OpenDNS...finally

OpenDNS has garnered a lot of positive press over the last year. Frustratingly NTL’s use of proxies meant that no matter what I tried, OpenDNS could not be configured on it’s network which meant I couldn’t move to the service.

While I was cleaning up my bookmarks I stumbled again on OpenDNS and now that NTL & Telewest have merged into Virgin Media I thought it was worth trying one last time. Success. So what does OpenDNS do?

DNS requests are made every day from your home connection. E-mails, web surfing, online gaming etc all make use of DNS. DNS turns real addresses (www.apple.com) into an IP address for the physical computer you want to connect to. It makes it easier to surf and also means an address can stay fixed while the computer changes in the background (to a different IP address). Usually you make use of your own ISP’s DNS server which in general works OK but from time to time can have issues. Speed, lack of redundancy and update issues are ones I’ve seen over the years.

OpenDNS provides a free DNS service that promises to resolve addresses quickly and also a few unique services that I certainly don’t get from my current ISP. Firstly there are anti-phisihing features in place so that you will be warned and the phishing site intercepted should you be lead to one. There’s also spelling correction where OpenDNS will look at the URL you’ve typed and if it detects a typo it will redirect you to the correct site. Finally if you look up a site that cannot be resolved OpenDNS will display a page with aletrnatives.

OpenDNSYou can turn off these features if you find they get in the way and you can also see stats on domains visited, IP’s requested etc but that isn’t the killer feature for me. It’s the speed.

Since moving to OpenDNS web surfing has taken on an extra zip. Click on a link now and the page is served far quicker than it was using Virgin’s DNS servers. I’m taking 2-4 seconds quicker for me but your mileage may vary. I’m also convinced that I’m using a more redundant service than my ISP’s servers but time will really tell with regards reliability. The added security features are a bonus but I really do recommend swapping to OpenDNS and at least giving it a shot (that for any ISP you use, not just Virgin). There are great guides on the site for most common routers and operating systems that take you through the small changes that you need to make. Have a go and enjoy a faster and more secure web.

NTL Trials

So NTL are trialling a new way of shaping. Well, I think it’s new as I haven’t heard of any broadband provider working like this. If you are a heavy downloader, even during the day or at other off peak times then your connection will be limited during peak times. According to Cable Forum the trial affects 10Meg users who are limited to 5Meg during peak times.

Issues so far seem to be users who are out all day are still being downgraded during peak times. There is also ambiguity with the terms and conditions. This trial will only affect users who break the user policy…yet the user policy now states there is unlimited downloading on NTL. When will we get companies to spell out in black and white what exactly a broadband user can and cannot do. I’m on 10 Meg but to be honest there is so much contention on the network at the moment that in peak times I see around 3-4Meg. If this trial does free up bandwidth I’m all for it. Will be interesting to see what happens if NTL do keep their promise of everyone on at least 10Meg by the end of Q1 07 with 10Meg moving to 20Meg. I’ll be downgrading soon methinks.

Sky Broadband

A few months after buying Easynet Sky have launched their Sky Broadband package. On the surface the offerings are very cheap compared to competitors and also offer a free wireless Netgear router for all customers.

Sky Broadband

Look a little deeper though and things aren’t so clear. Firstly the max package is subject to a fair usage policy which if going by UK Online’s FUP will be similar to most other providers.

Secondly is that the broadband will be provisioned through Easynets LLU (Local Loop Unbundled) exchanges. This at the moment covers 28% of the UK but by year end will be over 50% and by end of 2007 over 70%. This is an extremely aggresive expansion over the coming months which will test the capacity of the network and also the quality of support staff. If you don’t connect to an LLU exchange you will use Sky’s Connect package which doesn’t offer as good value as the three packages mentioned above.

Third – you need to pay for a BT phone line which for many will add to the cost.

Fourth – you need to be a Sky Digital customer. If these points don’t cause you an issue then the broadband package is an amazing offer. Great value and the prospect of a fast Video on Demand service linked in with your Sky box. Despite this it’s not enough to tempt me into moving and that’s all down to Easynet/BT.

Six months ago I moved to NTL. That’s the last time I had issues with my broadband connection. Previous to NTL I had a short but unhappy experience with Freedom2Surf’s LLU service provisioned by Easynet. Unreliable, prone to disconnects and difficult to resolve due to problem being passed between Freedom2Surf, Easynet and BT forced my hand into switching to NTL. It will take a lot to convince me to move back although £10 a month compared to £35 with NTL is a strong argument. At the very least the competition from Sky should make NTL offer a more competitive service. More on the Sky offers can be found in the investor presentation.

Inevitability

It had to come in the end – NTL will shortly be introducing traffic shaping between 18:00 and 23:00. It slipped into the user policy on Friday although it has been announced today that this was ‘a mistake‘. I’ve got mixed views on this. Most other broadband comp’s are doing this and they do have to make a profit for the service they provide. I would prefer a strict download cap though rather than shaping during certain hours as I hate leaving the pc switched on when not in use – such a waste. I also want the full fat speed when I use the PC – why not implement harder caps and charge more for those that use/abuse the service rather than hampering everyone’s speed?

On the other hand if users are honest the traffic being shaped is peer to peer and Usenet – when was the last time you used these technologies legitametly on a repeated basis? I’ve not so have I got any reason to complain?

However movie and TV companies are moving onto download services, some using torrent technology (including NTL). How many people will download a DVD sized movie which takes 24 hours rather than 3 due to the shaping that’s been applied. Not me. I guess that NTL won’t traffic shape their own paid for service either.

Weighing up the issues I’m now in the camp that thinks if it guarantees a good service for surfing, e-mailing and gaming then traffic shaping is a good thing to do. While it prevents some things it at least gives me a service for the legal activities that my connection is used for.

Speaking of legal…my downloading via Usenet has almost dropped to zero. DVD downloading is just too much hassle – much rather buy the DVD and watch it. With the 360 I’ve got no urge to download any Xbox titles, I’m back buying music and I’ve got no need for any hacked apps. Sky HD is on the way too – I won’t be downloading TV shows anymore. Is it just me?

World Cup 2006.....Hi-Def

Well done BBC – they are broadcasting the World Cup in Hi-Def. Wimbledon too and also Planet Earth plus more. Available to Sky, Telewest & NTL users who have HD. Freeview will miss out although some trialists in London may get it.

I will be subscribing to a digital service to get this (currently Freeview only)…only question is which one?

Update. Sky announced their pricing yesterday….I’ve now pre-ordered Sky HD. Hopefully installed in May in time for the summers sporting events. Just need to work out how to pay for it.

Broadband Joy

Finally I have a fast and stable broadband connection thanks to NTL. It was installed last Friday and since then I have not had one disconnect. Contrast with Freedom2Surf’s LLU service which was flaky and prone to disconnects. I also seemed to suffer some accusations of lag while gaming online although I was never entirely convinced it was me. Saying that, there has been no lag at all since NTL was installed.

Secondly the speed is impressive – most impressive. About 30 minutes after the line was installed I took an ADSLGuide speedtest which you can see here. Almost a full fat 10Meg connection. Real world speeds i.e. downloading, streaming and general web surfing have also been very impressive. Web pages were a lot snappier than previous suggesting that NTL’s DNS servers are working really well compared to my last two providers.

Contention however can definitely be seen with NTL but not to the same extent as the ADSL network in my area. Yes I’m in a Glasgow on a big exchange (western) but to slow down at night to less than 50k/sec is pretty unacceptable. I should have been seeing 6Meg. I find NTL is dropping to 4-6Meg in the evening but at other times maintains the 9-10Meg speeds. SO after one week I can only recommend NTL’s cable service. I’ll update later in the year once I’ve had more experience of their long term performance.

Finally – Freedom2Surf have lost the plot. I cancelled with them last week but they had the cheek to phone this week and offer 2 free months connection and a promise to fix all my issues. I wasn’t impressed with this at all – why not fix the problem while I’m a paying customer and not when I leave. Sounded like they have had quite a few users leave recently. They also admitted today that they have been traffic shaping over the last weeks. I wish they had been up front so that people knew this was happening – it would have saved a lot of wasted time and money in contacting their support desks. Their reputed honesty and good support seems to have gone out of the window. In case you haven’t figured it out I didn’t take them up on their free months offer. Good riddance.

Bye Bye F2S

3 months. That’s how long I lasted with Freedom2Surf. I’m so glad I took a monthly contract as it means I can get out easily. I should have known I would have problems when Pipex bought Freedom2Surf and Sky bought Easynet (who provide the LLU line) within a week of me moving.

Firstly – LLU. It’s just not stable at the moment. I can live with a drop in speed at night due to contention (which will affect more and more people as the speeds increase throughout this year) but I cannot live with a flaky connection that has a tendency to drop. Easynet’s solution was to drop me to 6Meg from 8Meg. This meant the SNR level was mostly respectable but even when high the connection would pop at odd times.

I mentioned drop in speed – at night it was dropping to less than 1Meg and a 150k upload. That’s the worse I’ve seen in a long time. Although I criticised Plusnet at least they kept the speeds at an acceptable level although they did it by shaping the connection and not telling anyone about it.

Support at F2S is also poor. They don’t respond to e-mails or any of the tickets raised on their website. You can only contact them through a support line that costs a fair whack…typically you will wait around 20-50 minutes in a queue although I found phoning at around 11-11:30AM got me through quite quickly. The support guys sound knowledgeable but out of the four promised phone calls I would get next day over the last 3 months I got one about 10 days after I logged a call. Just not good enough.

So – time to go. I want a fast but most importantly stable connection so who to turn to? My line looks to support 6 Meg max via ADSL so as the speeds go up over the next few years I’ll be stuck at that speed. Left me with one option – NTL. So this Friday NTL will be installing a 10Meg line. I’ve no doubt it will suffer contention in the same way that ADSL does but hopefully it will be more stable and also the 10Meg speed is very appealing even if it maxes out at 8-9Meg. I also feel NTL has a far better infrastructure in the long term than BT has – I blame Thatcher for that one.

So – out of the frying pan, into the fire?

Sea Change

After mentioning broadband earlier this week it looks like some exciting developments will start to move fast internet access forward in the UK. ADSL has been for many the only way to get broadband access, and has always looked a slightly poorer cousin compared to cable. NTL but more so Telewest have always offered faster download speeds for a comparable if not cheaper price than ADSL providers. Indeed Telewest now offer 4Meg downloads with NTL offering 3Meg.

However Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) is now starting to happen across the country and not just in London and the South East. UK Online and Bulldog are offering ADSL speeds of up to 8Meg with an increased upload of 400k. BT has also announced they will be trialling 8Meg download speeds from April this year and also testing ADSL2+ this year which can see broadband speeds go up to 18Meg (depending on line length from exchange). All this is great news but the pricing structure of broadband will have to change radically to support these speed increases.

This is where (I think) Max DSL comes in. From April BT will launch Max DSL which allows ISP’s to set your download speed to the maximum available on your line. Initially this will be to 2Meg but hopefully by year end it will be whatever your line can take up to 8Meg. This is great for the customer as it can be done transparently by the ISP but how will the price of your connection change? I think most ISP’s will move to a pricing structure that gives you bandwidth rather than speed. So £20 gives you 50Gig per month, £25 70Gig and so on. This will allow then to charge the heavy users who use up bandwidth the most money and likewise charge less for the smaller users who only use a few gigabytes per month. Most of the big ADSL providers have been introducing download caps and indeed NTL will be doing likewise for their broadband users. This is all well and good as long as the ISP provide clear guidelines and allow users to track their usage which is something my provider, Plus Net, has done since day one.

Indeed Plus Net is seemingly going to make an announcement next week on their future pricing structure for premier account holders. I’m hoping it will include details on upgrades, their fair usage policy and also future plans for the year ahead but it may just detail price and speed changes. I’ll just need to wait and see but finally the UK market is starting to catch up with the rest of Europe…but not the Swedes who can get 100MBit/s for 54 US dollars a month. Drool.