Fork me on GitHub

Before the wounds of not having Internet and the diabolical time getting Internet in the UK heal, let me tell you a story, a story perhaps explaining my lack of progress with Webconverger for the last couple of weeks.

Before the turn of the new year I took over the lease for my rented accommodation in Woking, UK. Rented accommodation in the eyes of the powers that be is already setting yourself up for disaster. Most suppliers you'll do business with will have no system for dealing with your landlord and their tenants.

I took over the house when it had a BT business line previously setup up by house mate who left. I called BT beforehand explaining that I would be taking over the line. Though since I am personally not a business (despite what you might think) and a BT business line is in fact more expensive than a residential line, I was passed off to BT residential. In hindsight I should have probably made Webconverger foot the cost.

So after talking to BT residential in late December 2007, everything seemed to be OK for the change over. Except my new ISP BE, needed a MAC code for the broadband. Unfortunately BT business would not give me this code and I had to get my ex-housemate on the line to get identify himself for the code. Nevermind that the line should be mine.

After the holiday BE's crappy ADSL2+ modem arrived. I plugged it in and it didn't work. I expected the modem to be configured for my 'PRO' order, yet I had to call them up for them to tell me the settings I need to input into modem. Their support number is a "toll free" number from a landline, but I don't have a landline phone. I only have a mobile which charges a fortune for calling 0808 numbers.

So ADSL2+ seemed to work. While I was on the line I asked the upload channel to be increased, which they did. So I was getting 200kB/sec up which was nice. I typically build Webconverger ISOs locally and upload, hence I need a good upload channel to deliver the finished product. Uploading is typically a pain on ADSL and typical home access points. I believe the problem is the upload channel gets full and doesn't properly handle ACKs. The result is a long running ADSL upload renders the Internet connection close to useless. So I usually have to upload overnight, which is a pain.

There were connection errors and sadly the upload channel never seemed to reach the first 2 mbit speeds which I had experienced when I first tried. Anyway I was quite happy with the BE connection, until the 8th of January when I came home to find the Internet connection wasn't working.

After an expensive 10 minute call to BE technical support in Siberia (ok, eastern Europe somewhere), they told me line is disconnected at the exchange. It would have been nice if they'd called me to tell me that BT had disconnected my line. Anyhoo, I call up BT residential.

BT residential says they couldn't finish the take over as my line is and still is a "working line". So then BT pushed me to BT business and back again. I recorded I spoke to at least seven BT people, was on the phone for at least an hour and made an order to be reconnected twice. So I quickly learnt that BT residential and BT business are completely separate and can't seem to co-ordinate. Only after completing an order could there be a possible date of my Internet reconnection. Far into the future.

Since Webconverger is an Internet service, its business can't operate without Internet for weeks! I ended the call and rang back on January the 18th and still the order was not in their system. The last person said they could only get me connected by the 11th of February for 130GBP. Which is a little crazy.

Nevermind all this MAC code transferral that needs to happen with the ISP at the exchange... At this stage I was desperate to go for an alternative.

Enter VirginMedia

Since my newly lease rented house has cable, I do have an alternative to BT. Cable is monopolised by VirginMedia and they seem to running the cable network to the ground.

If you search around for NTL (old cable company) or VirginMedia, you will find hundreds of disgruntled customers venting their frustration. Err... not a good sign! I am actually quite lucky to have cable. My neighbour enquired about cable and Virgin replied say they won't do any new installs. So if you don't have already have a cable installation in your new home in the UK, don't expect to be able to get it!!

Signing up for cable from Virgin is quite tricky. They offer ADSL broadband too and if you are not careful you might actually order BT line rental, ADSL, mobile phone, some television package and some sort of credit card deal. And not the cable Internet you wanted.

In fact if you just want cable Internet and not any of the other Virgin offers like BT line rental, it's actually more expensive. So you're almost forced to buy more than one service from Virgin... crazy.

Virginmedia selling BT line rental seems a little bizarre to me. As someone with a BT line can now get ADSL instead of their cable Internet package. So they are effectively trying to sell a product that rivals their own. Like Microsoft did with Internet Explorer. Pushing a Web platform that rivals their own Win32 platform. Silly business.

Virgin topside

I ordered the 37GBP a month XL package, in mind to trial it for 30 days. It arrived in two days in a package with a lot of network cable. I plugged it in and guess what? It didn't work, it needed Internet Explorer. Once again I was supposed to call a number to register. A premium number I previously barred from calling from my mobile. Instead I tried to find a computer with Windows on it.

Eventually I managed to sign up with a Win32 machine and get VirginMedia working. My friend went through the pain and agony of filling in their brain dead forms. Why can't they setup the modem beforehand?

Stupidly they sent me two logins which arrived in separate posts. One with my name spelt incorrectly and one login with my name spelt correctly. Guess which one worked? So after pointlessly registering (they should have all my details already) with a wrong name, I had sweet Internet!

Was it fast?! YES, until the connection was more than a couple of seconds old. Once again promises of 20 mbit are very far from the truth. I suspect there is some traffic shaping going on which severely limits the connection. I would say download speed is an optimistic 10mbit and upload again an exaggerated 2 mbit. At least that's how it starts, then the connection seems to get limited to a quarter of that speed. Very, very poor VirginMedia. :(

Worth mentioning is comedy that is their cable Internet hardware. If you connect a different computer to it or try change a setting, you have to turn it off for 2 minutes. Really, you do!

I did call their technical support on the expensive number 0906 212 1111 to see if I would get someone knowledgeable on the other end of the line. I was connected to India. All he could tell me is my Internet connection seemed to work. Yes, what about errors and speeds dude? He did tell me their service status number 0800 561 0061 then once connected your area code (e.g. 01483), one, one. So now I can find out if there is a problem.

Choices

So what should I do? I did manage to get hold of nice BT operator who wouldn't charge me 130GBP to get reconnected. Seems like operators charge frustrated customers more money. Though the BT line would only be working once my 30 day trial of VirginMedia expired. And would the BE ISP working once the line comes up (on a new number)? Very risky.

I called up VirginMedia to find out exactly when the last day of the trial was. Whilst on the line to the cancellation/disconnection department, they lowered my package cost from 37GBP to 29GBP. I wasn't looking for a discount, I just wanted to know the last day of my trial!

So BT line rental is about 12GBP and the "BE Pro" package is 22GBP a month = 34GBP BE I estimate is about a '12mbit down, 2mbit up' line. However it seems to suffer from errors, instability and higher latencies compared to my Virgin Media connection. However it could not compare cable and ADSL lines as well as I'd like to as they were never working alongside each other. :/

So since VirginMedia seems to be working and is slightly cheaper I decided to cancel my BT order(s) and cancel BE. BE or the O2 group actually cost me the most out of this fiasco. They have charged for more than a month and a cancellation fee of 40GBP. So at least 80GBP for one week of Internet. Whatever happened to my statutory rights??

I will avoid BT residential or business like the plague. Their operators might actually be English, but their customer service is terrible.

Recommendations

If I was OFCOM I would probably waste my time trying to rectify some of my complaints. I know it won't happen. Right now I just feel like moving back to Korea. Where 100mbit symmetrical connections on fiber is like the baseline.

If you like this, you might like the UK fibre optic essay. This Wikipedia entry on FTTH shows the terrible state of fast Internet connectivity in the UK. With OpenReach charging like wounded Rhino, consider moving.