As a Technical Support Consultant for an Internet Provider I get to deal with a large number of customers with broadband issues. While there are a number of different fault types they can be broken down into four distinct areas, which are as follows, in increasing level of difficulty.
Now these terms may be difficult for a layperson to understand so here are my simplified explanations of each fault type.
Authentication – this is where the Broadband light is lit on your router but you can’t get onto the internet. This can happen because your router sends a username and password (sent to you by your provider or already setup) to prove who you (as a customer) are. Sometimes the servers at the Exchange don’t recognise your password, it may have been scrambled or incorrectly typed in, so it rejects it faster than a doorman at an exclusive venue when “you’re not on the list..”. Another way of thinking about this is to imagine you have someone else’s house keys and you can’t get in.
Synchronisation – this is where the Broadband light is off and you can’t get onto the internet. Think of your router “talking” to the Exchange if it makes it easier to understand. This can be a bit more serious.
Intermittent – now these pesky ones can be hard to fix without getting the customer to do some basic tests. Yes I know… if I could have a £1 for every time I’ve heard “but I’ve already done that last time…” I wouldn’t need to work ever! Now intermittent faults are exactly that. Sometimes your connection’s is on and sometimes it’s off. Broadband is not an always on service and can drop connection several times a day. Personally I consider anything up to 4-5 times a day as normal, more than that, I would say there is a more serious problem somewhere… I tend to describe intermittent faults similar to being a detective, in that you have a list of suspects, evidence and it requires a process of elimination to bring the dastardly culprit to justice (Damn you cursed microfilter!).
Performance – these faults are the worst to track down as for all intents and purposes everything actually works. All the customer is complaining of is poor speed, iPlayer stuttering etc. We still run through the basic checks to make sure we haven’t missed anything but as you may have guessed by now things get more tricky as there is often nothing obvious.
Well hopefully that wasn’t too hard to understand! Now I’ll cover some checks you can do or have been asked to do by your ISP and what they are all about…
The first thing to be aware of is the mysterious “Test Socket”. How do you know if you have one? What does it do? Well I describe it as “having a line running across the middle as if it comes apart in half” and it should look like the one in the picture on the left.
If you remove the two screws and pull away the faceplate you will see that there is an identical socket “hidden” behind the main one… There is a good reason for this as BT are only responsible up to this socket. Everything beyond that is the customer’s responsibility. The Test Socket disconnects any extensions wired into the faceplate giving you a direct connection to your green cabinet and the Exchange.
OK, so what if you haven’t got a socket like that one… Well in that case I’m guessing that your wiring has been in place for well over a decade and BT has not been to fit a new socket. It’s quite possible that you have what is called an “old style” master socket possibly with something called a “junction box”. This is seriously old school wiring here, perfectly good for voice calls, but the kiss of death to broadband. Call BT and explain and they may fit one free of charge as it saves them grief in the future…
There is one other socket that can sometimes be found, it looks like a double socket but has markings for Phone and ADSL. This is called a Service Specific Face Plate (SSFP) or a filtered faceplate. These types of sockets have a built-in filter so you don’t need to fit one on each extension in your property. There is however one problem with these in that it is quite common for the filter to fail and cause more problems.
Now you may be wondering “why can’t you just send out BT to sort this out”, there is a simple answer to this. Firstly, if BT visit your property and say the fault is with your wiring or equipment you may be liable for a charge of £150 + VAT and secondly BT will not always send out an engineer if they are not satisfied that the customer has done all the basic checks as advised by their ISP.
So that’s it for Part 1. In the next thrilling instalment I will be covering “how to fix” some of these problems and the things you can do to improve your connection. So stay tuned!