Connectivity conundrum

I feel a bit sheepish putting this post up here as I don’t normally report on the details of my private life.  Well, not often anyway.  But I think my current predicament warrants reporting primarily because it poses a question about broadband connectivity.

First: a brief history.

I’m on a BT broadband ‘Total Broadband‘ connection with one of the black v.2 wireless hubs.  The connection has generally been okay but from about September last year I started to have regular problems with broadband dropouts.  It got to the stage where I couldn’t conduct a skype conversation with anyone because the connection was so poor.  After some line tests the issue was regarded as a line problem and an engineer was sent out to fix.

The line was supposedly improved, but I still was having dropouts.  Another engineer was dispatched in November to see if he could fix it.

This second engineer had a theory that hubs offering 20Mbs broadband connections in densely populated areas were actually asking more of the line than the line could handle, and were routinely dropping because the network couldn’t sustain a connection.  So as a test solution, this engineer installed a 10dB attenuator.

To all intents and purposes, this actually removed the dropout problem.  However, another problem came up in its place.  Now, whenever someone called me on my landline, or whenever I made a call, the broadband connection would drop.

This has gone on for four months and I’ve essentially ignored it.  I rarely use my landline and I would only get calls to the line from marketers, to whom I was either gleefully rude, or to whom I just didn’t answer the phone.

But eventually the calls to my landline have irritated me and I got an engineer back today to fix.  He traced the problem to a faulty cable (one of those that came with the hub), but he also removed the attenuator. He actually gave a description of the appearance of previous engineer who had installed the attenuator (as a way of checking who had installed it), and while he didn’t criticise the attenuator theory, he simply indicated that I didn’t need the device and would be making the network think my flat is further away from the exchange than it is.  He tested the connection – all seemed to be fine – and we waved farewell.

Within a couple of hours of the engineer’s departure, the broadband dropping problem from last September – November returned.  I’ve had three dropouts today, after going months with no dropouts except when people called me on my landline.  Now I’ve had a line test, and the line has been deemed faulty again.

I don’t doubt the engineer today who found the faulty cable. I’m sure this was indeed the problem with the phone line leaking in to, and disrupting the broadband connection.  But I am beginning to wonder whether the theory of the original engineer who installed the attenuator has some logic.

It’s not just distance from an exchange, but quality of existing infrastructure that is being challenged by ever-faster internet connection speeds.  But the thing is, with the attenuator connected to my broadband line, I’ve been watching live video, downloading and uploading vast quantities of content and generally using my internet connection normally and haven’t noticed any delays in connection speed.  And I’ve experienced no dropouts except those associated with someone actually calling my landline number.

But as soon as the attenuator is removed, the dropouts return, and I have to say I have noticed no discernible difference to speed of connection.

So here’s the conundrum: given the pretty poor condition of copper twisted pair and the problems with providing stable connectivity in a densely populated area, should we be aiming for very high bandwidth connections, or should we stick to what we actually need to be productive and to enjoy full screen, streaming video – about a 10Mpbs connection?  Are we wasting connection speeds on the connected, and possibly creating new network problems?

I’ve been booked for another engineer visit next week to look at my line. I’m tossing up whether I should simply request a new attenuator and see what happens.

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