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BT Wholesale Max product upgrades still happening
Monday 22 May 2006 15:07:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Last week saw various headlines like this one on The Register - 'Gremlins halt BT's 8 meg upgrade'. Which while correct when referring to the bulk upgrade tool that BT Wholesale is trialling with providers, is certainly not true for all upgrades and orders for the Max products. Service providers still have the ability to order regrades or new connections on a Max product, but without the bulk tool the ability to do many thousands in a day will be curtailed.

The roll-out of the Max products has been something of a mixed bag, and possibly too many people rushed into the upgrades without thinking about potential issues. This refers to both providers and the public, also communication between all parties from BT Wholesale down to the humble customer has often been very poor.

One useful word of warning is that if you are on an ultra stable fixed speed connection, then at this time think twice before trying to wring the last ounce of speed out of the line by switching to a Max product. The previous BT Wholesale products with their conservative planning limits has largely insulated the UK ADSL broadband populace from the joys of seeing lines drop during thunderstorms and other transient noise spikes.

The biggest complaint (or at least the one people are making the most noise about) is the issue of people now seeing high line sync speeds, but the actual download speeds are very low in comparison. We have previously talked about the BRAS Data Rate, and how BT Wholesale use this to control the throughput on a connection. What many may not be aware of is how this Data Rate varies over time. Contrary to rumour, the BRAS Data Rate is not set to a fixed value after the 10 day 'training' period, it can vary at any time. The rules are such that if you line resyncs at a line speed lower than previously, the rate will drop automatically, and for it to rise again you need to see three days of higher line sync speeds. For example, if you sync at 5120kbps you will normally have a Data Rate of 4.5Mbps, but if the line speed drops to 1728kbps your data rate will drop to 1.5Mbps immediately, only increasing once a sync speed of 2272kbps or higher is seen for three days.

We believe that a lot of the complaints about low download speeds may be down to people having the odd low sync but not seeing this because the modem resyncs again at a higher speed shortly after, and thus their Data Rate has been locked down to a low value. Alas there is no simple way for an end-user to see this BRAS Data Rate value, but it should in theory be available from the service provider - but getting the figure from providers is not always easy. Another problem is the sticky BRAS Data Rate, whereby even after the three day period this setting is stuck at a low speed, and needs a prod from the service provider to go back to the correct figure.

LLU providers generally avoid this Data Rate issue, by their systems following the line sync speed more closely. Also with LLU providers the number of customers is fairly low, and thus networks will often have more capacity available per user, so the additional effects of contention/congestion/traffic management will be a lot less apparent.

The Max products from BT Wholesale have brought faster speeds to many, but the actions of some providers are making life harder for some customers. One common belief is that you cannot regrade back to a fixed line speed product, but options for this are available from BT Wholesale, just that some service providers are choosing not to offer this route.

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