Tech Stuff: Top Ten Blog Posts of 2017

Over the last twelve months I have published 26 posts, many of these were about my return to fibre. So it is nice to see that the tenth most popular post on the blog this year was from nearly a year ago.  We will have fibre in “12 months”!  I said back then that according to BT Openreach we would have fibre within twelve months, I was slightly sceptical, but nine months after publishing that post I did get fibre.

new fibre cabinet 25

The ninth post was about when my iMac Fusion Drive Failed and had to have it replaced.

The post at number eight was another post about my fibre journey, Still checking… was when the cabinet was activated, but alas wasn’t accepting orders.

The seventh post was from 2012 when my HP Photosmart printer died. My printer is dead! was a sorry tale about how replacing the ink cartridges on the HP B110a resulted it in destroying the print head.

The post at six was about  Dusting off the Pogo my old Polaroid Bluetooth pocket printer. Still going strong.

Polaroid Pogo printer

The fifth post was how I don’t like BT FON which was originally published in 2011.

The post at number four was wondering Where are my Comic Life Styles? I found them.

The third most popular post was about the free wifi (or lack of) on my holiday, Haven no wifi

The post at number two was Comic Book Fonts which was about the amazing comic book fonts from Comic Book Fonts.

So the most popular post on the blog was my post about QR codes on chocolate bars,  Cadbury QR Coding and Twirling was published in 2015 and was one of many posts I published on the use of QR codes back then.

Cadbury Twirl Bites QR Code

Still checking…

network cable

So just over a week ago, according to BT Openreach they have activated the new cabinet, but we still can’t place an order for “superfast” broadband.

I have also been using another method of checking progress which is the ADSL checker site from BT.

This is the result from my line.

BT ADSL Checker

As you can see the maximum downstream rate is no more than 1.5Mb/s.

According to my DSL router, the actual speeds I am getting are

DownStream Connection Speed – 1152 Kbps
UpStream Connection Speed – 440 Kbps

Which to be honest is not much good for anything these days, even web pages are so bloated these days, it can take an age to download a single web page from some sites. Flickr for example is really challenging to use. So you can imagine the challenges we face in streaming video, using services such as Skype or any kind of cloud service.

Just up the road, with a property connected to cabinet 17, you can see the different having a FTTC enabled cabinet can make on speeds.

BT ADSL Checker

You can see though the ADSL speed is better than mine at 7.5Mb/s, the FTTC rate is around 80MB/s.

I was also interested to see that fibre to the premises (FTTP) is also available on that cabinet to that specific line with a 330Mb/s downstream rate!

Doubt that will be available on cabinet 25.

BBC News are reporting though that this may change…

Telecoms regulator Ofcom forced BT to legally separate its broadband infrastructure division Openreach in March.

Since the split, Openreach has pledged to offer super-fast fibre broadband to 10 million homes by 2025, using technology known as fibre to the premises (FTTP) which it had previously said was too expensive for wide rollout.

I know, I know I should be happy I am getting FTTC and not worry too much about FTTP.

What are you doing Apple TV?

Those who regularly follow the blog will realise that my local cabinet will soon allow FTTC connections, only seven years after the local exchange was upgraded. When we moved house five years ago, we took our internet service provider with us and kept the legacy account. Five years ago we expected to be upgraded to FTTC with a year or two…

This legacy account actually has a bandwidth limit of 120Gb per month, which considering my average ADSL internet speed is 1Mb/s is (usually) more than plenty. Most months we are lucky to hit 60GB. As a result I have never upgraded the legacy ISP account.

As we finally approach the possibility of having a fibre connection, I was checking what kinds of fibre accounts were available, I took the opportunity to check my bandwidth usage and was surprised to see how much bandwidth we had been using. We were using 4-6GB per day (which if you do the math, you will realise would take us over the monthly limit, as especially it is a thirty one day month).

After checking a few things and doing an overnight test, it would appear that the Apple TV was the culprit.

Apple TV

Not sure what it was doing (as it was supposed to be on standby) but I am guessing it was attempting to update itself or downloading one of its (rather nice) screensaver.

Reflecting another culprit could be the Wii U. Well let’s see what happens with the Apple TV turned off. OF course once we have upgraded to FTTC we will have unlimited bandwidth, so I won’t need to worry. Which will be soon…. I hope.

Will we get Virgin Media cable?

Weston Village by James Clay

On the other side of the village…

I like how Weston call their new housing developments villages, this conjures up images of a village green, a local post office, a pub and a red phone box.

Reality is that this is a modern housing estate, though has to be said with an ancient communication infrastructure relying on old copper cables!

It is no surprise that when builders come in and build a new housing estate they provide electricity, gas, water and sewage, but when it comes to connectivity, they fall back to the trusted copper cables.

Why when a new housing estate is built they can’t install fibre straight in, I will never know. Though recent press reports indicate that this may now happen… only taken ten years.

But back to the other side of the village, across the main railway line which splits the village (we do get steam trains on that line, but this isn’t Titfield Thunderbolt railway lines, no this is high speed GWR and CrossCountry) we have seen Virgin Media come in, dig up the roads and pavements and install Virgin cabling to the houses there.

There isn’t much to discover on the web about Virgin Media and what will be available, according to the website, they say it’s not in their plans… seems strange to spend lots of money on the infrastructure to connect homes, but never actually connect them up! I expect it will be available shortly, and I wonder what sort of stuff will be on their fibre cables? In some parts of Bristol for example, we have 200Mbs connections, though I think that Virgin would also like you to take their TV packages as well, something that puts me off them, as I don’t watch that much live TV and prefer BBC iPlayer, Netflix or Amazon Prime.

What has got me wondering, now they have installed cable on the other side of the village, will they cross the railway line and do our side of the village, will they get us some decent internet connectivity, as BT Openreach have consistently failed to do so. There are some CATV covers quite close (and on our side of the railway line) but not sure if they are anything to do with Virgin Media, or even if they are related to any possible roll out of Virgin Media Cable.

Of course no news on the Virgin Media website, so we shall have to wait and see.

ADSL Modem Woes

I have now been back on ADSL for six months and it’s not been a smooth ride. I moved house in June and as a result my phone line was linked to a different cabinet, even though it was the same exchange. The exchange was upgraded for FTTC, but the cabinet I was connected to wasn’t part of the upgrade plan. As a result I was booted back down to an ADSL internet connection.

My connection is certainly better than the one I had just before I moved onto FTTC. What I have noticed is two things, firstly, the connection goes down a lot more than it ever did on FTTC. Now this could be the connection, but I am slightly suspicious that the fault lies with the Netgear ADSL Modem/Router I am using rather than an issue with the connection itself.

Netgear DGN1000 Wireless-N150 ADSL Modem Router

This is reinforced with the second thing I have noticed. When we’ve had a power cut (or as I did the other day turn off the power to do some electrical work) it seems to be really problematic to get the three Apple Airport base stations I have back up and running. After reconfiguring the base stations and failing, I did a software reboot of the Netgear Router through the admin screen (as opposed to turning the thing off and back on again) and this time the Airport wireless base stations did sort themselves out.

The main problem I was having with the Airport base stations was that they couldn’t get an IP address from the router through DHCP and when I gave them a static IP address, the DNS didn’t work as expected.

When I had FTTC, as it uses PPPoE I was able to use my Apple Airport base station as the main router for the home network. When I moved back to ADSL I needed to get a new ADSL Modem/Router that supported PPPoA. I did have one in the loft that I got out, but I think it was fried or just too old because I couldn’t get it to work or even configure it. So I went out and bought a Netgear ADSL Modem/Router from my local PCWorld. With hindsight this was probably a mistake!

After blaming ADSL for my lost connections I am now basically convinced that the fault is not with ADSL, but may well be with the Modem/Router. The issue with the DHCP is I think a separate but connected issue.

As a result I am thinking about getting a new ADSL Modem/Router, so do you have any suggestions?

No magic with BBC iPlayer

No magic with BBC iPlayer

I know many people out there have no sympathy for me now that I have lost access to fibre (through FTTC) and have reverted back to a relatively much slower ADSL connection when I moved house. I am aware that much of the UK population only have similar broadband speeds.

However I do think it is interesting to note the problems I am having, it has certainly made me much more aware of the advantages of FTTC over ADSL and the need to speed up all of the UK (not just my neck of the woods).

The other evening I sat down to watch Merlin on BBC iPlayer and it was stuttering like crazy… My Sony TV has internet capability and BBC iPlayer is accessible from the user interface without needing to use a laptop or iPad. I was slightly surprised as I had recently moved a few things around and connected the TV direct to my router. Previously I had used wifi to connect the TV to the internet and this had proved unreliable; when I had FTTC, it had worked fine over wifi. When I did a direct wired connection this appeared at the time to resolve those buffering issues.

I tried again, and once more it didn’t work…

I thought about it, checked upstairs and found that my son was streaming BBC iPlayer on his computer at the same time.

It was apparent that though my ADSL connection was fast enough for BBC iPlayer, it couldn’t cope with two streams at the same time. When I had the FTTC connection, it coped fine with higher quality BBC iPlayer streams, and streaming two programmes (and doing other stuff on the web as well) was all fine and dandy.

So we waited until my son’s programme had finished and then we watched Merlin.

What this incident made me realise was that the real advantage of FTTC wasn’t so much the speed of the connection, but the width. I find on ADSL that I can cope with waiting for things to download, but what I really miss about FTTC is the ability to use the full capacity of the fibre “tube” to do lots of different things all at once. Now with ADSL I need to schedule streaming and downloads to ensure that, not only do they work, but also to not inconvenience others in the house.

So is FTTC anywhere on the horizon for me? Not that I can see, which is a real pity.

I need some fibre

As you may know if you read this blog post, I recently moved house and in doing so lost my FTTC connection and had to go back to a rather slow ADSL connection, slow as in less than 1Mb. I usually had 37Mb down with FTTC so you can imagine my annoyance.

One of the reasons I am more annoyed is that I am still on the same (enabled) exchange and we only moved less than half a mile down the road.

I am in the process of asking BT when I can expect the cabinet I am connected to, will be upgraded to FTTC, or even if it is possible to upgrade it to FTTC.

It seems surprisingly difficult to find out which specific cabinet I am connected to. From a postcode search of 2011 data it would appear that there is an 85% chance I am connected to a cabinet that isn’t part of the FTTC upgrade plan and may not even be able to be upgraded.

FTTC Check

Using the BT checker (retail and wholesale) the answer is categorically that I can only have really slow ADSL.

BT Line Checker

Using SamKnows seems to indicate a yes to FTTC!

SamKnows Line Checker

However as we took our phone number with us when we removed, I have a suspicion that they may be using old data.

I have put a support request into BT and am hoping for an answer on Monday. You never know I might be on fibre faster than I could hope, or (more likely) find out that I can never have fibre.

ADSL isn’t cutting it, I need more bandwidth. So if I can’t get fibre what options do I have for fast broadband then?

Lost my fibre…

fiber optic light

Back in October 2010 I upgraded my broadband to FTTC and improved my internet speeds dramatically….

Finally had my broadband upgraded to FTTC and I am impressed. With 40Mb down and 10Mb up this is significantly faster than the 1.3 down and 0.6 up I had before.

It has already changed how I use the internet, whereas before I would probably not consider downloading a film from iTunes during the day, as it would soak up my bandwidth and would take hours to download; now it takes under five minutes to download! No problems with downloading large files and updates now.

This week I lost access to FTTC and dropped back down to those old slow ADSL speeds I thought I had left behind.

The reason was simple I moved house!

Though I only (really) moved down the road and even though I am still connected to the same enabled telephone exchange, it would appear that the cabinet I am connected to hasn’t been upgraded! So as a result no FTTC for me.

The first big issue was digging out an ADSL Modem to use, and alas the one I had, had probably been in the garage or a while, and didn’t work. You can’t use the modem that is provided with FTTC, hence the need for an ADSL Modem. Spent about an hour trying to work out why the old D-Link modem wasn’t working. Doing a hard reset didn’t work. So it was a quick trip to PC World to find a cheap ADSL Modem. In the end I got the Netgear N150 Wireless ADSL2+ Modem Router. I didn’t in fact need the wireless as I use Apple’s Airport Extreme for my wireless networking.

It was easy to configure via a web browser and it wasn’t long before I was connected and using the ADSL connection.

Back when I got fibre I wrote:

The other key advantage is streaming video, which was almost pointless before due to buffering, and like downloading, previous streaming would soak up my bandwidth, having 40Mb down means I can stream and do other stuff at the same time.

Now that I am back on ADSL (and slow ADSL at that) I am once again unable to stream video through my connection and do anything else. An experiment with BBC iPlayer resulted in a slow browsing experience and buffering video. Now that’s going to be annoying and frustrating. The first casualty looks like it will be my Netflix subscription… if I can’t stream video then what is the point? It will also become a hassle to download video files from iTunes too.

I also have concerns about webinars and Skype as I have a very poor upload speed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love our new house, it’s great. I just hope that BT will get around to upgrading the cabinet soon so I can get FTTC. I also hope they can upgrade the cabinet…. would be doubly annoying if I could never get back on fibre.

Nowhere near my limit

I wrote earlier about how I nearly reached my broadband limit in December. In January what with no snow, no school holidays and a bit of travelling here and there, I was nowhere near my limit. Well under, about 50% of my December traffic.

So back to normal.

Limit reached…

Last month I got very close to reaching my broadband cap. The account I have with Plusnet (a legacy account) has a limit of 80GB. When I had my ADSL connection I never got close to the limit. Having upgraded my connection to FTTC (fibre) and having 37Mb/s download speed means it is now much easier for me to reach the limit.

I know that I got close to the limit due to the holiday season, spending a lot of time at home meant not only was I using the connection a lot, but the family were also streaming a lot of video too. BBC iPlayer is great for catching up with programmes you have missed, but also means using a lot of data.

One of the features of Plusnet I like is that the cap does not apply to downloads between 12am and 8am. This is great for downloading stuff from iTunes, but less useful for streaming BBC iPlayer content. I usually watch BBC iPlayer content through the TV, it has BBC iPlayer built in, however it doesn’t allow me to download BBC content and play back later, I have to stream live!

The other problem I am having is that scheduling iTunes downloads is problematic.

Prior to getting FTTC I could before I went to bed I could set iTunes to download movies and TV programmes knowing that the majority of the download would be during the cap free period between 12 and 8. However FTTC is so fast that it only takes ten minutes to download a movie from iTunes so generally I download when I wake up and not when I go to bed (I am usually in bed before midnight). What I would prefer to do is let iTunes download any big purchases after midnight. It’s not just movies but also some iPad apps are in excess of 500MB. I would also download OS X and Windows updates overnight, again with my old connection the majority of the download would take place in the cap free time, now with the faster connection it’s done very quickly.

Luckily Plusnet provide a decent tool for measuring how much data I have used and also warn me when I get close.

However this does show that ISPs need to rethink their bandwidth caps once more people can get FTTC.