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.
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.