Friday, July 31, 2009

Something for Nothing

I was glancing through an email newsletter from late last night and for a change, something caught my eye: A BT I-Plate for £7.07. It turns out this simple little device connects to your BT master socket and boosts your broadband connection download speed in the region of 1.5Mbps. Since we live around two miles from the local exchange we're lucky to get anything much in excess of 1Mbps, so an improvement of this order would be very welcome.

The reviews seemed to confirm these claims were not excessive, with people falling over themselves to award maximum stars for the product, so I was naturally curious as to how it could achieve such results. A little bit of Googling later revealed how simple the process is: all the plate does is isolate the bell wire (pin 3) from your internal cabling. In the olden days, when we used phones with big metal bells in them, this wire was essential if you wanted the thing to actually ring, but much our appendix, it really serves no purpose these days. In fact its presence is detrimental, as it picks up loads of electical interference and reduces the quality of the signal on the other wires in the phone cable. This is why it is recommended to plug your broadband router directly into the master socket.

Unfortunately this isn't always possible - in our case the master socket is in the loft (lazy BT engineer years ago) so the router is at the end of about 10 metres of internal cable that weaves its way past ring main, lighting and heating systems - a recipe for poor signal to noise ratio. On the other hand, we're fortunate in that I installed a junction box immediately next to the master socket, connected by no more than six inches of cable, before fanning out to the extensions around the building.

So tonight I ran several speed tests at various sites (Moneysupermarket, for instance) and found that on average we were getting around .56Mbps download and .48Mbps upload. Very poor; much worse than I thought. I popped up into the loft, isolated the junction box from the master socket and removed the cover, then removed the bell wire at pin 3. With everything reconnected and a quick check to see that voice calls were still getting through, I rebooted the router. According to various comments, it takes two or three days for the router and exchange to settle on a new line speed, so I wasn't expecting anything too dramatic straightaway, but I couln't resist running the tests again. The result: 3.2Mbps down and .85Mbs up.

Astonishing. A simple, no-cost operation delivers nearly six-times the download speed, and in all likelihood it could get even better in the next 48 hours or so.

Emma will love it when she goes to cbeebies in the morning.

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