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Can the UK broadband network cope?
Wednesday 23 June 2010 14:04:44 by John Hunt

BT heralded that the launch of their 21st Century Network (21CN) would revolutionise broadband in the UK allowing consumers access to more powerful and integrated services including entertainment services. One could say that users are now accessing this kind of material through services such as iPlayer that allow viewers to watch live TV online or catch-up with any they have missed.

We are currently in the midst of an excellent test for how the UK's broadband network can hold up in the face of huge demand for video content with the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Budget announcement all streamed live online. Yesterday, business ISP Timico saw the budget set a new record high for video usage online, up 309% over their average, and this afternoon could top that still with the nation tuning in to watch England take on Slovenia in our final group game of the World Cup.

So how is BT's wholesale broadband network holding up? For some it's business as usual as everything seems to still be working fine but others may be seeing signs of the network bursting at the seams. High latency and packet loss seem to be the main effects, and these are currently showing up in the afternoons at the times when World Cup games are scheduled. Some users may only see a slight increase in latency or a small amount of packet loss whilst for others latency has quadrupled and packet loss is in the region of 5%. BT are aware of the issue and planned upgrades for the weekend gone aimed at trying to alleviate the strain, but there hasn't seemed to be any improvement. At present around 35 of the 71 BRAS's used for 21CN are thought to be affected in some way.

The graph above from our broadband quality monitoring tool shows clearly the rise in latency in one of our staff broadband lines that is only very lightly used. The average latency has quadrupled from around 28ms to approximately 120ms at peak World Cup time and packet loss can be seen (the red at the top of the graph) increasing. Users affected may see streamed video occasionally breaking up or freezing from packet loss and websites would be slower to load due to the higher latency.

Exchanges that are affected are those connected to the following BRAS's:

  • *-DY (latency)
  • *-L-FAR (packet loss)
  • *-L-NWS (latency)
  • *-L-WAT (latency)
  • *-LS-BAS (latency)
  • *-NT-B (small latency increase)
  • *-SL (latency)
  • *-WV (latency)
  • *-GI-B (packet loss)
  • *-GW-TH (low packet loss)

21CN isn't the only network affected however as some users on BT's older 20CN network have also seen packet loss during the times of world cup matches.

Some may wonder why BT haven't installed more capacity to cope for this in advance. Many ISPs have indeed increased their capacity to BT to avoid there being a bottleneck at that point and also links out to the Internet have been expanded, however the level of traffic may have exceeded expectations for those who plan capacity and bringing live new capacity can take time.

We should stress that the latency issues referred to here relate to the BT Wholesale network used by most service providers in some ways or others. It is also important to note that our current broadband quality monitor can only track performance for static IP addresses, and as such we cannot for example yet monitor Virgin Media's performance during the World Cup.

Comments

Posted by cyberdoyle over 6 years ago
won't be a problem once we get Next Generation Access on fibre... will it? Its only the old victorian copper that is holding everything back. The brave new world awaits and other countries are busy rolling out fibre, they won't wait for us to catch up, we will get left in the digital slowlane. the incumbent is working on a scarcity model instead of a next gen abundance one.
Posted by john (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
This is backhaul congestion which are already fibre, so yes, it could well happen with fibre access. It's partly an issue of access network speeds growing closer to backhaul network speeds as the backhaul tech is lagging making it expensive to increase backhaul.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
cd - I have told you before that this is nothing to do with the copper access network.

Why do you continue to write such rubbish? The core network across the UK, and the world, uses fibre for transmission.

Please ask someone to explain how data networks works.
Posted by krazykizza over 6 years ago
Entanet is currently dieing. 300kbps download, 800kbps upload!
Posted by themanstan over 6 years ago
Um... no company ever could afford to runout a full demand capacity network. The sums don't add up. Works for all media, including mobile phones, ever tried texting or calling someone at New Year? If a company did offer it we wouldn't be prepared to pay what would be required to recoup costs and make a profit on such a venture!
Posted by uniquename over 6 years ago
Doesn't seem to be a problem on the BQM for me on O2, but I have definitely been affected at the relevant times, particularly though the loading speed of the tbb forums.

I've several times commented on the fact, (but it has always been ignored), that the latest BTW Performance Tester (no longer called speed tester though its URL is the same), now gives a huge acceptable speed range. This can only be to cover the possibility of congestion on the WBC backhaul, where the idea of backhaul congestion on IPStream was regarded as impossible. (Excluding simple short-term exchange congestion).
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
It's no surprise if there are issues at the moment. This is the peak of all peaks of demand. It is a rare event (once every few years for a few hours in one month). You can't switch network capacity on and off on an hourly basis. An ISP would have to be mad to expend the resources to ensure they could deal with it as by definition the extra capacity would go unused for 99% of the time.
Posted by MarkHampshire over 6 years ago
Down from 2.7Mbps to 2.1Mbps on Three 3G at the moment - seems largely unaffected this time. 1-0 to England, BTW...
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
@cd:For heaven's sake - I thought you'd finally learnt how the UK network operated.

Right now that ancient copper is helping to protect the national network by limiting what users can ask for. Of course the backhaul and core could be upgraded to keep pace but it's such a quantum leap. Ultimately even fibre doesn't have infinite capacity.

All networks are designed based on averages and norms. These are not normal times so, yes, the network is a bit bogged down. It will pass.
Posted by TaRkADaHl over 6 years ago
@cyberdoyle really? I mean... really? Come on.

What we need is a backhaul with P802.3ba... 10Gb/s :D
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Just to add something:Even if we had a 100% fibre network this thread would still be being posted. As several of us have written - that's how services are designed. The only difference in your world of total fibre is that people would be having difficulty watching in 3DHD instead of questionable quality SD.

The picture would still be stuttering and breaking up - you'd just see the glitches in greater detail :)
Posted by timmay over 6 years ago
XLN broadband here at work and it's worse than usual can't actually watch the match and haver no access to a TV :-(

http://www.thinkbroadband.com/ping/share/a2d7120f1391be021dc101bd348629b3-23-06-2010.html
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
All credit to Timico. We're only on ADSL and our lines don't achieve much at the best of times but we're still getting our normal 2.8Mb/s throughput.
Posted by krazykizza over 6 years ago
connected my loving iPhone to my computer and getting almost 2mbps on 3G. Great to be connected :)
Posted by aircool over 6 years ago
Simply put, no.

Maybe its just me but entanet is blocking p2p, facists!
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
"won't be a problem once we get Next Generation Access on fibre... will it?"

yes it will actually. Arguably it will be worse as the more edge connectivity capacity the bigger the potential load on the core networks.

Victorian copper - silly cow, how many phone lines existed in 1901 precisely ?

Go and do something useful, instead of waiting to pounce on any posting with the same old tripe.
Posted by grahammm over 6 years ago
It would probably not have been so bad if the World Cup had not clashed with Wimbledon. I do not think that they normally clash, so why the clash of 2 major sporting events this year?
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
Ask FIFA, Wimbledon kept the same schedule as ever. You don't for a second expect FIFA to acknowledge there are other sports in the world than football do you?
Posted by FibreGuy over 6 years ago
@Herdwick

What Cyberdoyle is referring to is Victorian era copper technology, u silly sheep ;)

And agreed that like any supply chain system, NGA is only as strong as its weakest link.

i.e. time for BT to invest in upgrading its core network or alternatively step aside
Posted by cyberdoyle over 6 years ago
would rather be a silly cow than a silly sheep. But that is by the by. Queen Victoria made the first phone call from Osborne house I think. Not much fun if nobody else had a phone though I guess. And its good to see people are realising that its the copper protecting the obsolete core network. I thought that had been upgraded. 21cn? Sounds like the whole thing is a bit pants then eh?
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
So BT is putting in fibre for new builds, thousands of businesses have had fibre delivery for years and FTTC removes miles of copper at an economic cost.

And the BT core network is all digital with mainly fibre, what's obsolete about it?
Posted by ian72 over 6 years ago
@grahammm - world cup 2006 was 9 June - 9 July. 2002 - 30 May to 30 June. Both of these would surely have also clashed with Wimbledon. Didn't bother looking any further back. Difference is more people can watch on broadband now than even 4 years ago so the problem is bigger. How many live streams of the 2006 world cup were available? Just shows that Internet is not the best medium for live coverage - did anyone watch it on a TV?
Posted by CaptainHulaHoop over 6 years ago
cd -

i just come to this site now to see what tripe you come out with next..How many times have you been told THE BACKHAUL IS NOT COPPER. even phone calls have been on fibre once they leave the exchange for donkeys years
Posted by CaptainHulaHoop over 6 years ago
NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER, NOT COPPER,
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
"won't be a problem once we get Next Generation Access on fibre... will it?" - No the problem will be many times worse, if you let people rip at the speeds fibre is capable of it could cripple the core network. Maybe this monitoring should be a level playing field, i.e. run it now and then after the world cup etc. Its its not a problem after I don't see this as a problem at all. You can't invest mill/billions in capacity that won't get used 90% of the time
Posted by gromit69 over 6 years ago
Oh dear - I believe I'm turning into an old man as I'm just about to repeat myself ;)
1) The edge network is rarely the problem when it comes to capacity - congestion is caused nearer the core.
2) Unicasting streams is great, but is not scaleable. Broadcasts (or multicasts) are much more efficient.
What would be lovely is for ADSL to be routable IP at the exchange, with local CDN's. So you can pull down your stream from your nearest town, and P2P with your neighbours is very cheap as you're on the same switch.
Chances of that happening are very slim though (especially with BT!)
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
Well if they aren't multicasting events like the world cup I'm not surprised if its groaning!
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
@gromit69:Actually BT's GEA originally included multicast capability and might possibly support what you suggest. I don't know if that's still in the spec but it seemed to have been well designed. Some one clearly wanted more than just a faster alternative to ADSL. They wanted a completely new, modern data distribution system.

I wonder how much of that made it into the final product.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
gromit - how do you propose ADSL is routable IP at the exchange given the requirement to serve multiple operators who use their own address space?

It's not about it being unlikely with BT, it's just impossible, an LNS and IP router in every exchange?

I'd suggest checking out the BTWholesale ADSL product specifications, large scale Wholesale ADSL just isn't compatible with the things you describe.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
cd - stop trying to backtrack. You witter on about copper being the issue over and over again and are now blaming the core network with copper being used to protect it. You've no idea what you're talking about as far as networks that are larger than a wireless mesh and a couple of PtP fibre links go.

PLEASE educate yourself, people will take your opinions far more seriously if you do.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
Dixi - well said, spot on.

Can I add her continual writings about access to all and any fibre in the ground. Fibre does not equal internet.
Posted by CaptainHulaHoop over 6 years ago
i am tempted to go thru previous posts to find all her stupid uneducated comments and compile a top ten.
save that idea for a rainy day. :)
Posted by camieabz over 6 years ago
Interesting stuff. Certainly a good testbed for the London Olympics, although I assume that given London will be the host, the demand on the UK's infrastructure will be higher?

You now have almost two years to get 100% coverage of FTTH. Best of luck! ;)
Posted by cyberdoyle over 6 years ago
Some sites give you the option to take all a users comments from different posts. I would appreciate you doing that Dixie because this site doesn't. The time will come when you understand. The current infrastructure is not good enough for today's needs let alone next generation needs, and won't be until we are all on fibre and copper is eliminated. When the world is using video constantly and not just for football we won't stand a chance. Compile the list. keep it safe. And we will see who was the fool.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 6 years ago
soz, it was the captain made the kind offer to compile the comments. you guys are so sweet.
Posted by digitaldales over 6 years ago
Boys, boys, boys....let's face reality. The British comms network is not up to the job. Whatever it was/is built with, the telcos have been playing the scarcity aka profit model for so long that put it under the *tiniest* bit of strain and it groans. You think the World Cup is strenuous? Wait till every consumer is a content creator. Then it will suffer, and so it should because it is naff.

This network we are trying to operate over SHOULD be able to do far more than it can. Communication is two way, and it should be; so it has been since the dawn of human evolution.

Posted by digitaldales over 6 years ago
Other countries and communities within them have built networks than can cope ON DEMAND with an "event" (viz round Toronto this afty) where people are uploading video, sharing video, local access is at an all-time high etc etc etc. No World Cup killing that middle mile is there? Unprecedented demand though....

Posted by digitaldales over 6 years ago
We have so many people here who still think Britain is great. Get out a bit, travel, look at the UK from outside its borders and you may find that there are networks in other countries that actually deserve the label "best network". Our core doesn't. We have a population who luckily are backward as far as 21st century comms go, but as soon as they do catch up e.g. watching the forcefed sheep fodder some call a game, the whole thing c(b)reaks terminally.

Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
Many LLU services and Vigin Cable seemed to have no issue or a single fluttered eyelash over this world cup group game........ Nothing more really needs saying..... *cough BT CARP cough* Not that its going to happen but if England made it to the final, i can just imagine the BT owned equipment in exchanges literally melting LOL
Can UK Broadband cope??? Sure if you have a good LLU supplier or cable, if ya lumbered with BT re-sold garbage though ya screwed.
Posted by MarkHampshire over 6 years ago
Ironically, I thought the one single thing that ADSL had over cable was that since the pair is unique all the way back to the exchange, contention can be more effectively managed.
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
@digitaldales is anyone in Toronto actually watching the world cup, if not... what is your point?
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
dd - is part of the problem that people only want to pay £10/month?
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
cb - equipment melting? Why? Back writing your usual boring anti BT stuff.

dd - what will people pay for a better network?
Posted by cyberdoyle over 6 years ago
well said digitaldales. I think britain is great, just the comms are dodgy.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
@digitaldales Canada are really a bad example of how to do it. Overpriced, shaped, overages, slow speeds. Mmm not good.
Posted by gromit69 over 6 years ago
@Dixinormous - That's my point entirely. Breaking out to IP at the exchange would cut out anyone other than the equipment owner. LLU providers could do it, but it would mean a bigger overhead in equipment costs per exchange. I still like the concept though!
@AndrueC - That would be interesting to see if it was implemented. I remember the BBC doing some sort of multicasting trial a while ago which a few ISPs were part of. But the whole point of multicasting is to get it as close to the end device as possible...
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
How fast is AOL Canada Broadband?

FAST! AOL Broadband is up to 50 times faster (up to 100 times faster in Ontario) times faster than a 28.8 Kbps dial-up connection!

High Speed - $24.95 x 3 mths, then $44.95


Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
quote Somerset "cb - equipment melting? Why? Back writing your usual boring anti BT stuff."

Not Anti BT at all its the facts, LLU and Virgin Cable were vastly less affected than BT and BT resold rubbish. http://beusergroup.co.uk/?id=366 confirms this.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
Melting?
Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
Their synthetic wet string melting is the only reason i can think that LLU and Cable based services seem pretty much unaffected but BT resold dross didnt. Bandwidth sold for too much by BT, ISP buying the bare minimum, its pretty obvious what has happened.

Roll on the 2012 Olympics when everyone has BT based FTTC and attempt to watch the opening ceremony on their bandwidth/capacity limited nonsense. Now that is going to be funny, thankfully i have the sense not to take anything BT broadband related and be affected.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
'synthetic wet string melting is the only reason i can think'

Anyone with a professional answer?
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
BT Wholesale are in the rather unfortunate situation of having price controls both in terms of how much they can charge and what contention ratio they can run at on, the symptoms of this are obvious - crunch points both within the BTW network and at the edges between BTW and ISPs.

In addition Be's graphs are noteworthy in that the spike was no higher than their normal peak load, it just came earlier, other ISPs with more business customers reported breaking their bandwidth records. Some ISPs had peering and transit maxing out even though their own networks were fine.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
dd - I'm sure if BT were allowed to shaft wholesale customers as heavily as Bell Canada are (shaping them during peak times and charging them overages per customer who breaks transfer limits along with costs per port) we'd see slightly different results.

6Mbps from Bell Canada with 25GB/month transfer limit, protocol shaped at peak times a mere $45cdn /month.

Cheap / good / fast. Pick 2.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Some info on FTTC capabilities here:
http://www.openreach.co.uk/orpg/products/nga/downloads/Master%20Slide%20Deck%20NGA%20Forum%20Final%202010-04-22.pdf

It has a link for multicasting but it appears dead. Then again it might be our office link - something seems a bit broken.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Further searching yields a lot of mentions of GEA and multicasting in the same articles (looks like something the industry was asking for) but no concrete links. Maybe it's been pulled?
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Bah.

http://www.telecoms.com/9913/it%E2%80%99s-no-wonder-virgin%E2%80%99s-pleased-with-ofcom%E2%80%99s-pro-wholesale-stance-on-nga/

"..pointed out that GEA did not include multicast functionality.."
Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
quote"BT Wholesale are in the rather unfortunate situation of having price controls both in terms of how much they can charge and what contention ratio they can run at on......"

Are those price controls not a MAXIMUM they can charge and not a MINIMUM? Theres no reason unless im wrong that they could sell cheaper to ISPs. I fully accept i may be wrong though, if anyone wants to provide a link its a MINIMUM price they have to charge id find that interesting.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
Margin Squeeze Test - they can't price too low as they'd be accused of attempting to monopolise on their position to undercut the business case for LLU.

Ever wonder why BT can charge less in Market 3 areas than Market 1? Deregulation.
Posted by MarkHampshire over 6 years ago
Now, if we take that further: if there were not the obvious conflict of interest in having one of the service providers also owning the network others must use, there would be no need for those market restrictions and the regulation, eh?
Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
quote"Margin Squeeze Test - they can't price too low as they'd be accused of attempting to monopolise on their position to undercut the business case for LLU."

LLU has nothing to do with the cost BT resell their bandwidth at.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
So why ask the question if you were just going to summarily dismiss it?

Ofcom use the (outdated) Margin Squeeze Test to assess pricing for SMPF, Datastream, IPStream, WBC and WMBC products.

Per my above comment this exists to prevent BT Wholesale from crowding out LLU (and Datastream originally) by underpricing IPStream.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
That is nothing to do with things. There are different pricing structures for LLU and BT IPStream bandwidth. Theres no reason BT could not sell their own bandwidth to ISPs at the same rates. It is a MAXIMUM figure they are allowed to charge not a MINIMUM. BT choose to sell bandwidth at high prices to ISPs, theres no ruling on a MINIMUM price only MAXIMUM.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
cb - what are the rates, please give some examples.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
Ive no idea about exact rates and have not claimed that anywhere, all ive claimed is BT are set a MAXIMUM price they can charge for bandwidth not a MINIMUM price. What BT charge for bandwidth obviously is not cheap and that doesnt even need evidence to back up, if it were cheap ISPs especially those that have congestion due to any type of heavey use would buy more rather than lose customers.
Posted by Somerset over 6 years ago
It would be strange for Ofcom to set a minimum price.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
quote"It would be strange for Ofcom to set a minimum price."

Indeed and thats my point, its a MAXIMUM price they can charge, there is nothing to stop them charging a lower price for bandwidth.... BT obviously based on all the ISPs that had issues with people watching England games though charge high rates.
Posted by jupiler over 6 years ago
Copper, fibre, C/Fcombo, Sat/com?. don't matter. When 'Joe Jublic' gets whatever meg they buy into; the upto is forgotten, the max is expected always. When I finished with dial up, I thought, no longer will I have to use a mirror site from a country that was 'in bed' when I was up an about. It still amazes my 'Joe Jublic' brain when I end up downloading from 'the land down under' instead of from 'down the road'. I've heard wormholes may be a quick way of large distances in a short 'space' of time? (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun).
Posted by jupiler over 6 years ago
Error correction. 'a quick way of sending anything over large distances'
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