It’s probably a conspiracy

I have an 8Mbps ADSL service with my ISP, PlusNet (formerly Force9, now owned by BT.) Except I don’t. It’s never run anywhere near 8Mbps. In fact, I thought I was still on a 2Mbps service until I enquired a while ago about an upgrade, only to be told I was already experiencing the thrill of an 8Mbps service.

The promise of this fantastic service sadly has not matched my experience with PlusNet. I have never seen my connection exceeded 1.6Mbps down. It has, in fact, got slower over the last couple of years, to the extent that the heady days of 1.6Mbps downstream seem a dim and distant memory. Every couple of months I’d lose another 200kbps or so from my connection speed. Once in a while I’d open a support ticket to see what my ISP could do to help me about it. Bugger all, is apparently the answer. BT (who own PlusNet) won’t investigate bandwidth issues on 8Mbps lines until the speed is 400kbps or less. Let’s just reiterate that. BT consider an ADSL service that reaches 6% of the advertised capacity to be working properly.

Well, today I noticed my connection crawling slower than ever before. Upon checking my ADSL modem, it reported that it was connected at just 224kbps. Even by BT’s rather pathetic standards this is classified as a fault, so I headed to my ISP’s support pages to log yet another support ticket. They have revised their reporting procedure for speed faults and now I have to run BT’s speed tester. This is a website which one visits but requires Java to be installed. This presented a problem as I run a 64-bit version of Linux and Sun (who make Java) haven’t bothered to make a version of their plugin for 64-bit Linux yet.

Fortunately I was able to find a 32-bit install which I could use, however the java application hangs at 96%. It seems I am unlikely to be able to progress my support request without this test having been run (as BT log the results of the tests on their servers and use it to check whether a line fault should be investigated.) It’s also worth mentioning that the speed tester site is a “stress test” for bandwidth. It times how long it takes to download a given amount of data and uses that to calculate the performance of the line. This sort of test is quite silly as it is easily affected by other applications or network resources using some of the bandwidth. However, the connection speed reported by the modem is always accurate and represents the maximum theoretical throughput the line can give in that session. So really that should be enough proof that the line is too damn slow, especially when the theoretical maximum is so pitiful. Here’s a screenshot from the web interface for my ADSL modem which should clearly communicate the state of my connection to someone who knows what they’re talking about:


That’s right, I have more upstream bandwidth than I do downstream. I decided to plough on with my support request and started to work through the broadband fault checker on the PlusNet website. First of all it asked me which Operating System, checked for known faults on the line and asked me what make of ADSL equipment I am using. All fair enough. It then asked me whether my issue was that I couldn’t connect at all, or whether it was a speed issue. I happily selected “speed”. The next question was whether I had ever been able to connect to my ADSL service. As if I was going to be complaining about the speed of an ADSL service to which I had never connected.

Pressing on, I was asked what date the service had last been fully working. Well, by BT’s metrics presumably sometime in the last week when it dipped below their magic threshold of 5% performance. However I consider the issue to be the gradual and continued degredation of my ADSL service, which started, as near as I can remember, back in September 2006. So I entered 01/09/06 in the date box, using the DD/MM/YY format requested. Next question was “On what date did the problem start?” Well, by logical extension this must be the day after the service was fully working. Surely? Unless I’ve missed some fundamental nuance in the question. So, I entered 02/09/06 as the date the problem started. Fail.

It seems there are some rather large usability flaws in the fault reporter. At this point I was left wondering which dates would be acceptable to PlusNet. Clearly the logical answer isn’t valid. I progressed the month and year values through the ages until I found one which the reporter accepted. Apparently January 2007 is the earliest a problem could have occured. Well, sadly, PlusNet is wrong in this case. The next suggestion was that a virus may be causing the problem. Well, a virus, or more accurately a network worm, might well be responsible for consuming upstream bandwidth and causing performance issues. However a virus wouldn’t cause the line to connect at such a slow speed in the first place. Also, while it is a worthwhile question for Windows users, all the machines in the house run Linux where there is no real virus threat at the moment.

The next step was the tenth of an undisclosed number. It required 3 completed speed tests using the BT speed tester site. You’ll have read already how this failed to work for me, and how, given the session connected as such a slow speed, a stress test of this particular fault is not hugely relevant. So I plumped for the option which said I’d completed the tests, figuring that I can explain the failure to actually run them once I’d opened the ticket. Constant or intermittent fault? Constant. I was able to give my explanation of the BT speed tester site in the futher comments box.

I continue to be amazed at the reliance of companies like PlusNet and BT on shoddy applications like this. I’ve been PlusNet’s customer for 6 years and yet they won’t help me resolve this issue despite their own logs showing a gradually decreasing connection speed. In fact, they seem intent on putting barriers in their customers’ way by using things like Java applications which exclude sections of their customer base. You really, really would think they’d know better. Right now, I’d be prepared to move to any ISP who charges about the same as I’m currently paying and would work with me, BT and whoever else to get my service back to what it was two years ago, because PlusNet don’t seem able to do so.

Be Sociable, Share!
    Pin It

    16 Responses to It’s probably a conspiracy

    1. I’m with PlusNet and have had acceptable service for years until the past few months. I haven’t yet totally ruled out my trusty router as these things succomb to age just like the best of us. However, myriad line tests have finally shown that there’s a lot of noise on our ADSL line .. and when we’re already out so far from the exchange that we can’t sync above 1Mbit, that leaves us with not very bloody much.

      The worst thing is really that I spent three weeks trying to get past template “check your wires” responses before the support guys would realise that constant Loss Of Sync for half-hour-long chunks is a problem even if the connection session has been officially open for days.

    2. addendum: still, they really *really* don’t want to bother doing anything about it and I found the Fault Reporter equally irritating. “What Operating System are you using?” On which PC? Why? What the heck does it matter?

      I understand that they must get a lot of support requests from users with a single Windows PC and no knowledge of a modem/router’s config interface, who have viruses mucking up their networks. This tool must be good at weeding those support requests out. But once you finally get past them .. PlusNet seemingly have no substance behind that thick veil of assumed PEBKAC.

    3. James Bailey says:

      Hi Tony,

      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been having such a rubbish time with your speeds recently and that you haven’t been getting what you’ve been expecting to get over the last couple of years.

      I guess I’d better start from the beginning!

      ADSL is a rate adaptive technology. Which basically means that it’s horribly dependant on the length of your telephone line. You can see from some of the stats you post early on in your post that your line is pretty long. Line attenuation (downstream) is generally a pretty good gauge of the length of cabling that your line takes to get to your exchange. As a really rough guess, I’d say 59.3dB will probably mean that you’re about 4km or so away.

      The whole upto 8Mbps messaging is a bit messy. Sure, it’s true that you’ll get upto 8Mbps, but it makes everyone think that they will actually get in the region of that, but that’s not often the case. Unfortunately, as every ISP in the country is marketing it in the same way, we can just change because then our potential customer will have a look at us and say, “Well, Plusnet say I can get about 2Mbps, but Tiscali say I can get upto 8Mbps.” Without industry knowledge, I know who I’d choose.

      Synchronisation speed is king, or as your router reports, “data rate”. BT have an “IP Profiling” system what assigns a profiled speed based on what your synchronisation speed is. So, because your sync speeds are really low, your IP Profile is equally so. Now, your synchronisation speed (downstream) is probably about 2Mbps slower than what I would expect it to be for the length of your line. That’s because your SNR margin is really high. By default, BT will foce the highest level of sync speed until your SNR margin because 6dB. The lower the SNR margin, the higher the sync speed.

      The high level of SNR could be caused by a number of things. These vary from internal wiring and hardware, to line problems to exchange issues. The best place to start is always to try changing your microfilters and to plug the filter directly into the test socket, which can be found directly behind your NTE5 master socket (if you have one of the newish ones) which looks just like another socket point on the bottom right half. It may also help to try using a different router and then comparing the router stats to see if you notice a different in the SNR and data rate figures to see if the SNR has gone down and the data rate has gone up. Bear in mind that poor filtering and extension wiring has a massive bearing on the signal speed, which I imagine you’ll know already.

      If none of this helps then we’ll certainly be able to raise a fault to BT as your data rate speeds are operating below the fault threshold rate and also below 400Kbps (yes, I know it’s a daft measure).

      The random questions we ask on the Broadband Fault Checker match the questions asked by BT Wholesale (not BT Retail who own us) in their fault raising system. I know some of them are a bit on the pointless side, but we only ask them, because they are the questions that we have to answer for BT Wholesale. I appreciate that it can be rather time consuming and I’m sorry for the added hassle it will have caused you.

      The BT Speedtester is a pain. We’re raised concerns about it with BT numerous times as have a number of other ISPs. Generally concensus is that it runs best with Internet Explorer, but not being familiar with Ubuntu, I’m not overly sure if that’s compatible. But, because your data rate is as low as it is, it shouldn’t be necessary for you to run those tests in the first place.

      If you have the time and/or patience, here’s some further information I wrote about speed problems last year, which still applies today.

      http://community.plus.net/blog/2007/07/02/broadband-speed-faults-how-to-diagnose/

      If you need anymore help, then please feel free to get in touch. You should have my email address.

      Back to cleaning flat 🙂

      All the best,
      James @ Plusnet

    4. Ian Wild says:

      Hi Tony,

      I work for Plusnet, and I reckon your experience with the fault wizard sounds like a pretty fair cop. What we’ve tried to do is implement BT Wholesale’s standard structured question path so that when a customer logs a fault, we can pass that onto BT with minimal to-ing and fro-ing as they investigate the fault. If we don’t answer all those questions and have to go back to the customer each time BT asks us, it can delay things a lot. In some circumstances that works well, but it doesn’t work for some sorts of speed faults as you’ve clearly demonstrated. I’m going to highlight your post to the people responsible for this area.

      It’s worth noting at this point that although Plusnet is owned by BT, we have exactly the same interfaces with BT Wholesale as any other ISP who resells the BT Wholesale ADSL service (ie most ISPs in the country). That’s a factor laid out by the regulatory environment in the UK, which is there to ensure ‘equivalence’ – ie that BT can’t use it’s significant market power to give itself competitive advantages over other ISPs.

      The problem here is that the speed fault you have, which is a syncronisation speed issue between your ADSL Router and your local exchange, is entirely based on the quality of the signal on your line. That’s not something which Plusnet or any other ISP can control at all. We are dependent on BT to identify and solve the issue (although there are things you can do too to help) and can’t do any more than pass the problem report on.

      One of my colleagues has written an article on all of the line factors that can affect speed on ‘upto 8Mbps’ products here – http://community.plus.net/blog/2007/07/02/broadband-speed-faults-how-to-diagnose/

      What it boils down too though is that when it comes to signal / line noise problems, there generally aren’t any quick wins (Although a new device from BT, called the iplate, is being reported to increase speed for a lot of people. We don’t yet provide these but with a quick Google you should be able to pick one up for under £15). Your router can make a big difference too. Have a read of the article above, and certainly feel free to contact me directly if you still feel like you are getting now-where with the normal support route. I can’t promise I can fix the problem, but I certainly would like to do anything I can to assist and I’m keen that we find better ways to better handle these sorts of problems for our customers in the future.

      Kind Regards,

      Ian Wild
      Product Development Manager
      Plusnet

    5. Kirrus says:

      I used to help support a company that had 2-3 PlusNet ADSL lines.

      I find, that either you :
      a) phone them, make sure that you detail your problems with as much info as they will require to fix it, when the 1st line support can’t help, ask for the manager
      or
      b) submit a support ticket under ANY category (don’t go through their blasted system, just plunk it under anything that will allow you to start typing quickly), and fill out a really verbose ticket. Include MTR reports of connections to and from your ADSL line. Make sure you say you’re not an average user.

      After a while, (and 3-4 tickets) they get the hint and tickets from you go smoothly past 1st line support techs 🙂

      Have fun!

    6. Lee says:

      Most of the issues (The actual fault, the fault threshold, and the dumb-ass Java BT speedtester) are unfortunately issues with BT Openreach/Wholesale who provide the DSL technology and their rather laborious faults process. They would be the same with any UK ISP providing standard IPStream broadband.

      That’s no excuse for the daft validation on the faults checker, or the seeming lack of desire to fix your issue.

      If you haven’t already, then I’d strongly recommend posting on their “Community” site – http://community.plus.net – it’s a good way of getting your fault to someone who will care (& yes, the standard support channel *should* do that, but hey – we’re interested in getting the fault fixed right!)

    7. Lee says:

      @ Tomalak Geret’kal

      I’d suggest contacting your telephone provider (BT?) and tell them that when you’re making phone calls there is a lot of noise. They’ll investigate the voice fault, the resolution of which should help your broadband.

    8. Kevin Whelan says:

      Hi Tony, I experienced similer problems with bulldog a few years ago now, I was on an 8mb line and had trouble breaking 200k at all times. I raised numerious support tickets with them for the length of the contract, then promptly dropped them when it expired and moved my service to BE. Now I have an 18mb line that runs and syncs at around 10mb down and 1.2 up and no un-announced dowtimes and cheap at it (£18 pcm from the top of my memory)

      Good luck

      Eck

    9. Tony says:

      Some great comments from other PlusNet users out there, and equally great comments from two PlusNet employees. Thanks to everyone so far for commenting! The distance from the exchange is of course related. I don’t know exactly how far I am, but the 4km figure suggested seems plausible. And, being somewhat familiar with networking technologies (managing a 600 seat network with 100Mbps dedicated dark fibre uplink to JANET during the day), I understand the difference between marketing terminology and the actual services offered. I never expected to get 8Mbps out of my line. But it regularly reached 1.6Mbps a couple of years ago and I’d like to get back to at least that. Something has deteriorated, whether it’s the equipment at the exchange, the copper run to my street, the line from the pole to my house, the master socket, the phone, the microfilters, the ADSL modem or the junctions in between any of them I don’t know. Obviously I only have influence over the phone, microfilters and ADSL modem. Disconnecting the phone handset hasn’t made any difference in my experiements. My master socket appears quite old and yellowing, so testing that connection directly isn’t an option. I presume that BT are responsible for the master socket and its replacement? Might be wrong though.

      I’m glad that fault reporting process seems as silly to PlusNet insiders as it does to me (and presumably other customers.) It explains it, but I’m not sure it justifies it! And whilst I don’t hold individuals responsible for the process a company imposes on them, it doesn’t mean the company or the process is off the hook. I also understand that other ISPs offering ADSL services over the same line will face the same technical problems with BT. But as a customer I expect my ISP to look after me and I shouldn’t really need to know about the technical or political processes between BT and my ISP.

      I’ll certainly look up the iplate, although I haven’t made any changes to the phones or devices connected in that time. Suggestions of trying a different router or microfilters always mean additional expense for me without the guarantee that it will resolve the problem. I’d then be stuck with microfilters and an ADSL modem which I’d have to get rid of or ebay etc. Time and money I don’t really have. Perhaps I should stop moaning and put my hand in my pocket. At least, if the problem still exists we can be sure it’s a line issue.

      As for “no quick wins”, well, you don’t need to tell me that! 🙂

    10. Tony says:

      Having looked at the iplate it seems to require a newer master socket than I have, with a removable lower section.

    11. Tony says:

      @Kevin. You see, it’s experiences like that that make me wonder where the fault is. My exchange is LLU and Be offer services from it. If one ISP can make the line from your house to the exchange work, when can’t another? (Even if the equipment and upstream service handling is different at the exchange, as an end user I shouldn’t have to care about it!)

    12. @Lee, not a bad idea! Alas, they might take a peek at my phone records and notice that there have been no voice calls placed on the line in over five years… :/

    13. Guy Hindle says:

      Hi Tony, I’m a friend of Laura’s and she pointed me out your woes.

      Here’s my PlusNet related story – PRE BT ownership….

      Everything was fine in the early days, bliss 512Kbps up from 56Kbps. Then, unbelievably, I could move to 2Mbps “wow” I was feeling privileged!

      Something then went wrong. I can’t remember whether it was before or after a move to an “up to 8Mbsp” service, but, in essence, my line speeds dropped to similar speeds as you are quoting. BT OpendReach (BT Wholesale as it was then) came out on a couple of occasions but without effect. PlusNet weren’t to *blame* for any problems, but they didn’t really make fixing them any easier – its this 3-way “business” which appeared to be the root of the lack of transparency – but back to the problem!

      A third engineers visit was scheduled, for a week hence. BUT in the mean time, our phone line stopped working properly! So (within 48rs! compare that to the BB rate of fix!) a BT (voice) engineer was dispatched. He arrived at our house, bizzarely, a couple of hours after the BB engineer. The BB engineer couldn’t find any problem at our house and said he would go to the exchange – he couldn’t find any problem there either. So at this point we had SLOW BB an NO voice. I heard nothing further from the BB team.

      The BT voice engineer (same company in the past as the BB engineer) also couldn’t find anything wrong at our end. He too went to the exchange. He phoned (yes, kept us informed) to say that the switch was faulty and that he was going to replace it – or something. He did this and asked us whether the line was working now. It was! Yippee, voice calls!

      Oh, and btw…BB was running at the best speeds I’d ever reached previously.

      Yup, the “no BB problems at the exchange” had been fixed NOT by the BB guy, but by the voice guy – oh, except that BT said that it was just a fluke!. That’s right, BT claim that the BB problem went away by themselves, and the “coincidence” that the BB problems disappeared at the exactly the same time as the voice line fix was made was just that – coincidence. You make your own conclusion.

      One last part to the story. My friend who lived in Wooslton and was on the same exchange as me, had (almost!) EXACTLY the same story to tell! Coincidences eh – marvellous.

      Good luck.

    14. Guy Hindle says:

      A couple more items/clarifications

      – My mate in Woolston was on Pipex NOT PlusNet – hence Plusnet/Pipex not to blame specifically, that’s down to BT OpenReach, but neither provided transparency.

      – Checkout http://www.samknows.com/broadband/ for lots of interesting BB related stuff. The site predicted very accurately what Be Broadband (www.bethere.co.uk/) would *actually* be able to deliver.

    15. Chris says:

      Hey Tony,

      Sun are due to release a 64 bit plugin in the next Java update which supports 64-bit Linux plug-in under FF3. You can get your hands on it now from the following location, otherwise it will be on general release in the next couple of months:

      https://jdk6.dev.java.net/6uNea.html

      The iPlate seems to be helping a lot of people with poor broadband performance. I came a across this site while looking for information on iplates and there seems to be a lot of happy campers:

      http://www.broadbandbuyer.co.uk/Shop/Reviews.asp?ProductID=7256

      As per Kevin’s comment, I can also vouch for Be There Broadband and highly recommend them if they’re in your area. Don’t forget to get cashback if you join them:

      http://www.cashbackguide.org/be+broadband/offers.aspx

      Good luck,

      Chris.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Comment Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree