Broadband Speeds and Upgrading

Broadband is available to many people in New Zealand.Its most common form is in ADSL. The biggest provider of ADSL is Telecom through its ISP called XTRA.

I have had Xtra as my ISP since late 2000. Back then the only option was dial-up and whilst Xtra was not the cheapest, nor best, it was reliable and I had few quibbles. Finally, a few years back, affordable ADSL became available and I signed up, with Xtra, for it. It wasn’t fast but at the time 256kbps/128kbps felt amazing. It was not long thereafter that higher speeds became available and, as the pricing came down, I upgraded.

Around November 2006 I was on a plan that provided me with 2Mbps download, 192kbps upload and a reasonable 10GB of traffic. I was pretty happy with this. I didn’t mind that I never got 2Mbps since I was quite happy with the 1.8Mbps that I could regularly get.

The Xtra decided to “unleash” broadband.

Now “unleashing” broadband had a lot to do with marketing and damn little to do with engineering. At least, that is what it looked like to me.

Xtra recommended that I move to the Go Large plan. This was the only plan that promised unlimited use. You could download and upload as much as your line would allow. The whole idea behind “unleashing” broadband was to let your ADSL run as fast as it could.

Well, as fast as it could in the download direction.

This meant 3 separate speed regimes: 256/126kbps, Max/128kbps and Max/Max. Needless to say, Max/Max remains a pricey option.

Anyway, the unleashing happens and I move onto the Go Large plan.

The first thing I notice is that I never get 1.8Mbps again. I’m stuck at around 1.6Mbps. Anyway, I left things for a while and even though my partner and lodger complained on and off about poor performance I didn’t do anything about it.

A couple of weeks back, Telecom admitted that it had a problem with traffic management on the Go Large plan. Instead of managing peer-to-peer traffic, they had been managing everything. The net result was that anyone on the Go Large plan was getting abysmal performance for all types of activities including e-mail and web browsing. The whole thing was so broken that they gave all Go Large customers a rebate for the period December, 2006 to March, 2007. This month’s phone bill was for $7 instead of the usual $145!

Then I started getting annoyed at the problems that I was having.

Downloads of trailers from Apple’s site were taking forever. Everything was taking longer. The ADSL link was getting dropped repeatedly.

So, I made a support call and tried to get some help.

It was a long and very sorry saga but the short story is that because I am on the Go Large plan they cannot do anything to help me. The whole Go Large issue is being worked upon but the plan is not available for new customers. I can move to a new plan but once moved, I cannot go back to the (currently) unworking Go Large plan.

Just to give you an idea of how bad things have got just take a look at these screen dumps of some speed tests.

This is Xtra (for me) on a good day:

xtra-good-speed

However, on a bad day (typically any time between 4pm and midnight) I tend to get lower performance. Figures as low as this are NOT uncommon:

xtra-bad-speed

I did some speed test for the Xtra support team over a few days and came up with this graph:

xtra-speed-chart

Note the big dips between the hours of 4pm and midnight. Clearly something is very wrong with Xtra’s traffic management policy. It does not work.

Finally after a long conversation with an Xtra support engineer I decided to take my business elsewhere. In the end I decided to do this because the support engineer told me that Xtra could do nothing for me on the current plan. All they could do was move me to another plan but I had to make the request. The Go Large plan was so flawed that customers were no longer able to purchase it. Since it was no longer available, there would be no ongoing investigation of my problem since it was the same problem that all Go Large customers were experiencing. Either I change plan, or ISP.

So, I changed ISP.

I am now with Orcon and my typical line speeds are like this:

orcon-typical-speed

Also the physical line speed from my router to the exchange has increased from 3.2Mbps up to 4.5Mbps.

orcon-line-speed

The move to Orcon was flawless. I spoke with Monique on Thursday night. Early Friday morning I got a note saying my service would be switched over on that day. By the time I got home in the evening, I was able to switch over. For some reason my initial speed test showed speeds around 1.6Mbps but since Saturday all I ever seem to get is speeds above 2.5Mbps.

Orcon have made me a very happy customer.

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