Technical Stuff Explained

Bringing faster broadband to Dundry.
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Holger Laux
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Joined: Sat 15 Oct, 2016 9:34 am

Technical Stuff Explained

Post by Holger Laux » Sun 18 Dec, 2016 9:24 pm

The Basics

Before we are going to look at various solutions for improving our broadband, I would like to explain a few technical basics for those readers who might otherwise feel lost.

Amounts of data or computer file sizes are measured in the following units:

byte (b) = one single character of text
kilobyte (kb) = 1024 b
Megabyte (MB) = 1024 kb
Gigabyte (GB) = 1024 MB
Terrabyte (TB) = 1024 GB = 1,099,511,627,776 characters of text

To make things easier, I will from now on only refer to Megabytes (MB).

As a guideline on how much data you use when you are on the Internet, here are some typical activities you might do:

write a simple email without attachments = 0.05 MB
click on a link and let the Web site load on your screen = 2.5 MB
take one photo with your camera and send it by e-mail = 8 MB
watch 1 hour of low res catchup TV such as BBC iPlayer = 1,000 MB
download a whole movie in high definition = up to 5,000 MB

With this in mind, it is obviously important how quickly you can shift such amounts of data between your home computer and the Internet. On average, households in Dundry can currently download (=receive) data at 1.5 MB/s (MB per second) and upload (=send) data at 0.3 MB/s. At peak times, the readings can be much lower. Looking at the examples above, it is easy to see why anything but the most basic operations (e.g. sending small e-mails) is unacceptably slow, especially if you have more than one person in your household using the Internat at any time and therefore sharing the speed between them.


Our Options for Improvement

Currently, all our data is transmitted from Bishopsworth up the hill via a set of copper wires that was only ever ment to be used for phone calls. The mere fact that it can connect you to the Internet is a technical miracle, but its capacity is very limited (see above).

FTTC/FTTP

The most sensible solution would be to replace it with a fibre optic cable which transmits data through the frequeny of light rather than electric current. Taken right into your property (= FTTP) this would allow you speeds of over 1000 MB/s. In other words, there would be no waiting time whatsoever. Everything will appear on your screen instantly. This would be a huge time-saving, especially for people and businesses who have to use the Internet for a living.

But it also means a huge investment, which has been undertaken in most urban areas. But the countryside is slow to catch up because it is less profitable for commercial providers. This is why the government decided to step in with several subsidised programmes (see my post “The Wider Picture”).

Up to very recently, we were offered an inferior solution, with some fibre installed halfway up Broadoak Hill and the rest still being copper. This is known as FTTC (= to the cabinet), but it never happened because BT Openreach pulled out. It wasn't good enough anyway and would only have given part of our village a modest improvement of up to 10 MB/s.

A small private provider called Truespeed Communications currently promises us FTTP connection, but have not committed to a timescale yet.

This is why we need to look at alternative installations that either give us a satisfactory long-term solution or at least tie us over until FTTP happens.

I am now going to explain these technical options:


Fixed Wireless Connection

Currently, this seems to be the next best thing to having FTTP connection in Dundry. It works like this:

Somewhere in Bristol, a “leased fibre line” needs to be installed for us. This can either be at a company or even in a private home of someone we happen to know. The important thing is that this base station must have a clear line-of-sight to Dundry (Aren't we lucky living on a hill?). Both at the base station and up here, aerials will be installed to beam data back and forth. In Dundry, this could be done on one of the masts or even on the church tower (with permission and unobstrusively, of course).

We can then build a wireless network and extend it as far as we like by installing booster stations at certain intervals (again in private properties). We just need to make sure all the booster stations keep running and are not accidentally switched off. As a result, we would have Wi-Fi available all over Dundry, just like you currently have much smaller Wi-Fi hotspots in the pubs and the British Legion.

One provider told me that he typically achieves 20 MB/s, but to be on the safe side he always promises to deliver at least 10 MB/s. His data limit is so high (250,000 MB = 250 GB per month) that it can be considered virtually unlimited.

This is the solution most providers under the CDS voucher scheme offer. Having a leased line can be expensive and takes about 3 months to get installed. Therefore providers are keen to see a minimum number of participating customers and will be quite happy that we have so many vouchers. But we must place our order soon, if we want to have this as a community solution.

I will talk about specific prices and contract conditions later.


Satellite Connection

At fist, it sounds brilliant: Just stick another satellite dish on top your house and you'll get fast Internet. There is no minimum community signup. Anyone can just take their CDS voucher to a satellite provider, get a free installation within two weeks and enjoy fast Internet.

But before you all run off and do that, make sure you understand the drawbacks. First, you have to learn about a further technical term called “latency”. In short, this is the response time after you click on something on your screen and it is a separate reading from the actual speed that your data travels. For satellite connections, latency is very long, often quoted as 600-900ms, compared to 50ms or lower for an FTTP connection.

Please read
AAC Pre Sales Doc v2.pdf
(312.52 KiB) Downloaded 152 times
for a very good explanation of this effect.

You should also bear in mind that satellite connections do not give you unlimited data. There is usually a cap and the more data you want the more expensive your contract will be. A very low limit seems to start at £10 for 3,000 MB (3 GB) per month.

Again, I will give you more detailed price comparisons later.


Tethering a Mobile Phone to your Computer

Modern mobile phone contracts and smartphones allow you to use the Internet through your mobile phone signal. You can even tether (= hook up) a mobile phone to your home computer and use it as a broadband connection.

But the technology is still evolving. There are drawbacks in terms of speed, availability/reliability and data limits.

Various names and abbreviations have been used over the years, but for simplicity, we can concentrate on the following terms to describe mobile phone standards:

1G – These were the very first mobile phones. Analogue technology, no longer used.

2G – Goes back many years when connections were very slow and it was common to have data limits such as 10 MB per month. Nowadays it is considered obsolete but still available as a fallback when newer standards fail. Speeds range from 0.5 to 1 MB/s.

3G – Now commonly used. In theory, this can give you up to 21 MB/s, but in practice it is hardly faster than our current landline connection. Reception in Dundry is flaky, often switching between 2G and 3G.

4G – Only available in inner city areas, due to required infrastructure. In theory, it can give you up to 100 MB/s, i.e. good enough for replacing a fixed line in your home, although some mobile providers specifically prohibit you from tethering your mobile phone to a pc.

5G – Does not exist yet, standard needs to be defined. Probably emerging by the early 2020s.

Each of these standards needs its own infrastructure, starting from a network of transmitter stations right down to the latest (and expensive) mobile phone in your pocket. This is why some of the newer standards are not available everywhere yet.

Data limits depend on your contract and can range from 500 MB per month to 50,000 MB (50 GB). There are even “unlimited” contracts which do in fact have a limit called “fair use policy”, i.e. if you use too much data (in the provider's opinion), they can slow your connection down or suspend it altogether.

If you are looking for a good data plan for your mobile phone, please check out:

https://www.broadbandchoices.co.uk/guid ... data-plans

I've only added this information for interest, you cannot use your CDS voucher for a tethering solution.



Data Bonding

You can take the mobile data concept even further and make it a mix-and-match setup: If you have two slow Internet connections, such as your current landline and a 3G mobile, what would stop you from combining the two systems and adding up the speeds?

Well, to start with, if you are connected to the Internet, you must be identifyable as a single location (DNS). Having two connections on one computer therefore does not work.

But there are providers out there who can do this for you. They take your two connections and “bond” them on their own server before connecting you to the Internet. Of course, you are paying a monthly membership fee for the service. And, because your data has to take a detour, you will find that some of the speed gain is eaten up by latency (see
AAC Pre Sales Doc v2.pdf
(312.52 KiB) Downloaded 152 times
).

In our location, the speed gains will be rather modest, but nevertheless, getting it from 1.5 MB/s to 4MB/s may be some achievement, if nothing else helps.

If you are interested in such a solution, please read a review about a device called “Boosty” (no endorsement, just to show you how bonding works) here:

http://www.increasebroadbandspeed.co.uk ... -broadband

Again, you cannot use your CDS voucher for a bonding solution.

***

We are still waiting to hear back from some providers before we can do comparisons of prices and conditions, but at least you now know what can be done from a technical point of view.


Holger, on behalf of the
Dundry Broadband Group



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