INCA’s Malcolm Corbett posted a LinkedIn blog on his experiences of upgrading his broadband to a Hyperoptic Fibre to the Basement service (FttB), and a good read it is.

This got me to thinking about my own experience of using VDSL over recent years.

In terms of the mechanics of installation, I’d have to say mine was at least as easy but I had the added bonus of not having to campaign; BT selected my home area as part of their commercial footprint so all I had to do was order. An Openreach engineer came to the house, installed the modem, tested it and left – all over in a few minutes with no real fuss. Not the near-gigabit service that Malcolm has but a respectable 72 Mbps (I can see the cabinet out of my study window).

All I had to do was connect my router, configure it, and start using the service; the ISP I’d chosen didn’t offer their own routers, although many do. This seems to be almost perverse supply – the more you pay for your broadband the less stuff you get but more of that in a moment.

Just as Malcolm experienced, getting the broadband to reach the all the corners of my house was a bigger issue. I had a dual-band “gigabit” wireless router but the service on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands was patchy around the house. In the end I installed a “gigabit” powerline connection to the other end of the house to regenerate the signal. Even still, neither the “gigabit” wireless or the “gigabit” powerline get close to their promised speeds but they do deliver considerably more than that 72 Mbps VDSL speeds so I’m happy enough for now.

Like Malcolm, my ISP would offer no advice on how to get the most out of the service – in fact I was told it was a policy of the company not to endorse any solution beyond BT’s demarcation point. At the time I was happy to enough to find a solution that worked for me but this is an area I suspect just about every ISPs could, and should, do better on.

I’m now entering my third year with the service so a chance to reflect.

The service has been reasonably reliable with one day-long outage which was efficiently fixed by BT despite my ISP telling me it would be 3 days before anyone would start work on finding a solution.

If I contrast my current service with my old ADSL connection then I say its a faster but slightly more expensive and less transparent version of what I had before.

However, I do have two bugbears and a gripe with the service:

Since  being installed, the service has gradually got slower and is currently averaging about 58 Mbps – that’s a 20% reduction in performance for a reason nobody want to solve, which leads me to the second issue;

The two box installation with a closed Openreach modem means unlike ADSL I have idea where the problem lies – is it my ISP choking the service or is it a problem with BT’s VDSL equipment?

Its now an option for me to replace my router with one with an integrated VDSL modem which would help me get to the bottom of why I’ve lost 20% of my broadband speed but why should I have to buy a premium, specialist router to find out who’s mucking up my service?

A two box installation isn’t generally an issue with a Fibre to the Basement, like Malcolm’s Hyperoptic service, or Gigaclear’s Fibre to the Premise – Ethernet, whether its over copper or fibre, either connects at the advertised speed or it doesn’t connect at all.

I could change to a another ISP but as none of them seem to be transparent about the traffic policies they impose and many offer even more closed solutions with locked down routers as well the modem, its not clear I’d gain much by moving.

This is a million miles from my old Be ADSL service, where not only did they help make sure you were getting the best from your kit, they gave your a portal where you could see every detail of your connection – and tune it they way you wanted. With the Be support staff on-hand together we increased my 6 Mbps by almost 50% by altering the ADSL settings in the exchange.

I’m not aware of anyone offering anything approach that kind of service over VDSL – please get in touch if you know better!

It worth noting that the founders of Be are also the founders of Hyperoptic, the service that Malcolm is so pleased with.

My longer term issue is that whether its 58 Mbps or 72 Mbps its already not really enough. Mine isn’t an especially geeky household but I do have typical teenagers. We transfer around 500 Gbytes per month, which I know from talking to the new breed of NGA operators isn’t huge but it is fairly high by traditional ISP standards, and I suspect that if my service were delivered by one of the new breed of operators it would be a higher. But it does mean that at peak hours we become conscious of our broadband capacity, and not infrequently find we have to ration who uses what.

I want my broadband to be like my gas, water and electric – I have no idea what capacity I have from any other utility but I know their capacity has never been an issue. When my daughter runs one of her frequent baths, the washing machine doesn’t stop boiling my son’s rugby kit ; when the oven is on the lights don’t dim; and when the heating comes on the gas hob doesn’t start slow cooking – but my broadband hasn’t reached that point yet.

I want to be like Malcolm and enjoy the kind of service appearing in the ever growing number of properties serviced by Hyperoptic, or within the ballooning footprint of Gigaclear. I want a broadband service I can forget about.

  1. Bill says:

    hi Adrian,

    The analogy about Gas Water and Electric tends to fall down when you consider you pay for how much you use of those utilities.

    I am sure if you paid per GB then Openreach and your ISP would invest somewhat more in ensuring you get the fastest speed possible, so you potentially cough up the most cash.

    With a fixed rate per month there is zero incentive to have you adding to potential contention issues down the line..

    The Drop in speed can be due to many reasons, VDSL crosstalk/contention and of course management by your ISP, plus a few things in between.

    Openreach/Wholesale don’t particularly care as they get paid a set amount by the ISP and the end user cannot speak to them, the ISP however has costs that potentially increase the more their customers use so it is in their interests to manage this.

    If the issue is at the VDSL end then i doubt anybody at your ISP will be willing to pay Openreach to investigate as ultimately your service is well within their very wide acceptance criteria.


    • Adrian Wooster says:

      I agree that if we paid per unit of use then perhaps ISPs and operators might invest more but its also true that some operators are finding the motivation to invest. Personally I’ve never tried to find the cheapest ISP and expect them to deliver the kind of service my family needs but increasingly there seems to be little motivation in paying more for a service if the resulting service is broadly the same as a cheaper one.

      • Malcolm Corbett says:

        I don’t mind paying more for a broadband service that we can forget about – as Adrian rightly says. Currently we are paying £30 per month for Hyperoptic’s 1Gbps service. This is a promotional price that will rise to £47 in 12 months. If the service works as well as it doing now, I won’t change to a lower priced package. We pay Vodafone far more per month for the mobile phone services. I want the broadband to be like the water, gas or electricity – and just work really fast (and work equally well both ways).

        Once we have got over the novelty of speed tests like this one, over a wireless connection, I am sure we’ll just get used to ultrafast being the new normal 🙂

        Speedtest result

  2. Walter G M Willcox says:

    I have just returned from a week with B4RN ostensibly to attend the AGM but I had a few days holiday assisting with fibre installation and home service commissioning. The joy and the relief observed by each householder is a most gratifying experience as EVERY service at ANY distance bursts into life at around 950 to 970 Mbps Upload and Download. In practice some don’t see these speeds due to their old computers and WiFi through stone walls up to 4 ft thick. However there is ample capacity for all once home plugs and or ethernet cables are installed.

    With a very few exceptions everybody has ultra-reliable services too. What a contrast to the incumbent who has painfully discovered that submarine electronics don’t function too well nor do FTTC batteries with a finite and limited capacity and no means of augmenting the supply. The same goes for mobile base stations again without sufficient generator capacity. Whilst the Lancastrian and Cumbrian floods were exceptionally high there is no guarantee they won’t be repeated. Perhaps more importantly the National Grid was forced to ask major users to reduce their power consumption as there was only a 100 MW margin during mild weather with zero wind. As a nation, can we afford to cease communications not if, but when, the lights go out ?

    Returning to your two-box VDSL service it is perfectly possible to unlock the Huawei HG612 VDSL modem and record vast amounts of modem performance data 24 / 7 should you so wish. You can then demonstrate precisely what your cross-talk etc. problems are but BT Openreach engineers don’t like to discuss these matters as many are not trained to do so. As all that data is available for every VDSL service via the DSLAM in the FTTC. It is indeed a crying shame that BDUK funded VDSL services are left with substandard connections without any attempt to repair lines nor replace the rotting age-hardened corroding Aluminium alloy pairs often direct buried in the ground which play havoc with higher frequency VDSL signal. (Higher frequencies only travel on the peripheral skin of the conductors and aluminium corrosion is far thicker than copper.

    Yet today there is an article stating HMG are yet to be convinced of the need for pure symmetric FTTH, whilst Ofcom turn yet another blind eye to even the tiny amounts of shared asymmetric (monopoly-enhancing) fibre being installed with taxpayers’ cash via the blind BDUK “Buroids” too.

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