Update on broadband connection problems

BT Voyager 2500V modem router upside down

The good news is that BT technical support telephoned me when they said they would. The bad news is that I missed Ross Noble Live on Radio 4 as a result of the call. Oh yeah, and I still have a broadband connection problem.

Here’s what happened. I received the call from someone from BT support, I didn’t catch her name, she sounded Indian, was very well spoken, polite and courteous. After the initial introductions she got down to business.

Customer Support #1: Are you still experiencing the same problem of an intermittent broadband connection?

Gareth: Yes.

Customer Support #1: I have an e-mail here from you to say that you followed all our instructions and you are still experiencing the same problem.

Gareth: Yes.

At which point I’m thinking, well if you know that already why did you ask me?

Customer Support #1: Now, can you tell me, does the power light stay on when you have this problem?

Gareth: I don’t know.

Customer Support #1: Can you please take a look and tell me.

Gareth: Well, not really because the problem is intermittent. Sometimes it drops the connection every two minutes, other times it’s up for 3 hours before it happens, and it is on just now so I can’t tell you.

Then she went through each of the points on their original e-mail once more just to make sure that I wasn’t a complete numpty who couldn’t read English or be bothered to actually try anything that they’d suggested.

Customer Support #1: So did you try it with a different microfilter? … blah blah blah … changed cables … blah blah blah … offered a sacrifice to Mercury the god of communication … tried the test socket on the master phone socket?

Gareth: Yes.

Customer Support #1: So your router is now currently plugged into the test socket, is it?

Gareth: No. Oh, sorry I didn’t realise that it had to be plugged into the test socket.

Customer Support #1: That’s ok Mr Sanders (sic). If you could please plug it into the test socket now. I’ll hold while you do this.

And that’s where the real fun began.

The master socket, as its name suggests, is where the phone line coming into the house terminates. Any other phone sockets that we have scattered around the house (there are another four!) are slaves to this master socket. Unscrewing the face plate of the master socket reveals what’s called a test socket, and as soon as you remove the face plate the slave sockets are disconnected — this is presumably so that the master socket can be tested without any interference from the satellite sockets. It’s quite a clever design really.

Our master socket is in the hallway, so assured that my nice Indian customer service lady would hold while I moved camp to the hallway, Jane gathered up the Voyager 2500V, power and DSL cables, while I set to work spilling the entire contents of the shredder beneath Jane’s desk on the way to unplugging the microfilter.

Seconds later we were in the hallway. I plugged in the cables, Jane plugged in the power cable and switched it on. As it began the boot-up sequence I picked up the wireless phone.

Gareth: Hello? … hello?

Nothing!

Gareth: Hello? … hello?!! Are you still there?

Still nothing.

And then I realised that I’d unplugged the base unit from the microfilter, so the phone cable was sitting on the study floor and not actually connected to the phone line at all.

D’oh!

A few seconds later I was on my hands and knees once again beneath Jane’s desk plugging in the second microfilter and the phone’s base station.

Still still-nothing!

I phoned our phone with Jane’s mobile. It rang. Only it didn’t ring, if you understand me. It was ringing in the earpiece of Jane’s phone, but the actual telephone on the desk in front of me wasn’t ringing.

My second epiphany of the evening. Remember that thing I said about when you remove the master socket’s face plate it disconnects the satellite phones? Yeah! …

When the customer service lady rang back I was sitting comfortably in the middle of the hallway with an old school, wired phone plugged into the microfilter that was hanging out of the test socket.

Customer Support #1: Hello Mr Sanders (sic) well, it would appear that you’ve carried out our instructions but are still experiencing the same problem.

Gareth: Yes.

Yes! YES! I’d noticed that too. Which was why once I’d tried what they’d suggested I’d e-mailed them back to tell them that. Clearly this was the kind of bad news that they needed to hear for themselves.

Customer Support #1: I’m going to pass you on to our Faults Deptartment, if you could please hold.

Gareth: Sure.

I held.

I’m remarkably patient sometimes.

I continued to hold.

Blimey the cat’s litter tray doesn’t half smell just now.

Customer Support #1: Hello Mr Sanders (sic)?

Gareth: Hello.

Customer Support #1: Thank you for holding. I’ve managed to speak with someone from our Fault Department …

Gareth: Great! (Thinks: what with that being what you set out to do.)

Customer Support #1: I’m going to pass you on to him now.

Gareth: Er… okay. Erm … Thank you?

Customer Support #2: Hello Mr Sanders (sic)…

And do you know what? I had to go through the same thing all over again, at the end of which I was told that he’d have to pass the matter on to the telephone exchange who could test the line and call me back within 24-48 hours.

Twenty five minutes to answer the same questions that I’d been e-mailed and had replied to, passed on to two people in two different departments only to be told that neither of them could help me. I’d have to be passed on to the Wizard of Oz himself who lives in another department. But at least I’d managed to pass the test and be granted an audience with him and his magic line-testing equipment.

The trial continues.

10 thoughts on “Update on broadband connection problems”

  1. Hahaha! What a great idea!

    What I have done, which was the only thing I hadn’t tried, is replace the RJ11 cable that connects the microfilter to the modem/router. (That’s the cable with two identical small, square-ended plugs that look like mini network cables (RJ45).)

    I found the replacement one in my Big Boy’s Box of Interesting Geeky Toys. It’s for a Psion modem!

    And so far, the connection has stayed up for over 3 hours. I’m going to laugh if that was the problem!

  2. Hi Gareth,

    This may be an obvious question (and my apologies if it is!) but do you have microfilers plugged into all your sockets – extensions and master?

    When I originally set my gateway/router up, it wasn’t obvious (to me anyway, ahem!) that this needed to be done. The result was a very iffy noise to signal ratio on the gateway which meant that the box could sometimes grab the ADSL link and sometimes not. Took me weeks of trial and error before I stumbled across the solution. The problem repeated when one of the young people in our house ‘accidentally’ unplugged a microfilter without telling anyone. Or could be that one of your microfilters got bashed in the house move perhaps? What S/N ratios is your box reporting?

    Cheers,
    Martin

  3. Hi Martin,

    does that mean EVERY socket, even if there is nothing plugged into them?

    Here are the statistics from my router log:

    Line Mode G.DMT Line State Show Time
    Latency Type Interleave Line Up Time 00:23:05:36
    Line Coding Trellis On Line Up Count 14

    Statistics Downstream Upstream
    Line Rate 8096 Kbps 448 Kbps
    Noise Margin 11.3 dB 20.0 dB
    Line Attenuation 19.0 dB 8.5 dB
    Output Power 19.8 dBm 12.1 dBm
    K (number of bytes in DMT frame) 254 15
    R (number of check bytes in RS code word) 20 16
    S (RS code word size in DMT frame) 1 8
    D (interleaver depth) 64 4
    Super Frames 4890360 4890358
    Super Frame Errors 355 2
    RS Words 665089072 41568043
    RS Correctable Errors 30341 12
    RS Uncorrectable Errors 22646 0
    HEC Errors 289 0
    OCD Errors 41 0
    LCD Errors 0 0
    ES Errors 0 0

    And 23 hours is now the longest that it’s been up in the last week, which has to be good news.

  4. Hi Gareth,

    does that mean EVERY socket, even if there is nothing plugged into them?

    Exactly, yes it does! Installation instructions always tend to be vague on this detail – perhaps because you can get away with it in some situations and not in others. It took me ages trawling through online forums before I picked up on this nugget of information. Fortunately microfilters are cheap!

    Your figures above look quite respectable (and I’m jealous of your 8Mb data rate! Here in the sticks of the English home counties I can only get 1Mb – and that only recently upgraded from 512Kb!). But we try to fit digital pegs into an analog world! Obviously the figures are not going to look disasterous – you had a connection. But the line attenuation (and hence the noise margin) will vary up and down with the time of day, weather, temperature, traffic, load at the exchange, number of birds resting on the line, whether Easter falls early this year, etc. And below a certain noise margin, your box will drop the connection.

    The microfilters on unused extensions essentially stop them acting as aerials in the house – and so improve the noise margin figure seen at your box by quite a few dB – and hence will hopefully stop it falling over.

    Cheers,
    Martin

  5. Thanks Martin,

    I’ll give that a go. I also got a telephone call from the BT Broadband Line Test people to say that my line should now be okay, which implied that there was something amiss.

    The connection has now been up for 1 day and 2 hours, which is the longest it has remained connected for a week. So that is good news.

    I got a good response by e-mail from my friend Rich who suggested that I turn my router the right way up! And as for my 8 Mbps connection, I do feel very fortunate. In Edinburgh I had a 10 Mbps cable connection with Telewest Blueyonder, then in Cellardyke my connection averaged out around 4-5 Mbps. At the university my connection is fabulously quick: I downloaded a 25MB file in 7 seconds the other day.

  6. Hi Gareth

    Guess what I have been through the endless try this / tick that / reinstall it etc etc loop, so I would be *very* interested to know if buying microfilters for your unused phone sockets did in fact cure the problem. I have never heard that suggested before, certainly not by customer “service” reps at the end of a 50p per minute helpline.

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