Sunday, 29 November 2009

Finally, New Firmware for the BT HomeHub 2.0


Way back in June I wrote about the problems that were being caused by the latest iteration of the firmware for the BT HomeHub 2.0. Far from getting rid of problems, the new firmware (8.1.H.G (Type A) ) had introduced a raft of new problems that have annoyed BT customers all summer and autumn.

BT initially promised a fix by 26th June 2009, but no one was really surprised when this failed to materialise.

Finally, 6 months after the problems with firmware 8.1.H.G were first reported and a mere 5 months and 1 day later than promised, BT have finally begun to roll out a new firmware.
The details are as follows:

Software version 8.1.H.J (Type A)
Software version 4.7.5.1.83 (Type B)

There are two versions of the latest Hub 2.0 firmware because of changes in the BT Hub manufacturing process. The functionality of both firmware versions is the same.

The latest version introduces the following improvements:

* Changes to automatic wireless channel selection.
* Correction to a problem with Power Save activation.
* Correction to problems uploading large files.

The new firmware has been 'in the wild' for 48 hours now. It's not clear what proportion of Hub users have already been updated, but BT expect the roll out will be complete by Christmas. BT haven't specified which Christmas, but in the light of previous experience this may be a tactical omission.

So far, so good. I've not seen any reports that the firmware is causing any problems, but watch this space.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Wi-Spy 2.4i - A Great Tool for WiFi Problems


I've frequently written about the value of a little piece of freeware called InSSIDer when it comes to checking which wifi channel might be the best for you to use, to avoid conflict with a neighbour's router that might be on the same channel. If you have a wireless router, I really cannot recommend InSSIDer enough for every wireless equipped machine you have.

InSSIDer is produced by a company called metageek who produce a range of spectrum analysers - widgets that can help locate sources of wifi interference. The 'baby' of the range, shown at the top of the page, is the Wi-Spy 2.4i. metageek also produce a range of these devices that operate in the 2.4 GHz (802.11b/g), 5 GHz (802.11a/b/g/n)and 868 and 915 MHz bands.

If you want to see in detail what these devices can do, then it is worth spending a little time exploring the metageek website.

Perhaps the best way of understanding what the Wi-Spy 2.4i can do, is to look at a couple of traces from it. The device can output the 2.4 GHz spectrum in a variety of 2D ways and as a 3D display (but not all 3D-capable video cards are yet supported for the 3D display). To be honest, whilst the 3D display is pretty, I've found the the 2D displays to be more useful so far. The trace above (click on it to get a larger view)shows the 'Waterfall' view and the 'Density' view seen by my PC. The Density view is overlaid by the output from my wireless adapter, so you can see my router (solid green line) sitting on Channel 6 and my neighbour's router (solid red line), which is on Channel 1. The blue speckles surrounding the green line are the output from my router, in this case a 2-Wire 2700 operating in 802.11 b/g mode.

Now, lets take a look at some interference. In the trace above (again, click to see an enlargement), I've managed to identify some of the things that might cause my WiFi connection problems - and there are a couple of things that are still a bit of a mystery. I've also switched off the wireless adapter output, so that the W-Spy 2.4i output is a little clearer.

In the upper Waterfall display, I've labelled some of the sources of radio frequency emissions. Most obvious is the green vertical bar close to Channel 9. It turns out that this is the car alarm in my Toyota Previa. There are similar bars near to channel 6 and channel 13 that may also be car alarms, but I haven't yet shown that for certain.

A little harder to see are the array of green and yellow speckles that form a horizontal line across Channels 9 to 13 at the bottom of the Waterfall display. This it turns out, is characteristic of my microwave oven. So, although Channel 11 (one of the three non-overlapping channels in the UK) is free from wifi routers, it's probably not going to be a good channel to use as it will be affected by both the microwave oven and the car alarm.

There is an odd source of interference that appears best in the Density trace below and is labelled #2. It's not clear, yet, what is causing this. It's not my PC, nor any of the ancillary equipment. I've also eliminated my DECT phone, Homeplugs, Skybox, TV and a host of other things. Because of the way the trace was obtained and the close proximity of the router, it is possible that the router itself is being picked up by the Wi-Spy. Clearly, I've a bit more work to do on this.

In a nutshell, that's what the Wi-Spy 2.4i does - helps you find and eliminate, or avoid, sources of interference.

If you are in the UK, you can find Wi-Spy at Crownhill Associates for £68.94 (inc VAT). OK, it isn't cheap, but if you are having wifi problems, it could save you a lot of time and effort - and money spent on other solutions that don't work.

The other bit of good news is that Wi-Spy 2.4i works with both PCs (XP and Vista) and Macs (OSX 10.5).

As for me, I've been so impressed after only a few day's use, that I'm going to have to save up for the WiSpy 2.4i's big brother!

UPDATE: You can see a recent success with the Wi-Spy here. It shows what you might expect if you are hit with repetitive electrical impulse noise (REIN)

Sunday, 8 November 2009

HomeHub 2.0 Faults & Finding the Manufacture Date of Your Home Hub



Going off the many posts on the BT Broadband Community Forum, a fair number of HomeHub 2.0 users are having problems with them. Perhaps the most commonly reported problems are associated with the wifi. Either the range of the router, despite it being type n, is pitiful and worse than earlier type g models, or the wifi keeps cutting out for no apparent reason. Other issues include an inability to hold sync particularly well, and the 8.1.H.G (Type A) firmware upgrade of May 2009 that has caused all sorts of problems, many of which are still unresolved.

Often, the problems disappear when the user goes back to using an earlier version of the HomeHub (1.0 or 1.5) or uses an entirely different router - which does sort of point to the HomeHub 2.0 being the culprit.

A great guy known as DS on the BT Community Forum, has recently been pulling his faulty HomeHub 2.0 (Type A)s apart and found some interesting thing, including:

- trapped and chafed power supply wiring
- finger-prints all over the internal circuitry
- loose/unattached aerial wires
- dirty connector strips for the wifi adapter sub assembly (Top right in the adjacent picture of one of my HomeHubs

I pulled two other HomeHub 2s apart to see if mine had similar issues. Fortunately, the two I looked at did not show any of the faults reported by DS - aside from a single greasy fingerprint on one of the internal components. The power supply wiring for the hub phone charger were well routed, aerial cables properly attached and the aerial plate securely mounted.

Now the question is this. Are these faulty HomeHubs fairly randomly scattered through the production run, or do some batches of hub suffer from more faults than others?

If you are going to report a fault on the BT Forum, or directly to the BT Help Desk, you might want to tell them when your hub was manufactured. To work this out, look at the base of your Home Hub and you will see a large sticker. The serial number appears on the top right hand side of the sticker and looks something like this:

SN: CP0825*****

The first four numbers refer to the year (08) and week (25 = June) of manufacture.

If you are tempted to full a faulty HomeHub apart, it is fairly straightforward by following the simple yet excellent instructions referred to by Jarviser here . Please note that I wore an earthed wristband to minimize the chance of static damage to the electronics.

Be warned though. If you do pull a hub apart, there is a risk that you could brick your hub and it might never work again!

You might also want to add your HomeHub date of manufacture to the list here, reporting whether it works and if it has problems, the nature of the fault.

STOP PRESS If you have any photographs of the insides of a HomeHub 2.0 (Type B), please send them to Jarviser at: jarviser.one@live.co.uk

He wants to add the details to his excellent website.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Don't Flash at Your Router!


I've written before about the range of electrical items that can have a dire effect on your broadband, but every so often you can get caught out, even if you know how these things can cause interference or even repetitive electrical impulse noise (REIN).

The other day, I was trying to help out someone with a broadband problem and thought it would be simplest if I took a photograph of my own broadband set-up to illustrate the point. I was showing him how the use of a timer can help miss spikes of REIN activity. To get the photo, I had to crawl under my office desk and pull out a panel to get at the wiring. Unfortunately, it was fairly dark under there and I had to use flash photography with my little digital camera. As it only has an LCD screen rather than a proper view-finder, the process was a bit hit and miss, so I took half a dozen shots to get one that was half-way decent. Things weren't helped because the camera was playing up and not capturing pictures properly, so I had to resort to a second camera.

Whilst taking the photos, the cameras were within a couple of feet of the router, my PC, the BT Master socket and all sorts of other PC-related electricals.

I was surprised to discover that my SNR margin began to drop very rapidly when I was taking the photos and then I realised that the download speed had dropped through the floor. The trace from RouterStats looked like this:

The SNR margin bottomed out at 9dB and after some minutes, shot up to 21dB. During all this, the IP profile dropped from my usual (pitiful) 1250kbps to 500kbps.

Well, the SNR target had dropped to 12dB by the following morning, but it took a further 15 hours before the IP profile increased again. Surprisingly, this settled at 1500kbps, but it was back to its normal 1250 kbps. So, no harm done in the long term.

There is a lesson here if you are on a long and flakey phone line - don't try flash photography near your router, it may cause the router to lose sync!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The ITCH Network - Free Local Computer Assistance for Disabled People


Over the last year or so, I've been trying to help out on a couple of web forums that deal with broadband problems. It's fascinating stuff and a real challenge to find a way to fix a problem without having direct access to the computer or router involved. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don't, but no two problems are ever quite the same.

During the course of this, I came across a subset of problems that were harder to deal with than most and these came from people who had disabilities of various sorts. Quite often, the solution to their problem was quite straightforward and would have taken minutes to fix, but they could not physically do what was needed - for instance, crawling under a desk to open up a phone socket. Sometimes, the needs were much more specialized. In both types of case, it was frustrating not to know where to point people for additional help.

Searching the internet for solutions, I came across IT Can Help - the ITCH Network.

ITCH was founded in 1994 by the late Ken Stoner, a Motor Neurone Disease sufferer, who realised the important role computers and communication devices can play in the lives of disabled people, and their needs when it comes to getting such sytems running and keeping them running. ITCH is a network of volunteers who provide FREE computer support to disabled people in their own homes and in other locations such as day centres and residential homes.

The ITCH network is a programme of the British Computer Society (BCS) - the industry body for IT professionals. The BCS has had an involvement in the voluntary disability sector for more than 25 years, focusing on how computer technology can assist disabled people.

So what can ITCH offer?

- Provide impartial advice on computer hardware and software;
- Install new equipment and software;
- Help in getting connected to the internet and using email;
- Help in getting started with standard software packages (eg word processing);
- Solving technical problems that may arise;
- Giving advice and assistance with hardware and software upgrades;
- Helping people get the best from their computers and software.

ITCH works in partnership with AbilityNet, the UK's leading provider of expertise on computing for people with any type of disability.

DO YOU NEED HELP?

If so, you can contact the IT Can Help Client Helpline via the AbilityNet Freephone (and textphone): 0800 269545

or by email: enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk

Ask for help from an IT Can Help volunteer

CAN YOU HELP ITCH?

Of course, activities like ITCH are totally reliant on volunteers. If you want to learn more about ITCH, or think you have the skills to become a volunteer (and no, you don't need to be a complete computer nerd to help!), then you can visit the ITCH website

You can email ITCH at: info@itcanhelp.org.uk

Telephone ITCH at: 01793 417723

or, you can even contact them by snail-mail at:

IT Can Help (BCS),
Member Groups,
First Floor,
Block D,
North Star House,
North Star Avenue,
Swindon
SN2 1FA

Monday, 31 August 2009

Finding The Source of Interference


I've spent ages trying to find some useful and practical advice on ways to track down the source of broadband interference and it has been remarkably hard to find anything useful. Finally, I've managed to track something down which, although highly technical, does at least suggest some possible approaches. It also gives some good examples of the types of devices that can cause problems and how they do it.

The paper, entitled "Interference to Amateur Radio Reception," was produced by the Radio Society of Great Britain. Although it is intended for radio amateurs, it appears to apply equally to broadband reception.

In rural areas, electric fences may be a very specific source of broadband problems, particularly where they run close to, and parallel with, the telephone cables. If there are no long runs of parallel fencing, then well-maintained fences shouldn't normally cause too much of a problem. However, fences that are broken and shorted to earth, or ones which have green vegetation touching the wire or tape conductor, can put a large unwanted signal into the telephone lines, especially in wet weather. Buried telephone cables are particularly susceptible to this form of interference.

Typically, there is little information on this source of interference available in the UK from BT, who seem fixated with urban communities, but telecom providers and electric fence manufacturers in New Zealand do recognise this as a significant cause of problems in rural communities and have produced a very useful leaflet on the subject. This can be obtained from the Gallagher electric fence company.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Self-Help Measures to Try and Fix Speed and Connection Problems


UPDATE: Links to Jarviser's archived material updated in April 2014

There are several reasons why your broadband speeds can plummet, interference being one of the most likely causes. Look here for the types of thing that can cause such problems.

Phone Faults - Before doing lots of tests, you need to try and establish whether you really do have a broadband problem, or whether you have a phone problem that is affecting your broadband. You may have already noticed noises on your phone line, but to be sure, do the quiet line test.

Dial 170 70 and select option 2 when asked. Hold your hand over the phone mouthpiece, to stop it picking up noises, and listen. If you hear anything at all, you may have a problem. If you did hear anything out of the ordinary, try the test again, but this time disconnect the router and if you still hear noises, you probably have a phone problem - but it might be caused by your phone rather than you having a problem on your line. If you can, repeat the tests again with a different phone and if you still hear noises, you can be reasonably confident that you have a phone fault. You need to report this as such and in doing so, don't mention broadband! In this case, if the phone fault gets fixed, your broadband problems may go away.

Inside or Outside - OK, if it wasn't the phone causing problems, it might be something inside or outside the house. What we need to do is to determine which it is.

The simplest thing to try, if you have the correct sort of BT Master socket, is the Clean Socket Test. As is often the case when it comes to BT Broadband, the marvellous Jarviser has produced an easy step-by-step guide. It's important, as always when it comes to broadband, to follow Jarviser's instructions to the letter. More important in this case because if you get it wrong, it could cost you money! If the Clean Socket Test doesn't improve things, then chances are, the problem lies outside your home.

While we are on the subject of Jarviser, it's always worth spending a couple of hours browsing his website archive - there is a wealth of tried and tested information there - and I'll be referring to it a lot in this section.

If, for any reason, you can't do the Clean Socket Test, or even if you have done it and want to be certain that nothing in your home is causing problems, you can try switching every piece of electrical equipment in the house off, then turning them on one by one to see if that recreates the problem. Pay particular attention to devices connected to the internet like Sky boxes and extension phones. If it does, great, if it doesn't, try it all again with new microfilters on all the devices that need them.

Now work your way through the other tests on Jarviser's Broadband and Bellwire page. Perhaps the most important thing you can ever do to improve your broadband speed and connection stability, if you have extension sockets, is to remove the bellwire. This is so important, I'll say it again - remove the damned bellwire.

Why do this? Well, the now redundant bellwire (it used to be used to ring old-style phones) can act as a brilliant aerial, picking up all sorts of electrical and radio frequency interference from your home and dumping it straight on to your phone line.

If you really can't face pulling out a couple of wires, then, if you have the right sort of NTE5a Master socket, you could buy and fit an iPlate. It does a similar job to removing the bellwire, but isn't half as satisfying.

What else can you do? Well, problems with your telephone line and broadband connection might be caused by faults on your neighbours line, or their electrical equipment. If you are on speaking terms with them, you could ask if they are having similar problems, or if they have a new piece of electrical equipment. You might be surprised how helpful they can be, if you approach them in the right way. Here's one example where a little fault turned out to affect an entire village!

If you have a HomeHub 1.0, HomeHub 1.5, or many other commercial routers, particularly Netgear DG834 series routers, it is very worthwhile using RouterStats or RouterStats Lite, brilliant little freeware programs, to record your router stats continuously. The noise margin and sync speed traces will show any changes in either and you might be able to work out if a particular piece of equipment switching on or off might be causing your problems.

If you've worked your way through this checklist and still haven't found the fault, you are in a good position to call BT and not get charged for an engineer's visit as the problem seems to lie outside your home. Tackling the BT Help Line is not for the faint-hearted, so there is some advice here that might help. You also might also want to raise a question on the BT Beta Forum - and there's some more advice about that here.

The BT Forum can be a good way of getting action on a problem if you are having problems with the BT call centre in India; especially if the forum moderators take an interest. Alternatively, you can now raise your problem on Twitter!

Basic Information on Your Speed and Connection

The same symptoms of broadband problems - slow or falling speeds recur time and time again on the BT Beta Forum and other similar forums. Inevitably, the same problem requires a very similar answer, so here are the basic things you should do.

1. Collect the Basic information - The first thing to do is to collect you basic router stats. If you don't know how to find them, look here on the Kitz page for your particular router. They will look something like these.
Click on the picture to see an enlarged view. For the moment, the four most important sets of values are the System Up Time (Connection Time or similar), Connection Speed (the sync speed), Line Attenuation and Noise Margin (or SNR Margin). If you want to know what these represent, the Kitz website provides a useful guide here.

2. What Speed Could You Be Getting - this is a fairly difficult question, but you can get an idea by taking the Attenuation figure and putting it into the Kitz Maximum Speed Calculator. In my case, the Attenuation is shown 63.5 dB (its actually 68dB), but most routers will not record anything above this, so if your attenuation is 63.5 dB, what follows is very much a best estimate.

Now you can check to see what BT claim you should be getting. Kitz, thoughtfully, has another checker to help. Try this once with your post-code, once with your phone number and finally with both your post code and phone number. You may find a marked difference between them. My results are 1500kbps, 500kbps and 500kbps - a wide range of values. You can also get two measures of distance from the centre of your postcode, to the centre of the postcode where the exchange is situated - the direct 'as-the-crow-flies distance (3.44 km) and a calculated road distance (5.79km). In most cases, your actual line length will lie between the two values and be closer to the road distance. Unfortunately, some lines take circuitous routes and could be longer than those predicted. Thanks to BT, I know the exact line length between the exchange and the PCP (the green cabinet)is 3.361km and adding another 400m for the line length between the PCP and the house, gives me a line length of about 3.8km. Unusually, my line travels in virtually a straight line.

3. Your IP Profile - Now you need to run the BT Speedtester (NB You need Java TM installed on your computer for this to work). The important value here is the IP profile, in this case it's 1250 kbps. This fits with the sync speed of 1472kbps found in the first test and this one. With this IP profile, my throughput speed, the speed I can actually expect for downloading, is 1142 kbps. Compare that result, with this one, taken from the same line a few days earlier. Here, the sync speed is a little higher, but the IP profile is only 500kbps and the throughput is a pitiful 382kbps; a quarter of the throughput in the earlier results.

This last set of results show there is a problem with this connection - in this case it's a type of interference called Repetitive Electrical Impulse Noise (REIN). REIN causes the router to lose sync and the DLM at the exchange forces the IP profile down and the Noise Margin up(see first picture - Noise Margin = 12.9dB).

One last thing to do. If you are confident you have an accurate figure for your line length, you can ask the question - What attenuation and speed should I be getting? To work this out, go back to the Kitz Maximum Speed Calculator and vary the attenuation until the distance figure matches the line length you calculated earlier. For a line 3.8km long, a reasonable attenuation would be 53dB and the IP profile should be 3500kbps. Clearly, there is something badly wrong with this connection and in this case, it is because it links to the exchange with an old aluminium line, which suffers 50% more attenuation than a copper line of the same length. Remember though, these are only guideline figures and only as good as your calculation of the line length!

OK, now you have got all the router information you need to ask for help on the forums! Please take out any personal data, like IP address, home address and postcode before posting your stats on the internet!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Rural Broadband and the Latest CLA Campaign


Rural broadband users often have greater problems when it comes to broadband, than do urban users. Often, this is because of the longer distances between the exchange and the End User, decaying infrastructure and decades of under-investment. The CLA (Country Land & Business Association) has been actively fighting for all rural areas to have effective and affordable broadband since 2002 when they firstly forced BT to introduce trigger levels and then lobbied, successfully, for a national rural broadband roll out in 2005. The CLA also produced an excellent contribution in response to the interim Digital Britain report - the final version of which can be found here.

I have written several times about the centrality of broadband access for the future health and development of the rural economy and for those who live in the countryside, and it is clear that all those working towards improving the situation, and narrowing the digital divide, need to work together as much as possible. The CLA are a significant voice in these efforts and, as you will note from the points above, have already made substantial progress.

On 4th August 2009, the CLA launched the 'Staying in Touch' petition as a voice against rural 'not-spots.' The CLA write:

High-speed internet access will be essential in years to come for all businesses – rural and urban – and those communities that do not have it will be at a severe economic and social disadvantage.

The CLA has said time and time again that Government investment is an essential prerequisite to rolling out broadband to all. This is a fair first attempt at trying to resolve the digital divide but more needs to be done if those in remoter parts of the country are to have a future in digital Britain.

If you think the Government should do more to provide effective and affordable broadband for all rural areas, please sign our petition.

It will be formally submitted to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills Lord Mandelson by CLA President Henry Aubrey-Fletcher in October 2009.


If you are concerned about rural broadband access and the future of the rural economy, please sign the petition and make your voice heard!

Cross posted from: http://winterbournestoke-thedigitaldivide.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Changes to the BT Support Forum



Kerry G, the Support Community Coordinator for the BT Forum is looking for ideas to improve the forum for users. If you have any ideas for the type of information you would like to see on the forum, the way the information is presented, or, I guess anything else about the forum at all, take a look at Kerry's thread here, and either add a post or, if you are the shy retiring type, you could always send an email with your ideas to: forum.moderation.team@bt.com

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

BT Broadband Care Now on Twitter


It seems that BT Broadband Care is now on Twitter. If you already tweet, this might be a quicker way in to the BT system than the dreaded Indian call centre - time will tell. If you haven't got a Twitter account, then you can sign up for one here.

All you have to do then is DM (Direct Message) them with your phone number - in the style: D BTCare 0207 298 1111 Can you help with broadband problems - Ian Livingston.

Thanks to Dave Lamb on the BT Broadband Support Forum for pointing this out!

UPDATE 1: Hmm, not promising. See Comments for one dissatisfied user!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Xbox 360 Live, BT HomeHub 2.0 and Strict NAT Problems



One of the most frequent questions on the various web forums that deal with BT broadband concerns the Xbox 360 Live. How do you get it to connect to the internet through a BT Homehub 2.0 with an 'Open' NAT (Network Address Translation) setting. Frequently people find the NAT setting is 'Strict' and remains 'Strict' whatever they do.

Assuming you have a BT HomeHub 2.0, then getting this sorted out is fairly straightforward.

Firstly, If you've been playing around with your HomeHub 2.0 settings, it might be best to do a Factory reset on the HomeHub. Then make sure that your Xbox is set to get its IP address automatically and NOT manually.

You shouldn't need to change any settings on the HomeHub to get Xbox 360 to work. In particular, you do NOT need to add any Xbox Live Services to the HomeHub. However, it is worth checking that the HomeHub is set up to use UPnP

You can do this as follows:

1. Navigate to the HomeHub page by entering: 192.168.1.254 into your browser.
2. Then click "Advanced" - at the bottom of the left hand list.
3. Click on "Continue to advanced".
4. Enter your user name and password and click "OK".
5. You will now be in the Configuration section, click "Application Sharing".
6. You will see a sub-menu appear underneath, click on "UPnP".
7. Tick the box saying "Use UPnP" and then "Apply" to the right of the screen.

When you've done all this, turn everything off, including the HomeHub and leave it for a couple of minutes.

Finally, turn on the router, then the PC, and lastly the Xbox. You should now have an Xbox360 Live with an Open NAT.

If you have a BT HomeHub 1.0 or 1.5, then these instructions will not work!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

More Problems on the BT Broadband Support Forum


Some odd things are happening today on the BT Broadband Support Forum. Firstly, there is a problem with BT's security certificate which means you will get one of the warnings above, depending on the browser you are using.

I wouldn't suggest you accept the certificate as it is, but adding "www" in front of the "beta.bt.com" bit of the URL for the login, seems to get round the problem.

The other odd thing is that this effect didn't seem to hit everywhere at the same time. The other puzzle is that some posts from earlier today did not show up until I relogged onto the site. All very odd, but its what we've come to expect from the BT Forum.

UPDATE: 16/07/09 BT have finally fixed the dodgy login issue. It took them long enough!

Extending Your Network - Homeplugs and Powerline Adapters


There may come a time when you want to link additional devices to your home network. Another computer, a games console, media player or even an HD TV perhaps. If you are lucky, the layout of your home and phone connection will allow you to do this simply using ethernet (wired) of WiFi (wireless) connections to your HomeHub or other router. However, your home may have thick walls, or walls fitted with metal-foil coated insulation, and the Wifi signal may not reach to all parts of it. If you want to use your computer in the garden, the WiFi signal may not reach that far. You may even want to use your computer in an outbuilding, but again the WiFi signal won't reach that outside your home.

You could reach for a drill and start putting holes through walls, ceilings and floors and threading ethernet cable through the house and even under the garden to achieve what you want. However, there is an easier way that will work in most domestic circumstances - using Homeplugs or Powerline adapters.

These devices, like the Netgear HDX101 shown at the top of the article, transmit data over the domestic power supply. One device is wired into your router by ethernet cable and the second device (or more than one if you like) can be placed in a convenient wall socket, close to where you want to use it, and connected by ethernet cable to whatever device you want to use. Some Homeplugs/Powerline adapters are WiFi enabled and so can act as a remote access point (AP) for your home network. Alternatively, you can connect a WiFi router to the remote adapter, to give you both wired connectivity and another AP. This last option is a little more complex to set up and beyond the scope of this blog, but the following diagram shows a simplified version of what can be achieved.



The problem here was to extend the network to a summer-house, allowing an Xbox to be installed and also to allow for occasional use of a laptop in the garden and summerhouse. The layout of the house and thick internal and external walls prevented this from being done by WiFi and I really didn't fancy the amount of digging and drilling that would have been required to install ethernet cable.

The primary router is a Netgear DG834PN, although I have used the same network configuration with HomeHub 1.0, HomeHub 1.5, HomeHub 2.0 and a 2-Wire 2700HGV BT Business Hub as the primary router. This links by ethernet to the main PC and to the first of the Netgear HDX101 powerline adapters. It also provides the primary WiFi access point. The second Netgear HDX101 is plugged into a power socket in the summer-house and is linked by ethernet to the LAN side of an old Linksys WRT54G router which acts as a secondary AP. A second ethernet link connects the Linksys router to an Xbox, but if the Linksys router isn't needed for a while, the Xbox can be plugged directly into the Netgear HDX101 without any network reconfiguaration.

OK, What do you need to know if you want to set up a simple network extension using Homeplug/Powerline adapters?

The first thing is to choose a pair of Homeplug/Powerline adapters. Several companies offer them for sale: Netgear, Devolo, Linksys, Billion, Draytek, et, etc. They also come in three speed ratings: 14mbps, 85mbps and 200mbps with prices to match the speed ratings. To be honest, it probably isn't worth getting anything other than a pair of 200mbps models - the slower ones may just be too slow to allow you to do everything you might want to do with them - especially if you are considering streaming HD video, or have an ardent gaming fan in the house. In theory, adapters with different speed ratings could coexist on the same power supply, but you cannot connect them together - so not a lot of point mentioning that, other than by way of a warning! Similarly, don't be tempted to try and mix adapters from more than one manufacturer, that almost certainly won't work either.

Most Homeplug/Powerline adapters now come with built-in signal encryption. Please use it, or otherwise anyone with access to an adapter from the correct manufacturer and to a power socket in your house, outbuilding or garden, could gain a way in to your network. You have been warned.

Installation is simple and almost plug and play, but ensure you read the instructions and follow them to the letter. This will usually involve loading a bit of software on to a PC linked by ethernet to your router, and then connecting each adapter in turn to the router to set it up. When you have done this, and before you plug the adapter into its remote location to test it, switch everything off - Your PC, the router, your shiny new adapter - everything! Go and have a cup of tea.

OK, now you are ready to try out your Homeplug/Powerline adapters. Wire up whatever device you want to use in the remote location (eg a PC or Xbox), but DO NOT switch it or the adapter on at this stage.

Now go and switch on the router and let it connect and stabilise. Secondly, power up your PC and check that it is behaving normally. Once you are happy, switch on the Homeplug/Powerline adapter that is connected by ethernet cable to the router and once it has settled down, go and switch on the remote Homeplug/Powerline adapter. Lastly, you can switch on the remote device - and if you have followed all the instructions correctly, that should be it - connected!

It has to be said that Homeplug/Powerline adapters won't work in every situation. The electrical sockets you plug the adapters into all need to lie on the consumer side of a single electricity meter. Even then, problems have been reported where an outbuilding has a separate fuse-box to the rest of the house. My outbuildings have independent residual current circuitbreakers (RCCBs) rather than fuse-boxes and the system works just fine.

You also need to plug the adapter into a wall socket. Whatever you do, don't plug them into extensions fitted with surge protectors, etc., else they may not work at all.

Homeplug/Powerline adapters can also pick-up RF interference from the mains power supply and couple this back into the LAN - which can have some dire effects on other parts of your system, but I have never experienced this myself.

Finally, you are unlikely to be able to have the two Homeplug/Powerline adapters separated by more than 200 metres of power cable and still get them to work.

You should always try and buy them on a sale-or-return basis!

Good luck and have fun - they really are a useful idea.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

What Speed Should I Be Getting?


One of the most commonly asked questions on the various Forums that deal with broadband in the UK (look in the panel to the left for some of these) is: "What speed should I be getting?" Although the quick speed check tools like the one above are excellent for day-to-day use, they have limitations that make them unsuitable for more detailed data collection.

Well, to get a better understanding of your speed, the obvious starting point is to double-check your contract. What have you actually signed up for? Surprisingly, when DSL-Max came along, many people didn't sign up for it and still remain on 500kbps or 1Mbps contracts. If you can't find your contract, the easiest way of telling whether you are on a fixed rate contract or not, is to check your upstream connection speed - if it's 228 kbps, then you are on a fixed rate contract.

Of course, most people are now on "up to" contracts of 2Mbps, 8Mbps or even faster. The reality is, unless you live next door to the exchange, you are not going to get the maximum theoretical speed. The further away you are from the exchange and the poorer the quality of your telephone lines, the lower your speed will be.

To check what speeds you are getting and what speeds you should be getting you need to follow a few simple steps. I've used my own connection as the example. The first thing you should do is use the BT Speedtester.

If you click on the picture above to expand it, you will notice that the downstream DSL connection speed is 1568kbps, the upstream DSL connection speed is 448kbps, the actual throughput is 382kbps and the IP profile is 500kbps. This is symptomatic of a poor connection with problems!

The upstream connection speed of 448kbps tells us this is a DSL-Max connection (up-to 8Mbps actually!). The downstream DSL connection speed of 1500kbps is the speed my router has negotiated with the DSL equipment at the exchange, but the IP profile of 500kbps has effectively capped the maximum download I can get. After a few good days with no problems, my IP profile can go up to 1250kbps, but lately we've been having more problems than usual. Remember, if the BT Speedtester returns a value of 228kbps, you are on a fixed rate product.

Your next step in testing is to go and visit the marvellous Kitz website and use the Broadband Availability Checker.
This provides a great deal of information, a little of which is shown in the picture to the right.

This shows that BT's line speed estimation for my connection is 500kbps - exactly what I am getting. Unfortunately, this measure is both useless and a great disadvantage to you, the consumer. In the first instance, it varies. In my case, it often shows my line is capable of speeds up to 1.5Mbps. On a bad day, like today, it shows a much lower speed. How it disadvantages you as a consumer is very simple. If you are having problems with BT and think about changing ISP, the new ISP is likely to use BT's speed estimation to offer you a service. What's the best they will offer me today? 500kbps, on a line that regularly gives me an IP profile of 1250kbps.

Intentionally, or otherwise, BT's line speed estimation tables stifle competition and is something OFCOM should take a very close look at indeed.

The Kitz output shows the distance between the exchange and my house is 3.44km as the crow flies, or 5.79km by road. So, the length of the telephone line between my house and the exchange probably lies between these two distances. Luckily, I happen to have a good idea of the length of the line, which is 3.361km from exchange to street cabinet and around 500 metres between the cabinet and my house.

Knowing this, I can get a downstream attenuation figure from my router - and here I get a figure of 63.5dB. Unfortunately, 63 or 63.5dB is the maximum attenuation value that most routers can register. My actual attenuation is possibly much greater than this. However, it doesn't matter for the next bit of information you need to collect. Go to another Kitz page to get an estimate of the maximum speed your line might achieve based on attenuation. Please note that this model only accepts whole numbers.

Because I have a fair idea that my overall line length is 3.9km, this result tells me is that my line is behaving like one that is much longer. Why? because the majority of my line to the exchange is aluminium, which suffers from 50% greter attenuation than copper. Sadly, aluminium was used by the GPO many years ago, to save money - often in rural areas, which partially accounts for poor broadband in rural areas.

The final stage is to check how much attenuation, and how long your line would have to be, to get the IP profile BT claim you should be getting - in my case, today, 500kbps. The Kitz checker can only take attenuation figures up to 67dB, which gives a line length of 4.85km and an IP profile of 1Mbps - so my line is behaving like one much, much longer than 4.85 km

So, by collecting this type of information, you can get a better idea of whether the speed you are getting is realistic or not. Your line attenuation is the best measure of this, but can be complicated if, like me, you are at the end of a very long line. However, if you can get an accurate line length, it is much easier to see if there is a severe line problem.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Broadband Problems and the Disabled


In a few precious spare moments, I try to help out on the various forums that deal with broadband problems and specifically those that deal with BT Broadband problems. These include the BT Broadband Support Forum, the FileSaveAs BT HomeHub Forum, and the Thinkbroadband Forum.

Many of the problems are fairly basic and can often be fixed with a little standard advice. Some, sadly, are more intransigent and are caused by the state of the broadband infrastructure and all I and the other forum users can provide is moral support - many of us are in the same situation.

However, there are a subset of problems that are much harder to deal with and these come from disabled broadband users. They can range from BT's Indian call centre getting frustrated with a wheelchair-bound customer tells them that they cannot possibly crawl around on the floor to check the Master socket, to visually impaired broadband users having difficulty with the colours of the buttons on the BT-Yahoo mail page.

I've been surprised by how difficult it is to find advice that might help in such situations and many of them are way beyond my knowledge of computing. This week, I came across an excellent article in Computer Act!ve, Issue 296, 25 June to 8 July 2009. The article investigated a charity called Abilitynet that helps disabled people make use of the internet and other technology. This looks to be a potentially useful source of advice and I will be recommending it wherever and whenever it seems appropriate. Of course, simply pointing someone towards Abilitynet may not be sufficent. There may be very real and practical difficulties preventing a disabled broadband user from either getting help from their ISP, helping their ISP identify the problem, or implementing a solution if one is available.

It made we wonder if there were more practical possibilities for helping the disabled. Digging deeper on the Abilitynet site I found a link to an organisation called IT Can Help, a programme run by the British Computer Society.

This organisation makes use of volunteers with some IT knowledge to help out disabled computer users. You don't have to be an absolute computer guru to help, so if you have some IT skills and some time you are willing to offer, you might want to think about volunteering to help them out.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Dodgy Firmware for BT HomeHub 2.0



It appears that the long awaited firmware update for the BT HomeHub 2.0 is about as unreliable as most BT software. Several users are reporting problems on the support forums and many of those are suffering from losses of sync when doing big ftp file transfers. However, the problem seems to be more widespread than that.

The firmware that is causing all the problems is 8.1.H.G (Type A) which BT rolled out towards the end of May 2009. Unfortunately, BT have not yet provided a way of rolling back the firmware for the HH2.0 to the earlier version - which at least worked after a fashion.

Worse still, because BT have not published the scripts necessary to compile and install custom firmware to the HomeHub, apparently a contravention of the Linux GNU GPL, competent firmware writers have been unable to write alternative code which might have prevented yet another embarrassing failure.

UPDATE 1: Jarviser, the broadband guru, has noted that this happened before when BT updated earlier versions of the HomeHub in 2007. At least then, says Jarviser, BT provided a way of undoing the update. No such luck now, so it is much more serious.

UPDATE 2:

Jamie Holman has just found the following work-around originally proposed by Andrew Jackson on the BT Broadband Forum:

"As with many, I started noticing this problem at the weekend, shortly after receiving the 8.1.H.G firmware. Downloads of any size weren't a problem, and I could upload files of any size if connected to the hub through an ethernet cable, but could not upload wirelessly any file over 2-3MB. Since it works fine through the ethernet cable it was obviously something to do with the way the router handles wireless uploads, so I went into the hub settings and changed every setting I could think of looking for a change; turning off WPA, the firewall, changing channel, etc. Nothing made a difference.

So I talked to the BT support people, who were actually quite helpful. It turns out they have had a flood of calls over this problem and admitted that there's a fault with the firmware and that a fix (newer firmware) should be available by the end of June. She offered to change my router, but I refused on the basis that I can wait for two weeks for a fix (showing some faith in BT here!). Besides, her explanation of how a new router would work is that it would contain the older firmware (not 8.1.H.G) when I receive it, but my thinking was that surely it would update itself as soon as I connected anyway, so what was the point?

The workaround I mentioned was actually on Adam Jackson's post of 29 May (thread 'ftp upload causes homehub to restart'), so credit to him for finding it. His suggestion was to download something simultaneously while uploading. Instead of finding a file to download I tried it playing an internet radio station (in my case, through iTunes) which effectively keeps a download connection active. It worked. Whereas I could not wirelessly upload a file of 3MB before, I successfully wirelessly uploaded a file of 315MB yesterday evening whilst having a radio station on. Happily, having the internet radio on didn't have a detrimental effect on the speed of the upload either. I will continue to use this workaround until the new firmware is available, hopefully at the end of the month.
Apart from this, as I said, it also seems to upload fine if you connect through the ethernet cable instead of through wireless".


UPDATE 3: New firmware has been promised by BT for 26 June 09. Time will tell if it solves the problems or introduces more!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Thinkbroadband Survey



Thinkbroadband, a really useful site for information on all things broadband in the UK, is undertaking a national survey to identify broadband "not spots" and "slow spots". It would be worthwhile anyone with slow speeds visiting the site here and registering your speed.

Thinkbroadband have also introduced a new tool that will be of help to anyone who wants to monitor their broadband usage.
The tbbMeter allows you to see how much your computer is sending to and receiving from the Internet in real time. It also shows you how your Internet usage varies at different times of the day. It does not record what you do on the Internet (i.e. it doesn't know what web pages you visit).

This tool will help you to manage your usage to avoid incurring excess bandwidth fees or find your broadband provider slowing you down due to exceeding your monthly usage allowance.
Source: thinkbroadband.com

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Jarviser Moves to Pastures New


I've mentioned Jarviser a number of times before on this site. He's regarded by many as the great "guru" of BT Broadband and his website has helped many people fix their broadband problems. He has also helped more directly through his involvement with the BT Support Forum and the File Save As BT HomeHub Forum.

Of course, the reason Jarviser was involved in the forums, like many of us, was due to broadband problems of his own. Over the last few weeks, his BT connection was getting flakier and flakier and the speed was dropping through the floor.


Eventually, his telephone gave up entirely, but curiously, his broadband continued to work after a fashion. His RouterStats trace looked like nothing I have ever seen before - in fact Jarviser described is as being "line-flu", and you can see why if you look at the trace to the right. Pretty damned terminal it looks, and so it turned out to be. The mystery of the dead phone and sort-of-working broadband was worked out by another member of the BT Forum, "Mick Mills". It seems that one of Jarviser's "pair", the two wires that carry the phone signal to the house, had broken. This kills the phone, but because of the way ADSL is transmitted, didn't quite kill the broadband.

When the Openreach engineer came to call, he was able to bodge a connection by using the working half of the pair and another working line from a second damaged pair. Now, whilst this gave Jarviser some sort of broadband, it was a mega-bodge and one that was not going to last for long. Now Jarviser's cable came in from the street underground and not on an overhead drop wire, so replacing it was going to mean digging up his drive and Mrs J's beautiful house frontage and then sticking a big grey box on the front of the house. Even if they did that, BT weren't going to be able to give Jarviser any guarantee that his speeds and broadband stability would improve. The result, another customer lost to BT.


Well, that prompted Jarviser to abandon terrestrial broadband completely and he now sees the future as HSDPA, or 3.5G by another name. He's currently playing with an Orange Mobile dongle and getting speeds that some of us still on Bad Terrestrial Broadband (aka BT Broadband) can only dream of.

Of course, this will probably mean we will see less of Jarviser in the BT Forum and the BT-relevant bits of his website may not be kept quite as up to date as they have been (but most of his important information is unlikely to go out of date any time soon), but no doubt 3G Mobile broadband users will get the benefit of his knowledge. Indeed, he's already hard at work on a new HSDPA webpage.

So, on behalf of all those Bad Terrestrial Broadband customers who you have helped over recent times, thank you so much Jarviser!

And keep in touch. More of us may be heading for pastures new when contracts expire and HSDPA access opens up to us!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The BT Call Centre Experience


If you are unfortunate with your BT broadband experience, sooner or later you may be tempted to call the BT Call Centre, or report a fault by email.

STOP!

Before you do this, there are a few things you should try and a few more things you should know. With a bit of luck, you will be able to sort out may of the basic problems yourself. If you can't, then there are a few resources here in the UK who might already have the answer, or be able to offer useful advice that gets you up and running again.

There is some useful advice on the BT website, but it can be difficult to find and infuriatingly incomplete. But as a first step, you might as well take a look here at the 3 basic types of problem the BT website covers: My broadband doesn't work at all, it works intermittently, or it is slow. If you get really lucky, it might even work.

Better still, go and look at Jarviser's website and spend an hour reading everything, especially the "How to" and "Troubleshooting" sections. It will be time well spent. This is all tried and tested stuff, easy to read and Jarviser provides step-by-step instructions for all the critical bits. I would guess that solutions to most BT customer's problems can be found here.

Then try your luck on the BT Forums as detailed in the previous post.

If this fails to find a remedy, then you are just going to have to bite the bullet and contact BT. Before you do, make sure you have comfortable seat, a few hours to spare (seriously), plenty to eat and drink close to hand, a screwdriver or two, and a mobile phone. If you don't have all these with you, you are going to have problems. You should also adopt the attitude that you are going to enter a parallel universe where all vestiges of logic and sanity have been abandoned. In other words, you will need a great sense of humour and inner calmness. If you don't, get someone else to contact BT on your behalf.

I would suggest that having first read Jarviser's advice on complaining nicely to BT, and collected all the information he suggests, you begin your adventure by sending BT an email using the form here.

Describe the problem concisely, clearly and politely. With a bit of luck, someone who understands the problem will get back to you. Sometimes it can be a matter of minutes, or it might be days, it's very much the luck of the draw. The best thing about starting with an email is that it gets logged by BT. Emails are auditable documents and might prove useful at some point in the future if you need to take things further with OTELO or OFCOM; save all the replies you get as well.

With luck - BT will respond and sort out your problem just like that! Well, no, not exactly, not usually, and certainly not in my experience. Whether BT contact you, or you decide to contact them by phone on 0800 111 4567, what happens next is very similar and it all takes time.

Whoever contacts who, BT first line support will run through a scripted response which is designed for the lowest common denominator - the BT customer who just about knows how to turn their PC on. Keep patient - and if you've followed the advice from Jarviser and have all the information to hand and have tried all the obvious fixes, you can save literally yourself hours. The first time I contacted BT with a serious issue it took more than 4 hours on the phone to get the problem escalated, I recently helped a friend get an engineer in under 4 minutes - so it can be done.

If you are lucky, you will be speaking to someone with an easily understood Indian-English accent and who has a good knowledge of broadband in general, and BT products and problems in particular.

If you can't hear them clearly, or understand them, or it's clear they can't understand you, or they are slavishly sticking to the script in the face of everything you are telling them, then politely tell them what the problem is and ask them to get someone else to call you back. If they refuse, and some do, hang-up and start again. Record what happened and send BT an email detailing what happened - more evidence.

To give you an idea of the sorts of things the BT scripts cover, here is a typical one often sent out by email. The call centre uses a similar. but longer one.

(1) Power cycle.
Power-off both the router and the computer. Unplug all the cables connecting the router to the computer. Wait for 30 seconds. Re-plug the cables back. Power-on the devices.

(2) Check the physical set-up.
If the router is connected to the extension lead, try connecting it to the master socket (the point at which telephone line enters the premise). I would suggest you to connect the router to the master socket to get the most reliable connection.

(3) Check for other devices.
Please disconnect any other devices (Fax machine, Printer, Burglar alarm, if any) connected to the normal telephone line. Also check if you have any of the following devices that cause potential EM! (Electro Magnetic Interference) placed near the router and remove them. Otherwise, replace the computer and the router. These devices should not be placed in close vicinity of the router and the computer.
1. Halogen desk lamps with dimmers.
2. Any electrical dimmer switch.
3. Electronic devices, such as stereo speakers, PC speakers.
4. Televisions, monitors, microwave ovens, etc.
5. Routing the telephone line parallel to an AC power cord.
6. Electronic insect electrocution devices (bug zappers).
7. Low quality 900MHz cordless telephones.
8. Any other emitter of high frequency electromagnetic radiation.

(4) Check for faulty micro filters.
Swap the micro-filter and connect your router and check for the connection. You could do so by using the cable that connects your filter and the telephone base unit. If it is working fine, then there is a problem with the Micro-filter, so please replace it. You may also replace the micro-filter with the spare one and check the connection.

(5) Check Browser settings.
01. Open Internet Explorer (lE) or BT Yahoo! Browser.
02. Click on ‘Internet Options’ under ‘Tools’.
03. On the ‘General’ tab, click on ‘Clear History’.
04. Click ‘Yes’.
05. Select on ‘Delete Cookies’.
06. Click ‘Ok’.
07. Select ‘Delete Files’.
08. Check the option ‘Delete all offline content’.
09. Click ‘Ok’.
10. On the ‘Connections’ tab, click [LAN Settings ...].
11. Please make sure all boxes on the LAN screen are not checked.
12. On the ‘Advanced’ tab, click [Restore Defaults].
13. Click on ‘Apply’ then on ‘Ok’ and close the Internet Options window.

(6) Check for faulty home internal phone wiring.
1 Remove the faceplate of the Master socket with a screwdriver. This will
reveal a test socket on the right-hand side. This connects directly to the
exchange, by-passing your home phone wiring and extensions.
2. Plug your router or modem directly into this test socket via a micro-filter.
3. Restart the computer.

(7) Anti Virus and Firewall.
Disable the antivirus and firewall temporarily and check whether you find any marked improvement in the connection. Please Note: If the issue gets resolved after disabling the antivirus or firewall, you need to contact the antivirus helpdesk to re-configure the software so that it can support the best connection.

(8) Re-check the Broadband connection.

(9) If the earlier steps do not help then reset the router and perform the steps once again. Press the reset button at the rear end of the router for fifteen seconds. It is the Wireless Association button in the Home Hub. Recheck the connection.


OK, you get the idea. But, if you've done your homework (and only if you've really done it, if you don't want to get charged a call-out fee!), tell the nice call centre person whose name you have asked for, this and tell them that none of it works and you want to speak to a manager (or someone in the back room). First line support virtually always refuse to do this, but be insistent and you will eventually get passed to second line support - you may be kept waiting listening to grotty muzak. On rare occasions they will hang up on you and you have to start the whole rigmarole again - BT's version of snakes and ladders. At every stage ask for a fault number, ask for names, phone numbers and be politely insistent.

Eventually, you will get passed to someone in the UK, or someone who really knows their stuff at the call centre. If they identify a fault, they will usually be fairly prompt at sending an engineer out to fix it. If they can't find anything from their end, but you are confident there really is a fault, then insist on an Engineer's visit. Get it wrong, and there will be a callout charge!

Good Luck

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Getting Advice From The BT Forums


If you are unfortunate enough to be suffering from problems with your BT broadband, one of the best resources are the BT Forums. Now you would think that BT would flag these up in letters a mile high, but it can be surprisingly difficult to find them. There are other forums for BT Business Broadband users, but these do not seem particularly active and many business users just use the main forums for a quick response.

The most important thing to understand about the BT Forums is, that although they are hosted and moderated by BT staff, the people who give advice there are ordinary BT broadband customers like you and me. They have a wide range of IT experience and understanding, varying from broadband newcomers, to a few who have worked in IT and some who have worked for BT. The thing they have in common is that they have all suffered from broadband problems themselves, they have often found solutions to those problems, and they are willing to share these with others who might benefit. It is very much a self-help group.

Now an important tip before you start posting on the forum. Security on the BT forum site is, let's say, questionable, and there have been incidents over recent months where one users personal details have been visible to other users. Before signing up to the site, get yourself a disposable email address (eg Hotmail, Gmail, GMX, etc) that you don't mind getting rid of. Whatever you do, don't use your own name or main BT address.

Before you raise your specific problem, use the search facility on the site (top right of the main screen) to search for posts that might be relevant to the problem you are facing. If it's a common one, you will probably find several threads that deal with it and reading through them carefully might take you to the solution you need. Doing this might take you a little longer than posting straight away, but it stops the folks who might answer your question wasting their time answering the same question they may have answered only a few minutes, hours, or days before!

Lurk on the site for a few days. See who answers questions and whose answers seem to solve problems - and whose don't! That way, when you raise your own question you will be better placed to judge the value of the answers and suggestions.

Finally, before posting, collect some basic information that will help others help you. Questions such as: "Help, my broadband doesn't work and the BT Helpline won't listen to me"! are all too common and, not surprisingly, rarely get answered. The sort of information you will need to collect and post will depend on the exact nature of the problem, but the key to getting good quality advice is to provide the best description of the problem, and the circumstances under which it occurs, you can. Examples of the sort of information you might need to offer include:

- the make of your computer and operating system
- the make and model of the router or HomeHub you use
- whether you connect to your router by ethernet (cable) or wifi
- What type of BT socket you connect to - and whether it is an extension socket
- whether you have removed the bell-wire from your BT Master socket, or fitted an iPlate
- the speed of your connection collected using the BT Speedtester - not one of the quick speedtesters. Cut and paste the results into your question.
- what you have tried already
- whether you are using the BT broadband browser and wifi connection software
- what wifi channel you are using
- what firewall and antivirus you are using
- etc, etc.

The list could go on and on, but don't worry, those who answer will usually suggest other information that you might be able to provide, and how to collect it.

Don't, under any circumstances, put personal information like your name, address, phone number, main email address in your posts - it's just aking for trouble.

Be patient. Your question may get answered in a matter of seconds, or it might take a few days. It all depends who is online at the time.

Try not to offend against the forum rules. Most of the rules are sensible and designed to protect you and BT staff alike. Some rules are pretty inane in the circumstances and it is easy to offend against them. The most frequent "offence" is providing BT CEO Ian Livingston's email address (ian.livingston@bt.com). The forum moderators will either edit your post, delete it, warn you or ban you from the forum in extreme cases. The other things that get the forum moderators exercised are if you have the temerity to mention another ISP or telephony provider by name, or if you dare to even mention Phorm - BT's plan, regarded as odious and intrusive by some, for targeted advertising.

The final caveat, before you head off and raise a question on the BT Forums, is that people will try to give you the best advice they can, borne out of bitter experiences in most cases, but if it all goes wrong and things get worse, you have to remember that accepting the advice is at your own risk!

OK, off you go, ask the question!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

WiFi and InSSIDer



One of the most common complaints about the BT HomeHub 2.0 is the flakiness of the wifi. Some people find it works perfectly and I have been lucky enough never to have had too many problems with it, but a lot of people complain either that their wifi connections can be intermittent, or that some PCs can connect with no trouble and other machines refuse to work.

There are usually a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, many people make use of the BT software that comes with the hub. Not only does this give you a BT adapted version of Internet Explorer that you really don't need, the software also attempts to manage your wifi adapter using the BT Wireless Manager. The first recommendation is always to get rid of the BT software - for many it has caused more trouble than it is worth. Jarviser provides some good instructions for getting rid of the software here.

The second thing you should do is change your wifi channel. The default setting of the BT HomeHub seems to be an "Automatic" setting, but this can also cause some odd things to happen, so it is best to set a manual channel. Again, Jarviser provides clear instructions for doing this here.





Which channel should you select? Well, in an ideal world, you would experiment with all of them until you found one that gave you the best possible wifi signal in all the rooms you might want to use wifi. However, in areas where there might be a lot of wifi networks, you might want to find a channel that isn't being used by one of your neighbours. That is where InSSIDer comes in. It's a neat free programme that can be used to identify all the wifi networks in the vicinity and provides a graphical output which indicates the channel that a network is using and the signal strength and signal stability.

The top trace is typical of one you might see in a busy urban environment. Lots of wifi networks in range, using several channels. The trick here is going to be to find a gap that has few users with a low signal strength. The lower trace is my own, in a rural environment with only one network visible, even though I know there are at least 4 others within 50 metres. Whether you will see these other networks depends on a range of local factors including topography, the thickness of the walls of your own and neighbours houses and the power of the access points (AP).

Have fun with InSSIDer. You might find it a very useful program indeed. Please note that it will only work on a wifi enabled PC. It won't work from a PC connected to a router by ethernet. You may have to select the correct adapter from the drop down menu on the start page.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

RouterStats Just Gets Better


I wrote about RouterStats a couple of posts ago, but over the last few weeks it has got even better with many more functions designed for the Netgear DG series routers mentioned in the last post.

It's tempting to say that if you have internet problems and a bit of spare cash, it would be worth picking up one of these classic routers, just to be able to run RouterStats with its full functionality. There are some real bargains to be had at the moment and you should be able to pick one up for under £50.

The latest release version, RouterStats 5.0d, now allows you to produce a graph of the router bitloading, the signal to noise ratio in each of the frequency "bins" and the signal attenuation - as shown in the screen shot at the top of the page and the blow-up of the actual trace at the bottom. These are all useful bits of information to have when you are hit with a line fault. Click on either to see the detail.

There are also a raft of other forms of data that you can capture and present graphically: Rx and Tx (receive and transmit!) Sync speed and noise margin, Rx and Tx SF/RS errors, and Rx CRC errors, errored seconds and losses of framing.

Having had some major problems with my own broadband service, I understand how others struggle to get help from BT.

There is a lot of good information out there, but it can be hard to find. So this blog is an attempt to pull some of it together, in one place.

It's a blog that really shouldn't be needed - if only BT and possibly other ISP's in the UK, provided useful customer support.