Getting Started With Broadband

What to do, what should happen and what happend to me.

Getting an Internet Provider

Preparation

Activation

Afterglow

This article describes the basic steps for getting a broadband connection, it includes some useful links and catalogues my own experiences in getting it all working.

Why should you get boradband, why not dial-up? It’s faster, there’s no need to wait to connect, you can use the phone at the same time, more than one computer can use it at once and it’s faster (important, that one). On the other hand, there’s no pay-as-you-go option so it can be more expensive. It seems to me though that when you’re starting out on the Iternet that’s when you’ll spend the most time getting round; you don’t know where anything is! So pay-as-you-go dial-up could prove the most expensive of all, and certainly the most stressful.

Getting an Internet Provider

The place to begin is with a connection to the Internet. If you’re lucky enough to be in an area served by Blueyonder then go here. If, like me, you live somewhere, let’s say, more remote (don’t get me started) then you’ll have to rely on ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line, which means it’s faster at getting stuff than it is at sending it) and BT (British Telecom, but you knew that already). In which case go here. Once you’ve checked whether you can get ADSL you’ll need to choose an ISP (Internet Service Provider) and a good place to begin is here. My own choice is BT Yahoo! because they offered the cheapest 1 Megabit connection and because they were my dial-up ISP and it seemed less would go wrong with the move to broadband by staying with the same supplier. My knowledge of cable broadband is mostly anecdotal so I’ll do my best to give a complete picture but if I miss something it’s because I wasn’t told!

Criteria for choosing an ISP includes:

How fast the connection is.

How much the monthly download limit is.

What hardware you get when you sign-up and how much it costs.

What services you get; streaming music, web space etc.

Do you like the look of their logo?

Okay, maybe not that last one so much, but the rest is important. It can be worth looking on the forums like this for experiences with that company. When reading these reports remember that people without problems generally don’t say anything so most of the stories will be horror stories.

 

Preparation

All that could take some time, so rather than wait for you to work your way through all that, let’s move on to what happens next.

As I understand it Blueyonder is either a case of an engineer coming and installing a box on the wall into which is plugged a cable modem which by all accounts will be something like this or your television’s set-top box may contain a network socket that can be used.

ADSL on the other hand is slightly more involved. Each ISP will be slightly different and I’ve only done this once so I’l explain how BT Yahoo! works. There will be three emails, each containing a box marked ‘essentials’.

First, an email arrives confirming that you’re ordered boradband and giving basic information like the order number, the telephone line you want ADSL on, your user name (for identifying yourself to BT Yahoo!) and a number to call if you get jttery (more on that later).

In a few days time you will get another email that includes your network ID (not the same as your user name, it’s only used to connect to the broadband network) and confirmation of the activation date.

Finally, before activation day you should get a final email telling you of the activation and reminding you of your password. This, combined with your Network ID will let you get broadband working and used in conjunction with you User Name will let you get access to your account, email services and all the other stuff only available to subscribers.

Now, back to the jitters. I signed-up for broadband the very second BT let me, which was six months before my local exchange was upgraded. As time drew near I was keeping an eye on my order and the status of the exchange (orders have been known to go missing and it was six months ago) I used the BT Broadband site to check it’s progress. The site claimed to have no idea what I was talking about! I called BT Yahoo! and was told that the order would not show up on the site until the exchange was activated. Fair enough, the exchange was activated and I went back to the site to check and still my order was nowhere to be found. It seems that the BT Broadband site is not the same as the BT Yahoo! broadband site, even though the ‘check order status’ link on the BT Yahoo! site sometimes (!) takes you to the BT Broadband site. With me so far? Good. If you want to check whether BT Yahoo! has your order, click here. One final point on this subject, the Status section of your order may not be entirely accurate; checking the status of my order now, a month later, apparently I’ll be receiving my modem soon and then I’ll be ready to be activated. Oh dear.

Speaking of which, at some point before activation you should receive a parcel from BT Yahoo! containing your new modem, a CD-ROM and a pair of white boxes with phone sockets and a lead on. These are your microfilters, they get plugged into the phone sockets whereever you plug in a telephone. You see, ADSL works on your phone line without tying it up; you can still make phone calls at the same time as being on the Internet, honestly, after using dial-up for years it’s like magic. Anyway, without these filters you will, in theory at least, hear hiss on the line while on the phone and at the same time the noise from the phone call will disrupt the broadband connection. So install the filters, unplug the phone, plug the filter into the wall and plug the phone into the filter. You’ll notice that their are two sockets on the filters, one is oblong and is where the phone goes, this is the filtered phone line. The other is the more square American style and is the unfiltered phone line for use be the ADSL modem.

 

Activation

It’s the big day, you’re taken the day off work and didn’t get a wink of sleep last night but what’s going to happen? Well, if you’ve gone for Blueyonder, the engineer will have flicked a switch somewhere and you should be ready to go. A similar situation should exist with BT but in my case while my broadband connection was supposed to be activated on the Friday, I got no modem, no email and no tell-tale hiss on the line to tell me it was activated. BT telephone support isn’t open on the weekends…

What should happen with an ADSL ‘wires only’ activation day is you get the final Activation email, plug the modem into the wall and your computer, install the drivers from the included CD-ROM and wait for a minute or so while the modem finds the ADSL signal and synchronises. You then install the BT Yahoo! software, enter your Network ID and password and head of on the Information Super Highway, scarf trailing in the wind. I’m guessing a bit on the modem part because my experience was somewhat different…

That was not a fun weekend, I’d been waiting literally years to get broadband and now on the big day, nothing <sigh>. Let’s skip to Monday, which was a much happier day. I called BT Yahoo! and politely enquired as to the actual status of my order, it has been known for a line to fail it’s tests and for BT to simply lose interest in the whole thing without so much as a parting email. I was polite despite my frustration because whatever’s gone wrong it isn’t the fault of the person on the other end of the phone is it? Now if I could have talked to the engineer who was supposed to activate my connection… Anyway, the man from BT Yahoo! went and checked with the engineer and was told that the line had indeed been activated on the Friday as expected and had been operational all weekend! Whoohoo! Now, while I didn’t have the BT Yahoo! modem, I had got ahead of myself and ordered a Netgear wireless ADSL modem/router from ebuyer which I hadn’t opened because I had intended to test the connection with the BT Yahoo! modem and if the line was no good to send the Netgear back. So once off the phone I ripped open the router box, plugged it and and sure enough the ADSL light lit and I was away. More or less. It took a bit more fiddling to get XP to see the router as a way to the Internet and not to keep trying to dial either the modem or my mobile phone via Bluetooth. I’ll cover the steps to take when installing a new piece of kit on your network here.

The lessons I learned from that are:

ADSL does not necessarily produce hiss on the phone either with old phones or modern DECT ones.

Expecting to deliver a parcel on a specific day is fatally optimistic (for a comparison consider parachuting with an anvil).

BT Yahoo! order status page is less than ideal.

Always have an escape route (I think Q (James Bond, not Star Trek) said that before disappearing into the floor).

 

Afterglow

Once you’re though all that, that’s it, if you had a dial-up modem either put it safe in a box somewhere in case something goes wrong or blow it up / nail it to a tree / run over it with the car / donate it to charity. Whatever you do, unplug it from your computer; you don’t need it now unless there’s a problem and unless you’re using it for dialing your phone or for faxes it leaves a security vulnerability where rogue dialer software can be installed from the Internet without your knowledge and can start calling premium rate numbers on the other side of the world. It happens!

Go, enjoy how much better it all is with your fat new pipe.

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