Sure Guernsey – Some unusual latency & packet loss

I’ve been getting some unusual readings on my latency monitoring graphs these past 2 days.

I was getting this on Tuesday:

BQM-1

And then I was getting this today:

BQM-2

It’s a mixture of increased latency and, in some cases, moderate packet loss!

I’ve restarted the router and it doesn’t seem to have helped. Looking at the DSL stats, there have been only a small number of FEC events (which is expected – the error correction is simply doing what it’s meant to), and no other stats to indicate line instability (SNR margin sitting at a comfortable 16dB).

So this leads me to a few potential conclusions: There is some upstream issue with Sure’s network; perhaps some sort of DDoS attack against my ip address(?); or perhaps a fault with my router?

I don’t think it’s traffic at my end, since that would involve saturating the connection for long periods of time (I mean, 4 hours at 50Mbps continuously is a 90GB download!). Also the shape of the graph, particularly the top one, makes me quite suspicious (it’s a curve, rather than a distinct block).

Sure Guernsey – Superfast Premium Broadband – Speedtest

After 4 years of Sure’s original VDSL product launch, they have finally¬†launched a new home broadband platform, the oddly named ‘Superfast Premium Broadband’. It offers headline speeds of 60Mbps download and 10Mbps upload. If you opt for the ‘Superfast Premium Pro Broadband’ (seriously, who names these?) then you get the same speed but with a static IP and 10:1 contention, which is the same across all of the ‘Pro’ options.

Here is a speed test done in the evening, with no other devices connected to the network:

5798009382

First, the upload speeds are right on target. The download speeds are slightly lower than I expected – I imagined around 50-55 Mbps wouldn’t be unreasonable for a 60 Mbps service. After all, on the 40 Mbps service I was getting around 35 Mbps.¬†The maximum transmissions speed I have observed so far is just shy of 50 Mbps when pulling multiple files from different locations. So not slow by any means, but¬†a bit off¬†the advertised figure.

Obviously the usual caveats apply – not least that this test was done during peak time. Also, just to ‘prove’ it’s not the sync speed itself, here is a router screenshot:

router

Interestingly, my SNR margins are still not maxed out. I have a 16dB margin on the downstream and a fairly large 27dB margin on the upstream. So basically, my line can still go faster if at some point Sure decided to uncap the service.

Another thing I haven’t really talked about is latency. This may be anecdotal, but I’ve noticed a reduction in latency of around 4-5 ms switching to the new service. This¬†may¬†be the new router vs the old one, or it could be a result of the higher upload speeds reducing the amount of (potential) upload congestion.

Overall a good improvement. It’s just a shame very few people will get the maximum speed due to distance constraints, and even fewer will even bother signing up to the service.

Guernsey – 60Mbps VDSL coming soon!

From Sure’s news page:

60mb-broadband-prices

Sure gives notification that it will introduce two new broadband products from the 17th October 2016.

These new products will offer speeds of up to 60MB and will be made available to customers who have line lengths of up to 500m from the exchange or street MSAN.

Well, it’s about time! Finally a¬†speed increase on the VDSL product. It will cost an additional ¬£3 per month for the non-pro service, and an additional ¬£4.99 for the pro option.

The price increase isn’t too bad, all things considered. I’m definitely considering upgrading our connection. It just depends how easy it is to upgrade (hopefully online?).

Guernsey Connectivity Review – some thoughts

Last week the States of Guernsey released the ‘Guernsey Connectivity Review’ report, undertaken by Analysys Mason. You can see the full PDF document by going to the States website here.

My thoughts on this report are mixed. Firstly, I do wonder how much money the States spent on ‘consultancy fees’ to produce this document. I guess though the important thing is that internet access is on the governments agenda, even if no actual action has been taken yet.

An interesting thing about the document though, is that it provides some data from Sure that wouldn’t otherwise be publicly available. For example, they claim that only 10% of subscribers have taken up the ‘Superfast Broadband’ (VDSL) product, which did actually surprise me a bit (I thought it would’ve been higher than that).

As I read through it, I highlighted a few things that stood out that I will list here, in no real order:

1.) “Broadband services to JT‚Äôs subscribers are supplied on a wholesale basis via the Sure network.” [p.19] – This¬†has obviously been the case all along – JT offers exactly the same broadband as Sure does, with only a very minor price difference. I fail to see how true broadband competition can exist when there is a single monopoly wholesale provider, that doesn’t seem to be regulated very harshly. In the UK ADSL market, LLU allows for providers to have their own physical equipment in the exchange, with the ability to offer different speeds and service levels that they choose.

2.) The VDSL rollout has stalled at only 60% penetration [p.20]. According to the February 2016 statistics (provided by Sure themselves, mind you), VDSL is only available to 60% of households on the island. ¬†We need to remember that VDSL has been available on the island since September 2012, that’s approaching 4 years ago. If we look at the UK figures, BT had¬†already reached a 66% population coverage of VDSL¬†at the same time as Sure¬†launching the product. Today, the coverage of superfast broadband in the UK is now over 90% of the population (admittedly, with state aid above the 65% mark, approximately). However, it’s really important to remember that Guernsey is an island of just 30 square miles, and the world’s 14th most densely populated jurisdiction. One of the reasons for state aid being necessary in the UK is that the remaining 30% of the population lived in relatively rural areas. The same cannot be said anywhere in Guernsey really. It’s also a fact that, in terms of raw population coverage, we are 4 years behind the UK.

3.) VDSL take-up on the island seems to be very low –¬†only 15% of total subscribers have taken up the VDSL service (weirdly, this 15% figure contradicts the 10% figure used earlier in the report – perhaps older data?). Again, if we compare this take-up figure with the UK data of around 33% (Ofcom 2014, extrapolated by a year), it does appear to be fairly poor. The data is slightly confusing, since it’s not entirely clear if that is¬†a % of households who are already covered by the VDSL footprint, or % of total households. If we had 100% VDSL coverage, the actual take-up number¬†would obviously be higher, but it’s unclear if the % would go up. I think a focus should be made on asking WHY people in Guernsey aren’t opting for superfast broadband. The first obvious answer to me would be price. Comparing with a UK operator, e.g. Sky, they charge ¬£37.40 per month for line rental and 40/10 VDSL. In Guernsey Sure charge ¬£44.98 for line rental and 40/5 VDSL. However that doesn’t tell the whole picture – at any given point in time there is often a deal available with at least one of the UK operators, offering much cheaper VDSL. This means if you regularly switch you can end up saving a ton of money. For example, right now BT are offering 55/10 VDSL for just ¬£28.98 per month. That’s over ¬£5 cheaper than Sure’s standard ADSL! I realise fully that comparing Guernsey to the UK is not necessarily accurate or ‘correct’, but I feel it’s an important area to look at.

I suspect that another reason VDSL take up is low is due to consumers not realising it is even available, or just not really considering it. For many, ‘broadband is broadband’, and the speed they receive is the speed that they get. If their connection struggles when¬†multiple people use iPlayer, I get a feeling many would just blame Sure regardless, and not realise they can get a much faster service. Sure have been pushing Superfast on the radio and in the press over the past year, as well as offering a discount if you sign-up, but this leads me onto my 3rd point. The name ‘superfast broadband’ may confuse some people, especially when in the UK the same product is labelled as ‘fibre’ (even though it obviously isn’t). Maybe a rebrand to make the VDSL service a lot more distinctive in name would help here? See the screenshot from Sure’s website:

sure-broadbandThere are 4 products all called ‘broadband’. Personally I see little point in the ‘Pro’ products since they are practically the same as their non-pro counterparts, except for a static IP and lower contention ratio (and what difference that actually makes is questionable). My point here: is having 4 ‘broadband’ products confusing people, when the UK advertising that we see on the TV is constantly pushing ‘fibre’? I suspect¬†this may be playing a small part.

My final ‘possible minor reason for the low take up’ is the engineer install. For people that have busy lives, having to book an engineer in to fit the filtered faceplate could be a negative reason not to get VDSL. Again, in the UK, more providers are offering self-install options for FTTC that simply involve using a microfilter rather than a faceplate. I do agree that a faceplate is superior, but as long as your internal wiring isn’t dodgy, a micro filter can still work.

4.) The report blatantly confuses DSL sync speed with throughput speed. It compares the average¬†sync speed of Guernsey connections against international metrics of¬†average download speed. The effect of this is obvious: it makes Guernsey’s internet appear faster than it actually is, when compared to other countries. The other concerning aspect is that the Guernsey data is provided by Sure – and not an independent authority.

5.) The term ‘FTTC’ is often used to describe Sure’s VDSL product when, in fact, this is not really the case. As far as I know, they use a mixture of roadside and exchange-based MSAN’s. This means that all telephone and data services terminate at the same place – unlike FTTC where POTS continues back to the exchange.

6.) “We understand through our discussions with Sure, that a number of improvements to its existing copper access network are planned, including (a) expansion plans to install additional MSAN cabinets around the island, with the aim of making VDSL accessible to all properties; and (b) the introduction of vectoring, FTTdp and G.fast in 2017. We also understand the company intends to increase FTTH penetration in Guernsey in the period 2018‚Äď2020.” [p.44].

This statement is probably the most revealing, since we get a small glimpse into Sure’s future plans. The first point is essentially that they plan to increase VDSL coverage to the entire island. Clearly this is good news, though they don’t give a timeframe for this, nor does Sure reveal whether they will be funding this privately or asking for States money. ¬†The second point reveals they¬†probably intend to trial some future technologies, such as G.fast, which could offer 500Mbps+ speeds, assuming short enough line lengths. FTTdp is probably a planned intermediary for lines that are a bit too long and exist in the more ‘rural’ areas of Guernsey to receive a fast VDSL service. Vectoring is something which¬†wouldn’t actually increase speeds, but just prevent speeds from going down due to crosstalk, when more people sign-up to the VDSL service. They list 2017 as the introduction date, which is fine, but by then Jersey will probably be near or at completion of their FTTH rollout. The final point is probably the most interesting – Sure intends to offer some sort of FTTH by 2018-2020. Could these be due to potential pressure from JT’s own FTTH network on Guernsey? (even though no real residential customers¬†are actually able to get it yet, apart from the trial locations).

The rest of the report is mostly generic ‘how to offer NGA broadband’ that could’ve been cut and paste from any other report from any other country. There are also some odd numbers relating to FTTH rollout costs on Guernsey, implying it would be more expensive here than on Jersey? Regardless, the report doesn’t really conclude anything that anyone with common sense hadn’t already concluded. I do get the feeling that Guernsey will go down the ‘superfast copper’ route, whereby gradually the fibre is brought closer to our homes but never actually into them. G.fast will bring fibre within 100’s of metres, and is also the preferred approach of BT. But ultimately it is still a copper wire that does the final stretch, and will still be susceptible to interference and dodgy joints.

My wish-list for this year is only¬†2 things, however: Native IPv6 and a faster VDSL tier option. 12% of the world’s internet connections are now on IPv6, and it’s time that Guernsey actually led in this area rather than follow. In terms of VDSL, the least I would like to see is another upload speed bump. The report actually highlighted the upload speed requirements for small business and content creators, and that it was lacking on the island. Perhaps¬†make it so that the ‘Superfast Pro’ product was 80/20 – at least the absurd price for this product could then begin to be justifiable.

Guernsey 4G switched on, much faster than the fastest home broadband

4G in Guernsey has finally arrived, with Sure activating 4G around the island dependent on location.

This is of course great news for Guernsey, finally catching up to the UK when it comes to mobile technologies. What surprised me more, was that the initial speediest’s coming in seem to be faster than the ‘average’ UK 4G connection:

1205873068

I’m not totally up to speed with the LTE ‘categories’ [The different speeds achievable], but it seems that Sure might be using either twice the radio spectrum/bandwidth than many UK carriers, or that their equipment can use more spatial streams (MIMO) than the ‘standard’ amount. They are offering seemingly the ‘up to’ 100Mbps¬†150Mbps variant rather than the more standard ‘up to’ 50Mbps (resulting in more usual average’s of 30-40 Mbps). Of course as more user’s download on the 4G network, that headline figure will begin to come down, but it’s a very promising start.

Something which is immediately noticeable though, and definitely ‘on theme’ with this blog, is that 4G in guernsey is now¬†at least twice as fast than the fastest fixed line broadband connection that Sure offers on the island. Also, the upload speeds are¬†at least 4x faster than the fastest VDSL connection.

4G data is also priced pretty reasonably: I assume that 4G will be available on the PAYG mobile broadband SIM’s, for which you can buy 50GB of data for ¬£40.¬†I think this is good value compared to the UK, where for example Three offers 1GB for ¬£10. (Meaning 50GB would cost you the equivalent of ¬£500!)

If you compare this cost to fixed line access, which costs £35pm for the 40Mbps service, you might wonder why even bother with having a broadband connection at all! The only reason you might choose VDSL over 4G is if you want truly unlimited data, which I admit is a pretty big deal for some of us (me included!). However for a lot of people, 50GB per month is probably enough, and if you pay just £25 you get 25GB.

So what am I really saying here? Well, there is a disconnect between Sure’s products. If you want the fastest speeds possible, you need to go the 4G route. Not only that, but if you want 4x the upload speeds, you also need to go the 4G route. Uploading a large video to Youtube? Get the 4G dongle out. Backing up your PC files? Yep, 4G dongle again…

It is really time that Sure re-focused on their fixed line product. You might argue that people¬†don’t really need faster than 40Mbps, but then equally do people¬†really need 80+Mbps on their phones? If anything, faster speeds are going to be more beneficial in the home than when you are mobile. Streaming 4K video, more than 1 user at a time, uploading files,¬†cloud access, etc.

At the very least, Sure could split¬†their current VDSL product: 40/10 for home and 80/20 for ‘Pro’, a bit¬†like BT does in the UK. Whilst line length is still of course an issue (and some homes still don’t even have access to VDSL!), it would at least close some of the gap between the blisteringly fast 4G and somewhat slower ‘Superfast broadband’.

ADSLMax – The travesty of (the lack of) ADSL2+ coverage

I’ll get right to the point.

According to SamKnows, there are 5564 ADSL enabled exchanges in the UK. Only 2762 of them are enabled with BT’s ADSL2+. This means that around half of all UK exchanges have no access to ADSL2+. They are¬†stuck with ADSL1, a technology fast approaching obsolescence. Whilst population coverage of ADSL2+ is around the 90% mark I believe(?), customers living in rural areas already with the least choice and lowest speeds are getting further screwed due to the lack of investment.

Why does ADSL2+ matter? There are a few reasons, listed in this comparison table (note, speeds are BT’s caps, not theoretical maximum):

adslmax

Of course, many people (including BT of course) would argue “what’s the point” of deploying 100% national ADSL2+ coverage when they are¬†already aiming for 90% VDSL coverage, followed by 95% soon after. The problem lies in the final 5%. 5% of the entire country will have no access to superfast broadband, and not only that but they¬†will almost certainly be stuck with ADSL1.

The primary problem

The primary issue with the outdated¬†ADSLMax product is the¬†diabolically slow and ridiculous upload speed¬†cap.¬†Right now, BT could uncap all existing ADSLMax customers stuck on their ADSL1 only exchanges, probably with just a flick of a computer keyboard. Upload speeds could be increased from the paltry 400 kbps to around 800 kbps, a doubling (still very slow by modern standards, but at least something!) which would result in the internet feeling generally quicker. This is already possible with BT’s ‘premium’ ADSLMax product, but you have to pay an additionally monthly fee (for something which the remaining 90% of the country gets for free), and even more amusingly you can’t get this option with BT retail (Plusnet and A&A are¬†some¬†of the only ISP’s to offer it). All in all, a farcial situation.

In an actual¬†example, loading a single webpage on ADSLMax regularly saturates my upload connection, since TCP requires sending as well as receiving. Even though my download bandwidth isn’t being fully utilised, pages load slowly since the upload bandwidth is being saturated and load¬†requests can’t get through as quickly as they should. Now add in a few additional laptops, tablets and phones on the connection, and latency skyrockets.

A prime example of the upload crisis is having multiple iOS devices upload things to Photostream, as well as use iCloud Backup. I have had to manually create QoS rules in my router to limit the uploads of iOS devices, otherwise they literally crash the internet.

The cheap solution

It’s bad enough not having ADSL2+ available, never mind any form of fibre (and in case you wondered, my cabinet was skipped in the BDUK process, looks like I’m in the final 5%), but to add to further frustration, BT are actively slowing down rural connections that could otherwise make use of higher upload speeds. They don’t even need to upgrade to ADSL2+ equipment (they should’ve done that years ago…) instead, they¬†need to scrap the premium service and give everyone the 800 kbps upload speeds. Whilst not all lines would make use of it, a great number of them would see some benefit. It would be an easy interim measure that could be done with literally no spending required. If it results in some peak-time upload congestion, I can live with that. At least most of the time I would get 2x the upload speed that I currently get.

Long term

The real question is, what of ADSLMax and IPStream? With 1000’s of exchanges still using it, what are BT’s plans for migration? In terms of competition, I assume BT have to continue to offer ADSL in fully FTTC areas since not all providers actually support FTTC yet. What happens when the (now ancient) ADSLMax equipment becomes EoL or just unobtainable? Maybe they still manufacture it now (lol…) but in 5 years time? 10 years? ADSL2+ seems the obvious solution for keeping ADSL around, but VDSL is¬†(rightly) BT’s aim at the moment. The core issue is that VDSL is the not the ‘standard’ service, it is actually marketed as a premium offering. BT still offer plain ADSL from the exchange. In 10 years time will this still be ADSL1, or will ADSL be totally discontinued and FTTC the ‘standard’ broadband offering?

There are many questions and really not many answers. Sadly all the hype is around BDUK and the FTTC rollout, but for those of us still waiting, it just feels as if any existing ADSL infrastructure improvements have been all but abandoned.

Fastershire: Andoversford

The Fastershire project is the government subsidised faster broadband rollout for Gloucestershire & Herefordshire.

I decided to do some investigating as to who might be able to receive the new superfast service in and around the Andoversford telephone exchange area. BT Openreach now make cabinet level data publicly accessible on their website, and cabinet information can also be obtained from their DSL checker website. With these 2 sources of information, it is relatively easy to construct this table:

cabs

[Disclaimer: Information provided from BT public sources, and could be incorrect!]

Of the 8 cabinets that I could identify (cabinets 2 and 8 either don’t exist or I just couldn’t find them), 4 of them are expected to get upgraded to Superfast. Of the 4 cabinets to be upgraded, 3 of them are in Andoversford itself. The only ‘rural’ cabinet is expected to be in Sevenhampton, which looking at the DSL checker is in dire need of faster broadband access.

Of course, it is extremely ambiguous as to what “Under Review”¬†actually means.¬†On BT’s website, it states that “We‚Äôre in your area but we‚Äôre still assessing whether or not we can upgrade your cabinet.”

Let me now provide my interpreted translation for that statement: “We have no idea when your cabinet is going to be upgraded. We’ve probably already written it off, but we say it’s still being reviewed in order to keep your hopes up and deter any other non-BT competition.”

There is of course the small chance that some of the Under Review cabs might get upgraded at some point in the future, or even another solution (FTTP?) might be offered. Additionally, ‘Under Review’ could also mean that the original PCP cab was not suitable to be upgraded and they have to do additional works/checks before they can plan to add a DSLAM to it.

It is somewhat of a shame that the most rural, in need areas of the Andoversford exchange are likely to miss out on Superfast access in this current round of funding. Unless ‘Under Review’ means something a lot more positive (which I suspect it doesn’t), properties just scraping 2Mbps are likely to remain at this speed at least for now.

An interesting find, however, is this image:

adsl2+

Yes, that does indeed say “on Exchange Andoversford” at the top there, and yes, it is stating that WBC ADSL2+ is available at this property. I have not found another single address in the Andoversford exchange area that is enabled for ADSL2+ (Up to 17Mbps compared to the older up to 8Mbps service). It is very odd – it could well be an anomaly in the address checker, or on the other hand, it could be a test property that has been enabled, pending the wider rollout of ADSL2+ to the whole exchange. The VDSL Superfast product, as far as I am aware, runs on 21CN (WBC), so it would make sense that the exchange itself is being upgraded too. However, not all VDSL cabs will link to their parent exchanges – sometimes the backhaul is known to route to alternative locations…

Edit:¬†According to roadworks.org, BT are doing works on ‘PCP8’ in Shipton Oliffe. I wasn’t able to locate any properties connected to cabinet 8, so it could be that Shipton Oliffe properties are in fact going to receive FTTC very soon, not sure why the wholesale checker states PCP10 rather than 8 though… Also, this tallies with the fastershire website coverage map, which shows the area around the village as having fibre access by the end of 2014.

Late night Speedtest (part 2)

3651987784

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.

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.