Sure promises “100Mbits” by end of year in Guernsey

So I was reading through some of the new sections on Sure’s website today, since the sale of Sure to Batelco from Cable and Wireless.

I noticed that in their news section, there was an interview from Sure’s CEO Eddie Saints, and in one part he said that:

[we] aim of making Superfast Broadband accessible to all Bailiwick properties at speeds up to 100Mb/s by the end of this year at greater coverage and lower pricing compared with our competing jurisdictions.

So this looks like some sort of confirmation (or at least plans ) of 100Mbps internet by the end of 2013.

Now I am not certain if Sure will be rolling out a FTTH network like in Jersey, or if they will simply continue to roll out their VDSL2 network over copper as they have been doing currently.

Copper cable, using VDSL2, is not particularly future proof for the next 20 years  and beyond. Whereas JT have already taken the plunge and created an island wide FTTH network which will be able to cope with speeds in excess of 1Gbps, Guernsey’s VDSL2 and copper network is simply incapable of speeds this fast. In fact, the current technical maximum (assuming you are next to the street cabinet) is about 200Mbps for VDSL2. These speeds drop significantly the further you are from a street cabinet. Additionally, the connection will be more susceptible to noise and interference on a copper cable, compared to a fibre optic cable.

Whilst I applaud Sure’s continued work in delivering high speed internet to Guernsey (and who can forget the dark days of 1Mbps ADSL), I think that if Sure isn’t planning to go down the FTTH route then they are being a bit short sighted. In the distant future when internet bandwidth is abundant and Jersey are offering 10Gbps fibre to every home, with almost just a flick of the switch required, Sure will look back and wish they had deployed fibre to every home rather than just the street cabinet.

[Of course, deploying FTTC does mean that the fibre connection is closer to homes, and they could use this in the future to deploy FTTH from the cabinet connections, but arguably the most difficult bit is the last xx metres into peoples individual properties]

VDSL 40Mbps: Some Thoughts

So, my router is now synced up at the full 40Mbps download, 2Mbps upload. Although an engineer visit was supposedly required, it seems Sure transitioned the line a day early, and the supplied router re-synced onto the VDSL service without much input at all. The engineer is still coming tomorrow though, but for what? If the service works I don’t understand the need for it. Anyway, I thought I would therefore commence my mini-review of the new VDSL broadband service.

Now, it is being marketed as ‘Superfast Broadband’. And so the first thing I did, of course, was to run a speedtest.

The results were pretty much as expected. On average, the download speeds are around 30Mbps and the upload speeds around 1.5Mbps (this is on a fully synced line, and with a computer connected via ethernet to the router, and with no other internet use occurring at the same time). I tested it with quite a lot of different servers around the UK, as well as the Guernsey speedtest server, and they all delivered fairly similar results to the above. When I first did the speedtest, this was around lunchtime on a weekday.

However, things got a little worse later on in the day. When I did a speedtest at around 6pm, unsurprisingly the speeds decreased quite a lot. I was looking at around 20-24 Mbps on various speedtest servers, with the upload speed remaining fairly constant as before. Now I understand that Sure marketing a service as 40Mbps does not mean you are ever going to get that speed, but when the majority of users will be using this service in the evening (i.e. when they are home from work), I would’ve rather hoped for speeds a bit higher than 20-24Mbps, considering that you are expecting 40Mbps. Effectively at peak times the actual throughput to the internet decreases by 50%, from the theoretical 40Mbps down to nearer 20Mbps. I personally don’t consider 20Mbps to be ‘Superfast’ Broadband. It is fast of course, but 20Mbps is quite attainable on a synced up ADSL2+ line for example. And so in a way, the whole fuss over VDSL2 is a bit mute. You only get the benefit of the new technology really during the middle of the day, or probably in the middle of the night. But in the evening peak period you might as well be using an ADSL modem (since if the line is synced at 24, you can still get about 20 down it theoretically).

It’s certainly a very good thing that Guernsey has got faster internet. I am not complaining as such, but merely pointing out that the service shouldn’t be marketed as a 40Mbps service, when at peak times you only get 20+ Mbps. And during the middle of the day, I was only getting (and only just scraping it too) 30Mbps on various speedtest servers. What is the point in having a line synced up at 40Mbps when only 75% of it is actually able to be used for internet, or 50% of it during peak periods. Why not just sell the service as ‘Up to 30’ if that is all Sure are able to provide, and then if the end user gets more than that, they can count themselves lucky and be pleasantly surprised that they are receiving more than what they paid for.

I think perhaps one of the issues here is that Sure provide unlimited internet. There are no monthly limits or caps, and so you can download as much as you like. Also, I wonder if any kind of traffic management is used to curb the use of P2P traffic, which takes up a lot of bandwidth but often isn’t time critical. BT use traffic shaping during peak periods to try and maintain the bandwidth for other users that are trying to stream ‘time critical’ data like Youtube or iPlayer.

I also hope that Sure will continue to work on upload speeds. In the UK comparable VDSL services offer much greater upload speeds than currently available on Guernsey. I think to be fair, my download speed is fast enough for almost anything. But uploading large attachments or backing up to the cloud still takes too long and this is something that should be worked on before thinking of increasing download speeds. I think a good target would be 10Mbps upload such as that available with BT Infinity.

So my final thoughts? The new service is fast. It’s the fastest that Guernsey has seen. And the price isn’t that bad either. But it isn’t 40Mbps, and as such I won’t be declaring this ‘Superfast’ yet. After all, in Jersey you can get 1Gbps fibre. We can’t let our competitor get ahead of the internet race!

 

Guernsey gets VDSL. 40Mbit speeds

I genuinely didn’t think Guernsey would ever get ‘high speed’ broadband. When the 20mb upgrade came along over a year ago, I was actually quite surprised.
And yet again, Sure have surprised me again.

Completely out of the blue, all of a sudden they were advertising their new ‘Superfast Broaband’ service. I thought, I wonder what this could be? And sure enough, it’s basically what BT in the UK call ‘BT Infinity’.

As an aside, and to clear things up, VDSL is not fibre optic broadband. It is still delivered over your telephone line’s copper cable. However to achieve speeds as fast as 40mb, it requires the line distance to be very short indeed. And that’s were the ‘fibre optic’ bit often comes from. The telcos have to deploy street side cabinets everywhere, in order to reduce the length of the telephone lines. Think of these street cabinets (or MSans, as Sure are calling them) as mini telephone exchanges, if you will. The closer you are to one, the faster your new 40mb service will be.

But here is the rather good thing. Unlike BT in the UK, I believe, who will only connect you to their VDSL service if you are need a cabinet, Sure appear to be connecting up anyone so long as their line is short enough. (Read: if you are connected straight to the telephone exchange).

So, with the aside over, what is this service actually about? Well firstly, it’s all about speed. 40mb is a lot of bandwith. There really isn’t much that you can’t do over that kind of connection. Multiple HD video streams, super fast file downloads and plenty of bandwidth for the entire house to enjoy, without someone screaming if the internet is being used by someone else.

What about the upload speeds? Well, the advertised ‘up to’ speed here is a rather measly 2Mbps. I was actually expecting a bit more, since in my opinion upload speeds are now becoming more and more important. With the shift to services ‘in the cloud’, users need to be able to upload their data just as quickly as they download it. In the UK, upload speeds on similar VDSL services can approach up to 10Mbps. Maybe Sure will bump it up in the future.

The pricing for the service, in my opinion, is very good. For their home product, it’s just £35 per month. Much less than my current £50 per month for just 20mb. So for pro users, it’ll be a no-brainer to switch, unless you really need a fixed IP address or a sightly lower contention ratio. But in any case, I highly doubt the 40:1 ratio on the new service will slow down speeds on the 40mb service down to ADSL levels.

Another ‘issue’, is that the installation requires a visit by an ‘engineer’ (No, they aren’t engineers, they are Technicians. Try going to University for 4 years first). This visit seems rather pointless. It appears that the sole purpose for the visit is to fit a new master socket on the line, that will split the telephone and VDSL signal at source, before it enters the home’s internal wiring. For most people this probably won’t be a problem. But for some with master sockets in unreachable locations, it’s going to be a bit of a pain. As far as I am aware, you can get VDSL micro filters just as you can for ADSL (in fact, they’re probably the same). So why they can’t just do that is beyond me? If someone’s internal home wiring is really that bad then they shouldn’t be getting this service anyway.

Update: C&W have contacted us and will be sending the engineer to visits on the 12th September! So a few weeks waiting time. I’m hoping that they have already enabled the line for the service, and if the VDSL modem arrives in the post before the visit then I will plug it in and see if it works!

Guernsey – 16Mb Upgrade

So Sure have yet again provided their home broadband customers with another free upgrade, this time to 16 Mbps. I must admit, that this is rather impressive with less than a year since the last upgrade. And all of this for the same price as previously.

16Mb is pretty quick, though not really considered ‘super-fast’, it certainly is fast enough for pretty much any application, such as HD streaming and multiple downloading.

However, for those users on the Broadband Pro product, I’d imagine that we’d be feeling a bit hard done by. Why? Because we are paying twice the price (£49.99) for only 4 Mbps more speed and a lower contention ratio. I think that now the ‘home’ product is 16, that the Pro product should be bumped to the full 24 Mbps and upload speeds increased substantially to 2 or 2.5 Mbps. This way people could justify spending double.

Another thing that interests me, is that two 16Mb lines, giving a total theoretical throughput of 32 Mbps (if bonded or ‘merged’ by a local router) is practically the same price as the Pro product that delivers only 20 Mbps.

So come on Sure, lower the prices on the Pro product, or increase the speeds. It’s not really a very good deal considering it’s twice the cost but not twice the experience.

Guernsey Broadband Pro – I have it!

Finally! I now have internet that could be considered ‘high speed’. Guernsey’s Broadband Pro 20Mbps product is the fastest speed that they offer to normal consumers. Priced at a rather hefty £49.99 per month, it offers both faster download and upload speeds, as well as a lower 20/1 contention ratio.

So, how is it? Well, my router is now synced up to the full 20 down/ 1 up, but that actual test speeds are less than I would expect. It is still very fast compared to the old 8 Mbps service, but not that close to the advertised speed. In fact, the download speed is only 75% of the 20Mbps (on average).

I was expecting, with the lower contention ratio, that the actual speed would be a lot closer to the advertised speed, especially if the router is synced up at the full speed. Why do Cable & Wireless still screw customers over, even if they are paying £50 a month for a service which costs much less than this in the UK.

Oh well, it’s an improvement none the less. Might have to move to those homes where Wave Telecom are offering 1 Gbps!!

On the way to 20mb

Finally, I may for the first time be on the way to what could be considered truly ‘high speed’ internet. Yes, that’s right, I have placed an order for Guernsey’s over-priced 20mb ‘Pro’ internet. Why, you may ask? Well, for two reasons actually:

First, I cancelled our Sky TV subscription – with Freeview now available on the island and also the discovery of the rather good Freesat+HD box, I thought that shelling out £60 a month was a bit excessive.

Second, I wanted faster upload speeds to stream our Slingbox to other locations. The rather poor 512kbps upload on the standard broadband wasn’t enough to stream video successfully.

So, how will it all work then? Well, I placed the order online, and about a week after I got an email confirming that the service was going to be installed. Today, I noticed that my router’s sync speeds have changed: The upload speed has gone up to 860 Kbps. But my download speed is still at 8 Mbps. But, I realised that my old Draytek Vigor 2600+ router was only compatible with G.DMT (ADSL v1).

Now, there seems to be a lot of confusion/wrong saying about what speeds ADSL 1 is capable of. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia, G.DMT supports up to 12 Mbps down, 1.3 Mbps up. So, I should have got at least 12 Mbps on the router if Sure has changed me onto their pro service. Maybe they haven’t? Maybe the upload speed increase is just some Island wide speed bump that they haven’t announced yet? Perhaps in reality the router just won’t go any faster? Maybe Sure don’t support G.DMT above these speeds? Lots of questions. Of course, the only real way to get the full upgrade is to find a router that is compatible with ADSL2+. Unfortunately, I don’t have one yet (it’s on order)

I will update as soon as any further upgrades seem apparent.

Investigating broadband speeds in Guernsey

Earlier this year, Sure in Guernsey upgraded all of its users to it’s “up to 8 Meg” service. When I first saw the announcement, I thought, “Finally, Guernsey’s no longer lagging behind in the broadband market!” We actually now have a much more reasonable deal than we did only a few months ago. Double the speed for the same price, still unlimited, fairly comparable to average UK speeds, and very (if not more) reliable.

However, is Sure actually delivering on it’s promise of “Up to 8” Mbps? As people know, many ISP’s in the UK are criticised for marketing it’s broadband speed as xx Mbps, but then nobody actually ever gets to it. So I’m investigating to see if C&W are delivering the speed which they say they are giving out to users. There is an important point to realise, however. The further away you live from the telephone exchange, the slower your internet will be, regardless of how much you pay/what package you are on. It is simply a fact that as the copper loop length increases, more signal “attenuates” (is lost) and so not as much data can be transmitted over longer distances (Think of it as getting worse signal on your mobile phone, the further away you are from the mast). There is absolutely nothing that you or your ISP can do. So if you live a long way away from the exchange, you are always going to get slower broadband than advertised. [Having said that, the ISP can install fibre-optic street cabinets closer to your house, but that’s another matter!]

So, how about Guernsey? Luckily, I live right next door to one of the Island’s telephone exchanges (about 500m away or so). So theoretically, I should be receiving the full 8 Mbps. There is an easy way to check what ‘maximum’ speed you can attain – by looking on your router’s admin page – by typing in 192.168.1.1 or similar. Here, your router is able to tell you what line speed it is connected at. Mine is exactly 8 Mbps, because I live so close. If you live further away, it decreases this connection speed until your line is ‘stable’ for ADSL. (as explained above). So now the real speed test is as to whether or not Sure’s core network is able to give me the bandwidth that I pay for.

But hang on a minute, there’s something else. It’s that elusive Contention Ratio again! Nobody really knows what it actually means, but we can guess. So, in Guernsey the ratio is 40/1, and that effectively means that 40 broadband users ‘share’ 8 Mbps. But it is bound to be more complicated than that, otherwise our internet would be much slower! So in my opinion (not that it counts for much), Sure probably have a large main internet pipe, lets say just for the sake of it that this pipe is 800 Mbps. They then split this up into 100 (800/8 Mbps = 100) and each of these 100 amounts is given to 40 users. Remember, each ‘amount’ is 8 Mbps of dedicated, pure bandwidth. BUT, this is then shared (contented) with 40 home users. However, each ‘amount’ is able to be shared across other ‘amounts’, so that if one bit of the pipe is full, the other empty bits can be used. Make sense? Not really! Anyway, here is a summary: Your home internet is shared between about 40 other people, so you can never expect to get the full advertised speed…

So why am I looking into internet speed then? Well, as a consumer paying £300 a year, I expect to be able to get as close to the speed I’ve been advertised as possible. I’m not expecting there to always be a full dedicated amount for myself – that would be greedy (and expensive) – but I should be getting quite close most of the time, because on average not every user is using the internet at exactly the same time. I want to see how the actual download speeds compare to the advertised ones to see if the contention amount is reasonable or not. Here are the results:

I used Speedtest.net, because it is reliable and easy to use. I did 5 speed tests, with different servers. I did the tests deliberately at a peak time: 6pm on a Saturday evening. Here is the raw data (excluding one, dodgy screenshot..)

As you can see, the speeds vary quite a lot! Nowhere near the 8 Mbps target. As a quick sidetrack, I will not be investigating the upload speeds, because they are less important for the majority of users. From theses results, my average download speed was 5.81 Mbps. This is only about 70% of the advertised “up to” speed!

The graph also shows us the disparity between advertised and actual quite well. Even my best effort, a whopping 6.5 Mbps, wasn’t close to the 8 Mbps target!

So, overall, quite disappointing actually. I certainly am not getting what I am paying for! There are of course limitations to this rather un-scientific approach. Contention is a big factor, if not the factor which determines your speed when your router is synced up at it’s maximum. It’s just a shame that Sure seem to be skimping where bandwidth is concerned. If it’s not available, then don’t sell it! It is a big improvement from a few years ago, but network upgrades should occur so that the speed you are selling to customers matches as closely as possible “real world” speeds in testing.

As a final thing, I noticed that Sure had made a video for Channel Television, about how users can get the most out of their internet. I found it quite amusing, actually. They recommended changing your microfilters and making sure those pesky wi-fi devices aren’t interfering with your router! Really, it’s Sure’s problem that there is too much contention. Changing your ADSL set-up can cause you to increase your ADSL sync speed, but it won’t increase your effective throughput speed. That is up to them!

Leave some comments if you’re reading this, please!

Guernsey Internet 8Mbits – Now live

Finally Sure have upgraded all of Guernsey’s internet users to a universal 8Mbit service.

This brings Guernsey in line with more reasonable pricing that many users in the UK get. For example, BT Broadband offers unlimited data for £25.60 per month on their Option 3 tarriff (the majority of it’s users can only get an ‘up-to’ 8Mbit service: their 20Mbit network only covers a small amount of the country).

Also, upload speeds have been increased to 512kbps, a much more reasonable upload speed that will make sending large emails and uploading photos a lot quicker.

The full details are available on Sure’s Website, where pricing has remained the same for all options.

The Broadband Pro service also gets a major upgrade, with a speed jump to 20Mbits. I still think that £49.99 a month is much too expensive. Sure should offer 2 consumer broadband speeds, such as 8Mbit and 16Mbits, but with the ‘consumer’ 40/1 contention, rather than the Pro’s 20/1 (which naturally would be more expensive anyway).

If you think that in the past few years we have had the speed increased from 1, then to 2, then to 4, now to 8, that C&W are actually doing more than they need to – they didn’t have to give everyone a free upgrade when you’re still paying the same price, but they did. So thank you Sure.