broadband Business internet

Broadband Connectivity: Superfast IP Networks, 21CN and MPLS Mixing and Matching

Superfast all IP networks are not just around the corner they are here already, at least if you are a business. The big growth area in business networking is in Ethernet data circuits that are rapidly replacing ADSL as the business connectivity of choice.

In fact businesses are keeping their old ADSL connections as a backup to their new Ethernet circuit so whilst the market for broadband is relatively flat the general business of internet connectivity is seeing a boom.

At Timico we will see almost twice as many Ethernet circuits installed in 2010 as we did in the first five years of our existence. Next year we expect the number to at least double again.

broadband Engineer internet

Wholesale Broadband Connect Hits 1 Million ADSL2+ Lines in March 2010

Launched two years ago, BT’s Wholesale Broadband Connect pushes past 1 million lines, still a ways to go.

Wholesale Broadband Connect (ie broadband on 21Century Network) was launched by BT two years ago this month. There is always pressure to get new products out in a timely manner and BT is no different though their job is harder because the size of the ship makes for difficult steering.

The first (brave leading edge) service providers started to offer ADSL2+ services based on Wholesale Broadband Connect in the Autumn and by March 09 there were 10k subscribers. At this point BT probably kept quiet about the actual number of customers.

One year later the dial has moved significantly and BT now talks openly about the size of their 21CN estate having broken through the 1 million customer barrier in March 2010. In the intervening year their systems have also improved and fault rates come down to approaching those of the mature 20CN broadband product, ADSL Max.

I realise that we all want every thing faster, better, sooner but progress is being made. Still a long way to go mind…

broadband Business

BT Launches Fibre to the Cabinet Broadband (FTTC)

Today BT launched Fibre to the Cabinet broadband (FTTC).  The trials as reported in were conducted during the later half of 2009. By the completion of the trial phase BT had finished 1,750 installations over three exchanges: Glasgow Half Way, Muswell Hill and Whitchurch, with a fairly high success rate considering this was a trial.  Well done to Lee Martin and the team at BT Wholesale for their work here.

The overall results, we hear, are a ringing endorsement of the technology. The average speed seen is around 25Mbps with the range being between 17Mbps and 39Mbps. Our trialists ran at around the average.

BT is now launching four flavours – two consumer and two business, the latter having the faster 10Mbps uplink. Timico will also be launching the product though we are waiting until there is a little more coverage.

Post trial there are 32 exchanges (2,000 cabinets) enabled in Q1. By May there should be 103 exchanges and a further 63 planned for adding by September. In terms of premises passed there will be 500k by the spring, 1.5 million by the summer and 4 million by the end of 2010.

There are a number of other developments coming down the jungle path of the connectivity world   ADSL2+ Annex M is about to start trialing at BT Wholesale. Annexe M offers the opportunity to trade some downstream speed in exchange for more upstream. We don’t yet have pricing or an indication of the speed improvements though this is not going to be dramatic – a few hundred kbps.

This product does overlap with FTTC but should, when released, be immediately available in all ADSL2+ enabled exchanges. The ADSL2+ rollout will cover 55% of homes by March 2010, and 75% by March 2011. The lag between ADSL2+ and FTTC means there will be quite some time before FTTC is a viable mass alternative.

You might ask what difference does a few hundred kbps make but if a business is looking to use SIP trunks this might mean the difference between making VoIP viable or not.

The one other development being discussed is true QoS over the 21CN network. BT has however been talking about this for a year and a half and whilst Q3 is mooted as a possible launch date don’t hold your breath.

By the way all this came out of the BT Wholesale ISP Forum that is periodically held at the Post Office Tower in London.  A great venue and a great chance for the industry to discuss all things internetty.

datacentre Engineer

GigE replaces old ATM infrastructure at Timico Docklands datacentre

I’ve been rolling my sleeves up at our Docklands Datacentres today. Having decommissioned all our old 155 Mbps STM1 pipes and replaced them with 622Mbps STM4’s we are now gearing up to replacing the 622’s with resilient Gigabit Ethernet connectivity to the BT21CN network.

The picture below shows part of the rack containing our first ever 155Mbps connection.  For those interested this was an STM4 partitioned into 4STM1’s.

For those not interested the real point is that this complete rack that was originally pretty much dedicated to hosting our central pipe connectivity to the BT ADSL network can now be replaced by a single port in a 3U chassis. You can get around 13 of these switches in a rack, each with potentially up to 15  GigE connections. In theory that’s up to 195 connections instead of just 4 with 313 x the bandwidth.

That’s progress folks.

STM4 Mux

Old STM4 chassis. Couldn’t get the whole rack in view. This is only half of it.

3U chassis supporting up to 15 GigE connections
3U chassis supporting up to 15 GigE connections

What replaced it!

broadband Business ofcom

The Demise of Fixed Broadband

A lively time is being had today at the BT Wholesale ISP Forum. The ISP world is fast moving and with so many changes going on – the move from ADSL Max to 21CN, the introduction of Fibre To The Cabinet, Ethernet in the First Mile – there are always lots of things to talk about.

We had a market presentation given by John Kiernan of the BT Market Research department.  This was largely a regurgitation of this year’s Ofcom Market Report but he also spoke about the move away from fixed broadband to mobile broadband. During the debate from the floor someone mentioned that at the Broadband World Forum in Paris yesterday the talk (presumably by the wireless network operators) was that  wireless broadband was expected to kill off fixed broadband by 2012.

I can’t see this happening in the UK anytime soon although I’m sure that wireless broadband is going to have a big part to play – I use it myself on the move.  Consumers especially are getting more and more tied in to bundles that include their fixed line, TV and broadband. Also fibre brings the potential to provide much faster speeds than are being discussed with wireless broadband (and I know that someone will now tell me you can get Gigabit wireless).

What does concern me is the increase in the pollution of the airwaves which will come with more and more wireless.  I realise we are told it is safe but…

broadband Business

21CN trials successfully completed

Yesterday I signed off our ADSL2+ service for production. As one of a small number of ISPs selected by BT for the trials we have been careful not to rush too quickly into using the 21CN network. As it was new we felt it was important to make sure that the customer experience matched our own business quality requirements.

After a few hundred trial connections we have been getting more of a feel for the actual performance capabilities of the network.

ADSL2+ is marketed by some ISPs as a 24Mbps technology but in fact it is unlikely that customers will achieve such high connection speeds as the actual speed achieved is very dependent on the customer’s distance from the exchange and the quality of their line. Because of this, we are promoting our offering as an “up to 16Mbps” service. As with existing ADSL connections, users experience a range of speeds. The highest we have seen so far is 19Mbps so there is a chance that people could get a faster connection than advertised.

Transparency for business customers is very important, as is responsive and professional support. I am extremely proud of the technical service levels which we provide free of charge to customers. Timico operates exclusively in the UK with its own in-house staff, rather than outsourcing customer support functions to UK or overseas contractors.

Business datacentre security

Security Tightened at London Datacentres for G20 Summit

Security is already pretty tight at our London datacentres.  This coming week will see security stepped up further as the G20 Summit takes place in town.  I’m not going to go into any details but at least BT are less likely to have any 21CN line cards stolen next week.

I’ve also had a number of meetings rescheduled from next week due to “security concerns”

Business internet

Novation, novation, novation

I have recently novated three companies ADSL networks to Timico, including health charity “Stroke Association”.

Novation is the process whereby a company hands over its assets to another, in this case we are talking Wide Area Networks. There are a few reasons why companies do this:

  1. Increasing levels of internet usage drives the need for larger BT Central pipes. Disproportionately large steps in costs are incurred when increased capacity is required.
  2.  BT Central pipes of 34Mbps or less do not support L2TP, which is the technology basis for the modern MPLS Private Wide Area Networks. PWANs are far more efficient than traditional PPP/IP Sec based Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).  The Timico network is fully L2TP compliant.
  3. Increased availability is driving users towards faster 21CN-based ADSL2+ connections which require totally separate connectivity infrastructure. Timico provides an upgrade path, so that customers’ users can be automatically upgraded to ADSL2+ as soon as availability to 21CN is rolled out in their area.

To the uninitiated this might all sound a bit boring but in actual fact in these recessionary days it seems that more and more companies that traditionally ran their own networks are seeing that it makes sense to outsource.

The same cost pressures are starting to be seen in the Internet Service Provider (ISP) business with more and more ISPs putting up for sale signs.  Small ISPs are struggling to come up with the cash to upgrade their networks.  It is important to have cash in the bank these days and looking forwards to the end of the recession I can see the industry in a different shape to today.

Apps Business mobile connectivity security UC voip

The Channel Wars – Which Channel Will Win The Convergence Battle?

No I’m not talking TV channels here. I’m talking channels to market for converged services. And I’m not talking about which company within a channel will win. I’m talking about which channel will win.

Out there in the big wide world there are three basic types of channel that sell communications services:

  • mobile resellers,
  • PBX resellers and
  • IT resellers

Traditionally none of these channels have stepped on each other’s toes. Ok I know there are probably companies out there that might claim to cover more than one of the spaces but seldom all three.

Certainly mobile dealers find it hard to sell non mobile services. Although PBX resellers have had to get to grips with some aspects of networking in order to be able to sell VoIP enabled products they are far from being involved in the whole gamut of IT related products and services. 

Finally in my experience an IT reseller usually doesn’t have the knowledge to be able to sell voice, be it fixed or mobile. It’s not their space.

The UK is moving at high speed towards being a totally internet connected country. If anything it is speeding up (witness yesterday’s Digital Britain announcement and last year’s roll out of 21CN) and the communications requirements of businesses are going to get evermore complex and ever more converged. 

Convergence and Unified Communications are somewhat trendy buzzwords which have different meanings to different people. The fact is however that businesses will increasingly want to buy services that work with their other services:

  • VoIP that works over a variety of both fixed and mobile networks
  • Integration of the office phone system with the applications sat on a desktop and with mobile devices
  • Seamless portability of applications and backups of key corporate data 
  • All this without compromising on network security

Currently I believe it is only high end corporates that can really indulge in a communications roadmap that embodies the true vision of Unified Communications. However I do think that a new breed of business is appearing that smaller companies and channel partners can turn to for access to the wider range of skills and technologies needed to service this new connected market.

This type of business, call it a super-convergence provider, will be able to partner with any reseller from any channel and offer them a range of products and services that is complementary to what they already do. So  mobile, voice and IT resellers can carry on with their core business without having to worry about not having all the arrows in the quiver.

So what is the answer to my original question? Which channel will win? I guess my view is that the winner will be the channel that works best with the new breed of super-convergence service providers, one of which is clearly Timico.

I’d be interested to hear from people who have views on this subject, either by commenting on this blog, on facebook or by contacting me directly.

Business fun stuff

A day in the life

Life is rich. If yours isn’t you should seriously think about doing something about it. I was wondering what to write about today out of the many things that are going on. In the end I thought I’d just rattle off a list of things I was involved in during the day because I believe it illustrates the point of those opening three words.

Got in and made a cup of tea. Then spent time discussing a contract we are about to sign with BT. Checked up on progress of our 21CN trial orders. Sat with tech support discussing a Virtual Machine project we are looking at. Discussions with our new Business Development Director who starts in January (more on him in due course I’m sure). Meeting with Cisco to discuss marketing plans for the Cisco Small Business portfolio for 2009. Lunch with Cisco. Meeting with Nortel to discuss hosted VoIP propositions. Drop Nortel off at station. Arrange tech meeting to discuss SPAM strategy for 2009. Conference call with VoIP Operations Manager to discuss specific customer technical issue. Home to take kids to cubs. Catch up chat with CEO. Go to school prize giving evening (son Tom won prize for English  and yes of course I am proud of him). Chat with headmaster congratulating him on chosing son as prizewinner. Home. Kiss wife. Do emails and write blog post.

Tomorrow is another day, another blog post. Friday is a day off to take the kids to the Lincoln Christmas Market. Check it out here. They get hundreds of thousands of visitors each year (or so I’m told). We live slap bang in the middle of the action so it is difficult to ignore. One of the kids’ school shuts down for the duration because access to it is impossible. The parents run a cafe which raises around £10,000 each year for the school PTA funds. Thats one heck of a lot of teas and coffees at a pound each. 

broadband Business

21CN Broadband Testing Task

Just sitting in on a BT webinar on 21CN testing. According to BT they are spending £150m on testing 21CN broadband related devices and networks.

The scope is a lot bigger than I had thought before I sat in on the call. The ADSL related bits, which is my main interest, looks as if it will largely be unproblematic. However when you think about it there is a huge list of equipment out there that has been plugged into the BT network over decades. There is bound to be a problem somewhere.

Initial feedback is that some security related services might have a problem that needs attention. Also one very old PBX whose name escapes me (it’s that old).

A couple of PBXs would appear to have been successfully tested from manufacturers Aastra and Alcatel Lucent. Clearly there is a long way to go because most of the big guys are not in this list. BT does have a proactive programme to contact the top ten manufacturers.

I don’t have a specific list of manufacturers that are being contacted. However if you think that your’s might be from a small vendor who might not appear on the list let me know and I will happily effect the introduction with BT.

One might ask why anyone would buy a PBX from a vendor you have never heard of but hey…

Business internet

21CN Line Speed Expectations

A busy time at the end of this week with ISPA Council meeting followed by lunch, a trip to the CRN Awards dinner (more food!) and today lunch with a supplier (aaargh!!). The Christmas run in seems to start earlier each year!


Timico is about to start its 21CN ADSL2+ trial in earnest. Initial line tests on the trialists suggest an average expected performance of around 8Mbps. Interestingly talking to others in the industry at the CRN Awards their experience, limited as it may be at what is still a relatively early stage of the 21CN rollout, the average speeds are turning out to be nearer 12Mbps.


This does suggest that BT is being very conservative in setting expectations of 21CN performance. I can’t really blame them. The technology is in theory capable of reaching 24Mbps but in practice very few people will actually get this speed.  


I will certainly report back on the real world performance as the data comes in.

Business internet


Shakespeare used to introduce a few hundred new words in each of his plays, many of which were never heard of again, odsbodkins!

It’s the same these days in the technology business. Staggercast is the means whereby subscribers can preregister their interest in a TV programme. This programme is then downloaded in advance ready for local delivery at the published time.  This allows content delivery over an IP network but avoids the over use of a connection at peak times of day.

This was one of the options being discussed by Simon Orme, BT’s new GM for Content Delivery. In London today Orme presented the Consult21 meeting with an overview of the BT trial plans for multicast using PTA. Notionally this will allow ISPs to deliver TV over DSL at much more economic rates.

Don’t get too excited though. This is very much experimental engineering work with no immediate plans to productise. The idea is that an ISP would be able to add premium rate TV as a bundled product. It would also provide a low cost delivery vehicle for small regional TV channels as the focus of the established media moves to national and global content. 

What is clear is that this is one of the early steps BT is taking in preparing itself for the business case challenge that is Fibre To The Home.

The BT FTTH trials were also discussed. They seem to have gone well with the 50 BT employees given 100Mbps internet access and ordered to stay at home all day and play online games. Gaming is one of the few current uses of internet technology that benefits from really high speed access. The faster you are on the draw the better.

Whether Staggercast enters the Oxford English Dictionary remains to be seen. What is clear is that both in the fiercely competitive field of online gaming and in the international competitive broadband stakes he who has the fastest connection will be the winner.

Business internet

Timico Goes Live With 21CN

Following on from my last post on BT’s IP Stream Connect slip I am pleased to be able to tell the world that Timico has taken delivery of its own 21CN Hostlink connection. The Hostlink is a resilient 1Gbps Ethernet link to BT’s 21CN network and allows Timico to connect ADSL2+ tails for customers using the BT Wholesale Broadband Managed Connect (WBMC) service. ADSL2+ is the latest generation of broadband offering up to 24Mbps performance.

Timico is as I understand it one of only a handful of ISPs in the UK currently with a 21CN hostlink utilising BT’s WBMC product.

If anyone reading wants to try out the service drop me a line at Timico. A list of enabled exchanges is available here.

Onwards and upwards.

PS it would be completely disingenuous of me to let you go away believing that you will get 24Mbps performance out of this service. It all depends on how far you are from the exchange. A typical ADSL Max connection does 5Mbps whilst the specification is up to 8Mbps. The chart below should give you some idea of likely performance.

Business internet

BT Slips IP Stream Connect By Over a Year

BT made public yesterday the fact that its IP Stream Connect product would not now be available until Q2 09. That’s fiscal Q2. ie September 09.  This is a huge slip considering that last November the industry was being told not to order any more ATM based central pipes and to expect to have migrated all their 20CN IP Stream traffic over to a 21CN Hostlink connection.

For the uninitiated IP Stream is the technology used by BT for most of their ADSL connections. The connections to the BT ADSL network from Timico and other ISPs use ATM. The relevance for ISPs that are BT customers, and that’s most of the ISPs in the UK, is that they will have to keep ordering old style ATM pipes.

The issue here is that these connections are expensive to install and had minimum contract terms of 12 months. This could be crippling as ISPs typically depreciate the capital spend on a BT Central over 5 years. Also they could be ordering a pipe that they might only need for three months whilst they waited for IP Stream Connect to go live whilst being tied in to a 12 month contract.

Using 21CN hostlinks offer a multitude of benefits, not least of which are improved quality and customer experience.

Fortunately BT has  responded to the stinging criticism of the ISP community, me included, and come up with more favourable contract terms.

Whilst large consumer ISPs have been heavily cricised for their not totally transparent bandwidth capping and throttling polices these are the practical results of dropping their prices to unsustainable levels. In other words you get what you pay for. It is already difficult enough for the industry to keep its prices low in the face of increased usage from applications such as iPlayer and YouTube without being burdened with more costs.

Hopefully we will now have weathered this BT induced storm.

broadband Business

Internet Bandwidth Usage Doubles Every 18 Months

According to AT&T  their ADSL network bandwidth consumption is doubling every 18 months.


This type of statistic makes life interesting for UK ISPs who currently have to order bandwidth in large increments. This means that effectively they have to order a pipe for only a few users once capacity is reached on their existing infrastructure. What’s more they have to do this three months in advance of when they think the capacity will be required which makes it very difficult to respond quickly when usage trends increment with step functions as new drivers such as BBC iplayer enter the scene.


A consumer ISP will squeeze this capacity to the limit because of the incremental costs involved. Business oriented ISPs have to take the hit because the services they offer have to be of a better quality.


The advent of BT’s 21CN network later this year will make life a little easier though not necessarily any cheaper for the ISP community. ISPs will connect to the 21CN via an Ethernet based HostLink – typically either 1Gb or 10Gb. The up front connection charges for Ethernet products are much lower than for the legacy ATM circuits currently used to link DSL tails to an ISPs network.


The ISP will then pay for bandwidth used on this link rather than having to pay for the cost of the whole pipe. They will be able to order incremental bandwidth capacity with only two weeks notice.


21CN will bring additional benefits in that high speed Ethernet circuits should (eventually) be available almost on a country wide basis with far more cost effective pricing than is currently available.


Incidentally the top five per cent AT&Ts DSL customers consume 46 per cent of its traffic, and the top 1 per cent accounts for 21 per cent all bandwidth. It is easy to see that the industry is going to have to move to an usage based charging model as being the only fair way of doing business.

Business voip

How will 21CN affect my telephone line?

We had an enquiry from a customer this morning:

“I am persistently being contacted by David from ***** who has advised me that with 21CN BT are changing every business line from Analogue or ISDN to a SIP network and that there is no choice in the matter”.

David was trying to get the customer to move to a SIP service by telling her that she would need to do it soon in anycase so she might as well preempt it by doing it now. As a SIP provider I am not averse to selling SIP services but this has to be approached ethically.

From the customer’s perspective BT aren’t getting rid of analogue lines or ISDN. What they are doing is changing the connection at the exchange so that all calls will run over voip between exchanges. This will make the network more efficient/cheaper to run and potentially allow for the introduction of new features in the future.

So any kit the customer has should still work and they will still be ordering new lines as they do now. They needn’t worry about having to re-equip their office.

Potentially there will be new products such as the ability to order broadband and voice as a single line. This is effectively what LLU operators do today though some may sell it as a free broadband line (comes with notoriously “cheap” quality and customer service etc).