First Steps with Sky Broadband

Over Christmas I was taking a look at Sam Knows the well regarded broadband information site, and I made a bit of a discovery. Up until then I’d all but resigned myself to the fact that we weren’t going to get super fast broadband in Arborfield any time soon. It took a long time for us to get ADSL enabled, and since we’re a pretty small exchange I expected upgrades to 20Meg either from an LLU provider or the BT 21CN programme, and especially FFTC services to be a long way off. However looking at the Sam Knows page for the Arborfield Cross Exchange it turned out there was now an option. There was still no movement from BT who didn’t even list our exchange on either upgrade scheme, but Sky Broadband had LLU enabled the exchange and were now offering an up to 20Meg broadband service. Now they certainly aren’t as well regarded as Zen Internet who I was with, but equally they aren’t regarded as the worst, coming above average in most of the surveys I found. They also now didn’t require you to take a TV service from Sky to take the broadband, and offered a fast, unlimited service for a good price to the competition, and the bottom line was they were the only provider who were either offering, or planning to offer 20Meg service on our exchange.

So I took the decision to switch, and the changeover took place on Thursday.

Up front it’s worth highlighting on of the big points that may be a concern. Whilst other providers may get a bit unhelpful if you use a router other than the one they supply, Sky go a stage further and actually write into the terms and conditions of their service that you must use their router. On the one hand this allows them to provide a much more idiot proof solution in that the router is heavily locked down, to the point that for a lot of users you just need to plug the router into a plug and the phone socket and it will just work. However if you have more complex requirements, for example you need to run a VPN to an office network, or have a more complicated setup it’s a bit of a pain as the supplied router is pretty limited, and the special Sky firmware deliberately removes several of the more advanced features.

In my case it’s more of an annoyance, and I’ve had to do a bit of shuffling around to ensure that the router which on the LAN side is only a 10/100 Ethernet router doesn’t slow down the rest of my network which is almost entirely 10/100/1000 Ethernet. I’ve also discovered that the rebadged Sagem router that Sky supplied goes into a bit of a sulk if it’s not in charge of the DHCP service allocating IP addresses to the other devices on the network. Again it’s not too much of an issue so far, more a hassle having to reconfigure the existing devices on the network to cope.

Whilst it is against the terms and conditions, it’s not impossible to use a third party router on the Sky service. The forums on the Sky User site will point you towards tools to find out what your ADSL password should be, and includes discussions of good alternative routers. However my experience of running for a couple of days with my old router has not been great.

Previously I was using a Draytek Vigor 120 hooked up to the WAN port of an Airport Extreme – which for the BT Wholesale based Zen Internet connection was great. Using it produced a much faster and more stable connection than I ever got with any of the other routers. However having swapped over to Sky the Vigor connected at, and resolutely sat at a 4Meg connection. Looking online at the support forum for the Draytek this is an issue with Sky. Taking a look at the configurations of the Draytek and the supplied router there is another difference. Whereas the Draytek is connecting using PPPoA, that is not what the Sky router is using, instead it is using MER, a new protocol that doesn’t use the traditional username and password, but instead uses the MAC address of the router to validate the connection. Other routers including my Draytek should support the protocol by spoofing the MAC address to make the connection, but a look over at the Sky User forums finds that people can’t get third party routers to work with this protocol. Since under the Sky terms and conditions you shouldn’t be using another company router anyway Sky aren’t much help! Whilst other routers can still connect by falling back to the depreciated PPPoA connection Sky seem to be gradually moving all of their users over to an MER connection.

Within a couple of hours of swapping to the Sky supplied router today, now I had the time to fiddle with the networking connections the speed of the connection started to tick upwards towards the expected 14-16Meg that my line should be able to support, so it does look like there are some compatibility issues with the Sky implementation.

At the moment I don’t have any real need to run a different router, and the network seems pretty stable with the Sky router in place, however I will be keeping an eye out for any details of other routers that may work with the Sky MER implementation.

11 thoughts on “First Steps with Sky Broadband”

  1. Hi, thanks for your post. I found your blog after Googling ‘”Arborfield Cross” ADSL’ – having yet again been frustrated with our poor broadband speed at peak times.

    I’m in Rayner Drive, on Pipex (taken over by Tiscali, which was taken over by TalkTalk) – but of course it’s all using BT’s line. Whilst late in the evening I can get 5-6Mbps, this evening at around 7.30pm I was only getting 1Mbps, when I was trying to watch some live Internet TV.

    Having the sorts of speeds that it sounds like you now have would be great – but to be honest I would be happy with 3Mbps or more, so that we can do iPlayer / YouTube etc. in the early evenings without constant buffering.

    I’m wondering if you experienced the same sorts of speeds that I’m currently getting, before you switched to Sky, or whether it’s just me?

    I’m damned if I’m going to sell my soul to $ky, but now at least that LLU has been enabled, maybe TalkTalk will be the next to use it?

    I’m convinced that, despite offering LLU and new functionality, there’s a capacity problem in Arborfield. It just seems like there’s simply not enough bandwidth for what seems to be a very connected neighbourhood (I can pick up up to 22 Wifi Networks from here, including my own!). Obviously other exchanges have a much larger number of households, so can they not just increase the connection from our exchange?

    Thanks
    Darren

    1. Hey Darren

      Did you end up moving providers? I was having the same discussion with Richard today (I live 2 doors away from him) and just found this post. I am with TalkTalk (formerly Pipex) and experience the same issues as you during peak times. Normally I can get around 6.5Mbit but after 5pm it drops down to 1-2Mbit and just crawls. YouTube even on my iphone is just a buffer fest.

      I think I will probably go with Sky as they are offering 6 months free currently and they can’t be any worse than TalkTalk (who I also notice now charge a rip off £2.55 for caller ID if you have your phone with them).

      Simon

      1. Hi Simon,

        No I haven’t moved, so I’m still struggling along with throttled internet at peak times. I’m still not touching Sky with a bargepole, I hate the company and all they stand for.

        I’m waiting and hoping that TalkTalk, if not someone else, gets their LLU equipment in the exchange. I’ve got webspace on Pipex and don’t want to go through the rigmarole of switching at the moment, to be honest.

        Witness the adjacent Eversley / Finchampstead exchange – yes, they’ve got FTTC now, but they also have two providers with LLU; Sky and TalkTalk. So surely TalkTalk must be next?

        I would still like to hear from someone who is (a) in Arborfield, (b) with a BT line, and (c) has their ADSL with someone other than Pipex/Tiscali/TalkTalk. Because if my understanding is right, as BT provide the line, I can’t see how my current woes are anything to do with TalkTalk specifically.

        1. If you’re adamant you don’t want to go to Sky, I’d certainly recommend looking at Zen – never had any throttling or speed problems with them, and the only reason I switched away was because I could get a faster speed from Sky.

  2. I never had too much of a speed problem with Zen – speed ran quite happily at above 6Mbps, but one of the key points Zen always make to justify their high prices is that they don’t run at anything like the usage levels of some of the other ISPs. I’ve never been on TalkTalk, but from friends who have been they do seem to have capacity issues.

    I agree about selling my soul to Sky, if it wasn’t for the extra speed I could get from Sky, and if there was any other choice I wouldn’t have switched. However we’ve just spent the evening watching programmes streamed off Netflix and not a jitter. Connection is currently running at 13Mbps.

  3. Hey Darren

    Fair enough but I think you will be waiting a while. Also what made the decision for me was the 6 months free (unlimited broadband and calls) although I’m not sure that offer is still running. I’m not sure how exactly the BT IPstream wholesale service works i.e do ISP’s like Talk Talk purchase a certain bandwidth over a trunk or just pay per customer stream as they add them? Either way it looks like a) an issue over that IPstream trunk or b) TT have issues further into their core network and from what I read online its more likely to be the latter . Surely you can find a neighbour who has ADSL from someone other than TT to confirm these suspicions? What about moving to BT whilst waiting for other LLU options?

    You could try asking some more questions via http://www.talktalkmembers.com/forums which is monitored by Talk Talk Technical Staff but I’m not sure how much help you will get with them actually admitting capacity issues.

    I am waiting with baited breath to see if I managed to leave TT successfully. I read a lot of complaints that they say you cancelled your services with them but they keep billing you 🙁

  4. And Richard – being 2 houses closer to the cab seems to get you an extra half a meg as I am getting 12.5 and .94 up. Twice what I got with TT so I am more than happy and best of all it is actually useable in the evenings. Apparently Sky do offer a gaming profile for improved latency and jitter via QoS but at the expense of reducing your bandwidth. My ping is actually a little slower than it was on Talk Talk but playing games online (PS3) it still seems far smoother.

    1. Just checked my stats, router is currently running at 12884 down 806 up according to the status page. Although it’s annoying having to use their router – couple of Mac party pieces that don’t work with it – it’s been pretty reliable and stable so far.

      Speed seems to vary in much the same way as the Zen speed varied based on the weather, so I suspect with a hot spell you might find the line slowing down a bit.

      1. I get 14.4 and 1.1 synch speeds but more like 12.5 and 0.94 whenever I do a BT speedtest. Touch wood its been very reliable so far.

        Sky did try and charge me for line rental this month even though I paid for 12 months up front. But soon sorted out.

  5. I thought I would update you here on my findings.

    The TalkTalk broadband speed got worse and worse; lately it was averaging 0.8Mbps during the evenings, sometimes even lower – in fact it has been equal to or lower than the upload speed of 0.69Mbps. So much for “A”DSL!

    Eventually I went next door one evening, where they are on BT Broadband, asked to do a speed test on their line, and my jaw dropped as I watched a steady 7Mbps download speed showing up. I signed up for BT Broadband the next day, tempted by the ability to use millions of WiFi spots while out and about (yes, I know I could have signed up to FON elsewhere), plus 6 months free, a £100 Sainsbury’s voucher and £88 cashback through TopCashback.co.uk, and a few other benefits as well.

    Today was the big switchover day, and now I too have been getting a steady 7Mbps through the evening. So the proof is there; with the same phone line, and even the same router before I swapped the old one out for the faster BT Home Hub, I can get broadband over 8 times faster than I could get with TalkTalk in the evening. TalkTalk are using some kind of traffic shaping on the Exchange, resulting in their ADSLMax customers getting a shocking service.

    Obviously it’s not as quick as you’re getting with Sky, but I’m happy enough, as are my children who can watch their favourite programs on DemandFive without constant buffering!

    Darren

  6. Hi Darren

    Glad to see you got it sorted finally. My Sky ADSL has been rock solid to be fair. No outages at all. Only issue I noticed is the wifi strength of the router Sky provide is not so great as my old Netgear. Router is in the lounge (BT master socket) and I use homeplugs to hard wire upstairs to office. But if upstairs on a mobile device like my phone wifi can drop sometimes. Will be moving things around with some new furniture but will probably just go for a wifi booster upstairs.

    That Talk Talk performance is even worse than I had. Get way better than that via 3G on my iphone5 (on Three). Either they throttle or they don’t have sufficient backhaul capacity between the exchange and their own internet breakout as unless LLU the ISP is also paying BT for that capacity.

    I wonder out of how many people complaining of slow BB in & around Arborfield are on TT or one of the companies that was bought out by them (like me on Pipex).

    Cheers
    Simon

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