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A Diary of a Be Broadband Refugee

15th Mar 2013, 18:57:58

By James Stocks

I was sad when I heard Be had been sold to Sky. Be were the first reputable company to offer ADSL2+ in my area and the only ones to offer annex M, giving me a blistering 5Mb/s download and 1Mb/s upload speeds. When there was a technical problem, there was a 24/7 freephone number to call which would be answered by a man who didn't care if you were using Linux behind a FreeBSD router - not once was I ever asked to restart Windows or to please be doing the needful.

Then O2/Telefonica bought them out. I got the impression O2 didn't really know what to do with Be, it just wanted a broadband provider to compete with Orange or TalkTalk. Other providers started showing up with fibre to the cabinet or even fibre to the premises offerings, which left our £27 per month 5Mb/s looking expensive and outdated. Be just needed time to catch up, I told myself, they'll come along with a decent FTTC product eventually. Twelve months came and went, but still no FTTC. In March 2013 it became clear that my patience would not be rewarded, O2 would be selling Be to Sky.

I can barely imagine two more disparate user bases than those of Be and Sky. For example, Be would always offer a static IP free of charge, Sky don't offer static IP addresses at all. Our Internet connection is as essential as the water or electricity supply, we both do computer-based work from home, our phone services are almost entirely VoIP, our warehouse stock control depends on an internet connection... Frankly the idea of dealing with Sky's customer support in the event of an outage gave me a stomach ache and I had to lie down for a bit.

The most popular providers in the UK are BT, Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk. A rogues' gallery of cut-price oversold services if ever I saw one. Think broadband maintains a list of service providers with FTTC offerings ranging widely in features and affordability. If I had unlimited funds, Andrews and Arnold would have been an easy choice with their 'build you own package' option and native IPv6 connectivity. In the end, I opted for plusnet, specifically their 80/20Mb FTTC service. £25 a month gets a 24/7 freephone support number, a practically unshaped unlimited connection, and subject to a five quid one off charge, a static IP. Super.

Having already obtained my MAC code from Be, I signed up on the plusnet web site, where I could select a range of half-day installation slots on dates from about 1 week away. Preliminary indications were that I would receive 55Mb down and 18Mb up. Very promising.

A few days later I received a Technicolor TG582n router in the post. Presumably, this was preconfigured to use with the service, but I can't comment on how well it performs since unlike with ADSL there is no need to use it, the OpenReach presentation is Ethernet which is used for a PPPoE connection.

As promised, an OpenReach engineer called me on the day to warn me he was about to disconnect our phone whilst he wired us into the VDSL kit in the cabinet. 20 minutes later, he came to the house to complete the installation. The VDSL router provided by OpenReach has to be connected to the new master socket they install. In my case this wasn't terribly convenient as there are no power sockets anywhere near the master socket. Pleasingly, the engineer was perfectly happy to blank off the old socket and install a new one in the garage on the end of a piece of CAT-5e I had pre-run in expectation of having to do this myself after he left. Nice.

Mr. OpenReach's tests indicated that my line would sync at 77Mb down and 19Mb up. After being promised 55Mb, I was giddy with excitement at this prospect. When I connected up my FreeBSD router and kicked off a PPPoE connection, results were less than ideal - 3Mb down and 16Mb up - clearly something was wrong. Watching the CPU utilisation with top, it was obvious - ppp was using 30-40% of the CPU as soon as network throughput moved off zero. I was worried that perhaps my Soekris net5501 wasn't man enough for the job, but The solution proved to be using mpd5 to handle the PPPoE connection, since this handles the traffic in the kernel rather than in userland.

# cd /usr/ports/net/mpd5 && make install clean

It was pretty easy to adapt my ppp.conf to mpd.conf, but there are some differences:

# vi /usr/local/etc/mpd5/mpd.conf

	load infinity

  create bundle static B1
  set iface name tun0
  set iface enable tcpmssfix 
# set iface up-script /usr/local/etc/mpd5/
# set iface down-script /usr/local/etc/mpd5/
  set iface route default
  set ipcp ranges
  create link static L1 pppoe
  set link action bundle B1
  set auth authname
#  set auth password PPPOE_PASSWORD
  set link max-redial 0
  set link mtu 1492
  set link mru 1492
  set link keep-alive 10 60
# interface to PPPoE
  set pppoe iface vr0 
  set pppoe service ""
# start connection

A quick change to /etc/rc.conf

# vi /etc/rc.conf


After making this change, throughput did indeed soar to 75Mb down and 16Mb up and it's stayed there ever since.

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