Monday, 30 March 2015

I wonder if we need to get OFCOM involved

There is a serious issue with SFI charges, as I keep ranting on. This is because BT have pushed and pushed and pushed to stitch up ISPs, even when there is a genuine fault in the service they sell us.

The issue is not unique to BT "Wholesale" but also carriers like Talk Talk.

Both buy copper pairs from BT "Openreach", who have a monopoly on doing any work on that pair. They cannot send their own engineers to fix the copper pair to resolve broadband related issues, they have to ask BT "Openreach".

The problem is that BT "Openreach" offer "SFI2" as a service, and that is clearly defined as an engineer who will test a line to SIN349 (and fix if it does not meet it). The engineer might do more work to try and fix broadband issues, but might not, it seems. All he has to do is prove to SIN349.

This means that neither BT "Wholesale" nor Talk Talk have any way to get an "Openreach" engineer to fix broadband specific issues on the line. But they cannot send their own engineers either.

It seems that, from what I can see, there is no official way for a carrier offering broadband to get broadband issues fixed. All they offer us is BT "Openreach's" SFI2 service, for which they charge.

Surely Openreach need to offer this type of engineer, and surely the carriers need to absorb any cost for such engineering work on the basis that they sell a broadband service, and not a phone line, to ISPs like us.

The current situation means that nobody can properly offer a working broadband service using BT copper pairs - a situation that surely needs OFCOM intervention.

Or have I missed the bleeding obvious?


  1. You've misse the obvious -they don't actually give a damn whether what they sell actually works or not. It's just a vehicle for making money.

  2. It seems like the 'simplest' path would be an update to SIN349 so that its fit for purpose, that should also involve the least amount of process change as then SFI2 can be used as it currently is and provided SIN349 is written correctly BT Openreach will then be responsible for fixing the fault on the line and there won't be a charge?

    Ok I know that none of this is simple in a telco world but avoiding process change and just updating a spec should be less involved and have less opportunity for getting it wrong than trying to create a new process/product which would end up being revenue driven.

    So the question is who is the keeper of SIN349, Is it BT. BT Openreach or OFCOM? Given that its being used as a standard in the UK i can't help but feel it should be owned by ofcom with input from all industry groups.

    1. Well, not quite - there will be a disparity between what wholesale sell (broadband) and what openreach (copper pairs). Also, the broadband issue may not be on the copper, yet SFI engineers get involved in arranging a re-jumpering or lift and shift or other work in wholesale and then charge.

  3. Ofcom should have been involved in this farce many years ago, how it has gone on for so long is mystifying, Getting a decent broadband service on a line that isn't next to a cabinet (FTTC) or an exchange is a joke in this country as NOTHING will be done about it by BT to make it good, they are just not interested.

  4. As I understand it, TalkTalk owns the DSLAM, OR owns the copper pair and NTE5, the customer owns everything their side of the NTE5. So why can TalkTalk not send an engineer to test between their end (where the pair is connected to the DSLAM) and the socket on the front of the NTE5? They would be able to determine whether the copper pair meets their requirements.

    If TT have contracted OR to provide a pair that meets a higher standard than SIN349 then they should be able to present their test results to OR and demand it meets the contracted spec.

    If TT have only contracted OR to provide SIN349 lines then they can't very well complain that OR are only complying with SIN349 (and so TalkTalk need to take it on the chin for reselling a SIN349 line as something more than it is, possibly install a brand new line that meets a higher standard at their own cost).

    Or have I missed something about how TalkTalk's relationship with OR works?

    Is BT Wholesale in exactly the same position as TT in this respect? i.e. who owns the DSLAM?

    1. Yes, spot on - but no reason Openreach could not offer TT a chargeable service to try and get a line above SIN349 to address an broadband issue (and TT pay for that, not the ISP). It is all a mess. Yes, BTW work the same to OR as TT (expect BTW is BT plc and so are OR).

    2. Right, so this isn't really a case of "TT/BTW can't send an engineer to test this", it is more "they don't think they should, but no one else is going to do it". It seems to me that if they actually did send their own engineers out, they would be able to put a lot more pressure on OR to fix the pair since they would have actual test results that very clearly pin the issue on the copper pair and nothing else.

      I do wonder what OR is actually contracted to provide (by BTW and TT) in terms of a copper pair - if they are only contracted to provide something that meets SIN349 then this would be much the same as you selling an 80Mbps line to a customer and them demanding that you "fix" it because they can't download at 500Mbps.

    3. I am sure they only contract to get SIN349, but that is not really our problem - they sell us (working) broadband, not SIN349, so they need to ensure they buy the services and resources necessary to provide what they sell us!

    4. Yeah, sounds like the problem is mostly that TT/BTW are trying to push the copper pair beyond what they have contracted it to do and then not taking responsibility for this. They should be contracting OR to provide a copper pair that meets their requirements.

      Of course, as OR is a monopoly, there is absolutely zero incentive for them to ever offer such a product - regulation definitely needed. If the government wants people to have >= 24Mbps connections (which is what they seem to be aiming at through the connectionvouchers scheme) then they need to force OR to provide copper pairs that actually meet this requirement instead of expecting BTW/TT to use underspecced cables and then sell that underspecced service on to the ISPs.

    5. That's the real problem here I think - as I recall, Openreach were supposed to provide the copper pair (to SIN349) for LLU operators and BTWholesale. For that, Openreach's fault handling would be fine: if their copper between my house and, say, TalkTalk's DSLAM/MSAN goes bad, that's an Openreach fault; if the copper is still up to spec but there's a problem with the DSL service on top, that's either a problem at the user end, or the DSLAM - not Openreach's problem either way.

      Of course, Openreach doing VDSL, yet still refusing to provide a line which supports it, complicates matters...

      What you really need are three different testing products/services - testing each segment of the service you buy separately, including the DSL port and the backhaul from there to A&A. "Are packets getting between our port and the DSLAM reliably at the appropriate bitrate?" seems to be a key question - and actually one for Wholesale rather than Openreach (so, for TT-backhaul, perhaps something they could offer you independently of BT?)

  5. Well, for the most part, ADSL works well at getting the best from the copper pair - and for the most part the pair is as good as the pair is. The issue is faults, when a pair fails, either permanently bad, or intermittent, or, of course any number of ways elsewhere in the network and backhaul.

    We have had BT insist the *only* way to get a PPP fault progressed is to book an SFI2 engineer. This is a problem!

  6. As much as it hurts, Ofcom are part of the problem.

    They have pushed for mass adoption via cheap services which is why they love LLU. A side effect of this is the likes of BT will look for ways to recover any lost revenue and one such way is to make openreach visits profitable. So if Ofcom were to try and improve the situation BT would likely tell them if they do then they have to increase wholesale line rental to compensate or something of that nature.

    Funny enough my current isp has never tried to charge me for visits but I have had a LOT of wasted time on these visits as they turn up, do basic line tests on their JDSU, claim nothing is wrong and leave. They have done this even with speeds 10s of mbits below the BTw estimate and with a failed GEA test. I did eventually get a pair swap which fixed the situation but took a LOT of visits.

    1. They seem to be blurring the distinction between throughput and sync rate with FTTC anyway - there's no way to log into the stock BT VDSL modem and check what the sync rate is(*), and they just advise using the BT speed tester instead (which obviously only measures end-to-end throughput rather than sync rate).

      * Ok, so I opened my VDSL modem and "accidentally" soldered a serial header onto the board so I could log in and look at the sync rate, but officially you're not supposed to do this :)

      Reminds me, I must get around to talking to my ISP about low speeds - it's syncing at the full 40Mbps but I'm getting under 20 (OR engineer said his tester happily synced at 100Mbps when he installed it, although the modem has been moved since then). Just need to be sure it isn't my router doing something odd first.

  7. Maybe our (next) government might realise that SIN349 based service is outdated and push for real fibre roll-out, not limited to the 4x3 posters with a small footprint "Fibre only at some point in our network but nowhere near your premises".