ADSL Woes

You know how it is? You decide you can’t make do with dialup any more so you ‘upgrade’ to ADSL. Well, that’s what I did around about a month ago. I took my pay rise and decided to use it for my monthly ADSL charges. Thankfully, my employer has a business account with one of the main electronics distributors in New Zealand so I was able to purchase a DSL-504 router at a good price. At the time Dick Smith Electronics was offering it for around $198; their current price is $228, I got mine for $178. Like I said, a good deal.

I had some initial set up problems. The biggest one being that I kept getting an authentication error when I tried to connect to my ISP (Xtra). This was because my ADSL service got installed two days early and my ISP hadn’t activated my ADSL account. A short phone call soon fixed that problem. They enabled my account when I called in and I got connected straight away.

I did have an intermittent problem which was caused by the way Telecom New Zealand has changed their DSLAM setup which wasn’t totally compatible with my router but a quick e-mail to D-Link’s technical support sorted all that confusion out. My experience of D-Link’s support has been very good. They generally know what they are talking about and deliver explanations that I can understand.

I wish I could say the same for TNZ’s support.

The trouble with telcos, and TNZ in particular, is that all they really want to do is send you a piece of paper every month demanding some money from you. TNZ, in particular, wants to give up its engineering heritage and become a billing organisation. The mere fact that their business relies on an engineering infrastructure seems to be an annoying burden.

Anyway, their support is not always the best. I spoke with one guy last night who would not believe that the Link light on my router was on. Once I convinced him of this he became a bit more reasonable. Actually, this was the second guy that I had spoken with that night. The first guy told me he was the only one working there yet I get someone else 10 minutes later.

The first guy, Alastair, knew what he was talking about. He told me that he would reset the port on the exchange. That would take about 15 minutes to happen so I should have a cup of tea or something and come back to it in around 15 minutes time. So I thanked him and went off to make a cup of tea.

I then had one of those “ah, ha” moments and decided to watch my router’s status web page to see what would happen. Lo and behold, about 5 minutes later I saw a “Physical line error” which means the ADSL line has gone down, or been unplugged. Great I thought, another few minutes and I”l bee connected again.

That was not to be. My router went from “Physical Line Error” mode to “Connecting” mode and there it stayed for quite some time. This was when I decided to call the Jetstream (Telecom’s brand name for ADSL) support people again. And this time I didn’t get Alastair, but someone else.

Now I am sure he knows what he is doing but frankly I don’t think we ‘clicked’ and this made things a bit more difficult. He was the one that wouldn’t believe me when I said my Link LED was on. We spent a lot of time getting nowhere. He offered to send a “contractor” out to the exchange and then onto my house if they could not find a problem at the exchange. Naturally, I would have to pay them $81 if the contractor found my equipment at fault. I declined this offer. Frankly it did not seem worth it, especially when I have to work and can’t sit around at home for someone to eventually turn up.

What I wanted to do was try and solve the problem then and there from the ground up – i.e. my Link LED is ON so the physical connection is there, can you see my connection attempts, etc. But this just cannot be done. TNZ have very little insight into anything above the bottom of the protocol stack. They can tell me if I am connected but they cannot, apparently, tell me if my connection attempts are getting through but being rejected. Only the ISP can do that and they aren’t the ISP.

Of course anyone that knows TNZ and Xtra knows that Xtra is a business unit of TNZ. Xtra charges are billed on my monthly phone bill. They are meant to be a separate unit but they are just another part of TNZ to me; albeit a slightly more hip one.

In the end, I hooked up the analog modem and dialed in the old fashioned way. That let my partner submit her university course assignment. A little later I disconnected the modem, and tried the ADSL service again. And what do you know, it was working again!

Maybe that cup of tea, and a biscuit of course, would have been a good idea.

As it is I find this complete lack of ability to diagnose faults a real worry. This is meant to be an always on service but it doesn’t feel like that.

A friend of mine in Australia who is in the know about all things IP, tells me that Telstra customers have the same kind of problem. The ADSL link just stops working and the best thing to do is turn off the router, make a cup of tea, drink the cup of tea and then come back to things and turn the router on. Telstra and TNZ apparently use the same DSLAM vendor so it isn’t surprising that TNZ customers suffer the same problems as Telstra’s Australian customers.

Still, I find it all very annoying … Now where’s the kettle, I fancy a cup of tea.

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