My Experiences of Rural Broadband

I have had broadband for over 12 months now, and have had several issues with the service. I thought it might be helpful to others considering broadband, or those having problems with an existing service, if I wrote a short piece about those issues and how they were resolved.

Although I live in Blaxhall my telephone line is routed to the Wickham Market exchange, whereas most of Blaxhall is routed to the Snape exchange. Both are now broadband enabled; however, this doesn’t necessarily mean every house in Blaxhall can receive broadband. I suspect every house could, but several may have similar problems to the ones I experienced.

Wickham Market exchange was upgraded late in 2004, I signed up for BTbroadband early and the service was activated on the 11th November. They had sent me one of their USB powered Voyager 105 modems, in addition, through some confusion I also had a Voyager 205 router. I followed all of the instructions on screen and installed the router through my PC’s ethernet port. I waited with baited breath for the high speed revolution. Internet Explorer greeted me with the screen we have all grown to know and hate - Page Not Found. I checked the router - continuously flashing ADSL (see bottom of page) light. So although my line had been "activated" with broadband I certainly wasn’t getting it. The flashing light meant the router was trying to synchronise with the exchange, the BTbroadband customer service drone informed me. After a few elementary questions he arranged for an engineer visit.

Cue the engineer and half a day off work. A very helpful chap arrived who took some readings from the two bare wires he had exposed from the rat’s nest of wires near the front door. After asking for a prognosis he told me that I should indeed be able to receive broadband, although the signal strength was very low. Apparently I was around 6km of wire away from the exchange, there was a surfeit of electrical "noise" on the line, but the broadband signal was shining through. He provided me with a dedicated ADSL faceplate on a master socket he created from one of the existing sockets. These have an integral microfilter - considerably better than the normal microfilter provided in their "ACME" broadband kits. We fired up the PC, it talked to the router and finally the router was conversing fluently with the exchange. Exit engineer stage right.

I would have been happier if it had lasted more than a week. Sadly the sight of that flashing ADSL light became more and more common and I was forced to contact BTbroadband faults. They were kind enough to send me out a new router and arrange another engineer visit. This time (another half day off) he said that the service was poor due to the weak signal and trotted off to try some different wires at the nearest node (big green box where the wires are joined) which I think was in Campsea Ashe, a couple of km away. It made no difference. I was online for 5 minutes, I would be disconnected, 45 seconds later I would be connected and 5 minutes afterwards disconnected. That was when the service was good. When it was bad I wouldn’t be able to get on for hours, sometimes a whole day. I phoned again, and was asked the same bunch of questions, and after being told that I would be charged if the fault was with my equipment (I was confident it wasn’t) BT customer services told me they would arrange another visit.

I didn’t ever get that third visit. Instead a call to my mobile while I was at work from "High Level Complaints". I was being encouraged to give up on broadband, but the idea of going back to dial up was too much. In the end I resolved to do what I could my end, and BT resolved to wash their hands of my line, inasmuch as they withdrew all support. I was pretty sure that if I gave up on broadband with BT no other ISP would touch the line.

I resolved to try to make the best of the service I had, and searched for hours on Google for people who had suffered similar problems (part of the reason for writing this page is that I found very few). I downloaded (when I could) a piece of sofware called DU meter, free trial for 30 days. This software provides a real time graph of internet activity and helped me to see that my connection, when it worked at all, was dropping out at a regular interval, almost exactly every five minutes. In addition, I remembered hearing a distinct click on the phone line when I was on a call and surfing the net, at the very time the connection dropped. So could it be something in the house, a power glitch, snicking off the signal? After all the broadband signal is very similar to a radio signal, and could be sensitive to interference from electrical spikes? I was not sure, but checked every device in the house even resorting to turning the power off to the entire building save the router. Nothing made the slightest bit of difference.

With my new information I tried BT Broadband faults again. No matter how sympathetic the person at the other end of the phone, I could not get an engineer visit. The reason for this is both simple and highly irritating. BTBroadband, like most of the other broadband providers such as Wanadoo, AOL and Tiscali buy the broadband from a company known as BT Wholesale. BT Wholesale do all the work, supply the engineers and fit the appropriate technology into the exchanges. BT Wholesale are not contactable by the customer, we all have to complain to our service provider. But with an issue such as mine the very people we need to talk to are the people who can ultimately resolve it - there should be no intermediary. BT Wholesale had already marked down my line as one that should not reasonably be expected to carry the broadband signal, and there was nothing I, the customer, could do to even contact them, leave alone change their mind. I was effectively fobbed off with the usual "how many phones" "do you have a microfilter" rubbish capped off with "you can terminate your service with a full refund" until finally I was given a number for BTBroadband complaints.

BT Broadband complaints were helpful. More helpful and understanding than the faults department. However, the bottom line was that there was really nothing they could do. I did have their contact details up here but I think they have changed recently along with the broadband packages BT provide.

By this time I had decided that I should try a different router as I had suspected all along that the Voyager series of products were fine if you had a super signal strength, but were not generally suited to low signal situations such as mine.

I sold all of the Voyager products, two Voyager 205 routers and one Voyager 105 modem on Ebay, and with the proceeds bought a Netgear wireless internet router, DG834G from the same place. Ever since my broadband has been close to rock solid. The Netgear has a web interface where you can see the signal strength - even when it drops to zero the router does not lose connection with the exchange. I cannot for certain say that the router was the answer because it is possible (but highly unlikely) that work was being carried out at the exchange on the weekend that I first used the Netgear. However I feel I can say with confidence that the Voyager series (105, 205 - I have no experience of their later products) are close to useless in a situation such as mine, where signal strength is an issue. They offer no feedback, and the 105 is especially bad as it uses the USB power of the computer to operate - which BTBroadband customer services and faults both love, as they can blame your PC for any drop outs.

Router connection statistics

This is the stats page from the Netgear on my line. When I first used the router way back in early 2005 my downstream noise margin was between 1 and 5 db, and yet the router rarely dropped synchronisation with the exchange. More recently the signal has improved due to some work by BT locally.

Update: More recently (since the beginning of 2006) I have been attempting to have BT up the speed of my broadband, needless to say with no success. However, I did manage to find out that BT themselves accept that the Netgear router is much better in low signal situations, and are trialling a new Voyager ADSL modem that works in a similar way (this has now been released). However, I would still highly recommend the Netgear range including the non wireless DG834, the wireless DG834G and the newer DG834GT. The base model can be found on Ebay at the moment for around £25. There is no guarantee it will fix all problems, but for £25 it may well be worth a try.

If you have any comments or would like to know more please email me

I want to keep this page as informative as possible, so please either let me know if I’m mistaken in my comments or send me any additional information. I will update the page as and when new information is available. Jonathan

ADSL stands for Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line - asynchronous because with the system employed in the UK with broadband your upload speed is normally well below your download speed. ADSL for all intents and purposes means "Broadband" as does SDSL(Synchronous Digital Subscriber Line), although we in Blaxhall are not likely to see SDSL soon!

Microfilters - the small white boxes with a short length of wire that separate the broadband signal from the normal telephony signal.


Hi Jonathan

I just wanted to email & thank you so much for your page on rural broadband.

In a nutshell my experience has been exactly the same as yours, a dropping connection & no help at all from BT. This has been the situation for over 12 months when, on the brink of insanity, I did one last google search & found your page. I took your advice & got a Netgear router & hey presto the connection holds!

So once again very many thanks for restoring my sanity!

Best wishes