Contention or contentious – paying BT more for less.

Bee in my bonnet time.

Snake oils and ludicrously priced ‘luxury’ items aside I generally believe in the adage you get what you pay for. So when I sign and pay for a business contract I not unreasonably expect the service to match the premium. BT, it seems, disagree!

We moved last year and rather than simply giving me a new connection they co-erced me into a new contract, which is when the fun started. As we are a lot further from the exchange I was prepared for a drop in speeds. As it happens this translated into a drop from 18Mbs down, 1.5Mbs upstream to a just 7Mbs down and a paltry 0.7mps upstream, so from day one I was paying the same price for half the service. But it was to be expected.

What I didn’t expect was incessant disconnections, drop-outs, ip resets and, from time to time, days with no Internet at all. The first time they threatened me with a bill if the fault was my end, then found half a dozen errors their end, which they fully fixed. Until the next time were we also lost the phone lines and I made then return again. For which they once more warned I’d be facing a hefty bill if it was my fault. I’ve been playing with ADSL since the mid 90’s (BT rolled it out in 1998) and rather bluntly told them to get out and fix their problems. This time, between here and the main exchange they found and repaired nearly a dozen more faults, which they largely blamed on the weather, with the copper lines and nodes corroding in all the rain – and this was last autumn…
(There are access points dotted around between the main exchange and the green street cabinets and, the engineers moaned, “these are constantly full of water, causing these problems, nothing we can do about it”)

Every now and then it gets exasperating and I ring support, tell them as fix it and after arguing it is my end they do a reset ‘to be sure’ and lo and behold the line clears for a short time. When you actually try to get a straight answer they get a little shifty, frankly.

The thing is there’s a pattern. One that doesn’t make sense unless I was shafted and given a residential connection, which I’m assured I wasn’t, so after a particularly annoying night I started digging. On a business connection you get a 20:1 ration with BT (50:1 for home users) and it’s a tad slower in the day, a bit faster at night. Stands to reason, really, but what I has been experiencing for the past 9 months is the complete opposite. Around 5pm to 6pm it suddenly slows down – often unusably so, requiring a router (and IP) reset every few hours. Friday nights are the worst, as are weekends. Previously it would be as long as 8 months before I’d notice the changing IP – now it’s sometimes hourly.

So, that the heck’s going on?

This, from BT Help and Support : What is the contention ratio of my broadband service?

Although BT Business Total Broadband is a contended service, it’s no longer contended at the exchange level by the previous 20:1 and 50:1 ratios. However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll receive a one-to-one contention. The contention now happens at the national level and only at busy periods.

BT plans the whole network to provide good performance and shares its national infrastructure between all users. This works well, as consumer use in the business day is low, which gives a very good performance for business customers. An analogy would be the roads near your house. There’s enough capacity to keep traffic moving well at most times and sometimes there’s a bit of a slow-down. If everyone used their car at the same time, there would not be enough capacity.

You get a more telling admission of what’s going on below in this thread on BT’s forum between a business user and an administrator BT Business Support Forum : Broadband and internet : Contention ratio : Where can I find out the answer ?

(From ‎01-10-2012)

Is there anyone who can tell me EXACTLY how the contention ratios actually work now and ongoing ? I cannot get anyone from the business support to tell me. Recently I have had <1MB at some times of the day. With the increase in the use of internet tv, am I to expect the service to get worst and worst. There is no minimum in the contract.
Personally, being told to use a paying support line to attempt to get this type of information is a bit irritating.

DaveA (Administrator)
1) Contention ratio disappeared when fixed rate broadband was taken away. Now the network uses management to alter connections based on congestion patterns. Congestion isn’t nearly as much of an issue on ADSL2+, as that uses 21st Century Network.
Also there’s no way to determine what the minimum on any given line should be. Every line is different, and so any set figure would again be irrelevant.

Finally on this point there are many factors that could reduce a connection below any minimum figure. That then becomes a complete nightmare to maintain or regulate.

4) Many exchanges are being moved to 21st Century Network, and so should have access to ADSL2+. That, however, doesn’t help for those at long distance from the exchange, as you’ll still get about a meg or less when you get out to the maximum.

I thought as much. I was upgraded to ADSL2+, so I guess I must be on 21CN, right ?
Does your network management dynamically move connections around all your access points in my local exchange then ? Are you in theory effectively just sharing out all the usage evenly within an exchange or is it at a finer resolution ? Just curious :-)
Does BTs own video on demand service share the same access point infrastructure as me in my exchange or am I insulated from that ?

3) I can see how it would be a nightmare. I already have about max 10MB on my last mile, what I was asking was more about the pinch points further up the chain in the exchange. My last mile is irrelevant if my business line is being congestion controlled in the access points against the other 1000 home users watching Eastenders on iPlayer :-).
I was really curious about what is in store for me as internet tv increases.

Do you not have a concept of different tiers of service that applies to the exchange infrastructure so people who buy more expensive packages will have a chance of downloading stuff in non working hours in the future

DaveA (Administrator)
No problem. Questions are always good.

To be honest I don’t know the ins and outs of how the traffic is managed, but I do know that areas shouldn’t suffer from a small number of big bandwidth hogs in the same way that they did on the old network.

I suspect that the use of internet TV will have an effect, especially if it’s HD, although it would need a fair number of people all using it to have a significant impact. Obviously that will change in future, but by then hopefully fibre will be much more widespread.

I realise that there is talk of a two tier internet, but right now everyone pretty much shares the same network. Bear in mind that part of the reason BT still costs more than most is because of price regulation, not just because they want more money. Blame Ofcom for that one.

Naturally if you are not a business user you wouldn’t have read even this far, but if you are and you are affected, now you know why. You are paying extra to get a better service but in truth as actually getting the same level of service as everyone else and adding insult to injury the support staff (that you are paying a premium to access) seem to be under orders to spread FUD and skirt any issues that toast on this (to my thinking) deception.

On a related note, because of said issues I’ve been trying for the past 9 months of get fibre instead. I could have started with it straight away if I’d gone over to Virgin but – up to then – BT still had my loyalty.

NOW bearing in mind BT’s attitude above, let’s for a moment consider fibre optics. I can’t get it yet (possibly end of the month, they say) but offers aside, the residential Unlimited BT Infinity 2 package giving a respectable 76Mbs /19Mbs connection is £26 – barely more that I’m paying for my sub-standard ‘business connection’. They even throw in a £50 Sainsbury’s voucher to sweeten the deal!

BT residential unlimited infinity 2

HOWEVER, if you want the business version you are tied to a 2-year contract, paying £35 plus vat – so £42 a month – AND ARE CAPPED AT 100Gb a MONTH. : BT Infinity for Business

BT business infinity 2 - is capped! Why?

I have tried to get a straight answer out of BT over this anomaly and if you want to try, good luck with that! I have either been stonewalled, hung up on or met with incredulous disbelief and bewilderment by sales staff who confirmed the different and thought it insane. Business users are getting right-royally shafted by BT. For effectively the same connection as the family next door downloading movies all day you are tied to a longer contract – at almost twice the cost – without the extras of the residential service – and then to make the point clear then you are getting a very deal they cap your connection!

And they expect you to lap it up? No ta!

Come Monday I’ll call them and find out how long I’m still tied to this contract for and, as soon as possible move. Then I’ll call Virgin and see if they can help me move. They offer 100Mbs bundles for the same price as BT’s 76Mbs – and have 152Mbs available to my address now – and not and a “in a month” timescale that’s moved goalposts for the past year.

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