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
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.