Lost Connection

April 15, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Posted in Business Continuity Planning, Home Office | 3 Comments
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If you’re reading this, it’s safe to assume that you have regular access to an Internet connection, either at home, or at work , or both.  So, let me start by asking you some questions:

  • How important is your Internet connection to your every day life?
  • How long can you afford to be without the connection?
  • Have you made any plans to cope with the loss of your connection?

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly we’re all becoming dependent upon Internet-based communications.  10 years ago, dial-up modems were the norm and home access to the Internet was only for the technically savvy.   Over the last decade, I’ve moved through unlimited evening and weekend access, to unlimited anytime access and onto broadband, first at 512Kbps and by increments up to 8Mbps (as luck should have it, the local BT exchange is around 150 yards from V1951 Towers, so we do actually get a reasonable speed).  We use that connection for 3 different PCs, an internet radio, my iPhone, my home office phone, our Nintendo Wii (for BBC iPlayer), MrsV1951’s Nintendo DS and anything else we can think of.  And the trend is bound to continue.  More and more devices are now internet-enabled.  Did you know that you can even buy TVs with built-in Skype?  No?  Well, take a look at this

We use our internet connection as the platform of choice for banking, managing insurances, researching new purchases (and often making those purchases), booking holidays and countless other day-to-day activities.  We’re currently looking forward to being able to make and change appointments at the local doctors’ surgery online.  Plus of course, as a self-employed consultant, I mostly work from home! 

So, a few weeks ago, I was running seriously late (for a variety of reasons) on the promised delivery of a draft report to a customer.  At around 7pm that evening, my broadband connection failed.  Disaster!  MrsV1951 and I were due to leave at 5am the following morning for the airport, en route to a few days holiday.  A quick investigation showed that while all my devices were connecting to the wi-fi element of the Home Hub, none could reach the outside world.  The hub however seemed to be synchronised with the ADSL service.  Having first got an apology off to my customer (thank heavens for iPhone and 3G – the customer kindly agreed to a generous extension to the deadline), I phoned BT’s help desk (inevitably, it’s in India).  I explained the situation – I have identical symptoms from multiple PCs, so it looks like the hub – but the help desk agent was clearly following a script and insisted that we slowly and painfully check configuration settings and Internet Explorer settings on the PC, and then repeat it all on a second PC and then change the connection from wireless to wired and do it all again.  After 2 hours, during which I’d been told to click the reset button in Internet Explorer (“Don’t worry, it won’t change your configuration.”  Yes it did! For a start, it disabled all my add-ins), I was close to hysteria.  My comments about single point failures were totally ignored, but finally, I got the answer (“We can see the sync signal from your ADSL hub, so it must be a problem on the hub.  We’ll try a hard reset and, if that doesn’t work we’ll need to replace the hub.”) that I’d been hoping for at the start of the call.  Fortunately, that restored the connectivity, just leaving me another couple of hours, resetting all the configurations I’d lost during the troubleshooting.  The following morning, tired after only a couple of hours sleep and a long drive to the airport, I vented my frustration on Twitter.   I was quite surprised to get the following reply:

Useful to have a fairly direct line of communication to people who can help.  If you’re a BT Total Broadband customer, it’s well worth following this account on Twitter (@BTCare) for service updates.  Interestingly, I’d not seen this publicised anywhere until they contacted me.  Incidentally, a little detective work revealed that the fault coincided with BT pushing a firmware update to the hub and also that I wasn’t the only person to lose their service as a result.

So, given that I work from home, I should have had the sense to make provision for this sort of failure, right?  Well, maybe, but it seems to me that we’ve already come to regard our broadband connection as just another utility.  We assume that it’s going to be available and working, whenever we choose to use it.  Product assurance engineers will explain that component failure rates mean there will always be a degree of unreliability.  However, that can often be unacceptable.  In the military, some systems are classed as militarily essential.  Thus, they are designed with multiple levels of redundancy and spares are carried, even for components that are never expected to fail.  David Hart Dyke was Captain of HMS Coventry during the Falklands War.  He once commented that “To me, reliability means that, when I push the button, it works.” 

So,  when I returned from holiday, I bought a 3G dongle and tested it from my desktop PC and my laptop.  I’m not going to get caught out again.

Looking to the future, my neighbour and his neighbour are both consultants, also working from home offices.  We’re discussing the possibility of introducing routers and CAT 5 cables between our 3 houses, to provide a fallback capability if any one of us loses broadband connection.  We might even look into broadband aggregation services, to permanently combine our bandwidth.  Peter Cochrane describes how aggregation services work in his blog.

Finally, I found a series of short videos by journalists, scientists and technologists, speculating on what the World be will be like in 10 years’ time.  You can find these thought-provoking pieces on  the Huffington Post.  The last video, is by Johan Bergendahl, VP of Marketing at Ericsson and discusses the importance of broadband.  Take a look at it below.

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3 Comments »

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  1. There are some ADSL routers now that have failover to 3G, which is nice, but only if you have a sensible charging arrangement 🙂

    In industry there’s a big problem with people failing to match the SLA of the service they purchased with the availability requirements they have in their head — to a degree you get what you pay for, and even the 99% availability of a leased line still means you could be off for four days (and of course no coverage for consequential loss).

    A bigger problem is the difficulty in getting genuinely redundant connections, given the amount of cross-selling and such.

    Still, for home/SOHO use the 3G dongles are a godsend, particularly as there are several PAYG options now for sensible money.

    For your neighbourhood sharing, point to point wifi might be better than Cat 5; not sure on the planning and electrical issues of stringing cables between houses… Good idea though

    • Hi Nik,

      Thanks for the comment. I certainly agree with your point about knowing what you pay for. The 3G pre-paid dongle that I have has a 3 month expiry on the 3GB usage limit.

      I guess you only really get resilience if you can aggregate a (say) BT service with a cable service.

      P2P wi-fi is a good option- simpler than burying CAT 5 in trunking and installing building filters and so on and with Daft n, the bandwidth should be fine.

  2. […] in Home Office, Systems Management | Leave a Comment A while back I wrote about the frustration of losing broadband at a critical time (is there ever a good time for it to happen?). So, I was intrigued come across this post on the […]


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