broadband Engineer

Openreach – it’s all noise

openreach engineer up a poleOpenreach broadband engineer finds corroded pair up pole

It’s a complicated old game, broadband. Ethernet is far simpler. You connect a length of fibre to  router at one end and one way or another it gets back to a bigger router at the ISP’s core network somewhere and hooks you up to the internet/intranet/wherever you want to hook up to. I realise that’s a simplistic way of putting it but basically that is it. it doesn’t matter if it rains or blows a gale. Fibre doesn’t normally mind.

Broadband is different. Broadband is made up of copper cables, aluminium1  if you are unlucky. Even fibre broadband, as the BT marketing hypers like to call it, is not usually fibre. Fibre broadband is, unless you happen to be one of the few with Fibre To The Premises, carried over copper in the last critical few hundred yards to your house.

So fibre broadband, or Fibre To The Cabinet, has some copper. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Well actually I have been complaining. My home broadband performance had dropped right off from the 53Megs down and 11Megs up to at times a pathetic 6Megs in either direction.

Fortunately I have “a man who does” named Adam Rutter who leads one of our tech support teams. The BT System had rate adapted a line that could theoretically hit 80Mbps (I never expected it to do that – I am a few hundred yards from the cabinet). It normally does this if it finds errors on the line – the speed is adjusted to a point where the errors disappear. In my case the line was synching at 15Megs. Nogoode.

Adam knew there was something wrong and called out the cavalry in the guise of BT Openreach. The engineer arrived at the appointed time (good) and I hung around whilst he ran through some tests.

Now one thing you should know about a copper broadband line is that it was originally designed to carry your voice via analogue electrical signals. The specification for the copper telephone cable is therefore based largely on the parameters needed for your Aunty Mabel to hear your dulcet tones without having to put a bigger speaker in her hearing aid. Broadband hadn’t been invented in Aunty Mabel’s day (may she rest in peace).

When the boffs at the Post Office BT came along and said “Eureka we have read this article about something called ADSL and we think it is a good idea” they were stuck with a copper line that had a pre-Mabel date on it. That line spec, SIN349 for the purists amongst you, was designed to keep Mabel the inveterate talker happy on her Plain Old Telephone line and not Mabel the Skyper who loves to video conference with her nephews and nieces who in turn indulge their auntie because she shells out at Christmas and birthdays.

Now I’ve had Openreach out before to check my line and it has always passed their tests. This time I explained in no uncertain terms that there was something wrong – the evidence being in the speeds I was getting. I know it wasn’t congestion on our network and I also know how BT manages the capacity at the exchange so it wasn’t going to be down to congestion there.

Tim Drake, the Openreach engineer realised that there was no point in performing the normal line test – it would have passed. He got on the blower to their operations team and asked for the limits on my line to be lifted (the limits imposed to prevent line CRC errors).

My internet access speeds shot up, as expected.  However it didn’t take long for the errors to return. Tim spent the next hour or so testing the line looking for the source of the errors. He eventually found it at the top of the telegraph pole down the road from my house.

“Eureka” says I. Tim finished his stuff up the pole and brought down a piece of cable that showed corrosion on both strands of one pair. These wires, rubbing together in the wind and rain would have resulted in noise that was the cause of my errors and the speed downgrade. Mabel and her yakking on the Plain Old Telephone would not have been troubled by the problem. Mabel on Skype would.

My FTTC line is now back a lot nearer to where it needs to be and I am a happy bloke. I am next week having dinner with a senior team from BT and I intend to specifically commend Tim Drake for his efforts. Openreach broadband engineers have a budget of one hour to fix each problem.  Mine took two hours and Tim could have walked away early on in the process with the throwaway observation that the line was in spec and there was nothing he could do.

This he did not do and he now has a happy customer. He is a good man. He cares.

The only real answer to all this would be for a total network rollout of Fibre To The Premises. Whilst I am not saying that fibre is totally immune from the environmental problems that affect copper it is far less so. Ubiquitous FTTP ain’t going to happen any time soon, we all know that, but perhaps this blog will be used one day as an illustration of the issues that dogged that historical piece of communications antiquity, the copper telephone line.

Thanks Tim. The photo is of Tim up the pole.


1 That’s alue-min-eeum and not aloominum, y’awl

broadband Business

#FTTC video outtakes #broadband #fibre

Broadband video case study – the outtakes

Just browsing through some bits of video left on the cutting room floor after we finished the FTTC case study. Thought a couple or three might be of interest.

The first one was taken with a GoPro camera positioned inside the cabinet filming the door opening and the Openreach engineer coming in to do some work. In this one you can see one of the cameramen filming the cab from the outside.

Bit like the David Attenborough nature stuff where at the end of the programme they show you how they did the filming. Nothing particularly dramatic such as a close encounter with a shark or a yeti. We were however filming outside a school and a very concerned headmaster did come out so see what was going on. He went away though I sensed that he would have been happier if he had shooed us away.

The second film is a short one taken from the outside with the open cabinet so that you can see the workings. No GoPro camera inside this time – obv we had to do multiple takes to get all the different angles in.

The third is one I took of the BT crowd in my conservatory. Of course you only see me in the case study but in actual fact there was a huge support team including the outside catering van, make up artists, continuity, clapperboy, director, producer, personal masseuse etc – you get the drift. I couldn’t fit them all in the conservatory so you get four.

Some of them will be at my Xmas bash so if you are coming to that you will be able to chat with them in person. Not often you get the chance to meet the people behind the movie eh?

Some of you have asked for a video showing the process of the installation. I didn’t get any of that off the production team but I will ask. Bear with…

broadband Business

Planning issues holding up really important FTTC connection.

Fibre broadband planning issues hold up my install

I realise that most of you aren’t the least bit interested in my own ambitions to get fibre broadband. From the number of comments I get on the subject most people are more concerned with when they will get it themselves. Fair enough. Thought I’d share my own fibre broadband planning story.

I was due to be connected by the end of March 2012. Then it slipped to end of June.  The end of June is this coming Saturday. My cabinet, which is only a hundred metres or so from my house, looks decidedly lonely. It wants a friend.

I am often asked if I can find out what is happening with someone’s particular cab. It’s doable but not worth the effort in most cases. Openreach would get so many enquiries they would never get any work done.

In my case I have made an exception (only because someone offered to do the work for me) and asked what is happening. Will I wake up later this week to the sound of pneumatic drills and the sigh of white Openreach vans hugging the kerb near my house? Only in my dreams, and therefore by definition before I wake up:).

It looks like my cab is being held up in the planning permission process. Sigh. If I get any more info I’ll let you know because whether you are interested or not I will want to get it off my chest.

Note added at some point in the future. Check out the progress with this update. It’s now been in for a couple of years and has been a rocky ride though I wouldn’t be without. It has revolutionised internet usage in our house.

So long and thanks for all the fibre broadband.

Ciao amigos…

Business internet

Light relief – fibre to the premises

We are just in the process of installing a 1 Gigabit Ethernet fibre link to the Timico Headquarters in Newark.  The process is in massive contrast to our friends in Wennington, Lanacashire who have had to get a digger out and become experts at diy fibre laying.

In our case this first Gig link will go into existing ducts. See photo below.


This 1Gig link is actually the first of two diversely routed fibre connections that we are putting in to increase resilience to the site. I’m goingto follow the upgrade together with developments in our colo offering in pictures on the blog.

The photo does bring a wry smile.  The fibre, if you can make out the colour is lilac.  The blue is the thin rope that is used to pull the fibre through the ducts – in theory this is left in place underground in all ducts for this very purpose. It makes me think of the tin can and string telephone analogy.  The string can carry a single conversation. The fibre, as it stands, could carry around simultaneous 20,000 calls.

Lastly I did struggle with the title for this post.  “You light up my life”,  “let there be light” and “trip the light fantastic” all sprang to mind. Take your pick :-).

Engineer internet olympics

Surreal Sewer Story

The things I have to do for the business. Today it was almost like being in a James Bond movie. I turned up at 10am prompt at the Thames Water Utilities Depot in Bow in East London – just around the corner from the site of the Olympic stadium which incidentally seems to be shooting up. I was met by Calypso Harland, bubbly marketing manager of Geo, the Alchemy owned business that sprang out of 186k’s UK fibre optic network.

I had been invited to inspect Geo’s London fibre ring which, yes you’ve guessed it, runs through the sewers. Donning layers of protective clothing I disappeared into a subterranean world for a once in a lifetime experience. Believe you me I doubt that anyone wants to do it twice.

The 140 year old Victorian sewers under London are I suppose of cursory interest. The message actually was that Geo can provide very cost effective and very secure fibre backbone connectivity because they use the sewers and don’t therefore have to dig up the roads.

What is interesting is the huge capacity there is down there. Geo run 4 ducts, three of which are currently empty. A duct can hold two fibre cables each with 288 strands of fibre. Each fibre can, using current DWDM technology, run 160 10Gbps channels (x 4 if you use phase modulation per wavelength).

So by my sums the Geo London ring should be able to operate at nearly 15 Petabits per second or roughly a billion times faster than the latest and greatest 21CN ADSL2+ connection. That’s a heck of a lot of capacity.

And for anyone that wants to know no, my thigh length wellies did not leak and no there were no floaters in sight – something to do with a high fibre diet apparently! 🙂

These sewers run on the surface (covered up obviously) right through the Olympic site. Come 2012 they will likely be crawling with security guards!

Check out the Geo video here.  Photos below:

Business internet

Ethernet Competition Warming Up Globally In 2009

Traditionally high speed fibre links have been expensive because often the fibre had to be physically run for long distances, normally back to a connection in one of the dense metropolitan areas, and often all the way to London. The need for repeater stations adds to this cost.

In the UK the model has changed. Now network providers are rolling out Points Of Presence locally around the country with a preinstalled backhaul to London. It normally has to be London because typically this is where connections to other carriers and the internet are located.

This means that now, instead of long connections with high installation costs businesses can install lower cost local fibre connections, provided they are within 25km of an enabled POP.

From my perspective there are two main players in this game.

BT Openreach will, by April, have 600 Ethernet enabled 21CN exchanges and notionally 1,100 by the end of the year. BT is however playing catchup with NTL which owns most of the UK’s cable TV infrastructure. NTL some time ago woke up to the fact that it wasn’t using this existing fibre in the ground to best effect and is now selling leased line connectivity at much lower costs than was available even last summer. 

If you don’t understand the relevance of this, fibre connections are far more reliable than ADSL and come with better Service Level Assurances. As companies rely more and more on web based hosted services and applications they need better service uptimes.

The competition is great and is very much to the benefit of UK business. I am now quite often seeing zero up front cost quotations go out the door which is likely to prove a great help to businesses struggling to find capex in the recession.

PS the Global Warming bits in the post title was purely an attention getter 🙂 . Actually I don’t really mean “globally”, I mean in the UK and although there are some countries ahead of us in this game in Europe and the Far East there are others, notably the USA that lag behind.

We are still a long way from getting fibre to the home but the environment for businesses is definately improving.