Late night Speedtest (part 2)

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Another late night Speedtest. Upload speeds are very consistent, approaching the advertised 5 Mbps. However download speeds still appear to be lower than the full 40 Mbps, the maximum actual throughput is more like 34 Mbps on a fully synced line.

Interestingly, and this could be a bug, Speedtest.net says this connection is “Slower than 57% of GG”. How this is possible, I don’t know? I can only assume that the reason is leased line customers with much faster connections doing a lot of testing recently.

On another note, this September we are approaching the 2nd anniversary of Sure’s VDSL service launch. Fingers crossed for some sort of upgrade announcement! After all, when LTE launches next year, it wouldn’t ‘seem’ right for their VDSL to offer the same speeds as the 4G mobile network.

O2 EU data roaming: £2 for “unlimited” internet

Quite recently, O2 UK seem to have updated their European data roaming policy for both Pay & Go and Pay Monthly customers who are on O2 Travel.

It used to be £1.99 for 15MB 25MB of data, but now it seems O2 are offering 50MB of data for Pay & Go customers and, I quote: “no upper usage limit” for Pay Monthly customers.

Immediately I was very surprised, “no upper usage limit”, how can that possibly be? It almost sounds like unlimited internet for just £2 a day whilst in Europe.

Alas, however, since O2 does attach a rather large caveat to this offer: “Traffic management steps apply”. If you click further down into the Terms & Conditions, there actually is an upper usage limit of 50MB for streaming video and 100MB for general internet traffic. After you use up your allowance, you are slowed down to a literal crawl (looks to be 64kbps or similar speed), which is practically useless.

It seems that O2 are mis-advertising their “no upper usage limit” when in fact, it is 100MB. The last time I checked 100MB was an upper usage limit? Of course, they get round it by not entirely stopping the service but slowing it down to the point of unusability. I would prefer it if O2 simply stated “100MB for £2 a day, send a text message to get another 100MB” like previously, but instead once you’ve used up your allowance you have to wait until the next day to return to normal browsing speeds.

Even better: Why can’t O2 just copy Vodafone and offer £2 a day to make use of your own home allowance of GB’s/minutes/texts? To me this seems most reasonable. Even better still, since Telefonica owns both O2 and Movistar, abolish data roaming charges altogether? It’s going to happen anyway, why not just get a head start on the competition?

 

Vodafone.es 4G is pretty fast

If you’ve read my previous posts, you might be aware of the horror that is ADSL in Spain:

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ADSL

Yes, this really is the ADSL connection on a bad day. The line is long and noisy and at night, it becomes especially bad as the SNR plummets to negative numbers.

However, in exactly the same location, my Huwaei 4G router can get this (unit sited indoors, no external antenna):

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Vodafone 4G

It is, basically, 100x faster. The only glaring issue is the tiny amount of data allowance that you get. For €20, a measly 1.6GB (on PAYG). I seriously fail to see the point in high speed 4G if you simply cannot use it for anything other than casual browsing. Even streaming a single movie per month would use your entire allowance up. Until telco’s massively increase the allowances to 10’s of GB for reasonable prices, fixed line ADSL is likely to remain for when you need to download large files, even if you have to leave it running overnight.

The situation of draconian 4G usage limits is a universal one. No operator that I am aware of offers a truly unlimited 4G connection for the home user. There are certain business contracts available but they are essentially off-limits for the normal user. Given that back in 2011, the average UK home user downloaded 17GB per month of data, even Vodafone Spain’s 10GB (and largest possible) monthly contract is nowhere near this figure, and that comes in at around €40pm.

I hear a lot about 4G “being the saviour of rural broadband”, but, until usage caps are lifted, that extra speed is at best useless, and at worst possibly very expensive.

 

 

eBay database hacked, and why password managers are a good idea

eBay’s database containing their user’s login details was hacked into earlier this year, with the details only just being released to the public today.

Apparently, the passwords are “encrypted”, which ought to make people feel slightly better (*Lol, I hope they aren’t actually encrypted), but eBay users are being advised to change their passwords anyway.

You see, the vast majority of internet users have the same password for everything which is a really bad idea! If a large company such as eBay can be hacked and your personal details leaked, imagine what smaller and less secure companies & sites do with your password!

If you use a different password for each of your online identities however, and if one of those identities becomes compromised, the rest of your online accounts remain largely unaffected. The problem however, is that with an increasing number of online identities, it can become impossible to remember all of your different passwords. This is why it’s always a good idea to use a password manager. Essentially all of your passwords are long randomly generated strings, and these are saved on your local computer in a single encrypted file, protected by a master password. It might seem odd to have one ‘master password’ that gives access to everything, but the probability of a hacker physically accessing your machine is 1,000,000’s of times less likely than them trying to access your eBay account remotely, for example.

Additionally, online password managers such as Apple’s iCloud use industry-leading AES-256 encryption, which is good enough even for the NSA’s Top Secret documents. And if you use a long master password, your data is pretty safe.

* You might wonder why earlier I said that encrypting a password on a database is a bad idea. Encryption inherently means a reversible function, and for password storage this is entirely unnecessary. A one-way crypto hashing function is far safer and the preferred method for storing passwords in most cases. I can only hope that eBay used a strong hashing algorithm such as Bcrypt or SHA (with stretching+salting, of course), and god forbid not MD5! And if they did actually encrypt the passwords, I hope the encryption keys were stored somewhere safe and not in the database itself!

Mystery speedtest result

Speedtest.net result

Yes, this is a genuine Speedtest.net result, with a genuine internet connection. No proxy trickery or connected to the test server’s LAN. If only I had this at home…

Downloading stuff on this connection is insane though, I can download entire movies in literally seconds. The vast, vast majority of websites and servers simply can’t send data to me quick enough on this connection. Most downloads cap around 100 Mbps.

4G: The odd state of affairs

In this blog post, 4G = LTE, and not any variant of HSPA…

I have been on O2’s 4G tariff since they launched it back in August, and at the time I knew that their coverage was limited to just a few large cities, but I took the tariff in the hope that they would commence an “aggressive rollout“. Now almost 7 months into the rollout of O2’s 4G network (as well as Vodafone & Three, for that matter), their 4G city coverage is still extremely limited and doesn’t appear to have grown that much. I understand that 4G rollout is just that, a “rollout” that happens over a period of time, but surely when you are trying to play catch-up to the likes of EE (who have far, far superior 4G coverage, albeit due to their massive time advantage), you would think both O2 and Vodafone would be pushing to get 4G to as many cities and towns across the UK as quickly possible.

Now, I might be seeing this entirely wrong, but it seems that O2 in particular have really been pushing their 4G rollout in the north of the country more so than in the south. Not that this is a bad thing, but I would’ve expected a balance of north/south cities to receive 4G in order to get as wide geographic coverage as possible. A list of examples that have yet to receive O2 4G in the southern half of the country, include but are not limited to: Bristol, Southampton, Portsmouth, Oxford, Luton, Milton Keynes.. The list goes on.

In comparison (and I do indeed realise this is very unscientific), cities in the north that have O2 4G coverage (not withstanding Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds) are: York, Newcastle, Nottingham & Sheffield.

In terms of population, the Portsmouth/Southampton area is the 6th highest population in the country, yet it gets no O2 4G as of writing. Bristol, with a population of 600,000, has no O2 4G, yet Sheffield with a similar population already has it.

However, none of the geographic issues actually matter that much when we look at the rollout of Three, the UK’s ‘4th’ mobile operator. Even though they had a later start, and you would think far less cash lying around compared with O2 (Telefonica) and Vodafone, their 4G rollout appears to have been much more aggressive and widespread. Bristol? Check. Oxford? Check. Southampton? Check. Portsmouth? Check. Milton Keynes? Check. Luton? Check…

Three’s rollout, ignoring the numbers, seems more balanced around getting 4G to areas of high population compared with Vodafone and O2. Now, unlike O2, Three has no obligation to deploy their 4G network any further than this, compared with O2’s coverage obligation to cover pretty much the entire country’s population. So this could be a factor, O2 are perhaps pacing themselves and deploying to random rural areas in small pockets (if you look at their coverage checker, there are some rural location masts that have 4G already) rather than deploying to the cities exclusively like Three has.

However as an O2 customer who is paying through the roof for 4G and living in a major southern city, and not receiving the service, and yet customers on Three can get unlimited data and 4G for no additional cost, to say it annoys me is an understatement! The UK’s rollout of 4G has been diabolically slow compared with other countries, which is a shame since we led the rollout of 3G back in the 00’s. I realise that the slow rollout was caused by regulatory incompetence, but it’s not as if the networks didn’t know 4G was coming? Could they not deploy their new masts and equipment before the awarding of the licences? This must have happened to some degree otherwise London and the other ‘starter’ cities are unlikely to have had 4G when it launched in August.

I now move onto the second part of this blog post, which is looking at 4G provision in Spain. If you have read my previous blog posts, you would see that I have been struggling in the past to get decent internet in a rural location in Spain. 2 Mbps internet on an extremely flakey ADSL line  just wouldn’t cut it anymore. The speed wasn’t really the issue, but the constant sync failures and sky-high (150ms average) latency just wasn’t acceptable in the year 2014. Vodafone (Spain) has also begun their 4G rollout in Spain using (I believe) the 2.6/1.8 spectrum, since the 800 spectrum isn’t active until later this year. So imagine my surprise when, I get out a friend’s iPhone with a UK Vodafone SIM in, and discover it has a 4G signal in pretty much the middle of nowhere! Data download was about 30 Mbps down and 15 Mbps up, with around 70 ms latency – this probably because the gateway was in the UK. Ignoring the fact that 4G data roaming on Vodafone actually works , (nil points to O2 for not having this yet – it’s not as if Telefonica, their parent company, owns pretty much all the telecom infrastructure in Spain) I was surprised that I even had 4G signal in my location. According to the coverage checker, there is meant to be zero 4G coverage at all, the nearest transmitter is behind 2 hills and a town. So I imagine the signal is reflecting off something and reaching us. (It’s definitely not coming from our local mast, since that is visible from our house and we only had 2 bars of 4G).

So now my challenge was to get hold of a 4G data sim card in Spain, on a business contract, to make use of their unlimited 4G offer for €49. This is actually impossible – Vodafone in Spain clearly don’t want your custom even if you wave money in front of them. With the endless spaghetti mess of bureaucracy and paperwork and legal shit, it’s no wonder Spain is bankrupt. So the easier solution was to get a PAYG sim card and make use of their 4G PAYG option (Called Vodafone Yu) which offers 1.6GB of data for €20. Although it’s pricey, it has some advantages:

1) It will probably work out cheaper paying 5x€20 in one month when we are in Spain, then to pay €49 per month for a service we aren’t going to use all year round.

2) No paperwork. No bureaucracy. Phew!

So with the PAYG sim on order, I’ll have to update you when I get it and do some speed testing. The plan at the moment is to buy a 4G router with external antenna connectors (Probably Solwise) so I can affix an omni antenna to the roof with a bit of extra gain. Also since 4G is meant to be MIMO, with the right hardware/dual feed antenna, I should be able to get 30-40 Mbps.

So, I’m now in the amusing situation that I can get 4G in a rural location in Spain, on a PAYG sim card, and yet I can’t get 4G on my expensive O2 tariff in a major UK city.

Don’t even get me started about O2’s data roaming policies…

JT Fibre coming to Guernsey?

Over the past year, many Guernsey residents may have noticed the roadworks caused by JT (Jersey Telecom) on the island, for example around the Rohais area and now currently into the Castel area. On the States roadworks website (iris.gov.gg), JT have been regularly appearing with the reason listed as “Improving the JT network”. One can only assume that this is for the process of laying Fibre optic cabling underneath the road.

Now it seems on JT’s Guernsey website that they have announced they plan to connect “Schools and Government buildings” in 2014, and then in the future to connect “one third of residential customers to a Fibre service”. I assume this 1/3 only applies to those premises that the Fibre has been laid next to, and not 1/3 of the entire island.

The prospect of JT further expanding their FTTH network on Guernsey is an exciting one. Currently there is a near-monopoly on fixed broadband access in Guernsey, since all DSL lines are effectively run by Sure. Whilst JT appear to offer their own DSL on Guernsey, it is in fact just a re-sell of the existing Sure service.

By having an entirely separate JT fibre network on island, it will hopefully force Sure into action to provide their own FTTH services or at least an improved FTTC service. Any form of competition in this area is definitely welcome to consumers.

A while back I posted on the blog that Sure planned to increase their VDSL speeds in 2014 to “up to 100Mbps”. However whilst ‘Superfast’ customers received an upload speed bump to 5Mbps, there were no download speed upgrades. I can only assume that Sure are focusing on expanding their FTTC (or MSAN) reach before increasing headline speeds. After all, speeds greater than 40Mbps will only be reached if customers live within 100’s of meters of an exchange or cabinet.

Whilst it may appear that Sure have ‘caught up’ with the UK, the fact is that many customers in UK city areas can get 150Mbps cable with Virgin Media and 80Mbps FTTC with BT. Additionally wireless broadband in the form of 4G LTE is now widely available in many cities, which is still not at all available in Guernsey.

It now leaves the question as to how quickly JT will start to connect residential customers to their FTTH service, and what Sure will do to combat JT’s advance.

Sure Superfast Broadband: Upload speeds increased

Sure Guernsey appear to have silently increased the upload speeds for the Superfast and Superfast Pro broadband products.

The upload speed that the line is now synchronised at is 5 Mbps, up from the existing 2 Mbps. Actual throughput using speedtest.net was recorded at around 3.5-3.8 Mbps upload speed**.

This is a significant improvement in upload speeds, and very much needed in today’s online world of remote & cloud computing.

There is still no word from Sure about the supposed 100 Mbps upgrade that I found in their news section earlier this year, but we will just have to wait and see if anything is delivered.

It is possible that the upgraded upload speeds are simply a precursor to further upgrades later this year, but then why not release your new faster internet product at the same time as increasing the upload speeds, in order to have more impact?

**Edit: This is not entirely accurate. I generally now receive at least 4 Mbps upload, if not slightly more.