More on FTTC in Churchtown Southport

Is it really that long since I posted something? Abject failure on my part! 4 out of 10, could do better is something I recall from my junior school report days. Seems things haven’t changed. Maybe a New Year Resolution? No, sod that.

Just a quick update on the posts from earlier this year about “Something is coming”.

In short, at least for me, it’s still coming, and as ever, it’s delayed again. As far as I can tell only one of the highlighted cabinets is now offering fibre broadband. P12 (Roe Lane). While two other cabinets have been installed, according to the BT availability checker, even after three months they’re still not accepting orders.

What I have found, is a site that (finally) appears to show the plans for fibre across Merseyside. Ok, I acknowledge Merseyside doesn’t actually exist, and I abhor its very name, but if you are looking for details on what’s available, or what’s planned in any area from Liverpool up to and including Southport, the Merseyside Connected website is a very good place to start. Consult out their Postcode Checker. Sadly, my postcode was “Planned” for 2014. Given the activity around the cabinet in May, I kind of assumed that target was very achievable. In fact more than likely would be easily beaten. Wrong.

Some weeks ago, the planned date changed to “First half 2015”. Being the eternal pessimist, and given their (BT OpenReach) track record, that’s late June 2015. Another 6 month delay. Over the last couple of weeks, it’s now stating “End of March 2015”. So who knows? I think I’m destined for several more months at snails pace. Time will tell.

What I find strange is that I pay top dollar for a “premium service” from one of the better suppliers. With line rental, and 10MB/s download I shell out nearly £75 a month. Sure, it just works, I’ve absolutely no issue with Zen, in comparison to other so called “service” providers they are a class apart. But when FTTC becomes available it’s likely my bill will reduce by around 25 to 30 quid a month. So cheaper for a faster service. How the hell does that work?

Anyhow, for now, signing off.

Yours truly in the slow lane….

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Something is coming….

As most of you are probably all too painfully aware, I was more than a little miffed when BT decided to pass us by a couple of years back in the roll out of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTCC). I even wrote about it here.

Since then, despite letters to the council, BT themselves, and numerous phone calls to anyone I thought may be able to help, the situation has remained the same. Watching others hurtle past in the fast lane with all their flashy sports cars, while I dawdled along in the slow lane in the equivalent of a Morris Minor. And before you start, I happen to quite like Morris Minors. There was no sign of any positive news, other than the government statement that it had asked BT to improve their efforts to bring the nation up to speed, and that it should all more or less happen by the end of 2015. That was until now.

A few days ago, a trusted colleague, who is aware of my plight, called me while I was abroad with work. He told me he’d seen a couple of BT OpenReach vans down his road, and more importantly, they had a large roll of fibre with them. Being of inquisitive nature, he asked what they were up to, and in short, got told there was a “push” on to get the remainder of the area cabled up for fibre. Needless to say, at this point I got rather excited. I asked if he could enquire about my now famous cabinet 39, and if that was on the list, but their job sheet for the day didn’t have it on. Either way, it was a very positive sign. A couple of days later, another sighting at a different location, but still in the (local) area.

The cabinets in our area that thus far have not been enabled, don’t have (not surprisingly) the extra fibre cabinet located next to or close to the existing one. My thoughts were that if the fibre was being laid to the existing cabinets and “capped off”, and there genuinely was a push on to get FTTC deployed in full, I should soon start to see the fitters deploying the new cabinets sooner rather than later.

Fast forward, to my run this morning. What do I see as I turn the corner and run past “PCP 39”?

PCP39

Joy! A few meters from the existing cabinet, markings as to where a new cabinet is to be installed. As to when? I’ve no idea, but it’s clear to me something is now very much happening. Flushed with this news, I decided to have a look around at some of the other cabinets in the area in need of fibre.

People of Roe Lane / Hesketh Drive (P12), you’re in luck.

P12

And for those in Bankfield Lane (P4) you too.

P4

Not forgetting the souls of Ferryside Lane and surrounding areas (P36)

P40

And the happy people of Moss Lane (P37)

P37

I’m afraid I didn’t have time to travel up to Banks and near the Riverside, so if your line hangs off P34, P38 or P43, I can’t tell you the latest.

But the bad news, P33 (Elswick Rd) and P40 (Merepark Drive) don’t (as yet) show any signs of progress.

M.

 

 

 

A few thoughts on the UK’s mobile operators

Some weeks ago, a report was published that at the time, attracted quite a lot of attention. It was headlined the “UK’s most comprehensive tests of mobile networks”, so given my interests, I decided to give it a good read through.

The BBC reported it here, while the original direct from RootMetrics can be seen here.

I’ve always (probably incorrectly), thought I have a fairly decent knowledge of the pros and cons of the mobile networks, so was interested to see how my view compared to this survey. Sure, everyone has their view, but for me the decision as to which operator you choose has to be a balance of cost versus performance, and that the definition of “performance” for one user can be different to another.

In years gone by, the big two, O2 (Cellnet as was) and Vodafone always had the better coverage, they had more frequencies to go at, more masts and had been building their networks for many years before the other operators even got started. Then along came Orange and OneToOne (soon to be T-Mobile) who built networks from scratch primarily on 1800MHz. Finally, “3” launched after all the operators had paid an absolute fortune for their 3G licences.

Once all the operators were in place, I’d still argue, that the best choice was still likely to be O2 or Vodafone, since at the time they continued to have the better coverage. And by that I mean in remote or rural areas, you’d probably be able to pick up a signal from the big two, whereas there was little chance from one of the “new” players.

Now, that’s all changed. What I’ve experienced is that Vodafone (as the report finds), has indeed the worst performance of the UK networks, and by some distance. For example, where I live, a mast has been promised for the last three years, but still nothing. In my house I can’t even get a 2G signal, let alone 3G or god forbid 4G/LTE. Driving around it’s a similar story. Sure, in the big cities they just about put up a fight, but outside of that you’ll find many areas where if you’re wanting to use your phone for data, the best you’ll get is a 2G signal.

My wife, and the rest of the family are on O2. While this is a little better, at least in and around where I live, it’s still not great. Coverage can be patchy, but at least they’ve more masts than Vodafone so you at least get a chance of a connection. So, I’d agree with the survey, the worst two are indeed now the old big two providers.

What has surprised me is how well the networks of the other operators have improved. Sure, there’s been a lot of network sharing to the point you may not even know who’s bit of the network you’re actually on (Three share their 3G network with what was T-Mobile), and T-Mobile were taken over my Orange to form “EE” who are all talking about how to share each other’s networks, but the net result is that if you’re with EE, Orange, T-Mobile or Three, there’s a pretty good chance you’re likely to be better off.

So, let’s lump Orange and T-Mobile together into EE (which is what they are now), how do you decide between them and Three? Tough one. But I think the survey has it right. For out and out coverage, EE is the answer. Simply because at least for now, Three only have a 3G network (with 4G rolling out), but no 2G network. They used to have a fall back roaming arrangement initially with O2, then with Orange, but that no longer exists. The result, is that if you were out in the sticks somewhere, due to 2100MHz not handling distance well, you could end up out of coverage.

If you’re basing your choice on data speed, then it’s still EE, simply because they have more 4G today than anyone else. If you’re looking for the quality and speed of the network, then, in my view it’s Three. While a lot of it is only 3G, it’s damned good 3G with consistently high throughput.

So, in summary, there’s nothing I disagree with in the survey. I think it’s an excellent piece of work that reflects the current situation. Operators continue to change, so what’s right today, could be totally different within a few months. But if I were signing up for a new contract today, it’d be a tough choice between Three and EE. I like the unlimited data tariffs of Three, their network quality I believe is better than EE’s but EE do have better coverage. Your choice 🙂

M.

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)

So, while I’m on my hobby horse, one other thing to mention. The deployment of “Super Fast Broadband”.

There’s a government target of 90% of all UK households to have Super Fast Broadband by the end of 2015. Super Fast means in excess of 24Mbps. Well at least there was. According to this piece by PCPro magazine, that’s increased to 95% by 2017 and is now 99% by 2018. Although they’ve now allowed that to be achieved by wireless too.

Trawl the internet and you’ll find countless stories detailing how we’re falling behind on these targets, here are just some:-

There are plenty more too if you want to take a look, but I think the last article by Rory Cellan-Jones sums things up rather nicely.

So where’s it going wrong? Well take my local exchange for example. Churchtown in Southport. If you go onto any ISP’s site and do an availability check to see if Fibre to the Cabinet is available (read Super Fast Broadband) from this exchange, you’ll get a resounding yes. In fact check it from the horse’s mouth, BT Openreach. This link downloads the latest list of exchanges that are “accepting orders”, you’ll find Churchtown on there. However using information provided by the excellent site at Code Lock, you’ll see that the exchange appears to have 43 cabinets feeding into it. Of those 43, 12 have not been provisioned for FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet). If you look at the details of these 12, there are two common themes that crop up. One, is that they all “serve” a far lower number of postcodes than those that have been enabled, and two, that even where the number of postcodes served is relatively high, local knowledge tells me (looking at the “coverage” maps of each cabinet), that the populus in those postcodes won’t be very high.

What does this mean? I can only assume, that in an effort to get to the target levels BT Openreach are prioritising solely based on how quickly they can ramp up availability. I guess a sort of 80/20 rule. By “hitting” 80% of the cabinets (with the most subscribers) off an exchange you get the biggest coverage. I suppose if I was incented to reach coverage targets, I may be inclined to do exactly the same?

All this means is that the teams that were deployed here a couple of years ago to provision those high utilisation cabinets, are, at some point, all going to have to come back to eventually finish the rest. Surely that can’t be cost effective? If you’re here doing some, why not do them all?

So what about my plight? Well if I look at the cabinets still to be provisioned, and you assume the priority is based on how many post codes are served by a cabinet, of the 12 remaining, I’m in flat last position. Only five post codes served from my cabinet (P39). So by the news clips above I can (presumably) safely assume that it’ll be 2018 before I finally have the option to order Super Fast Broadband. Six years after my exchange was enabled for it. No doubt by which time, technology will have moved on to the point where today’s “Super Fast Broadband” will already be a couple of generations behind whatever will be the new standard then.

There’s now a site where you can register your Super Fast Broadband “Not Spot”. It’s run by INCA. Click here to register yours if you find yourself in a similar position as me!

Looks like I’m confined to a life in the slow lane. Bah.

M.

UK ISP’s – What’s going on?

I’m afraid this post may appear as a bit of a rant. I won’t disagree I’m annoyed with what’s gone on with my internet, the way it was sold and, at least initially, the way the whole “complaint” was handled, but now that my parting with TalkTalk Business is arranged, it’s led me to think more deeply about how broadband is sold and operated in the UK.

For now, let’s keep Fibre to the Cabinet out of the equation, it’s a different animal, and at least for me, subject of another rant, I still can’t get it since BT Openreach have decided that by some criteria my cabinet in not to be upgraded. At least for now.

So, my requirement? From the outset, I’m happy to pay a premium for a better service. And by better, I mean one that has at least some guarenteed levels of service during the evening and weekends when the whole world is streaming, torrenting, gaming etc. In the past, this has always meant signing up for a “business” service. And that usually meant being physically connected to different hardware in the exchange. Hardware that was 20:1 contended as opposed to 50:1 contended. The result was that yes, in the evening, the service certainly did degrade, but it was still usable.

Every ISP I’ve been with (bar Sky since they don’t do it), I’ve always paid top dollar for a better service. I was with Plusnet for ages, but after many years, I had a problem that meant I was left disconnected for serveral hours at a time. Even they acknowledged the only way to get that fixed was to shift provider and get onto a different dslam. That worked, I switched to Sky, my connection remained solid, but because Sky are Sky, they don’t support a static IP address, plus, even though it was sold as ADSL2+, my upload never got above 500kbps. Previously with Plusnet I’d been getting 1Mbps. So Sky got binned, and I moved to BE broadband. Again the best service they had. I’ve nothing but good things to say about BE. I don’t ever recall having an issue. A very reliable service, 10Mbps / 1Mbps, good enough in the evening, and static IP address too. Life was good. Until Sky took them over and made it clear they’d close them down and move everyone to Sky.

No way I was going to back to Sky, so I had to move elsewhere. In the end, I plumped for BT Business broadband. I guess it was sort of ok, but nowhere near as good as BE. My speed gradually fell to around 6Mbps / 600kbps, and at times the service in the evening was poor.Their hardware, the BT home hub was possibly the worst piece of kit I’ve ever had the misfortune to work with. Totally unconfigurable, dumbed down. Its DNS cache server which you got no choice but to use, frequently fell over rendering my entire network unusable. So, hardware was replaced with Netgear, and things improved, but still issues in the evening. Plus, BTwere not cheap. At all. I felt I wasn’t getting value for money.

At this point, I turned to TalkTalk business. The switch was painless, the price, £25 a month for both broadband and phone seemed particularly attractive. And during the day, I couldn’t fault their service at all. However, in the evenings, it’s a completly different story. In short, it’s unusable. I had three conversations with their tech support, and all told me the same thing. Something I found particulary disturbing. And that is that as a “Business” customer, you only get prioritised during business hours. Out of business hours, you’re in the pool with everyone else. To me, that’s not Business Broadband. If I’m paying for business, I expect it 24/7. I’m sensible enough to know that during the evening, things will slow down, but the service should be still usable. I don’t expect to get my service de-prioritised at 5pm.

At that point, I knew my relationship with TalkTalk would be short lived. Less than two weeks to be honest. After having raised a formal complaint, I got agreement on a termination fee that wasn’t the full value of the twelve month contract. I’ve already signed up with Zen Business Office, here’s hoping it’s a good as the reviews at Think BroadBand. I hope it’s going to deliver what I expect. Sure, it’s expensive, but I don’t care if it works.

But I then thought a little deeper. And it now appears that “things” are managed differently. Apparently contention ratios are a thing of the past. Even BT state that everyone is in the same pool. BT explain it here. So how do you “buy” yourself a better service? Lord knows. If Zen doesn’t work out, I’m really getting to the point of thinking, if the service you get delivered is so buttock clenchingly piss poor, regardless of what you pay, you may as well pay as little as possible?

We’ll see.

M.

BT Infinity – well apparently not for me.

Getting somewhat depressed now. My local exchange was Infinity enabled nearly twelve months ago, but as BT fail to point out, at least outside of the small print, getting an exchange enabled for Infinity certainly does not mean you can look forward to an uplift in internet speeds.

The first port of call for the twisted copper pair once it leaves your house, is a local street side cabinet. After some research, mine is “CAB39” on Fleetwood Road in Southport. While BT may well have enabled the exchange that it’s connected to (in this case Churchtown), it sadly has not enabled every cabinet connected to it. And guess what, CAB39 is on the “unlucky” list. BT clearly have their reasons as to which cabinets they will enable, and those that they won’t, and I’d be astonished if it was for any other reason than what the return on investment is likely to be. If it’ll pay back quickly, it’ll get done, if not, at least for now, forget it.

While I’m in fairly highly populated area. I can only assume that the amount of folk hanging off this cabinet who have broadband must be small, and hence it makes no business sense (at least to BT) to enable it. Fine for them, a bloody nightmare for me.  Sure they’ve prioritised (rightly) those areas that had buttock clenchingly piss poor broadband (due to distance from the exchange), but since I have pretty good existing speeds of broadband (10 MB/s up and 1MB/s down), that’s no doubt deemed ok for now.

What hacks me off, is the lack of transparency from BT on this. Why put posters everywhere in the area saying BT Infinity is available, when clearly it’s not available to everyone. More to the point, there’s no way (at least to date) that they’ll commit to me when it might finally get done.

Seems like I’ll be stuck in a technological “Black Hole” for some time to come yet. That, or I just move.

M.

VHF contest aerials

Finally getting round to sorting some aerials for the Tuesday night contests. Horizontal dipoles going on the mast (hopefully this weekend) for 6M, 2M and 70cm. All fed from one feeder and a mast mounted triplexer.

Some may ask why not beams? Well for all round “general” work I’ll take the trade of being able to avoid the hassle of beam turning in favour of just being able to work what I can hear. Who knows, in the future, maybe I’ll have some beams too.

For now though I just want to get on as easily as I can and rack some points up!

M.

Further on BT (Residential) Broadband

Further update. Still on BT (Residential), my speed has dropped to 5MB/s as opposed to 10MB/s on O2. Service so far is woeful. DNS servers timing out and still can’t change the hub settings. Pages take an eternity to show up when browsing.

If anyone is thinking of shifting to BT I’d seriously advice against it.

So, my “port” to the business service is due to complete by midnight Friday, I’m hoping I should be ok at that point, if not, sod the termination charges, I’ll pay them and be off, this service is simply not good enough as it stands.

Anyone got any good recommendations? Seriously hacked off that O2 (BE Broadband) have sold out to Sky (although I can understand why), but my last experience with Sky wasn’t good, but at the moment I’d consider anything other than BT. PlusNet? Zen?

M.

CyanogenMod on an HTC Desire

Many moons ago I acquired an HTC Desire, at the time, it was the “smartest” of the smartphones I’d ever owned. Sure, there were issues, specifically the severe lack of application memory and (as ever), the woeful upgrade path to more recent versions of the Android operating systems, but nevertheless, I was very happy with it. As with all Android, I loved the fact you could tinker with its innermost workings, something (unless you were prepared to jailbreak), that was not possible on IOS. As I saw it, Android was an “open” system, and IOS very muck “closed”.

Then the problems started, since applications are really vetted as such, on Android, all sorts of crap became available that when installed essentially crippled the phone, excess data usage, flattened batteries, it all appeared to be out of control. I elected to “root” the device and install a custom rom. In some respects that helped, more application space, but the roms themselves were developed (I guess) by people like me, and some were very flaky indeed.

Result? I wanted stability over an open OS so went for iphone. I’ve been with one ever since and still never regretted it. Sure they may not be as cutting edge as some devices, but they just work, and battery life aside, and work very well.

So, the other day, clearing out my top drawer, I came across the old HTC Desire and decided to give it a fresh lease of life. I always have two phones, one for work and one my own, which until recently was either the Windows 8 phone or iphone 4. But I’m selling those now and needed something else.

In short, if you head over to the XDA developers forum at http://forum.xda-developers.com/forumdisplay.php?f=594 you’ll find all you need to flash the very latest and greatest ROMS. Due to issues mentioned previously I’m after stability, so trying to run the very latest Android software on a platform it wasn’t designed for is madness. I chose Cyanogen 7.2.0.1 which is a gingerbread build. If you follow the instructions you can set the partition size, install all the various loaders, download the ROM, install it and you’re away. At one point I did think I’d “bricked” it, but again, following the troubleshooting guide, managed to recover nicely.

I can report that it all works very well! OS is lovely and stable, and since I’m only putting the “standard” apps on, battery life at least at the moment, appears quite acceptable. All in all, a good result!.

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CNET new ways of working…

For those (like me) who’ve used cnet to download software, please be aware they have now changed their ways of working. I always pay close attention to what other “crap” these installers throw up, and have found that usually cnet is ok.

It’s not now, there’s all sorts in the small print that if ignored will lead to very undesirable malware being installed on you PC. Here’s a post from someone who found out the same thing. http://polizeros.com/2012/12/28/cnet-downloader-installs-malware-without-permission/#.UVHhBhdlUtk

What’s worse, you can’t even de-select the crap, it’s a mandatory option. Idiots. No more cnet for me.

M.