a meaningless benchmark to show off to your friends? Yes, let the speed flow!

Not what I expected

Oops!  I thought I had signed up for 18Mbps service?  I know that is the theoretical maximum, but even accounting for any kind of transmission overhead this results are still too slow. Online research into the forums showed that other customers were averaging around 16Mbps on their 18Mbps service.  This neat-o graph confirmed that I wasn’t too far from the exchange to get 18Mbps service, so it must be a problem in the billing department.  The next move was to log onto AT&T’s customer portal and check my account.   Whoops! It looks like billing set me up for 12Mbps.  From the same page I simply “purchased” the higher 18Mbps service. Within a few moments, my internet service blipped an my router was re-provisioned for the highest speed. Another speedtest confirmed a 50% increase in speed.

Much better

Upgrading my speed was easy and instantly satisfying. In fact, it was a stark contrast to the mishandled install. Finally happy, I did what any good tech does, I settled in and started tinkering with my home network.

The Hardware

Why U No let me change DNS?

AT&T’s current install package only includes a single piece of hardware the Motorola NVG510.  It’s a modem/router combo that AT&T refers to as a residential gateway.  It comes with yellow stickers on the side giving you all the basic setup information.  After messing with a few of the config screens, it’s obvious that Uverse behaves differently from DSL and more closely to your own home network.    Most notably, gone are the PPPoE sign in name and password.  Instead of providing login info, you are simply assigned static IP and upstream gateway based upon the modem’s MAC.  So, unless you get a replacement modem, or AT&T does major VRAD work upstream you are going to retain the same public IP address between power cycles!  This is a stark contrast from a DSL modem, which would assign a new IP after the lease ran out or powering the unit down for more than a few minutes.   A static IP is a nice bonus.  No more having to sign up and configure a dynamic DNS or fork over extra cash each month.  Uverse – whether by neccessity or design – is a better solution for those that run a business out of their homes, or those geeks that simply want to consistently access their home network from anywhere in the world.

Speaking of DNS.

Notice the DNS issues in Red?

Within the first few weeks I noticed some odd issues. The symptoms include having pages half-load with broken images or not load at all.  Most of the time these nagging issues were resolved with a page refresh or two, but over time it became increasingly inconvenient.  A quick Google search of “DNS Uverse” revealed that others are experiencing the similar problem.  AT&T’s standard response is to blame the hardware, and ship customers new kits.  It seems a little hush-hush right now, buy my my research shows the culprit is more than likely AT&T’s DNS servers.  To see if your unit has similar problems you can either sift through the NVG510’s log for DNS related errors or use Berkeley’s University’s awesome Netalyzer tool.  Along with helping to profile the ports on AT&Ts service, Netalyzer helped nail down DNS as the cause of my problems.  Unfortunately, unlike every other router I’ve worked on, the NVG510 doesn’t allow you to change the DNS settings it assigns to each device!  Of course as opposed to fixing the router, and to quickly alleviate symptoms, you could bounce around to each individual machine on home network and adjust their TCP/IP settings to use alternate DNS servers such as Google’s Public DNS (8.8.8.8 or 8.8.4.4), but this is far from convenient or elegant.  In fact not all devices (iPhones for instance iPhones owner’s see this guide) can define their own DNS servers. I’m not comfortable setting the DNS on every machine, and certainly don’t want incomplete web pages. With the NVG510 refusing to use anything but AT&T’s DNS servers, the solution was simple.  It needed to be relieved of its duties.  For help fixing your own NVG510 see part 2.

19 thoughts on “Working with Uverse and DNS. Part 1 – Installation and Testing”

  1. I was able to set AT&T DNS servers on my iPhone, while it was configured to use DHCP for IP addresses. So, at least for me, this workaround solves the problem. Aside from this issue, NVG510 works really well (knock on wood).

    1. Setting the DNS on each machine is a viable workaround. To each their own. I have multiple machines traveling in and out of the network, and a more permanent “self-healing” network fits for me.

  2. Thanks for the advise Troy. After NVG510 install in December, just had first connection issues last week. AT&T tech advised it is a known issue and suggested change to Google’s Public DNS, or get help from AT&T’s fee based support (no way!). Tried changing the DNS and it did not help, so I installed a Linksys E1200 I had in storage. Followed your instructions, and still have occasional connection issues. Might a higher-end router give me the fix I seek, or should I hire a pro to review my setup? I am a solo CPA and cannot handle internet issues, especially during tax season. May need to consider switch to Comcast…Any additional advice?

    1. It sounds like having a stable internet connection is part of your critical business needs. In that case, if you are not comfortable with home networking, and a lost internet connection equals lost revenue, then perhaps paying for outside support is a good idea. One question though, did you remember to set set your work computer back to obtaining it’s DNS settings dynamically from it’s new gateway (now the linkys)?

  3. Right, so I just got confirmation of Uverse yesterday. Of course, after that I realized I had not thought one thing out (I’m a legacy static adsl customer, btw). DNS and specifically rDNS. You suggest ip based on the mac address. Do you know if that counts as static (enough) to their DNS provisioning team ? As you can imagine, as I run a server and have (obviously) domain names… and due to spammers, I want to use various checks (and other mail servers use it too) – I kind of need reverse dns for my ip. Do you know anything about this situation or should I maybe call them (it’s 4 am, so will have to wait I guess. May call them anyway).

    Thanks for this post, too. It gives a bit of assurance that it might be OK. My main concern is DNS related, both that I run my own name servers and PTR records.

    Kind regards.

    1. I don’t know enough about AT&T’s network topology to authoritatively answer your question, but I did some quick research. What your Uverse modem gets is a “sticky ip.” It is a DHCP address, but they have assigned it to that gateway mac address after it grabs it IP from the pool for the first time. For most consumers this IP will never change, but these assignments are still “flagged” as a DHCP address. So, even if you have a PTR setup, you may still face mail rejection issues. As far as rDNS, the consensus is that unless you have a Business U-verse or have purchased a static IP block from AT&T, custom PTR records and / or reverse delegation is not supported. However, standard residential U-verse SHOULD have a pre-built reverse PTR record of xxx-xxx-xxx-xxx.lightspeed.yourarea.sbcglobal.net. With the x’s being your public IP. If you find yourself without a PTR record, you could try forcing a new public IP by changing the MAC on your residential gateway… but depending on how AT&T handles their DHCP lease expiration, it may lead to some downtime. In the end, a call to Tier 2 tech support is probably needed.

      1. Thanks a lot!

        If the IP is fairly consistent, it’ll likely be OK. I just emailed their support, too. It’s true, they don’t offer PTR records without a static block. But as you point out, that doesn’t mean they don’t have ptr records at all. So, worse case I could use that as a workaround or otherwise use another mail server (like, AT&T’s). It’s fairly low profile anyway, so I don’t absolutely have to have outgoing mail. The real key is keeping the ip the same most the time as then I can at least host my websites.

        Thanks again for your information, and have a good day!

  4. I had UVerse installed in December at 6mbps. 15 minutes after the technician left, I lost my internet connection. Now, 6 months later I lose my broadband connection 4-6 times per day. I work at home nights using a VPN – and have lost hundreds of dollars in OT due to this piece of junk gateway. I have set the DNS to use both google and OpenDNS and neither made a difference on my Dell XPS desktop. ATT will not admit to the fact that the NVG510 has a serious fault in its design. So far in June they have sent me 3 NVG510 gateways- all of which fail on the same issue. When I lose connectivity, all the Gateway lights will appear green (Power, Ethernet, Broadband and Service) but it will not connect to the Internet. If I open a browser (Use IE9 and Firefox 13.0.1) I get the message that the gateway cannot connect to the broadband service. If I try to access the gateway at 192.168.1.254 I get the message that the page cannot be displayed- which shows me that the gateway has faulty firmware and/or software. Last night an ATT “Tech” and I use the term losely- told me that I am at the “edge” of service for UVerse and that my connection becomes unstable at that distance and I need to downgrade to 3mbps. I work with a lot of video and photos when I work at night and 3mbps is not cutting it- as they did downgrade me in a lame attempt to “stabilize” my connection. it did not work. Minutes after they brought me down to 3mbps I lost the broadband again. I need at least 6mbps to do my insurance work at night. I called for the 9th time in a month today and Friday they are sending a tech out- but I was “warned” that if there is a problem detected with my home wiring there is a $59 charge for service. They stilll won’t admit that the problem is in the crappy gateway. I’m at my wits end. I suggested today that ATT send me a motorola modem and Linksys router and we can try that but they said not until a tech visits me. Arggggg

  5. Like so many others, having to learn the NVG510 w/o much of a manual. Your info has been very helpful. Trying to support a LAN of a dozen devices both wired and wireless. Due to some proprietary software (business necessary) the devices must be DHCP. However, due to some requirements on a printer, most of the devices must have the same IP after any restart of router etc. (otherwise must change the ip to MAC identity on the printer itself). Before the NVG was installed, I had used the “sticky IP” feature of our router. Now, the NVG does not seem to have that capability. So, I decided to just see what would happen. For several months, all has been fine – the NVG510 (or at least its upstream host??) “remembered” the initial MAC to TCPIP relationships. Yesterday, this was “forgotten” for two of the devices. While part II of your info should solve the challenge (setup a 2nd router) I’d really like to be able to avoid this re: keep all info on a single “fail point”, if possible. Any thoughts on how to “reserve” an IP for a particular MAC behind the NVG510?

    1. The reason everything worked for awhile is that the NVG510′s DHCP server assigns a lease time with each address it hands out. When that timer expired, everyone should get new IPs. You could try sharing the printer by hostname instead of IP, so the sharing isn’t dependent upon IP. The NVG510 doesn’t have an official DHCP reservation option. Something to try would be setting the DHCP lease time to 00:00:00:00, which may make it permanent, but who knows.

      I wouldn’t consider an additional router another possible “failure point.” Consider it an enhancement. :) Plus, I think passing the DHCP control to another router which has a bona-fide reservation feature is your best option.

  6. This will not work, your NVG510 is hardwired to an ATT server. It will only route you to Google servers after passing through your local ATT server, I don’t care if you chain-gang 100 routers together. in the end they still have to go through the NVG510 and the server it is wired to. Don’t believe? run a trace-route before and after using this fix, and use 8.8.8.8 as the destination , then list who is the first server, and how many hopps to get you to Google.com. You cannot rewire through programming. Best you can do is file a compaint with your states Attourney General against ATT for false claims of speed and for over selling their bandwidth. Our local ATT server has a packet loss rate of over 90%, 5% is unacceptable.
    This is what happens when you over sell bandwidth, or, in other terms, try to stuff 100 lbs of you know what into a 10 lb. bag.

    1. You’re right. This article won’t allow you to bypass AT&T’s servers. In fact, any traffic you send out is going through their servers. End of story. AT&T is in the business of setting up servers/boxes to connect the broader internet to homes. And that’s what you pay (or don’t pay) them for. It’s called owning the golden “last mile,” and ISPs can charge a pretty penny for it. So, short of switching service providers (or getting out there with a shovel!) you can’t change the routes that your traffic takes to navigate the internet. But this page will help your router to use a different DNS server.

      1. And exactly what good will using a different DNS server do, when you have to go through an AT&T server that can’t handle the traffic flow? Don’t waste your money on another router, just to end up going through the same server, that is causing all the problems to begin with. Like a dog chasing his tail. That is all I am pointing out.

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