BT Broadband Issues And @BTCare August 11th, 2010
As those of you who follow me on Twitter (@mikesouthby) will no doubt have noticed, I have been having some issues over the past month with my BT Broadband service. I’ve had BT Broadband for some time now and usually, it just works. Perhaps it’s not the cheapest solution, but having the convenience of simply having my usage charged directly to my BT account is convenient; and I’ve simply stuck with it. Of course another reason if the inclusion of the Home Hub for free which saves having to go out and purchase a router independently, the Home Hub itself isn’t a bad piece of kit and once you delve into the settings, can do most things; specification wise it even has 802.11n which is an added bonus for home networking.
The service until recently has been OK, being that I live close to my local Exchange (perhaps no more than 600m) I achieve a reasonable download speed of around 6.5Mbps off peak, although this does of course drop owing to contention during the busy periods. Recently however, the problems began.
I noticed around a month ago that randomly, my connection would disconnect and reconnect automatically, sometimes just the once and sometimes 3 or 4 times in a row. There is not particular pattern to when the problem occurs; sometimes it’s in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon and sometimes in the middle of the night. At first I simply put it down to ‘one of those things’, I mean once it had reconnected the service was again stable and would resync at the same speed so no harm done. But after a few days the novelty soon wore off, especially as I am often working over a remote connection.
It was then that I started to make a few comments on Twitter and not long after, was contacted (via Twitter) by BT Care (@BTCare). Now before I go any further, let me just say that I think it’s great that a company like BT are moving with the times and communicating with their customers through modern channels such as Twitter, but as I have learnt over the last few weeks, they let themselves down miserably by not keeping me (or others like me) informed as to what is going on, or even more frustrating, give standard responses that in no way make any sense in relation to the thread of conversation that preceded; it’s almost as if they do not read all of the messages that you send, or that they do not have the ability to group them together into conversational threads and thus, making it easier for them to help.
Back to the problem.
After a few tweets to and fro, I was told that an engineer would need to visit my house to investigate the issue – I already had a good idea what the issue may be but understand that an engineer visit was required – and was given a PM slot on Tues 3rd August. Tuesday comes, Tuesday goes. No engineer arrives and the disconnect/reconnect cycles continue. So I contact BT Care again through Twitter:
- Me: (03/08 18:12) @BTCare Thanks for organising appt. just a shame no-one turned up. Wasted afternoon off work. Still, it’s only money hey? #frustrated
- Me: (03/08 20:06) @BTCare So no visit from engineer today as promised and connection still dropping. Please advise
- Me: (03/03 22:25) @BTCare More drops tonight guys, can this PLEASE be sorted
- BTCare: (04/03 12:27) @mikesouthby That’s not good. I have checked the fault today and another engineer visit is required. Can you tweet me when would be convenient
Another engineer visit is required? No mention of the one who never arrived funnily enough. Still, I need the issue resolved so again, say that I will make myself available at any time convenient for the next engineer to visit.
- Me: (04/03 12:48) @BTCare Another? What happened to the one who DIDN’T turn up yesterday? Again, I am flexible for rebooking.
- BTCare: (04/03 15:15) @mikesouthby I am really sorry the engineer didn’t show yesterday. When would be best for you for the visit. Let me know and I will get on it
Well, it’s good that I finally get an acknowledgement about the engineer not arriving, but surely if they had read my previous tweet they would have read that I am flexible for an appointment instead of having to ask again when I am available. Do they read all my tweets I wonder.
- Me: (04/03 15:25) @BTCare As mentioned in my tweet this morning, I am flexible so to suit
- BTCare: (04/03 15:45) @mikesouthby I have booked an engineer visit for tomorrow between 8am and 1pm. Drop me a tweet to let me know if this doesn’t suit
- Me: (04/03 18:23) @BTCare OK thanks, let’s hope they remember to come this time lol
- BTCare: (05/08 09:36) @mikesouthby I’m sure they will :) Keep me posted
So later on the 5th, a BT Openreach engineer arrives as promised. He asks me what the issue is and I explain it to him, I also say that I think it is most likely a dodgy leg on the line card (having worked on many ADSL installations, I have encountered this a few times); he agrees. However, to be sure he runs all of the various tests that he can on my installation and heads off to the Exchange satisfied that there are no issues here and that the line card is the most likely problem. We’d already discussed changing my routing and moving my connection onto another line card, he said that he would have to contact my provider (BT ironically, you’d have thought it would have been simple, left hand talking to right hand and all) from the Exchange and ask permission to move me. He says he’ll call me with the outcome. Back to Twitter:
- Me: (05/08 10:55) @BTCare Engineer has been, suspected line card issue, as thought. At Exchange now seeking permission to change routing from powers that be
A while later he calls and says that my provider would not allow him to move the connection but was already aware of my problem and had been monitoring the disconnections for a while (like no really, thanks, although I would have preferred you to have done something about it instead of just being ‘aware’ of it waiting to see if I would notice and complain), he went on to say that they would change the latency on my line and see if that made a difference, and would continue to monitor the line for a few days. Back to Twitter once more:
- Me: (05/08 12:08) @BTCare Update. Provider says no to change of routing, instead is reducing speed to compensate for drops. Not best outcome! Will monitor…
Sure enough, later that day during another disconnect and reconnect I notice that my latency changed from Fastpath to Interleaved.
The engineer says that there is nothing else he can do although we both ‘agree’ that changing to another line card would have been a better option; line cards do occasionally cause issues and moving connections onto another so it can be rebuilt is the right way to solve the problem. Let me try and explain it by using an analogy. Imagine driving down the road in your car and out of the blue the engine starts making noises; remembering that until that moment in time the car has been reliable, and hasn’t made any noises that it shouldn’t have done. You’re now faced with two options, you either get your car fixed (obviously the best choice as it shouldn’t be making noises) or alternatively, you overcome the problem by turning the stereo up so you can’t hear it anymore. Of course this essentially is what BT have done, changing the latency will have the effect of making the line less sensitive to error and – they were hoping – stop the disconnections.
Let me try and explain Latency for those who may not fully understand it. There are 2 types of error correction on ADSL; normal forward error correction or FEC, which is based on a set algorithm and Interleaving, which is set on longer lines (by distance) if the line has noise above a prerequisite level. Interleaving complements FEC. During showtime, Fastpath is up to level 2, anything required above level 2 to keep FEC working properly and interleaving will be applied automatically at varying levels up to level 32. High levels of interleaving plus the FEC can cause latency (decrease in speed), even though in theory this will only be in milliseconds.
On a long and/or noisy connection turning off Interleaving (or changing latency type to Fastpath) can cause disconnections. Frequent disconnections can result in the reduction of your IP Profile and throughput/download speeds.
In my case, I live what is deemed to be close to my Exchange (around 600m) and my house is less than 2 years old on one of the many new housing developments in North Swindon. The engineer who visited ironically said he remembered working on installing some of the copper in and around the estate, certainly he said I should have no distance or copper quality issues where I live. What does this prove? Well, coupled with the fact that until now I have had a fast, stable connection with latency set to Fastpath, it means that I should not need my latency changed to Interleave; the distance to the exchange is not long enough, the installation in my house is new enough and neither distance nor age should have a detrimental issue on my connection causing noise or error. The problem didn’t develop, it appeared overnight. In essence, it means that the ‘solution’ given to the engineer by the provider is like turning the stereo up in the example above. The proper solution would be to identify and remedy the problem; the most likely cause would be a developing fault on the line card.
So later that evening, the Twitter thread continues:
- Me: (05/08 19:08) @BTCare More drops. Latency has been changed from Fastpath to Interleaved this evening. Fixing, not overcoming would be preferred
- BTCare: (05/08 19:49) @mikesouthby Hi I checked with our suppliers and they have confirmed everything is now fixed. Tweet me to let me know if this is the case
- Me: (05/08 19:51) @BTCare Not so. Was told they would monitor and leave open. Also, line dropped 45mins ago! What time did they say it was resolved?
Next day and no response, this is where I found the lack of communication start to become frustrating. If a company is to use social media such as Twitter, then it has to do it correctly, not to do so will have a negative effect on what they are trying to achieve; it would have been quicker and less stressful to revert back to the old method at this stage and use the phone (well it is good to talk, right?)
- Me: (06/08 10:03) @BTCare More drops already this morning, and sluggish connectivity. Becoming more frustrating by the day #btbroadband #fail
- BTCare: (06/08 10:24) @mikesouthby Hmm strange, the fault has been closed & all looks good from this end. Are you still experiencing drop outs? Let me know
Evidently, they did not read my tweet less than 20 minutes previously where I clearly stated I was continuing to have issues.
- Me: (06/08 10:36) @BTCare Please READ my tweets before furnishing me with generic responses. If you had, you’d have read ‘more drops already this morning’…
I must have upset them at this stage as they chose to ignore me for the rest of the day. The random disconnections persist and using BTs own speed check test, I get random results, often dropping down as low as 0.69Mbps which on a line with a downstream sync of 8,128kbps is pretty poor. I get my next contact on Saturday morning, again via Twitter:
- BTCare: (07/08 09:54) @mikesouthby I have let the engineers know the problem still exits, updates to come, also if you haven’t used an i-plate,see tiny.cc/1zftp
- Me: (07/08 11:07) @BTCare No, not used an i-plate. Lots of drops today already
- BTCare: (07/08 13:58) @mikesouthby Hey, i tested it and seen the dropouts, i want to get an engineer out to look at it, when would be suitable?
I found this quite funny. So they test my line from their end and can clearly see all of the disconnections, would this not have been a good idea a few nights before when they were happy to close the case; surely it would have made sense to have run a quick check then to make sure for themselves that they were being given good information. Another engineer? I wonder if this one will arrive. Trying to remain positive, I again give them total flexibility in the dates so that I am not causing a delay by not being available.
- Me: (07/08 18:15) @BTCare Anytime I am flexible, just let me know
- Me: (07/08 19:09) @BTCare Can I pre-request a switch to another line card at the Exchange, I suspect this to be the issue. Perhaps it needs rebuilding…
- BTCare: (08/08 16:25) @mikesouthby Hi I have booked an engineer visit for tomorrow between 1 pm and 6 pm. Drop me a tweet if this doesn’t suit
- BTCare: (09/08 11:57) @mikesouthby The engineer will decide during the visit how best to resolve the issue. I’ll tweet you this evening to see how it went :)
I thought it would be good to mention the line card issue directly to BT Care, whether they made a note of this in the case notes I’m not sure, but surely by now they would want to do whatever they could to resolve the issue and get me off their case! Monday comes, Monday goes. No engineer.
At this point I start to get quite angry. I know for a fact if I had not been available when an engineer arrived at a pre-booked time I would have been given the standard £50 invoice for wasting their time, well guess what BT, my time is valuable too and I have already taken 3 half days off by now to wait in for engineers, of which 2 have not arrived. I’d charge business clients £45 an hour so I’m sure you can imagine what’s next:
- Me: (09/08 18:03) @BTCare So yet again the engineer has not turned up. Not happy. Who do I send the invoice to for MY time? #btbroadband #btcare#bt #fail
I get no response.
- Me: (10/08 10:08) @BTCare Still awaiting a response re: yesterdays engineer who didn’t turn up, again. You also said you would contact be last night & didn’t
- BTCare: (10/08 11:24) @mikesouthby Hi our suppliers are currently working on this at the moment. I will tweet you later today once I know more
- Me: (10/08 11:51) @BTCare More drops, expect progress 2day or complaint being filed with #ofcom. This has been going on far 2 long with 2 many false promises
- BTCare: (10/08 15:56) @mikesouthby Hi another engineer appointment is required.Slots are Monday-Friday either AM8:00-13:00 or PM13:00-18:00 let me know what suits
- Me: (10/08 16:37) @BTCare Anytime. I expect them to arrive this time. You still haven’t let me know where to send the invoice for my time for the 2 non shows
- Me: (10/08 16:41) @BTCare Can you also DM me an email address for your complaints dept., and the names of the people who have been dealing with this, thanks
- Me: (10/08 19:04) @BTCare Can you please confirm the appointment details, thanks
- Me: (10/08 22:04) @BTCare Still waiting on an update for engineer booking please?
Finally I get a response this afternoon.
- BTCare: (11/08 13:47) @mikesouthby I’ve booked engineer appointment for tomorrow 12/08/10 PM (13:00-18:00) Let me know if this doesn’t suit. Thanks
- Me: (11/08 14:05) @BTCare No, that’s fine thank you
So there we are; I wonder if the engineer will turn up tomorrow.
My experiences with BT Care over the last couple of weeks have highlighted to me an inherent issue with the way companies are embracing new technologies, Twitter in particular. It seems to be the ‘cool’ thing for companies to complement their online presence with Twitter, Facebook and other similar forms of communication. It’s great; but only if it’s done right.
The moral of the story is that if you do not have the resources or manpower to effectively use Twitter, then don’t. At first I was singing BT’s praises for approaching me about my problem after tweeting, but this has now been tarnished into a frustration that will be hard to shift. I find it hard to praise their efforts when my tweets often go unnoticed or unread. As for not giving me the details of who I need to complain to when asked, that’s inexcusable for such a large company (well, any company actually).
I guess I’ll find out tomorrow if my problem is going to be fixed as it should have been on the very first engineers visit, but regardless, BT you must do better. Either put more people on the BT Care team to work with Twitter if understaffing is the issue, develop a better system of working or educate your staff to better their Customer Service skills.
Configuring BT Mobile Broadband on Ubuntu 9.10 November 9th, 2009
The need to be able to conduct business whilst on the move is becoming more and more integrated into the way we go about our daily work; gone are the days when you can ignore email between point A and point B simply because you do not have access to your inbox. For me working in the IT sector this is ever more important, I need to be able to stop the car almost anywhere and be able to remotely connect to a clients network when they need help – having to wait until I ‘get in front of my machine‘ simply is no longer an option if you want to succeed in today’s marketplace.
As you will know if you are a regular visitor to my blog, I am a huge fan of the majority of Microsoft’s products. Perhaps it stems from the fact I chose the Microsoft career path and studied towards my MCSE and MCSA; perhaps it’s because 80% of the clients I deal with and the computers I maintain utilise Windows as their primary OS. Either way, Microsoft – and Windows more specifically – are an integral part of my daily life. Back on topic and moving back to my original point, the need to remain connected whilst out of the office is easily overcome when using a Windows OS, there are plenty of mobile data cards and USB data sticks now on the market, most if not all the big telecommunications providers supply them at competitive rates. All of these products come supplied with connection software to get you connected – Windows connection software.
Now I am not saying some of them do not come with alternative software for Linux or Mac for example, if I did I’m sure I would be proved wrong but certainly the ones I have experience with (Vodafone, o2 and BT) do not. So that leaves a problem for people who are wanting to make the switch to Linux, including the ever popular Ubuntu distribution – it may work well in the office or at home but if it doesn’t allow use whilst mobile too, why not simply use Windows? Hardware support in Ubuntu has come on a very long way in the last few years, I remember only a year ago when I last gave Ubuntu a proper test that I was stuck when it came to using my data card. With the Linux knowledge I had at the time, I simply could not get it to work; I’m pleased to see that Ubuntu and Linux generally have come on a long way since and now work almost as well as Windows, if not equally.
I run my ThinkPad in a dual-boot configuration, using mainly Windows 7 but also using Ubuntu as often as I can. Today I thought I would have another go at configuring my mobile data card, sure enough I have been surprised by the ease at which the latest evolution of Ubuntu – v9.10 – handles hardware which a year ago, would have caused major headaches.
Note: For the purpose of this guide, I am using a BT mobile data stick, a rebranded Huawei E180 HSPDA USB data stick on a BT Tariff. The contract is a 12 month plan as supplied with either BT Total Broadband or BT Business Broadband as an optional extra.
Prerequisites: I am assuming that you already have Ubuntu 9.10 installed and running and that your data card has previously been activated either by using it with the BT Connection Manager software in a Windows environment, or by activating the SIM in a Vodafone handset (BT curiously use the Vodafone network); also that the security PIN lock on the device has been disabled.
Configuring the data card for use is actually a relatively simple and pain free process:
- Plug the data stick into a spare USB slot on your machine, after a few seconds the device will be mounted automatically and on your screen you’ll see 2 icons appear for the BT software embedded into the data stick (shown as a mounted CD) and the USB storage facility of the data stick [screenshot]
- Right click on the network notification in the system tray and choose Edit Connections
- Click the Mobile Broadband tab and the Add a new connection
- You’ll be asked to choose a connection, you should only have one option HUAWEI Technology HUAWEI Mobile then click Forward
- Next choose Britain (UK) followed again by Forward [screenshot]
- On the next screen – strangely – you need to choose Vodafone as the provider and not BT Mobile, BT Mobile now use Vodafone to provide their connectivity so we choose this as a base configuration. Click Forward
- You now need to confirm the type of contract you have followed by Forward
- Next you’ll be asked to confirm your settings [screenshot], click Apply
- Click Edit to edit your setting for the new connection you have just made and make the following changes under the Mobile Broadband tab [screenshot]:
- Move onto the PPP Settings tab and click Configure Methods. Uncheck all of the options apart from CHAP [screenshot]. Click OK
- Make sure that Allow BSD, Allow Defalte Data, User TCP Header Compression are all checked, next click on IPv4 Settings
- Ensure the drop down list is set to Automatic (PPP) [screenshot]
- Finally, change the connection name to something more suitable, I have used BT HSDPA [screenshot] but choose whatever you wish here, click Apply to confirm the settings
You have now configured you data card!
To connect simply click on the connection icon and then choose the new connection – you should now see the pop up to tell you that you are connected [screenshot].
I have not noticed any difference in connection speeds when using my data card with either Ubuntu or Windows 7; in both environments the connection seems very stable and I’m pleased with the overall connectivity.
Note: Whilst the default settings are working absolutely fine for me, I have had previous issues with BT generally in so much as there DNS servers can often take a long time to resolve addresses; this applies both to their mobile data and Broadband services. The actual data connection themselves are however always reliable and pretty quick. If you find this a problem change the default DNS servers to an alternate provider, I recommend the servers provided by OpenDNS; 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124 respectively. Of course this also applies to any ISP if you find resolution is taking longer than you expected, including home broadband connections.
I hope you find this useful. Enjoy.
Just How Fast Is Broadband? Over To Winston, The Pigeon September 13th, 2009
I read something very topical this morning for a number of reasons.
Firstly, I have for a number of years now been very dismayed at the quality of broadband this country (on average) has to offer. According to official reports, the average actual speed available to UK users is 3Mbps, not exactly staggering when you consider comparisons to the rest of Europe where according to official figures, the nearest lowest average speed is 4.6Mbps, now I know that doesn’t seem a huge step but remember we are talking average speeds and actually, 1.6Mbps DOES make a significant difference to heavy users. Now take a look at the claimed average speeds available according to the ISPs, here in the UK they will have you believe that on average we can get 10Mbps, sounds much better even if a little unrealistic but again, taking a look further afield into Europe and you’ll see they can achieve according to ISP reports speeds of up to 44Mbps on average. OK, I understand that the limitations are massively influenced by existing technology and the huge financial and logistical implication of upgrading an old network under live conditions, but surely we can do better than 3Mbps..?
The second reason this post is topical has nothing to do with broadband. Growing up, my dad using to keep and race pigeons, he still does actually so it’s something which whilst being a little strange to a lot of people, always catches my eye when I read something about it in the press. Kind of takes me back to my childhood days.
So on to the story which caught my eye.
Going back to my original point about broadband, it promised to unite the world with alleged super-fast data speeds allowing us to conduct business globally in real time. But in South Africa, a recent experiment has proven that the internet is no faster than a pigeon! A Durban IT company decided to run a race between an 11 month old racing pigeon carrying a 4GB memory stick and the time it took to transfer a 4GB file using ADSL connections from the country’s biggest ISP, Telkom. This I thought would make interesting reading.
Winston, the pigeon, took two hours to carry the data 60 miles – in the same time; the ADSL had sent only 4% of the data! Amazing.
Telkom said that it was not responsible for the company’s slow internet speeds (funny, I remember BT telling me the same thing not so long ago blaming BT Open Reach; hang on, aren’t they all the same at the end of the day?). The idea behind the race came from a member of staff at the Durban Company, Unlimited IT, after staff there complained about the speed of their ADSL connection. Flippantly, they joked that it would be faster to send the data by carrier pigeon. “We renown ourselves on being innovative, so we decided to test that statement” said Unlimited’s Kevin Rolfe. Winston took off from Unlimited IT’s call centre in the town of Howick to deliver the memory stick to the firm’s office in Durban. According to Winston’s website (http://www.pigeonrace2009.co.za) there were strict rules in place to ensure he had no unfair advantage. They included ‘no cats allowed’ and ‘birdseed must not have any performance-enhancing seeds within’. The firm said Winston took one hour and eight minutes to fly between the offices, and the data took another hour to upload onto their system. Mr Rolf said the ADSL transmission of the same data size was about 4% complete in the same time.
Back to the UK and back to reality.
I guess I should count myself lucky. The telephone exchange that I am connected to is a rural one; it does not offer any LLU services and probably pre-dates the Arc. I live around 4km away from the exchange according to the route my copper takes so when I recently moved and placed an order for broadband I was slightly perturbed that I would not have an reliable connection, perhaps only 1-2Mbps if I was lucky. Certainly according to BT Wholesales ADSL checker I was told to expect a service of 2Mbps. However, I’m sat here today typing this on a nice stable connection in the region of 4.5Mbps, not exactly the 10Mbps average that BT claim but not too bad all things considered. I’ve been spoilt in reality over the years working in the IT sector and having had leased lines and more recently ADSL2+ Burst lines giving me speeds in excess of 20Mbps reliably, but it seems that as times have moved on, the technology is lagging far behind.
I know there are lots of plans in the pipeline to revolutionise the infrastructure here in the UK, to actually deliver the kind of speeds we have been promised over the last few years but call me a cynic, it wouldn’t be the first time plans have not come to fruition. I prefer hard action to plans, I would like to see things changing, I would like to see us taking a step forward and leading the ‘Broadband Revolution’.
Come on Britain. Come on BT. Give us something special; give us something to stand out from the rest of the EU, from the rest of the World. I’d like to think I will be reading an article on how we lead the world technologically in the not too distant future and not an article on how Downing Street has taken to keeping pigeons…