Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Wires only FTTC

BT have said they will be launching wires only FTTC next year. It will be a bit cheaper than the engineer install, and means end users getting their own VDSL modem. On face value, this seems good.

However, this is going to be a problem in many ways. The big issue with ADSL is that it includes all of the grey areas of modem to modem communications over a copper pair. This means you cannot tell if a problem is the modem at the exchange, the copper pair in BT, the wiring in the home, or the modem at the customer premises. So BT can, and do, blame the end user modem as the cause of many problems. It means we have to replace the modem before we can really start shouting at BT to fix things, and even then they will still blame the customer equipment. It is the reason SFI charges were invented in the first place - charges that are more than many years profit on a typical ADSL line and take a lot of time to dispute every month.

With FTTC and the engineer install BT are providing an Ethernet service. I.e. it is a service at the Ethernet port on the BT VDSL modem. They can test up to and including the modem and even confirm if the modem can see the Ethernet port up or not.

It means any line issue, whether modem at either end or copper pair is always BT's responsibility to fix. FTTC faults are almost always "clear cut", BT see the same issue and get it fixed, and do not blame customer equipment or make a charge.

With wires only we open the whole can of worms that is SFI charges and blaming the customer equipment. It also does not fit with the underlying service being an Ethernet service. It is all very messy.

We have considered not offering this cheaper wires only install, largely because the saving will not be enough to cover buying a new VDSL modem, but also because of the fact that BT would no longer be responsible for the modem.

However, we can see a whole raft of issues. We'll need to keep careful records of which lines are engineer install and which are not. And, sadly, we have to do this even if we only offer engineer install as someone could migrate an FTTC service to us that was not engineer install. We have no idea if the checker or tools to BT will tell is whether it is or is not engineer install, and we obviously need to know when reporting faults.

We then have the issues with engineer installs where the end user happens to have changed the modem to one of their own. We have to know, and have to ask the end user to put the BT modem back for testing.

It is going to be a nightmare.

32 comments:

  1. For one brief happy moment I thought this meant a "broadband-only" FTTC line - which of course A&A already have by the backdoor route of ordering a voice line without connecting voice services to it, but it would be neater to have a matching underlying wholesale product.

    Unless BT are actually planning to charge the same price for both options (which would seem rather poor, when one includes more service than the other, as well as negating the advantage except for installation costs) they would have to tell you which it is during ordering: migrating a wires-only service to you would otherwise mean BT charging you for a service they aren't actually providing, or you'd discover which it is as soon as BT bill you for it anyway.

    I have mixed feelings really. For domestic settings, I like the idea of having the option of integrated modem-routers for VDSL as we do now for ADSL (though in fact, even on ADSL I ran bridged with a separate modem presenting PPPoE anyway), and I prefer the idea of having choice and control over the hardware used.

    A nice clear-cut "if you plug an HG612 straight into the test socket and the ISP-side tests fail, it's not SFI" would presumably help a lot here? That would rule out any quibbling about whatever modem the user's normally using, their internal wiring etc.

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  2. Part of the nightmare is already present, though, as people can already change the modem on their engineer-installed lines if they feel so inclined...

    Oh, and when you said "we have to do this even if we do not offer engineer install as someone could migrate an FTTC service to us that was not engineer install", presumably that should have been "even if we *only* offer engineer install"?

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  3. I understand your issue completely.
    But it would have been much better for me.
    I had to put off upgrading to FTTC for about 6 months because it was never convenient for me to take a day off work with sufficient notice to arrange an engineers visit. And all they did when they got here was plug the modem in and say "done".

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    1. The sensible way to handle it would be the BT to shove a preconfigured modem (which they are still technically responsible for) in the post and let you plug it in yourself, which I understand is exactly what Virgin do for people with existing lines...

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    2. The problem with self install is more to do with the internal wiring than the hardware though, surely. That's what the engineer install is supposed to address- they're supposed to leave you with in spec cabling as well as a managed modem

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    4. I'm all for an engineer install if they can come at the weekend. Taking a day off work so that I can watch someone swap a modem over isn't something I want to do.

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    5. The thing is, with an engineer install I'm not likely to leave the modem connected where the engineer plugs it in anyway, because I'm going to get him to plug it in to the master socket rather than poking around the inside of my data cabinet...

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  4. I sincerely hope you never do offer "wires only" FTTC - I would, to anyone asking, extol the benefits of the engineer install... far less argument when there is a fault being the main one.

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  5. Maybe it's a business decision - keep their engineers busy and paid for SFI tasks, whilst not having to send them out to install equipment.

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  6. I would suggest a *huge* disclaimer stating that you really do not recommend "wires only" installs, and that if taken there will be support implications.

    Then specify exactly how much longer the diagnosis steps will be.

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  7. Having to book time off work is a bit of a hassle and it would be nice to have a modem that you could log into for stats etc

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    1. Weigh this up with having to take time off work because you have three SFI engineer visits...!

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  8. What happens if a user modifies the firmware on a Openreach supplied modem,say to tweak the SNR

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    1. Technically at the moment you can't - the demarc is at the Ethernet port and anything before that is BT property. They could raise a charge for putting it back to default, just as they can if you modify the master socket.

      In practice they pretty much never do because the engineers aren't looking for it and don't really care unless you really screw things up.

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    2. And, to be quite frank about it, it is not really our problem. If someone, even the end user, interferes with BTs network, that is a matter between BT and that person directly. What BT can't do is charge us and expect us to charge the end user, any more than they could charge us if someone drove in to a street cab. Given the hassle of directly charging the end user for damage, I expect BT would just forget about it.

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    3. I don’t understand how that could work RevK… Surely the contract is with yourselves and in turn you have a contract with BT.

      Wouldn’t BT come after you and you’d in turn go after your end user?

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    4. This is nothing to do with the contract - damage to BTs side of the network is a tort or criminal issue. As I say, just the same as someone driving in to a cab. If that someone happened to be our customer we would not expect BT to bill us for the new cab expecting us to bill our end user.

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  9. +1 for wires only. BT "modem" doesn't provide any stats and the Cisco 887VA seems rock solid on FTTC *and* supports decent monitoring. Any modem that doesn't support some for of user monitoring isn't fit for purpose IMHO. Oh, and BT randomly upgrade the firmware on their modem when they feel like it - that can introduce bugs without any rollback capability.

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  10. I'd go for wires-only FTTC if it came without a minimum service period. I'm moving house in a few months, so the present minimum service period of 12 months makes it too expensive to order at my current address.

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  11. I'd love to see the fee for the FTTC install come down. I'd have gone for a wires only install if it had been available. The idea of paying £100 for someone to come out, swap some wires and fit a new NTE5 & filter didn't appeal, especially when BT seem to do a cut down rate for people taking up their own infinity product. Went for it in the end though, and at least I got the engineer to replace the old, corroded, GPO junction box while she was here, so not all bad.

    +1 for the Cisco 887VA being rock solid on FTTC . The openreach modem has never been out of the box.

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    1. I've just ordered an 887VA myself. Officially, the routing throughput is only 25 Mbps, though I've read it can actually handle full 80/20 FTTC with a simple enough ruleset as long as CEF is enabled.

      In an ideal world, I think I'd get a /30 - one IPv4 for it, another for my existing firewall machine - and leave the firewall handling NAT for legacy IP. being on Home::1 that doesn't seem to be an option, so I'll either try static NAT or get the 887VA handling NAT instead and hope it can keep up. Do you use it for IPv4 NAT, and if so what's your performance like?

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    2. I don't run NAT on the 887, though a friend of mine does, on an 80/20 FTTC service, and I've yet to hear him complain about performance or speed. In my own case I've only a 40/10 rated FTTC, though I'm more than happy with the speed through the router and I've not exactly got a straightforward ruleset on there. I've run a nat overload setup on previous Cisco routers, namely an 837 and an 877 and never had a performance issue with the NAT. I can't see you having any issues with your new 887VA.

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    3. Thanks - apparently the 25 Mbit/sec figure from Cisco is based on 64 byte packets, so as soon as you move to reasonable packet sizes full FTTC speeds shouldn't be a problem for it. A box marked "Cisco" just arrived this afternoon, so barring mishaps I should be getting an idea of the performance for myself by the weekend!

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  12. What would happen if a customer without an NTE5 master socket placed an order for a wires only installation ? Would the ISP realise at order time that the installation would fail ?

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    1. I don't think the ISP would have any way of knowing if there's an NTE5 or not, besides asking the customer. My suspicion is that the installation itself wouldn't fail: BT would enable VDSL on the line, but the customer either wouldn't be able to connect the modem at all (no BT socket) or not get good results (not able to split the VDSL signal off at the point of entry), so they'd then have to raise a separate order with BT (or their phone provider) to get an NTE5 installed so the service will work properly.

      Probably just something else for the ISP to add to their checklist for orders.

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    2. My point was that an engineer install of FTTC would, AIUI, result in an NTE5 being fitted as part of the installation at no extra charge. If I were to order wires only FTTC and it didn't work properly because of the absence of an NTE5, then I would expect the ISP to sort it out at no extra charge to me.

      I realise that Openreach wouldn't see it that way, but I don't see why I'd have to pay extra to get an NTE5 fitted just because BT haven't keep my line/master socket up to current standards. And don't get me started on ancient dropwire....

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    3. Presumably this issue has existed for years now since it would apply equally to an ADSL wires-only service: A&A would pay BT to enable ADSL on your line, post you out a modem-router to plug in - and you'd discover you have no socket for it to plug in to, and need to contact BT to arrange an NTE5 installation.

      How many people out there would have such an old line, without even ADSL (or indeed modern handsets!) and want to jump straight to a DIY installation of FTTC, without realising it wouldn't be an option because they have no socket for it? Obviously, someone in such a situation should opt for the engineer install instead; trying to cut corners ordering a cheaper installation type which isn't suitable would probably just lead to a delay in service while the engineer visit gets ordered (and charged for) anyway, since it's required. On the bright side, it would be rather cheaper: something like £25+VAT for the NTE5, rather than about four times that for FTTC in the absence of special offers.

      BT does waive the NTE5 installation charge for certain types of customer even now; I seem to recall it used to be free for anyone having an old-style line, you just had to request the conversion.

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    4. Sorry, looks like I didn't make myself clear at the start. Supposing a customer has a master socket, but it's pre-NTE5 (for example, see http://www.kitz.co.uk/adsl/btsockets.htm). Wires-only ADSL wouldn't have been a problem. But if a wires-only FTTC install demands that one fits a splitter frontplate to an NTE5 master socket, then there's an issue.

      But, worse still, not every customer in this position will know that they have this issue (if I hadn't worked for 30+ years in telecoms I wouldn't know about types of master socket). So either ISPs will need to ask the customer questions before accepting wires-only FTTC orders, or work out how to deal with the battle between the customer and BT Openreach about who pays to update Openreach's infrastructure.

      BT will waive the installation fee for a master socket for some customers. But replacing a working master socket with an NTE5 is chargeable - unless you're having FTTC installed.

      The bottom line is that I wouldn't pay for BT Openreach to upgrade their infrastructure, I'd expect either Openreach or the ISP to swallow the cost. Knowing Openreach, they'd charge the ISP - and I think Adrian's point was that this would kill many years' profit on a line.

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    5. Wires only FTTC would work the same as wires only ADSL. I.e. plug in filters would work.

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    6. Ah, sorry about that, I've been a plonker then. Disregard this whole thread.

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  13. At the risk of sounding self-contradictory, go for BT engineer-install, to safeguard against the random BT charges risk.

    _But_

    I would much appreciate a choice of AA-recommended PPPoE modems, just as currently, you can buy ADSL2 modems from AA, which AA can support and truly trust, without some random evil BT firmware in them. (Remember recent FTTC bugs, remember the PHORM scandal.) It would be great it have a modem that has AA's recommendation behind it and AA-approved firmware in it.

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