BT Broadband finally fixed… maybe BT does care after all

BT speed test results: 16.8 Mb connection to exchange

It has taken me a couple of weeks to write this post. I didn’t want to be overly hasty; I didn’t want to make claims that I couldn’t substantiate. But our broadband connection, which has been a bit flaky since early December, and downright annoying since late January has finally been fixed, after five visits from BT Openreach engineers (one in December, two in February, two in March).

The story so far…

During that time we had the following work done:

  • BT Home Hub 3 replaced for a newer Home Hub 4.
  • Line faults (over 3,000 of them, apparently) cleared from the networking equipment in our street.
  • Master socket changed.
  • Master socket moved from hallway to living room.
  • Changed which pair of wires connects our master socket to the exchange.
  • Powerline adapter changed.

None of this fixed the issue of our broadband connection dropping randomly throughout the day; at most over 100 times a day.

Engineer #5

When the fifth BT Openreach engineer rolled up my spirits lifted a little. This chap—Andy Smith, I think his name is—had visited us about a year ago to resolve a similar issue and he had gone beyond the call of duty to fix our connection by disconnecting all the unused extensions around the house which resulted in a 2Mb increase in download speed.

Like any good physician, he listened to my tale of woe before getting to work checking connections, running line speeds, investigating the BT box in the street. But he returned looking quite glum, reporting that all the tests returned fine: there is definitely not a line fault BUT he could see from his results that there was a problem, he just couldn’t put his finger on it. There was nothing else he could do.

PPP LCP Send Termination Request [User request]

I ran upstairs to fetch a piece of paper that I wanted him to see. It was a print out of the error log the last time it went down. I had noticed that preceding each drop out the error log reported “PPP LCP Send Termination Request [User request]”.

He read the error log and stroked his chin (metaphorically if not literally). “Hmmm…. PPP? Point-to-point protocol. That’s to do with connection not sync speed.”

Then he looked up at me. “That’s all a bit beyond me, to be honest. I don’t understand what it all means…”

My heart sank.

“… but I do know someone who does!” He got out his mobile phone, called a colleague, and then spoke gobbledegook for ten minutes before calling me down the stairs again.

The plan was to “move [me] to new broadband equipment at the exchange”. The engineer at the other end of the phone had already done it from his end, but Andy needed to drive to the exchange and physically swap our network cable from one piece of kit to another. It would take about 10 minutes.

Fixed

And that was it. Fixed! We had a steady, solid, fast connection for over 7 days before it performed another reboot, but it looks like this was just to re-sync the speed; it did it again this afternoon.

And as for @BTCare…

A few weeks ago, in the midst of our most frustrating experience of BT broadband I wrote a very disappointed blog post. I’m sorry I felt that I had to write that post, because as I had said before and as I have waxed lyrical to many people over the years on the whole I’ve found @BTCare to be a world-class customer service experience.

It did the job, however. Twenty minutes after posting that mild diatribe, I took a call from Niall at BTCare. “How are you today?” he asked.

“I’m really disappointed,” I said, quite honestly.

Niall was very apologetic about not getting in touch when he said he would. He never missed another call again. He called each time he said he would, and he faithfully kept up to date with the progress of my support incident.

In short, Niall actually did restore my confidence in BTCare—it just goes to show the difference that one person can make on behalf of the company they represent in changing attitudes. By the end of it I certainly felt that Niall from BT cared, and Andy Smith from BT Openreach cared, even if BT itself was still maybe a little ambivalent about me, so long as I kept paying my monthly bills.

Which reminds me, they offered me a refund on my broadband connection back to the date in January that this portion of the incident was first reported.

A very enthusiastic and heartfelt thank you to Niall at BTCare, and Andy Smith (?) at BT Openreach.

I’ve lost confidence in @BTCare

BTCare on Twitter... although I'm not so sure now that they do

UPDATE 1: About 20 minutes after posting this I got a phone call from @BTCare. I have an engineer booked to visit on Tuesday morning.

UPDATE 2: Engineer visited on Wednesday 18 February and found literally thousands of faults on the line. He cleared these but broadband is still dropping out randomly. He wondered if this was an issue with Repetitive Electrical Impulse Noise (REIN).

@BTCare are sending out another Openreach engineer on Monday morning. They have at least phoned me now on the day they said they would, even if it did require me to poke them via Twitter to remind them. Confidence in them is growing a little, which is a relief.

See post Broadband woes / continued.

UPDATE 3: Engineer booked out for another visit on Monday 24 February between 08:00–13:00. It’s currently 14:00 and no sign or word from him. Although @BTCare have just kindly tweeted to ask how the appointment went… except that he’s not been.

UPDATE 4: Engineer booked for Saturday 1 March.

UPDATE 5: Engineer booked for Monday 10 March. It’s FINALLY FIXED!


The last few weeks have been the most frustrating I’ve ever experienced with BT’s customer support channel on Twitter, what I’m experiencing as an ever-more ironically named @BTCare.

In fact, I might go as far as saying that this has been my worst experience of customer service full-stop.

For the last few years I have enthused with anyone who will listen about how excellent I’ve found @BTCare to be. With a simple tweet or two I’ve found them to be engaged, interested, and conscientious; I’ve felt cared for, I’ve felt that they owned the problem and they haven’t stopped until it was resolved.

I have found myself in training sessions at work about world-class customer service raving about I see @BTCare as the paradigm of the level of support and professionalism that I would like to offer our clients.

As a web professional people regularly ask for my advice on internet service providers, and I have always recommended BT on the strength of their excellent support.

But after these last three months I can’t do that any more. I now find myself, three months into this current issue with our broadband connection randomly dropping out, and increasingly getting worse, feeling not only disgruntled but wondering if they are now purposefully ignoring me or at worst lying to me.

Having been such an advocate for what was a first rate customer service experience, I am now feeling disappointed and angry.

All I am asking for is the service that a) I’ve had, and b) that I’m paying for.

So BT tell me, what has changed? Why have I found the last few months to be the most excruciatingly frustrating experience I’ve ever had from any company’s customer service team? Why have I found myself contacting you again and again asking for feedback? Why have you replied to me time and again saying that you’ll be in touch with me soon, that you’ll phone me shortly, that you’ll a colleague “will be in touch with [me] today”.

Why am I still waiting?!

Timeline

You said that you’d be in touch on Wednesday.

I was in, but I’d just got back from the hospital and was in a lot of pain and couldn’t get to the phone in time and my phone was set to silent/vibrate. I tweeted back immediately saying that I was available…

No reply. Nor the next day. So I contacted you again:

No call.

So I contacted them again yesterday and was told:

There was then a flurry of activity, none of which was useful. I felt like I was repeating myself. I’d already explained what was going on in one of the many emails that I’d written.

But I don’t know how these things work at their end, perhaps they didn’t have access to the information that I’d sent. There also seemed to be a misunderstanding that the issue was simply a drop in WiFi connection rather than the connection to the whole hub dropping out (the blue light turns to a flashing orange light).

Then late last night, while the connection was dropping out every other minute I was asked to send another email.

I finally found a few minutes where the connection stayed up for long enough to write a long, detailed explanation of what is going on.

The issue: my broadband connection keeps dropping — orange light flashes… connects (blue)… drops… repeat. Not just WiFi – the lot. My main PC is connected via LAN cable to the hub via a powerline. My phone and tablet are connected with WiFi (2.4 GHz, channel 6). I have changed the channel… no effect: still drops out.

Here’s a record I’ve kept from the HomeHub 4 logs:

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1778315/broadband-outages.txt

Connection during the day is solid, from about 08:00–23:00. Today it started dropping every few moments after 21:00.

We had an engineer visit in mid-December. He tested everything and said that our internal wiring (from master to one extension socket) was fine. He recommended unplugging everything and reconnecting in case the issue was static on the line. I’ve done that… it hasn’t fixed things.

He suggested that if it continue then the issue is likely to be the Home Hub 3 we had. This has now been replaced with a Home Hub 4. The connection was absolutely fine for a couple of weeks, and was faster than the HH3 but now it has started dropping out again and only in the evenings.

We have not changed anything in the house. Same equipment is on and switched on. The only change is the Home Hub and filter, swapped for the one that arrived with the Home Hub 4. But like I said it worked for a few weeks.

I now have the [brand new] Home Hub 4 plugged into [a brand new microfilter plugged into] the master socket in our hallway. I’ve also done a factory reset on the hub.

This strikes me as being an issue that is external to our property.

I got this reply this morning:

It is now 17:22, I have stayed in all day, on Sundays they close at 18:00 and so far no call despite an assurance 9 hours ago that you would be in touch.

So, please tell me BT… what has happened? Please turn around this experience for me. Please make me believe that you can offer world-class customer service again.

But most of all: please fix our broadband connection.

Why I love Windows 8 (but don’t have 8.1 yet)

Update to Windows 8.1 for free on the Windows 8 app store... or so they say
Update to Windows 8.1 for free on the Windows 8 app store… or so they say

On Thursday Microsoft released Windows 8.1 into the wild. Hmmm… there be dragons!

The upgrade hasn’t gone particularly smoothly for a lot of people (including me) judging by this thread (“Couldn’t update to Windows 8.1 – 0xC1900101 – 0x40017”) on the official Microsoft Community Windows forum and this article (“Windows 8.1 launch weekend plagued by some show-stopping installation issues”) on PC World.com.

The Windows RT upgrade (for Surface tablets) was removed from the app store until they could figure out what was going on. Microsoft released a “recovery image” yesterday to try to address the issue. Time will tell if it has worked, I can’t see past the search engine results noise of it having been removed.

The Windows 8.1 upgrade disappeared from my Windows 8 store for a day or two as well, but re-appeared last night. I’m still not going to try to upgrade again until I know for sure that it will work.

Windows 8

Windows 8.1 was meant to address some of the criticisms of the original Windows 8 release, particularly the removal of the Windows start button and that Windows 8 boots to the new Modern/Metro UI start screen, rather than to the desktop.

I have to say that I have been a huge fan of Windows 8 since the beta. I had the beta installed on my laptop right until the RTM edition was launched. Since then I’ve defended Windows 8 to everyone and anyone.

Windows 8 has been, by far, the fastest, most stable, most secure version of Windows I’ve used (since my standalone, not-connected-to-the-internet version of Windows for Workgroups 3.11 in the mid-90s). My desktop PC boots up and is working within about 20-30 seconds. Compare that with my Windows 7 Dell beast of a PC at work which can take about 10 minutes to start up and become fully responsive.

Start button

As for those two criticisms about the lack of start button and not booting directly to the desktop, well Start8 from Stardock (USD $4.99) addresses both those issues.

Start8 gives me back my start button and Windows 7-like start menu
Start8 gives me back my start button and Windows 7-like start menu

Firmly ticked is the configuration option in Start8 that reads “Automatically go to the Desktop when I sign in“.

I rarely use any of the Metro UI applications (occasionally TV Catch-up, the Steam tile app, and a couple of games with the boys) so it makes sense for me to jump straight to the desktop. This application saves me a click.

To be honest I installed Start8 mostly to make the PC more accessible to my wife Jane, who uses it occasionally. I didn’t want her to have to bother with the convoluted Windows 8 nonsense of Win+C > Settings > Power > Shut down, or Win+C > Settings > Control Panel to access the Control Panel. I reality though, I use those features most.

Start screen

I also have to confess that I really like the Windows 8 start screen. My grumble about the traditional Start menu in XP, Vista, 7 is that it’s a mess. It lists everything that is installed and gives everything equal status.

The Windows 8 start screen allows me to customise it for my own needs, my own priorities.

And if I want to see everything: Win + Q takes me there.

I can pin to the taskbar those applications that I use most frequently, the rest I can pin to the start screen and arrange into named groups. It’s so easy my four year old boys can use it.

The Windows 8 start screen on my PC.
The Windows 8 start screen on my desktop PC.

I used another paid-for application from Startdock to customize the background of my start screen: Decor8 (USD $4.99).

A desktop-centric Windows 8 PC

This gives me the best of both worlds: the speed and stability of Windows 8 coupled with the desktop-centric focus of Windows 7.

In each version of Windows that I’ve used I’ve tweaked it and wrestled with its user-interface to give me the experience that works for me. With Windows 3.11 I used Calmira, in Windows 98 it was power toys and TweakUI, in XP I created my own toolbars. Why should this operating system be any different? Surely that’s one of the beauties of Windows.

I really don’t understand these grumbles of “I hate Windows 8 and the Modern/Metro UI!” To be honest, I don’t notice the juxtaposition of desktop vs Modern/Metro UI much. I ignore most of it. I don’t have a touch screen, I have all the Windows desktop applications that I need and only occasionally dabble with the odd Modern/Metro app. And Start8 and Decor8 allow me to quickly tweak the rest

Windows 8.1

And so back to Windows 8.1. I would rather like to upgrade sometime soon.

I tried it on Friday.

It all seemed to be going well until the second boot when it halted the screen that Windows 8 shows when it’s booting up. The little spinner just kept on spinning… for about 30 minutes. So I rebooted the PC… and it did the same until it quickly flashed up a blue screen of death (BSOD) and about 10 minutes later returned me to Windows 8 and a message similar to this one but with error code 0xC1900101 – 0x40017.

Couldn't update to Windows 8.1
Couldn’t update to Windows 8.1

I’ve been closely following, and contributing to the thread on the Microsoft Community. People have had limited success it would appear with certain workarounds working for some but not others: uninstall graphics card drivers, uninstall SteelSeries Engine software, unplug everything, etc.

I have a SteelSeries mouse. I could uninstall it and try the upgrade again, but do you know what? It’s 2013. Why should I have to? Modern operating systems should just work and upgrade without any kind of hardcore hardware geekery.

I’m going to wait until either Microsoft have figured out a way for the operating system to work around or quietly remove incompatible device drivers or until Steel Series have made their drivers compatible with Windows 8.1. Which in my opinion they should have done by now.

Windows 8.1 was code-named “Blue”. It looks like they omitted “…Screen of Death” at the end of it.

Disappointing, and at a time when Microsoft is fighting to stay relevant this seems to me to be a terrible blow to its reputation. As I said, I’ve been almost evangelical about the stability and reliability of Windows 8. I’m not at all confident about upgrading to 8.1 now. That’s not a good thing.

The trial continues…

Qumana woes

Well, I was going to make this a really cool first post from Qumana, the easy to use desktop blog editor … but I can’t get it to connect to any of my WordPress.com accounts (I currently have nine!).

I get this error:

Error trying to retrieve your blog information.
sun.security.validator.ValidatorException: PKIX path validation failed:

There may be more, but that’s all I can see.

I’ve got it to connect to the other place, which is a stand-alone WordPress.org installation but not to our Web Team blog which is another.

ZoneAlarm + KB951748 = no connection

Update #2

I meant to update this earlier.  There is now a fix, which you should download from the ZoneAlarm website.

Original post

For those of you that didn’t see this at the other place: Microsoft Update KB951748 and ZoneAlarm woes

In short: ZoneAlarm + Security update for Windows (KB951748) = no internet connection.

Update 1

For those folks who don’t bother clicking through to my other blog post: the advice from ZoneAlarm is to uninstall the KB951748 hotfix until there is a more robust solution from either Microsoft or ZoneAlarm.

Setting your Internet Security level to Medium isn’t advised for long-term use — it opens your PC up to more risks than it’s worth.

Or just uninstall ZoneAlarm and use the Windows XP built-in firewall.