What can I do with my router – part 2?

Draytek Vigor 2860n
More about basic router set-up information …

Default DNS, primary, secondary

DNS stands for “Domain Name System”.   This is important for browsing the internet.  Each web site you go to resolves to a 4 part IP address such as (in this case www.bbc.co.uk).  Try it, type in your browsers address bar and the BBC website will come up.  Clearly it is a lot easier for us humans to remember www.bbc.co.uk instead of a 4 digit number separated by decimal points.  There are many DNS computer servers around the world that translate website names into their respective IP addresses so that you can easily access them.  Normally your Internet Service Provider automatically provides 2 x DNS server IP addresses when you connect to their service.  Primary and secondary DNS server IP addresses are provided so there are 2 x DNS servicers to go to.

DNS server addresses

You don’t have to use your ISP’s DNS servers but they are usually the most convenient as they are automatically supplied.  The most likely situation when you might want to change these is if your ISP’s DNS servers have a problem, in this case you could temporarily use public DNS servers.  You can easily find some on the internet by Google’ing “public DNS servers”.  Take a note of some so that you have alternatives in hand should your normal DNS servers have a problem or your router does not pick them up when connecting to your’ broadband.  In fact, Google have public DNS servers, see https://developers.google.com/speed/public-dns/.

IPV4 and IPV6

If your eyes start to glaze over in this bit then skip to the next bit but actually this is quite important going forward.

An IP address is used by devices such as computers, mobile phones, routers, web sites, internet phones etc.  It’s the same as each house, shop, town or railway station, everywhere has an address.  An IP address is a 4 part number like which is given to each location on the internet so that it can be found.  A 4 part IP address is an IPV4 address.  When IPV4 was implemented people did not imagine how many devices, websites etc there would be and the result is that IPV4 will not be able to provide enough unique addresses needed for all that it will be used for.  This means we need to move to a standard that will allow for more addresses and that standard is IPV6.

IPV6 is an 8 part address in hexadecimal notation separated by colons such as “fe80:0000:0000:0000:0202:b3ff:fe1e:8329”.  Not so easy to remember or read but it will allow for many more IP addresses.  An IPV6 address also carries more routing information and an 8 part IP address can carry more information than a 4 part address allowing for more efficient data routing and better allocation of IP addresses to countries, for different uses etc.  If you want to know more please see IPV4 and IPV6.

Subnet mask

Hmmm, well, this is a tad more techy.  In effect a subnet mask is used to identify the boundaries of a network or if you like the number of IP addresses available to it.  To keep it simple your router will have an address starting with 192.168 and then it will probably have 0.1 or 1.1 as the last part so for example you get Well, so what?!  This is the local address of your router; it is the first address of your own local network.  It’s like the first address of a flat in a block of flats.  The subnet mask lets the router know how many flats there are in the block.  Say your router has a local address of and each device such as a computer or mobile phone that connects to it must have a unique local IP address, for example:

  •         My router
  •         My desktop computer
  •         My laptop
  •         My mobile phone
  •         My internet phone

If your subnet mask is then the pool of local IP addresses will be to allowing for 254 devices to be connected to it.

A subnet mask can be used at local level, company level, country level etc.  IP addresses are shown as decimal numbers for our convenience but the network sees them as binary numbers and masking is a technique used to evaluate binary numbers in certain ways.

A technical explanation of how binary works and network topography is beyond the intention of this blog so I will move on.  If you are curious then have a look at InetDaemons article.

Subnet Mask


In this case we are not talking about the Apple MAC computer or an item of clothing meant to keep the rain off (sorry, I am known for my very bad and not very funny jokes).  A MAC is a Media Access Control address and it looks like “01:23:45:67:89:ab”.  Every device that can be attached to any part of a network has a unique MAC.  For example a mobile phone that can be connected to a network will have its own unique and permanent MAC.  This is different to an IP address.  An IP address will be given to a device when it connects to a network and may get different IP addresses from different networks but its MAC will always be the same.  You might enter different buildings and stay in different rooms but you will always be you, a unique individual!  In the same way any device connected to the internet could be identified wherever it is in the world if its MAC is known.

Dynamic  / Static IP addresses

Ahh, something simpler to explain.  When your router connects to your ISP it will be given an IP address.  Each time you connect you might get a different IP address, this is known as a dynamic IP address.   If you want to connect to your London office from your office in Birmingham then it’s not going to help if the IP address of the London office keeps changing!  In this case your ISP can give you the same known IP address each time your router connects to that ISP, this is known as a fixed or Static IP address.  Change your ISP and your static IP address will change


Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol!  This is the system that hands out IP addresses to devices that attach to your network.  This is often performed by routers but on larger installations it is usually performed by a computer server.  Only one system should be handing out IP addresses on a network, all other DHCP capable devices must have this feature switched off otherwise there will be chaos and your network will not function properly.


This means Local Area Network.  This is a network usually confined to one location although that location could be large such as a site with several buildings.  It excludes networking over the internet although a LAN can access the internet.

For example, in your home or small office, a desktop computer, a networked hard disk, a mobile phone, a tablet might all be connected to the same router either by wires or wirelessly.

This could  be your home LAN:

Home or small office LAN

Diagram courtesy of www.teach-ict.com.

An office LAN might have many computers, switches, servers etc. connected.  It might have LAN’s within LAN’s, it might be complicated with lots of security but it is still a LAN.


This means Wide Area Network and is the network that links different locations together.  They might be locations that are in the same city or country or it could be linking locations in different countries.  The links might be private links setup by companies to link their locations together or links might be over the public internet.  The World Wide Web (www) works over a very large WAN.  If you work for a large company you might have an intranet which is like the World Wide Web but is maintained by your company, is private to your company and perhaps its customers, this will work over a WAN.


Diagram courtesy of Computer Basics.


I like packets, especially ones with nice stuff in them that come through the post.  Metaphorically that’s more or less what we are going to look at now.  When you order something to be delivered to you, you often receive a box with an address attached to the outside.  The address label might also have a return address on it and perhaps some information about what’s in the box such as the contents, weight, size etc.  Inside the box there may be another box with more information on it and maybe even another inside that, eventually you will get to the actual contents.  Sometimes you might receive a box with just simple information and the actual contents present themselves as soon as you open it.

Simple Data Packet

Data packets are like a mail order box.  A packet is a chunk of data with a header that tells the network about what’s in the packet, where it needs to go and what method should be used to move it around.  Sometimes there will be a footer which is used to mark the end of the packet and may have a special number in it to verify that the packet is complete.  Like the box analogy there may be packets within packets.

If you think I have missed something out that is basic let me know and I will add it as appropriate to a third article although I guess it is a matter of opinion where to draw the line.

I’m going to start another category; “I want to <something>” and the next article will be “I want to setup a wireless LAN” as this is one of those questions that come up often.   This will include Wireless LAN basics.

Well, I think that’s enough for now, how am I doing?



What can I do with my router part 1?

Draytek Vigor 2860n Front

It’s been a while since I wrote an article for this blog.  I’ll skip the excuses and see if I can muster some continuity from now on

I thought I’d touch on some basic set-up information and maybe some more useful feature setup info.  Routers vary so I might talk about some things your router doesn’t have or maybe uses different terminology.  Your router may have some features I don’t mention.

Basic internet connection

Most routers have set-up wizards or make it easy for you to get connected to the internet even if you don’t know what it all means and if that’s as far as you want to go then fine but if you are a bit more curious then read on dear reader.


Let’s get straight into the acronyms!

This will be one of the first configuration choices when you want to connect to the internet manually.  In this country PPPOA is the common choice and may be the default, it stands for “Point to Point Protocol over ATM”.  PPPOE is over Ethernet instead of ATM.  In English it is simply the way that your router is going to connect to your provider so you can access the internet.  It handles your login details and holds up your’ connection.  ATM stands for “Asynchronous Transfer Mode” (and I’ll thank you to stop yawning) which is the way information is switched or if you like traverses the “internet / network”.  PPPOA uses your login user name and password to authenticate your connection.


PAP – “Password Authentication Protocol”, CHAP – “Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol”.  These are two methods of handling the authentication process.  CHAP is the more secure.  Your router may be able to work this out for itself and you may be able to choose “PAP or CHAP” as a setting.


Usually have the value of 0 and 38 respectively.  VPI is for “Virtual Path Identifier” and VCI is for “Virtual Channel Identifier”.  Different countries have different combinations of values, 0/38 is the UK combination and this identifies the next destination point for your data to go to, initially the BT network.


VC-MUX stands for “Virtual Circuit Multiplexing“.  This is a method of controlling how little bits of data (called packets) get around.  LLC or “Logical Link Control” and SNAP or “Sub-network Access Protocol” are other methods that may be used.  VC-MUX is common in the UK.  I’ll leave it there otherwise we will have to enter techy hell analogous to taking a clockwork watch apart and trying to put it back together again.


Er, um, this is old school stuff.  This is the way a frequency is used to transmit and receive information.  There are several ways of doing this for example if a frequency is changed between 1000hz and 1001hz then 1000hz can be used to signify a “0” and 1001hz can be used to signify a “1” and so, an analogue signal can be used digitally.  Changing the strength (amplitude) of the signal or staggering it (phase) are other ways.  Anyway, different types of broadband use different regimes so you can either choose the appropriate modulation by broadband type such as “ADSL2+”, “ADSL2+ Annex M” or set it to “Multimode” so that the router can work it out for itself.  There are times when the router may have trouble doing this in which case you may need to pick the correct setting manually.

Frequency Modulation

Always on / Nailed Up and Idle Timeout

If given the option and you want your broadband to remain connected continuously then tick “always on” (this is sometimes referred to as “Nailed Up”).  If you don’t want the connection to disconnect if it’s not used for a while then set the “Idle Timeout” to -1.

Ok, that’s enough for now.  It’s not riveting stuff unless you are techy minded in which case you probably already know all this.  Let’s look at something a little more interesting …

Load balancing and failover

Oh dear, my ISP (Internet Service Provider) is having some problems today and my internet has gone down, what am I going to do or … our business is growing and our broadband is not fast enough anymore but I can’t afford one of those expensive leased lines just yet, what shall I do, boo hoo

Well folks, there is an answer … “Load Balancing” and “Failover”.  Certain routers can accommodate this such as the Draytek Vigor 2830 or 2850 series or the Billion BiPAC 6200 NXL.  These routers can take a second broadband supply and balance the 2 supplies to give you more capacity.  If one supply fails the other will continue to work.  You will need an inexpensive broadband modem such as the Draytek Vigor 120 for the second connection and you will probably want the broadband supplied by two different suppliers who use two different networks as if one ISP has problems hopefully the second will keep on working.

Dual WAN setupMobile broadband failover

Ok, so what happens if a digger working in the street cuts all my telecommunication cables?  Well, you can also plug a mobile broadband modem into a USB port in the router for failover only.  This will only work if the signal is strong enough in your area / premises and it probably won’t be as fast your land line broadband but at least you can continue to function.

Ok, so what happens if the router fails?  Have a second router configured as a standby.  If broadband is critical to your business then this is a very small price to pay for some assurance.  You might want to protect your routers electricity supply by plugging it into a UPS (uninterruptable Power Supply).

Well, I think that’s enough for now, how am I doing?

Next time I’ll talk about some more basics and, now, let me see, hmmm, maybe wireless, Firewalls or VPN’s, not sure yet.

Contracts – use, abuse and downright dishonesty

At the end of this blog I’m going to list my top ten tips for things to check for regarding telecom related contracts and supplies.

I’m interested in your good and bad experiences with contracts, terms and conditions.  Spread the word and see if we can help to get companies to behave fairly.

If there are any greasy sales person types who like to tie people into long contracts at exorbitant rates or generally exploit people reading this go watch the football or something, this is not for you and you won’t like it, the rest of you, please read on.

I am prompted to write this because of an announcement from a generally trustworthy supplier as follows:

“Ofcom have announced a recent regulatory update regarding automatically renewing contracts in relation to small business customers of 10 employees or less.  From 31st December 2011 NEW customers (with 10 employees or less) cannot be signed into an automatically renewing contract unless the customer has opted in to the auto renew.  From 31st December 2012 the auto renewal cannot be enforced for EXISTING customers unless the customer opts in.”

This in my humble opinion is a good thing.  Don’t get me wrong, we need contracts because we cannot trust ourselves or at least we don’t know that we can.  Contracts as I am sure you all know can be used or abused and the abuse of them is something I really do not like.

“It’s in the small print.”  An old chestnut … if it’s in the small print and a piece of paper has been waved in front of you or you have been pointed to an obscure area of a web site where the T’s and C’s reside you must have read them, understood everything and memorised them so that you can remember every detail for the next 2 years along with the other 20 sets of T’s and C’s that you may have been presented with so far this year.  This of course is not what usually happens, most of us do not read the small print and if we do it is seldom that we really understand the implications of it.  We usually trust our supplier not to dupe us but of course they sometimes do. The  T’s and C’s attached to contracts is a prime place to sucker your mark.  It’s a kind of deceitful but legal confidence trick.  Sometimes it is what they don’t say that catches you out.

If contracts are fair the chances are that you will not be unpleasantly surprised later on down the road if an issue arises even if it is not quite as you would like it.  The pertinent points of a fair contract are usually few, simple and generally already what people are used to.

Contracts are there to protect both parties and in my opinion are best rolling monthly or on a 12 month basis with no restrictive notice window at the end of the initial contract.  Yes, if there is a special deal in it and a longer term is needed to cover that deal and make an honest profit.  Yes we need things defined so we have a point of reference should there be issues.  Auto-renewal is ok as long as you retain your notice of termination anytime beyond the initial contract term.

Here’s one of my favourite extracts:

“The Agreement shall take effect from the date You sign the Agreement or verbally accept. The Agreement shall  continue unless terminated in accordance with its terms or by either party giving to the other not less than THIRTY-SIX MONTHS’ prior written notice (in order to be valid, such notice must not expire before the end of the Initial Period set out in the Form). If You give thirty-six months’ notice to terminate You must switch the Telecom Services to another provider at the end of such notice period. If You have not transferred the Telecom Services to another provider within 30 days following the end of the notice period, You will be deemed to have withdrawn Your notice of termination and the Agreement shall continue in accordance with its terms.

 If You purport to terminate the Agreement by giving less than THIRTY-SIX MONTHS’ prior written notice, You will be regarded as having committed a material breach which is incapable of remedy, for the purposes of clause 10.1.2, and We may choose to terminate the Agreement in accordance with that clause and claim damages from You pursuant to clause 10.4.”

Yes, you read that correctly.  A small company signed into a 36 month contract with a 36 month notice period and should they manage to get the 36 months’ notice in at the start of a term they have 30 days to move to another provider or are back in term.  Scandalous!  I am really tempted to name them but that would probably be bad form on my part although I’m not sure it would take much convincing to get me to do so.

And so to my top 10 things to watch out for in telecom related contracts and supplies, this includes lines, calls, broadband etc.  There are some fantastic suppliers out there that will sell you goods and services at fair prices and look after you to the best of their ability post sales and of course there are bad suppliers (often with very good sales teams).  They will sell to you and then ignore you whenever anything goes wrong. They will only be interested in you when there is more money on the table for them.  Short sited in my opinion but there you go.  Again I could site examples but I will resist the temptation.

My top 10 things to watch out for:

  1. Contract terms – I think 12 months is normally enough.  If a supplier is good you will usually stay with them anyway.  If it’s longer than 12 months then there should be a good reason for it.  Ahhh, I hear you say, “I was offered a good fixed rate for a 5 year contract”, well, how often does a telecom related service go up in price compared to how often it goes down.  A competitive rate today may be a very poor rate a few years down the line.  Try to make sure a longer contract really is worth it.  Ask around perhaps.
  2. Notice periods – A lot of suppliers are asking for 90 days’ notice now and I think that’s enough.  Beware of notice windows attached to auto renewals where if you don’t give notice in the appropriate window you are stuck in contract for another term, if the contract is 5 years then to miss the windows means you may be stuck with a supplier for 10 years at least.
  3. Upgrade / Downgrade penalties – If you want to upgrade or downgrade a service, are there any penalties and/or when can you upgrade or downgrade? Businesses change and need flexible suppliers.
  4. Call billing – Calls should be billed by the second these days, full stop.
  5. Call minimum / connection charges – most businesses make a lot of short calls so if there are minimum and/or connection charges they may very well make up the bulk of your bill.  Better to pay a little more for your’ per minute rate and have zero minimum and connection charges.
  6. Capped calls – Sounds good to talk for an hour for 10p but as in point 5 most business calls are short so unless you make a lot of long calls then this is not quite as good as it sounds.
  7. Broadband extras – as you may have read in my previous blogs there are some options that go with your broadband such as static IP’s, extra gigabytes on capped broadband etc.  For what you need, what is included, what is not and how much do extras cost?  For example £1 or £2 per extra gigabyte of use is ok.  Expect your first static IP to be included with business broadband.
  8. Are your bills going to be itemised to your satisfaction, do you have to pay extra for this?  If there is insufficient detail then how will you know what you are paying for exactly. Are the bills easy to understand?
  9. What’s the customer service like, what happens when you need to report a fault?  If a fault occurs and you have to ring your supplier 4 times, explain your fault 4 times to 4 different  people, spend 3 hours on the phone and chase it over 3 weeks I think you will be less than satisfied.  A 5 minute call to a good supplier who will keep you updated until the fault is resolved is better.
  10. Positive spin – This can be used to gloss over some of the less welcome clauses in a contract so I’m afraid it is a good idea to read the small print even if it takes an hour or so of your time.  Three pages of literally small print is plenty, if someone presents you with 10 pages of tiny print then you might want to question that in itself.  If the T’s and C’s are incomprehensible, perhaps walk away.

How am I doing?  Please help me to improve my blogs by commenting.

How can I get more from what I already have (broadband)?

Is your broadband performing as well as it could be?  Maybe it is frustratingly slow or you are thinking, maybe I could get more out of it?!  There are quite a few factors involved in how good a service you get so I am going to go through them using a check list with explanations approach.  It may not be exhaustive but I hope it will help.

My equipment

If you think you have a problem with your broadband and you call your ISP the first thing they will ask you to do is check your equipment so let’s do this first.

  • Old BT sockets and iPlates.


    • Some older BT sockets have bell ringer wires that interfere with broadband.  You can isolate this by plugging an “iPlate” into your BT master socket if one is not already fitted.  Bell ringer wires are not needed for modern phones.  This can make a significant improvement where relevant.  It is possible that more recent ones have bell wires as well.
  • ADSL filter – This is the little box that splits the voice element from the broadband.  You plug your phone into one socket and your router into the other.  You will find it plugged into a phone line wall socket.
    • If an ADSL filter is not being used then start using one, the difference can be quite significant.

      Tailed ADSL Filter

    • Are there secondary extensions taken from the back of the master socket?  If there are each one that you are using must have an ADSL filter even if it’s just a phone or a fax machine plugged into it.
    • Is your ADSL filter faulty?  All you can do is try another one and see if it makes a difference.
  • Cables– The network cables that you use between the BT socket and the router or from the router onwards are important.
    • Are any cables damaged?
    • Are there any suspect plugs or sockets?
    • If any are suspect try replacing them with another cable and see if that makes any difference.  You may be able to swap them around to check.  One faulty cable coming from the router to a switch for example could compromise the whole network.
    • Are they too long?  The maximum recommended distance for a cable run is approximately 100 metres, after that things start to deteriorate.   Either use shorter runs or boost the signal by adding a powered switch along the way.
  • Routers and switches.
    • Is your router able to handle the service plugged into it, for example older routers may not be capable of handling ADSL2+ in full or in part.
    • Can the router handle what you are putting through it?  If you have 50 users going through a cheap router then it may be too much for it and therefore you may perceive your broadband to be slow or unreliable.  Try a better router.
    • Is it a 10/100 router or a gigabyte router.  Older routers may only supply 10mbs to your local area network (LAN) which is probably not enough these days.  Make sure it is at least supplying 100mbs or better, gigabyte speeds.  This partly depends on your connected devices such as an old PC with a network card that will only support 10mbs.  As above if you suspect your router try another more recent one and see if this makes a difference.
  • Devices.
    • Is your laptop PC, desktop, tablet or smart phone slow?  If other devices are getting good speeds then it’s probably not the LAN or your broadband etc, it’s just that particular device or the network card in it.
  • Web sites.
    • Some websites are faster than others so check by using a control website such as www.bbc.co.uk or another reliable site.  If this appears slow then it’s not slow websites that are the problem.  You can use www.speedtest.net to check your speed when no-one/nothing else is using your broadband.

My location

The distance between you and your BT exchange and the quality of the cables etc. between can make a big difference.  If you are next to the exchange then your broadband service should be very good but if you are 10 kilometres away, the BT cable is old and not so great then the service you get may not be so good.  Too far away and / or poor cables could at worst mean you don’t get a useable service at all or it may be unreliable. See my previous blog for more information about this.

There is not a lot you can do about this unless BT are prepared to replace some of their infrastructure but this is probably unlikely.  Sometimes just having a new line put in will give you a better (or even worse) broadband service as this line may take a route back to the exchange using different cabling.  BT has been known to replace the bit of cable between the green box on the street and premises but there are no guarantees that they will do this or that it will make a difference.

What can your ISP do for you?

Time to get a bit more technical but I will try and make this easy to understand.  This bit you can’t really control but to some extent your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can.  Some characteristics of your broadband depend on your ISP and the networks they use.

  • Sync – This is simply the raw up and down connection speeds that your router reports on its online status page.  It is the speed of connection between your router and your ISP.  If you check your speed with something like www.speedtest.net it won’t be quite as good as this is the speed you get accessing the internet which is beyond your ISP’s area of control

    Draytek router sync status

  • SNR or Signal to Noise Ratio – Pick a phone up and if the line is noisy (not the phone itself) then you are not likely to get as good a broadband service as when it is quiet.  Broadband might be a digital service but a normal phone line is an analogue transport service and noise on it will interfere with a digital service which is not so tolerant with interference and causes data errors.  BT fixing faults, should there be any, in their infrastructure could improve this.

You can usually see the SNR on your routers online status page.  It’s measured in decibels and a good average is 6db.  If the line is noisy and the signal is not strong enough there will be lots of errors which means the broadband appears slow as data with errors has to be re-sent to you.  Your ISP can change the SNR in 3db stages from 3db to 15db to increase the signal strength.  Increasing the SNR will slow your broadband down but if there are fewer errors then from your point of view it goes faster.  Get your ISP to increase the SNR by 3db at a time and try it out for a few days each time.  If it gets better, keep going until it slows down again or you get to 15db.  If you get to say 9db and works better then go to 12db, if it slows down then get your ISP to back it up to 9db again.  It’s a balance between speed and errors.

  • Attenuation – This is measured in decibels.  It’s the quality of signal.  10db is good, 30db is ok, 60db is acceptable, just about, more than 60db and things rapidly go downhill.  Apart from changing cables or moving closer to the exchange there is not much that can be done.  Changing the SNR as above should help.
  • Latency – Another word for delay in this context.  It’s the round trip of your data.  For example, if you go out to get a take away pizza straight down the motorway it might take you 15 minutes to get back but if you go cross country down small roads with grass growing in the middle and lots of turns etc. then it might take an hour to get back even if the distance is more or less the same.  This is generally the case on the internet but some services can be routed down a prescribed route if the source and destination is known, for example voice calls (VoIP) are known types of data and can be routed more directly to particular destinations and back. Some latency your ISP can control and some they cannot. www.speedtest.net will give you a “ping” speed which is the time a piece of data takes to go out to a particular destination and come back to you.  It’s measured in milliseconds. 30ms is great, 50ms is still good, 80ms ok, 100ms+ not so good, 200ms+ definitely talk to your ISP.
  • Jitter – This how much latency varies so for example a general variance between 30ms and 60ms is not going to cause too much of a problem but if variance is between 50ms and 200ms then things like VoIP are not going to work very well as your broadband service in effect speeds up and slows down.  There are lots of reasons why this might occur and may be nothing to do with your ISP but you can ask. This problem could be within your local area network.
  • Packet loss – This is caused by some of the characteristics above.  Data is broken up into pieces called packets, sent to you and then re-assembled.  If some packets are lost due to noise on the line corrupting them for example then the data needs to be re-sent to you which slow things down.  If you went to Ikea to buy some flat pack furniture and a box was missing then you will have to go back for it which means it will take longer to put it together.  In the case of a real time services such as a phone call over the internet “sme its ight be missg” and a re-send will do you no good as by then it’s too late.

What’s left?

If you’re broadband service is still poor after all the above and maybe a few other checks that become apparent then maybe two broadband services using a load balancing router such as the Draytek Vigor 2830 series may be the answer.  At least you will get the benefit of 2 poor services combined which might then be satisfactory and probably more reliable.  It could be the difference between unsatisfactory and acceptable.

In my last blog I promised something a bit lighter than all this serious stuff and I have found something worth a mention.  In the blog following after this one I am going to have a bit of a rant about “Contracts – use, abuse and downright dishonesty”.

How am I doing?  Please help me to improve my blogs by commenting.

How do I choose the right broadband for me?

By now you will have got the idea that there are a fair few broadband options available and maybe you are not sure what to choose for your given situation.  One important question to consider; my broadband connection is important to me or it is not important to me.  I say this because if you access the internet occasionally at home and look at your emails a couple of times a week then some issues now and then with your broadband are not going to cause you too much distress but if you are running a business where your broadband is critical to it, it’s worth making sure you have good supplies and suppliers, and that you do your best to ensure continuity.

Before I get on with the “what’s right for me” bit I think it’s worth considering a few things.

BT, TalkTalk (who own Tiscali), Sky and a few others are the underlying suppliers of broadband and what I mean by that is if you change your supplier you might very well end up with the same broadband that you had before.  For example, if you have your broadband with TalkTalk and change to “Really Nice People Telecom limited” they might still supply you with TalkTalk broadband even if it’s branded with their name.

Another thing to consider is that behind the scenes telecoms is complicated, layered, fragmented and often process driven.  From my past experience working in telecoms and putting my finger in the air (so don’t quote me) around a third of all installations or changes go wrong in some way, from a minor delay to a full blown nightmare of a saga.  It doesn’t matter which supplier you use this can still happen, the big difference is how an issue is handled.  The vast majority of phone and broadband lines are installed by either BT or Virgin whoever you go through and this bit is not always easy to control.  A good and reputable telecoms supplier will take a lot of the burden away from you and deal with an issue as quickly as they can.  This means the difficulties of resolving an issue falls to them and even though they have special links into BT it can still be difficult for them.  A supplier with poor customer service like the ones supplying dead cheap broadband will sometimes have you pulling your hair out and other times will resolve an issue easily but you will have to drive things more either way.

In business a poor telecoms/broadband supplier can sometimes cost you much more than you save on a cheap service so pick your supplier with some care.

Let’s look at some scenarios:

In most cases here you might as well get the fastest ADSL available, it doesn’t usually cost any more.  Virgin may be different and charge a bit more for their faster broadband.  BT or LLU services (Local Loop Unbundled, where an ISP has their equipment installed in a BT exchange) are both fine.

The prices below are indicative and you may pay more or less.

All the DSL speeds below are “upto” speeds.  You are unlikely to get the maximum speeds when these services are actually installed.

I am a light domestic user who doesn’t use my broadband very often and if it didn’t work for a week then although it would be a bit frustrating I could live with it ok.

If this is all that you need then why not go cheap and just get the best deal from Sky, BT, Virgin, TalTalk, O2, Plusnet or another cheap supplier.  If something does go wrong the customer service might not be up to much, it’s pot luck, this is the downside of “cheap” but it probably doesn’t matter too much at this level.  To a point you get what you pay for.

Expect to pay in the region of £5 a month for the broadband, possibly as part of a line, broadband and calls package.

Example: 24mbs download, 1mbs upload, 3gb cap, 50:1 contention if relevant

A router will probably be supplied to you along with the broadband and should fine.

I am a relatively light domestic user who does use my broadband often AND if it didn’t work for a week then I would be really put out.

You don’t have to be a business user to buy business broadband so I would suggest a low end business broadband from a customer focussed supplier.

Expect to pay in the region of £15 a month upwards.

Example: 24mbs download, 1mbs upload, 3gb cap, 20:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2710 series router or a Vigor 2110 / 2130 if you want cable.

I am a heavy domestic user who does use my broadband often and if it didn’t work for a week then I would be really put out.  I download films, music etc.  I don’t want any limits on how much I download.

Buy an uncapped business broadband as fast as you can get for your location and with a low contention rate, no more than 20:1 (that is you share the service to the exchange with up to 19 other people).  10:1 is better.

Expect to pay in the region of £20 a month upwards.

Example: 24mbs download, 2.5mbs upload, uncapped, 20:1 / 10:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2710 series router or a Vigor 2110 / 2130 if you want cable.

I am a business user and although broadband is not critical to my business I want good customer service from my ISP, I want quick resolutions to issues where possible and a reliable service.  I access my business computers from home.  There are only a few staff.

Buy a low end business broadband.  Make sure you get a static IP, most ISP’s supply one for free and charge if

you need more.  This is a fixed internet protocol address assigned to you.  Look at it a bit like living in a house and having a permanent address as opposed to living in a caravan where your address changes (if you don’t have a static IP you getwhatever IP address your ISP gives you each time you connect to their service).  An example of a static IP address is “”.

Expect to pay in the region of £15 a month upwards.

Example: 24mbs download, 1mbs upload, 5gb cap, 20:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2830 series router.

I am a business user, broadband is critical to my business and I want good customer service from my ISP, I want quick resolutions where possible and a reliable service.  If my broadband went down my business would suffer and lose money.  I am not a heavy user, it is mostly internet browsing and emails I need.

I would recommend buying a dual WAN capable router such as the Draytek Vigor 2830 with a Draytek Vigor 120 to put on the end of the second broadband connection.  You can then get 2 x low end business broadbands’ from 2 different ISP’s so if one ISP has problems the other will still work. 

You can additionally plug a mobile broadband modem into the Draytek Vigor 2830 if the mobile broadband signal is good enough where you are.  This means if your lines are cut by a digger working in the street for example the mobile broadband will still give you a service even if it’s a bit slow.

Expect to pay in the region of £15 a month upwards for each broadband and maybe £15 a month for the mobile broadband so perhaps £45 a month (excluding the cost of the lines).   Compare this to the cost of not having internet access at your business for a couple of days. Don’t forget the static IP’s.

Example: 24mbs download, 2.5mbs upload, 40gb cap, 20:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2830 series router.

Another advantage is that the Draytek Vigor 2830 will balance the 2 x broadband supplies for you so that you will get faster broadband.  Should one of them fail it will continue using the good supply, should both fail it will then use the mobile broadband whilst you get your line based broadband fixed.

I am a business user, broadband is critical to my business and I want good customer service from my ISP, I want quick resolutions where possible and a reliable service.  If my broadband went down my business would suffer and lose money.  We are heavy users, there are quite a few staff and we download some big files.

I would recommend buying a dual WAN capable router such as the Draytek Vigor 2830 with a Draytek Vigor 120 to put on the end of the second broadband connection.  You can then get 2 x high end business broadbands’ from 2 different ISP’s so if one ISP has problems the other will still work.

You can additionally plug a mobile broadband modem into the Draytek Vigor 2830 if the mobile broadband signal is good enough where you are.  This means if your lines are cut by a digger working in the street for example the mobile broadband will still give you a service even if it’s a bit slow.

Expect to pay in the region of £25 a month upwards for each broadband and maybe £20 a month for the mobile broadband so perhaps £70 a month (excluding the cost of the lines).   Compare this to the cost of not having internet access at your business for a couple of days. Don’t forget the static IP’s.

Example: 24mbs download, 2.5mbs upload, uncapped, 10:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2830 series router.

Another advantage is that the Draytek Vigor 2830 will balance the 2 x broadband supplies for you so that you will get faster broadband.  Should one of them fail it will continue using the good supply, should both fail it will next use the mobile broadband.

I am a business user, broadband is critical to my business and I want good customer service from my ISP, I want quick resolutions where possible and a reliable service.  If my broadband went down my business would suffer and lose money.  We are heavy users, we have a lot of staff and we download some big files.

Now things move up a stage.  You could use four ADSL supplies with a Draytek Vigor 3200 or 3300 Quad WAN router which could give you something equivalent up to 96mbs download and up to 10mbs upload (you probably won’t actually get those speeds but it should still be pretty good) with the resilience of four supplies from upto four ISP’s.  The 3200 has a socket for mobile broadband as well.

Example: 24mbs download, 2.5mbs upload, uncapped, 10:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 3200 or 3300 series router.

If FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet, see previous blog) is available to you then a Draytek Vigor 2850 (the 2850Vn is available now, 2850n should follow in December) dual WAN router could give something equivalent up to 80mbs download and up to 20mbs upload (you probably won’t actually get those speeds but it should still be pretty good) with the resilience of two supplies from two ISP’s.  The 2850 has a socket for mobile broadband as well.

Example: 40mbs download, 10mbs upload, uncapped with possible guaranteed throughput after survey.

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2850 series router.

Another possibility is EFM (Ethernet First Mile) which is several broadband supplies combined into one as described in my previous blog.  Better SLA’s (Service Level Agreements) and guarantees may come with this.

Example: Up to 20mbs download, upto 10mbs upload, uncapped with possible guaranteed throughput after a site survey.

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2930 series router.

You may also at this stage want to consider a leased line backed up by a high end ADSL which could give you between 10mbs and 100mbs both up and down guaranteed with a high end SLA.  I am not going to go into too much detail except to say that these lines cost from around £500 a month.  The higher end ADSL type broadband such as FTTC may give nearly as good a service as a 10mb leased line so I would probably start to look at leased lines if I needed 20mbs both ways or more.

With all of options in this section you are probably best consulting an IT professional in house or contracted to decide the best option.  If you are an IT professional reading this then you probably know a lot or all of this already.

I may be able to help you or it may be best to get an IT/network audit performed to help you decide.  I will make some recommendations for a situation if I can.

I recommend a Draytek Advanced Networking product or Switch.


I think a special note for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocal), that is running your phones over broadband, is needed here.

Unless you are making just one or 2 calls at the same time it is better to keep the broadband used for VoIP separate to the broadband used for data.  In fact it’s better to keep it separate full stop really, it avoids conflicts.

For this you want a consistent broadband service.  SDSL can be good for this and can support up to 20 high quality calls at the same time or 40 low quality calls. Typically at upto 2mbs both ways with a low contention ration and QOS (Quality Of Service) added to it.

Some business ADSL services have QOS (Quality Of Service) attached to them that makes sure calls get a higher priority and some avoid using the internet as much as possible by routing your calls straight through to where they need to go.  The lower a contention rate broadband has the more consistent it should be.

Leased lines are fabulous for VoIP especially the latest ones where you can reserve a portion of the “pipe” for calls only.

How long does it take and what do I need to do?

So now you have chosen what you need and want to know what will happen after you order it!

When a BT engineer comes to install a line or fix a fault they will usually specify a morning or afternoon slot, that is 8am to 1pm or 1pm to 5pm.  You can get your supplier to pass on instructions to them such as a phone number to call before they visit you but there is no guarantee that an engineer will see or follow those instructions.  If BT cannot get access to do their work and they have to go away they may charge you for it so someone needs to be there even if they have to wait around for several hours.  There is no 100% guarantee that BT will turn up when they say they will but they do more often than not.  They base their appointment attendance on average times so a few too many long jobs will make them late or come the next day, you should be informed if this is the case at some point.

If you are having a new line put in for broadband it takes between 10 and 20 working days before the broadband starts working.  Depending on the type of broadband it may take 10 days to settle down to an optimal speed.

Putting broadband on an existing line or changing broadband supplier will take up to 10 working days and it is unlikely that a BT engineer will need to visit.

Allow at least 10 working days for FTTC installations.

EFM installation times are probably subject to survey but are normally around 26 working days.

Leased lines usually take up to 3 months, they are subject to survey and there are several stages to an install.

What do you think so far, are these blogs useful, are they easy to understand?  Please comment or I won’t know and won’t be able to improve them if that’s what they need!

Well, I think that’s enough for now!  Next time, “How can I get more from what I already have?” and perhaps something lighter and more amusing.  To be continued …

Broadband – How do I find out what broadband is available to me?

Hmmm, it’s taken a bit more than a week to write the next blog but hey, things were busy!  I was thinking about it though.  I think I probably need better excuses, anyway …

How do I find out what broadband is available to me and how do I choose

As I said in my last blog there are quite a few varieties of broadband that are available.  Regardless of the quality of broadband you might get it depends on which exchange area you are in as to what varieties of broadband you can get in the first place.  Exchanges mostly get upgraded according to expected revenue and to some degree need so if you are out in the sticks you are likely to have to wait longer to get the latest services than a dense city area.  There are still some areas that don’t get broadband full stop.

The quality of broadband that you will get depends on 2 things:

  • How far you are from your exchange.
  • The quality of the infrastructure between you and the exchange.  This means the cables and joints that the broadband has to traverse.  Two different lines of broadband into the same premises can give you different results just because the quality of the cabling varies.

Broadband is more sensitive than the voice element on a phone line which tends to work well enough even if the line is a bit crackly.  Broadband does not like noisy lines.  Whilst the expected broadband service can be estimated it doesn’t mean you will get what is estimated when it goes in.  If you are to get an up to 24mbs download speed service it is highly unlikely you will get the full 24mbs unless you live next to the exchange and even then you might not get the full speed possible.

Sam Knows

So anyway, what can I get?  Well, my favourite place for finding out is www.samknows.com.  A lot of people in the industry seem to like this site.  There is lots of info here but to get to the point I suggest going straight to www.samknows.com/broadband/exchange_search, putting in your post code and clicking search.  When your exchange comes up click its underlined name and a screen will come up with lots of info some of which I will now explain (and bear in mind that this is at the time of writing so links etc. may change).

Starting off with the location map to the right of the screen; you can see where the exchange is (green circle with dot in the middle pointing to a location) in relation to your location.  If it’s a long way away, say 10 kilometres then you are not going to get the fastest broadband.  If you are next door to it then things are looking good.

Next there is the “General Information” section which is fairly self-explanatory so I’ll skip this and move on to the “Broadband availability overview” section which shows you which general broadband types are available as follows:

I know it’s obvious but I’ll define it anyway; in the next sections a green tick means a service is available and a red cross means it is not.

  • ADSL: General ADSL delivered using BT’s infrastructure by BT or other ISP’s.
  • SDSL: Again delivered using BT’s infrastructure by BT or other ISP’s.
  • LLU services:  Broadband delivered by particular ISP’s who have their own equipment in some or all BT exchanges.  More on this below.
  • Cable: This will most often be delivered by Virgin Media but there are other cable companies.
  • Wireless: A generally available wireless broadband network (this does not mean it is free).

Now let’s look at the “BT Wholesale information” section.  Again these are services that are delivered using BT’s infrastructure by BT or other ISP’s.  Note that some services have dates next to them of when a service became available or in the case of an “RFS date”, when a service is expected to become available.

  • ADSL status: This is the older up to 2mbs type service, available in this example.
  • ADSL Max status: The up to 8mbs service, available in this example.
  • SDSL status: Available in this example.
  • 21CN WBC status: The ADSL2+ up to 24mbs service, available in this example.
  • FTTC status: The up to 40mbs service, not yet available in this example (at the time of writing) but on its way.

The “Wireless broadband availability” section shows which ISP’s can provide wireless broadband in an area if any.

The “Cable Broadband Availability” section shows which ISP’s can provide cable broadband in an area if any.

And finally the “LLU operator presence” section shows which ISP’s have their equipment in a BT exchange.  It is worth pointing out here that many ISP’s can supply BT broadband and broadband from other ISP’s, for example “ACME broadband” might supply broadband from BT, O2 / Be and TalkTalk.  The advantages of LLU are that it may cost less than BT originated services, some services may be available sooner and some services may be offered that are not available through BT.  The downside is that LLU services may not be as portable as BT, a small price to pay in most cases.  Most ISP’s will want to supply the line, broadband and calls together as a package.

How good a service will I get

Now you may want to see how good a service you can expect to get.  There are lots of checkers but I am going to recommend the BT service on this occasion, www.dslchecker.bt.com/adsl/ADSLChecker.postcodeoutput and putting your’ postcode.  Please remember that this is an estimate.  The result will give you a short paragraph on each type of ADSL that is available.

How good a service did I get

When your broadband has been installed how do you know how good it is?  Well before you check, bear in mind that it takes 10 days for some services to settle down to an optimum speed so speeds may be quite erratic until then.

A good router will tell you the online status as in this example.  This shows the raw speed that router is seeing from its synchronisation with the ISP, that is the speed between the router and the ISP.  The information in this Draytek example is:

  • ADSL Status Mode – the type of ADSL, in this case ADSL2+ (up to 24mbs)
  • State – SHOWTIME – this means it is up and running (a Draytek term)
  • Up Speed – about 1mbs in this example
  • Down speed – about 17mbs in this example
  • “SNR” and “Loop Att.” I will leave for another time

The speed you get when accessing websites depends on the journey of your data over the internet and the speed at which the computer hosting a web site can serve you.  If you have to drive across the city to a busy but understaffed pizza take away then you will have to wait a while for your pizza, it’s the same with the internet.  To get some idea of the speed you will get generally you could use a broadband speed test site such as www.speedtest.net (a bit flashy but does the job well, watch out for the intrusive ads).  This site keeps a history of your tests so you can see how things average out over time if you regularly run tests.  It will give you 3 figures:

  • The ping speed in “MS” (Milliseconds), anything below 80ms is ok, 40ms or less is good, above 80ms, talk to your ISP.  Regard this as either a small bump in the road or a pot hole.
  • The download speed
  • The upload speed

Don’t worry that the speeds you get with this are so different to the speeds reported by your router.

Ok, that was quite a bit again so I will leave the “how do I choose” section until the next blog.

For today’s digression (only a little), if you live in the Bristol (UK) area and you want help with your some­times ‘orrible computer equipment I’m going to recommend a colleague, Matt  Clark, see www.bristol-computer-support.co.uk  or www.linkedin.com/in/bristolcomputersupport.  The great thing about Matt is he can help you with your domestic or business computer equipment without stealing your wallet so to speak or assaulting you with loads of jargon.  And he knows about Draytek routers too (nudge, nudge – www.iwantrouters.com).

Broadband – I still don’t get it

Ok, this is a bit more than a bite size article so have a good munch.

Broadband – I still don’t get it

What is broadband?  A lot of people have got it and use it but don’t really quite know what it means.  To answer this it is useful to go back to when we were using dial up.  When we had this you would have to manually connect to the internet which would take a minute or 2 and you would have to listen to a cacophony whilst a connection was being made.  You would then have time to go and make a cup of tea and feed the cat whilst you waited for each web page to come up.  You could call this narrow band and like a narrow pipe you could only get a relatively small amount of, data in this case, down it at a time.  After you were finished you would disconnect.  Payment was usually per minute for the time you were connected paid through your phone bill.

Then came ADSL broadband which had some great things about it.  It was a much fatter pipe so you could get a lot more data down it much faster, you could leave it connected 24/7, you paid a set monthly amount and, you no longer had to wait an age for a page to download, hurrah (now who’s going to feed the cat)!

The speed of broadband has increased by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years.  The speed is measured in bits per second which means it is measured by the smallest unit of a data that can be transmitted, a 0 or a 1.  Speeds have increased in stages approximately as follows (and sticking with the pipe analogy):

“kbs” means kilobits per second, “mbs” means megabits per second and “gbs” means gigabits per second (as was pointed out by David commenting below, this analogy is not scientifically accurate and is merely illustrative).

  • 56kbs – dial up – like a thin 1mm diameter pipe
  • 512kbs – the first broadband – like a 10mm diameter pipe
  • 2mbs – now it’s starting to get really useful – a 40mm pipe
  • 8mbs – ADSL Max – now we can more easily stream video and make voice calls – 160mm pipe
  • 16mbs/24mbs – ADSL2 – Great for cloud computing (accessing software and data remotely) – 320mm/480mm pipe
  • 40mbs/50mbs – The latest ADSL being rolled out now – 800mm/1000mm pipe
  • 100mbs – expensive leased lines used mostly by businesses (I’ll explain more about this later) – even bigger pipe
  • N x gbs – very expensive, very fast leased lines of one or more gigabits used by larger businesses (I’ll explain more about this later) – really big pipe

Connecting to the internet

Sticking to the pipe analogy there are a few things you need before you can connect to the internet.  You need the pipe which allows data to come and go along it and you need something to send and receive the data at each end.

BT or some other telecoms provider comes along, installs a line in your premises and then your’ ISP (Internet Service Provider) gives you a login to connect to their internet service so that you can send and receive data to and from the internet using web browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome.  A web browser, email browser, phone, router etc provides the data handling at your end and the internet connection service and email servers handles the data at the providers end.

Another thing worth mentioning here is that accessing the internet and sending and receiving emails are 3 different services that can be provided by one or more suppliers.  In the case of emails you may have several suppliers for example; Google mail, your ‘ ISP,  your’ business email etc.

Types of broadband and suitable routers

There are a few different types of broadband which split broadly into the following types:

  • ADSL – this stands for “Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line” (yuk) which really just means that you can receive data faster than you can send it.
  • Symmetrical – you can send and receive data at the same speed.
  • Shared or contended – you are sharing a service, ADSL is normally a shared service which means you are sharing the ADSL with Fred down the road, the business next door and so on.  This can effectively slow the service down so for example, when all the kids come home from school and start downloading films and playing internet games with their mates your service may get considerably slower.  Business services tend to be less contended and sometimes you might end up getting the service all to yourself, for a while at least.
  • Not shared or uncontended – the service is all yours , there is ADSL available that is uncontended but mostly this applies to leased lines which are connections mostly used by business.

The next question might be; how is it delivered to you?  This is the bit where I start to recommend routers and point to the www.iwantrouters.com website.

Draytek Vigor 2830n

ADSL – This is what most of us use either at home or in business.  There are a few variants both are normally installed by BT.  A telephone line is installed at your premises and is either connected to BT’s equipment at the exchange or to another provider’s equipment that has been installed in a BT exchange such as TalkTalk or Orange have done for example.  This is known as LLU which stands for Local Loop Unbundled.

ADSL is getting faster mostly because BT are improving their infrastructure, the latest is FTTC which stands for Fibre To The Cabinet.  BT are installing optical fibre cables all the way to the green cabinet in the street where copper cables are then distributed from to connect up individual premises, if you look around the street you will spot these.  Optical fibre cables can carry much, much more data than copper cables; they are cables with strands of glass in the centre.

And here are the links to some fab Draytek routers suitable for ADSL:-

Draytek Vigor 2710n

EFM – This stands for Ethernet First Mile.  This is an advance on existing technology.  Instead of delivering an ADSL broadband connection on one copper phone line, 2 or more are combined to give you a higher guaranteed minimum speed so that for example 20mbs may be guaranteed, subject to a site survey.  This service has a higher service level and better resilience than ordinary ADSL lines.  It’s aimed at businesses wanting more speed and reliability but don’t yet want to pay the cost of a leased line which costs more to install and rent.  A special connection box will come with the EFM after which you can connect it into a router such as the Draytek Vigor 2930Vn.

SDSL – This stands for “Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line” and has been pretty much superseded by faster ADSL’s.  This broadband provides the same speed either way but only goes up to 2mbs.  If you have this already or have a good use for it (still used for voice calls over the internet sometimes) then the Draytek Vigor 3100 is a good choice.

Cable – This is mostly provided by Virgin Media these days.  This is broadband delivered for the most part by optical fibre and is capable of speeds up to 50mbs.  It’s a similar but alternative service to the ADSL delivered on BT type phone lines.  The Draytek Vigor 2110n or the faster Draytek Vigor 2130n are both excellent for this type of broadband.  After BT have rolled out their FTTC broadband there will not be so much difference between Virgin’s offering and normal ADSL.

Leased Line – A much more expensive service aimed at businesses.  This is provided on a dedicated optical fibre circuit for anything beyond 10mbs.  It can come as a restricted supply, that is a line capable of providing 100mbs is installed but you might only get 50mbs depending on what you need and how much you want to pay, this can be easily upgraded later on.  This is NOT a shared service so the owner of it has the full capacity of it.  It usually has a fast response service level so if it goes wrong it will be fixed relatively quickly.  It can be used to access the internet or to provide a fast service between offices.  If you have 50, 100 or more employees in one place you will probably want one of these.  You can get gigabyte supplies but these are more expensive still.  An appropriate connection box will be provided with the line which can then be fed into a router such as the Draytek Vigor 2955.  If you are paying for a leased line you will almost certainly want some ADSL broadband for backup which can be plugged into a router so that if the leased line does go down it wall fail-over to the ADSL.

For today’s digression and amusement how about this on YouTube – Click here – if you are in work you may want to wait until you get home, it’s not rude or anything but beware your companies internet policy.

Well, I think that’s quite a bit of info for one post, next time – “How do I find out what broadband is available to me and how do I choose”.