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.