Now that’s what I call broadband, No.5824 (kb/s)

So the BT Openreach man came along to see about our spotty broadband, which I’d pretty astutely – I reckoned – narrowed down to being either the router or a tree outside resting on the line.

He tried it, agreed the line was very noisy. And then dug into his van, from which he pulled out a 15-foot pole – quite a neat trick from a 10-foot van, you have to admit. (It’s telescopic. Ta-daa.) And then he whacked the phone line by the tree with it to see if it made any more noisy by doing that.

Nope. Not a thing. No effect. Decision: it’s not the tree.

But it wasn’t the router either because he couldn’t get any sort of speed with his trust BT™ Voyager™ USB modem. Where’s the problem then? He took apart the master socket where the line comes into the house. “Not BT wire,” he said languidly. Eh? “The wire – isn’t single-core. That’s not done by BT.”

Which was his big clue. He tried the line where it reaches the eaves of our house: connected at about 5megabits. Wow – that’s better than we’ve seen at pretty much any time.

After a bit of looking about and testing, he pulled out something called the BT Hawk – a bit of kit that measures line impedance, yet seems to be able to say where the impedance changes (can’t find a Google ref, only brief mentions) – connected it to the master socket and said “there’s a big chance in impedance about five metres from here.”

And then we decided that since someone seemed to have added a rubbish line to the master socket, which could be the problem, we should eliminate the rubbish bit. Bit of drilling through the brick, from his cornucopia of a van, and some proper single-core BT wire (why four wires if only two are used? But I didn’t ask), quick new spliced-in junction box to the good cable that had been provided, and bang – 5-megabit steady-as-a-rock broadband.

Seems someone – the previous owners? – had spliced in some old alarm cable, with multi-core wires, in order to put an extra extension into the master socket. And that splice screwed the whole thing up. Tiny; you’d think it would make no difference; yet for some reason it changed the whole characteristics of the line.

So he tried it on his Voyager, and then looked at my Netgear router. “You’ll probably get a better speed out of that – much better than this old Voyager.”

He was right. It’s been up at 5 megabits since I connected this morning. YouTube like it oughta be. No fuss, no muss.

Gee, it’s even kinda boring.

Moral: the BT Openreach bod knows more than you.

Added moral: kudos to Freedom2Surf, my ISP, who proved rather elegantly that smaller is better in customer service terms. This morning (Fri) they called to check whether the fault was indeed cleared, and when I said it was, said they’d keep it open for five more days and then if I had no more issues they’d confirm it as sorted. When’s a big ISP done that?

18 Comments

  1. Good on ’em.

    Given all the possible points of failure in most techy things, it’s a miracle anything ever works.

  2. And there I was last week in Greece happy to get any kind of connection, even when it was 6Kbps.

    Yes, you did read that speed right.

  3. So how did you manage to get the Openreach chap to visit? I only ask because they were supposed to fix my line two weeks ago and since then they seem to not want to talk to myself or BT about the issue.

    Which is a bit annoying.

  4. Charles

    Friday 7 September 2007 at 11:18 am

    @Simon: I rang my ISP (Freedom2Surf) and said that I had a problem with the connection, which kept dropping, and that I certain it wasn’t on their end, but my line. They were able to dial up my line’s details from the exchange and see how long it had been up and what speed it was connecting (or not) at.

    And then this morning they called back to say that BT Openreach had told them they reckoned the fault was solved – and told me how long the line had been up – but that they’d keep it open for 5 more days if anything more seemed to be a problem before declaring it closed.

    Unbeatable customer service from both organisations, I’d say. That’s how it should work. Benefits of a small ISP, if you ask me. And, possibly, of living in a rural location – although when this problem arose last year I did report it in August but didn’t get a visit until October. Perhaps it’s just pot luck.

  5. OK, I give up. It turned out to to be an interesting story/case study.

    But I do think the fruit tree pruning bloke still needs to get out more…

    >;0)

  6. Great to see the BT-Hawk being used. The engineer used the TDR (time domain reflectometer) function on the Hawk. I designed the kit!

  7. Charles

    Saturday 27 October 2007 at 2:23 pm

    FM – tell us more. (You’re among friends, get as technical as you like.) I couldn’t find out anything about the BT Hawk. What does the TDR do? What does the Hawk do? When was the kit designed? Is there a manual online? Etc.

  8. I was a trainer for the hawk at accenture learning for new openreach engineers, Its is a great piece of kit if you know how to use it correctly, I will not go into the normal line length, ally cable, 6 wire at secondary as these are a well know before the hawk. What is best for is a simple test using the remote with the hawk to do an insertion loss test located in the tims menu, if you db reading falls outside of the parameters of the bt spec the only way would to get the gain turned up at exchange.

  9. Have BT charged you yet? its not uncomon for them to bill you £116.00 + vat + £100 a hour for the onsite time, the alarm wire you mention being spliced in would probabaly incur what BT call a TRC, work outside the maintanance contract, the more TRC’s raised the bigger bonus the line manager gets,

  10. The guy who designed the hawk (or part of it) its a great peice of kit, so im not having a go but here are my thoughts of possible improvements -could you have put some software filters on the TDR function?! sometimes even on low gain (especially long rural routes) you get a lot of bumps and dips that are not faults ( i spent a day trying to chase a noise fault on an aerial cable route, climbing every few poles as it showed a small dis). Nightmare! sometimes the thing is too sensitive.
    Also it could have done with a more durable design. I am on my ninth hawk in 3 years, a couple kept giving earth readings after getting a soaking, but the others all had cracked screens after a little knock (the boards inside are all screwed together tight – if there was more give it would be less prone to breaking), also in direct sunlight the screen gets condensation inside meaning vigerous rubbing of the pastic is needed to see the test results!
    Also that thing eats batteries! I used to charge it up but got sick of it dieing in the field, I tried buying top brand rechagrables instead but they were no better. Now i have to change standard batteries every few days.
    Same problem with the remote unit (batteries) but I hardly ever use it (unless I need a really loud tone or rarely do a line loss) – seems the bridge tests works fine against a blue tone set in loop.

  11. Charles

    Sunday 6 January 2008 at 10:20 pm

    @everyone so far: Yes, but WHAT IS A HAWK?? Everyone here either knows or doesn’t know, but the do knows aren’t telling the don’t-knows.

  12. Hawk….. Just a name for a multimeter

    It does everything a 9083 does, but in digital

    Measures Voltage & resistance on the A&B leg also A to earth B to earth, The TDR shows loops or disconnections on the line and give a pretty accurate reading to where these are in metres or km

    Its a great peice of gear, very bulky tho, awful to lug to the top of a 15m pole – needs to be smaller, and lighter

    Will finish my training on this gear soon, sooooo much to learn

  13. Charles

    Sunday 27 January 2008 at 10:29 pm

    @Syd: Ah, that’s useful. Apart from the bit about the 9083. What’s that then?
    I take it that A and B are the signal lines – but then shouldn’t there be just one earth, so three wires? I thought there were four. So what does each line do?

  14. The 9083, an analogue meter that measures voltage, capacitance & resistance over the A & B legs.

    I’ve been out with engineers that swear by the old Mk18 9083 meter, and have shown me what a “flick” of the needle means, He will rotate the settings, watch the meter & say, “that’s going about 900m, that’s an NTE, that’s a good line” I cant understand it because I’ve been shown the Hawk, had I started with a 9083 then perhaps I would!

    Have a look on ebay for “9083” and “BT Hawk” – there is normally one floating around and you might be lucky to pick up a Hawk for £400 – However, it’s BT property, and the person selling it would have more than likely nicked it, you cant buy BT branded gear (with the exception of fax machines, modems, telephones etc) – And unless you’re an engineer working on the BT network, its pretty useless (it doesn’t work on the “Virgin Media” system.

    It can be connected to a laptop, test results can be stored

    The A & B legs……. That’s just + & –
    A= Earth
    B= -50v (can be more with ADSL, DACS & when it rings)

    There are normally 4 wires on a main feed in, of which 2 are spare, this is future proof as when you ask for another line, its just a case of fitting another socket & connecting the other end to the DP (distribution point) – They also act as a spare incase of problems on the existing pair (pair is the A&B wires) but the chances are, if 2 wires go faulty then the other 2 wont be far behind and will mean the cable will need to be changed out.

    You can find 3 working wires in extension sockets, these are the A&B legs, & the ringer CCT

  15. Before I joined BT, which became Openreach. I had already built my home Pc, which at the time was top spec for gaming, and I knew a fair bit about broadband. I am now a broadband engineer, and the Hawk is great if you know how to use it. Does not make much difference however if you live to far from the exchange.

    Tips for those wishing to improve the broadband. Live next door to the exchange, use cable or wait for the new broadband types to be launched.

    Plug your router into the first point WITH NO EXTENSIONS. Especially crappy flat multi stranded ordinary telephone extension wire, as this completely buggers the signal.
    USE ‘ONE’ filter dont use two on the same line as this also ruins it.

    loads more info but my parents are here and must pay attention.

  16. I’m an Openreach engineer too, but a fairly recent addition so I don’t have experience of the 9083, just the Hawk. The Hawk is a great bit of kit, but I’ve the same criticims of it regarding it’s size. It’s a real pain to use when you’re up a stick and more so if there’s bright sunlight around. The condensation issue is a problem too. For the life of me I can’t see why it has to be the size it is. Also, same thing on chasing down faults. The times I’ve unnecessarily been up a stick or into a U/G joint because it’s appeared a fault has been there according to Hawk readings have been too many to mention.

  17. Teller, please tell me more ref you ‘readings have been’? If you are using the TDR function, then you must appreicate on how it works, and perhaps you are looking at a ‘poundage’ change, or a copper to ali joint, which does give a blip on the screen. I bit like looking at a H/R dis?
    PS – Do you get O/T where you work? :-)

  18. @FM – the person who designed the Hawk. It struck me very recently how clever this stuff is. I know nothing it but would like to learn more. Any ideas of good starting place. Is FM still about in any of the forums etc?

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