Category Archives: virgin

Internet Non-Service

I don’t know how I should describe the nonsense I pay Virgin (“Liberty Global”) good money for.  It’s supposed to be an Internet Service Provider, but it falls well short of that far too often, and sometimes for extended periods.  Back in the summer I was stranded without service for several weeks.

This morning (or, more precisely, yesterday morning) I found myself unable to read my mail.  I also couldn’t ssh to the server.  Lynx could get the front page, but only after a long delay. This looked exactly like something that happened last week, when only after rebooting (from the rackspace console) and calling rackspace support did I realise the problem was with Virgin, and traceroute was hanging on a Virgin machine after just a few hops from here[1].  Using my EE 4G connection, all was well.

Today as last week I could see the server was fine, as I could access it from an apache.org machine, but anything from home just timed out.  I let that pass, and again used the EE connection to read mail.  But after a full day of downtime I thought I’d check a little more.  This time traceroute gives me an entirely different destination: 62.252.172.241, which is a machine owned by Virgin!  A simple DNS lookup tells me the same.  So this time it’s a DNS cockup.

Except …

If it’s a DNS cockup, how come I can still browse my website (at least using Lynx, which doesn’t time out first)?  There must be a HTTP proxy – with valid DNS – on 62.252.172.241.  Smells like deliberate sabotage!  And how come this didn’t appear to affect other sites I’ve been to today?  For example, $work email (c/o gmail), or this blog @wordpress?

Probing further, this time (unlike last week) I can route to the server by IP address.  So it’s definitely just DNS.

WTF is going on?  I think it’s time to drop this sick joke of a non-ISP.  Maybe get a second 4G connection from another provider for a bit of redundancy: that connection seems good most of the time, but wifi to the 4G modem is totally flakey so I have to use it via USB, which is a poor second-best.

[1] Yeah, of course any geek should have tested that before going to rackspace.  In my defence, I was flat out in bed with a nasty lurgy and in no fit state to browse the web, let alone fix a problem on it.

Cut off again

For some time now, my ‘net connection has been up and down like the proverbial whore’s drawers.  But for a succession of feeble reasons, I didn’t get around to doing anything about it until today.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  First time it happened I thought it could be a repeat of a recent nationwide cockup, and configured DNS to bypass Virgin.  But subsequent outages showed that it wasn’t DNS, it was overall connectivity that was disappearing, sometimes for hours at a time.  So although I did something, it wasn’t actually relevant to the problem.

I think last night was typical.  Connectivity vanished at about 10pm, returning at 12:26[1] for a tantalising 4 minutes before disappearing for another hour.  Bedtime obscures the record of what may have happened overnight, but in the morning it vanished again at 9:21[1].  It showed no sign of coming back anytime soon, so I finally got around to trying to contact Virgin and ask WTF is going on.

Easier said than done.  For some reason I don’t understand, my connection sharing app (joikuspot on symbian) was unable to acquire a connection either last night or this morning.  So I had just a hopelessly slow 3g connection and a 3-inch screen to try and wade through Virgin’s notoriously crap-filled website and make contact.  And since my home ‘phone uses VOIP, I had only the mobile on which to try and call them.  In other words, everything I do is challenging and very slow, and any ‘phone call going through endless menus and adverts has the add annoyance of mobile costs.

Anyway, I made it to Virgin’s status page, which told me my broadband was just fine – though there might be problems with cable telly.  Then I made it through various help/support options to run a test on my line.  Now it tells me the test was unable to run, and gives me a ‘phone number (hurrah)!

So I ‘phone them.  There’s no option to speak to a human, so I just have to go through lots of menus interspersed with adverts.  These include supplying my details and repeating the same test I’d just run online, which is at least mercifully quicker to fail on voice than on 3g.  After that it told me it was putting me through to an operator.  It didn’t: instead there was another caricature[2] of an advert for the telly and some more menus, before it again told me it was putting me through to an operator.  And finally a denouement so splendidly appropriate to the whole experience I transcribed it verbatim:

Sorry, this number is not in service.

All that call in vain.  No chance of getting through to a human.

OK, back to the 3-inch screen and the crap-filled webpages.  Find another ‘phone number, try it.  Soon converge with a horribly familiar sequence of menus and hang up.

The phone is getting uncomfortably hot to hold (due only in part to it being the hottest day of the year).  I’ve been struggling alone for long enough: time to try and enlist some moral support.  None of the neighbours are around, so I call John, who I expect probably has a decent-sized screen in front of him.  Enlist his help in finding the address of the Virgin shop in central Plymouth, with a view to getting on the bike and demanding to speak to someone who deals with broadband problems.  He also finds – with a lot of difficulty despite a full-size PC screen – another couple of ‘phone numbers.

I try the number for the shop, and after hearing opening hours and adverts, and declining to get directions for it, find myself back in the same menus I’ve learned go nowhere.

By now it’s past noon, and I see next door’s front door is open.  Knowing some of my neighbours use Virgin, I decide to ask.  Karen is just back from work, and confirms her internet is dead too.  So it’s not just me!  She also tells me the TV and phone – also supplied by Virgin in the same bundle – are working fine (so much for that status page)!!!  Using the Virgin ‘phone, a call to 150 is free to her, and takes her through the same rigmarole as my first call.  Only this time, it ends with her being put through to a human.  Hallelujah!

Turns out the human is, to take a charitable view, suffering from the time difference between the Uk and India, and has probably had a good night out or a rough night.  That ‘phone call must’ve broken all records for the number of times Karen, and later I, repeated our respective addresses to the same person.  But we got some information: yes there is a fault in the area, and they anticipate a fix on July 29th.  Aaargh!!!  YOUR WIFE IS A BIG HIPPO!!!!

This is the point where I ask Karen if I can have a word with them, to try and ask what they can do for me in the meantime.  A connection over oldfashioned copper?  A 4g dongle?  No use, and asking to speak to her supervisor doesn’t help. Well, actually he refers me on to Customer services when I ask about alternatives, but after several more minutes on hold I regret that.  Where can I send the bill for my time, and for finding an alternative?

At least now I know the Virgin shop in town would be a waste of time.  How soon can I get a connection from someone else?  Fibre broadband is now available here, so there should be alternatives.

Try plusnet.  I was their customer for over ten years, with fewer problems than other ISPs I’ve used.  And there I can get to speak to a human when necessary!  Their website is unusable from the ‘phone, but I have their number.  Dammit, they tell me there’s a 15 minute wait, and the muzak is utterly horrendous.  Guess that’s what happens when a medium-sized ISP gets borged by BT 😦

Hmmm …

What about a 4G dongle?  Would Currys or PCWorld sell me one?  Do we have 4G coverage?  I just about manage to access EE’s coverage map, which tells me yes I should.  OK, worth a try.  So braving the early afternoon heat, I trundle over to Currys, who can indeed sell me one, and a subscription to EE.  Great!

Actually not a dongle.  It’s a gadget that gives me another wifi signal, but whose connection to the outside world is 4G.  But it’s an emergency, and beggars can’t be choosers.  Indeed, in principle it’s a rather good solution: my problem with it is just the wifi-less macbook.

Is 4g as good as its enthusiasts claim?  Maybe I can make it my regular connection and ditch Virgin?  Guess I’ll find out over the coming week, and thereafter if I continue to use it.  Interesting times.

[UPDATE] Composing this on the wifi-less macbook, I’m now disconnected again, so this post won’t appear today.  If I have no connection tomorrow I’ll cut&paste it to another machine and publish from there.  Grrrr …

[1] These times are approximate, taken from when an IRC client – configured to connect automatically – notes connection and loss of connection.  The computer, and with it the IRC client, sleep when I’m not at a computer with IRC (which includes when I’m at the ultrabook, where screen space is too limited to run IRC unless I have a specific reason).

[2] I suspect I’m being over-polite in describing it as a caricature, as that would imply some kind of self-awareness.  Virgin’s current owners “Liberty Global” seem more likely to be the kind of corporation that gives the ‘merkins a bad name for being utterly oblivious to irony.

Congestion

Sunday morning, my dad ‘phones me for a chat.  As always.

Only this time, I hear just the merest snatches of his voice.  Likewise, he can’t hear me.  Somewhere on the line there is a problem, and it seems to be with me.  Specifically, a connection that’s inadequate for VOIP.  That shouldn’t happen: I have cable and pay for a 30Mb line in, and near 2Mb upload speed, which is an order of magnitude more than I should need.

While I figured out an alternative, my dad ‘phoned my mobile number.  Not something either of us like, as it costs (he gets weekend landline calls free).  I explained my alternative, which was to turn my Virgin router off and use VOIP over my O2 line.  Fortunately the weather was gorgeous and it was a pleasure to go and sit out on the front terrace for best 3G signal, though it appeared also to work in some parts of the house.

Later in the day I ran some more tests.  Performance was incredibly poor: on average rather worse than a 28K modem (remember those?) and much of the time a complete standstill.  It took a long time to get a speed test to run at all.  Whoops!

Experimentally I tried a wired connection to the router.  Now suddenly all is well: I’m getting the speeds I’m supposed to.  So it’s the wireless.  A bit of research later and I change the WIFI channel, whereupon all is well.  I also come upon a tool called Kismac, which tells me the problem was indeed congestion: my neighbour and I had both been using channel 11.

Is that a common problem in a cable area?  Lots of Virgin users, and they ship standard routers with a standard configuration that sets us up for conflict, rather than a more mixed area where routers are (a priori, at least) a random mix?

Credit where credit’s due.  Virgin’s help pages were genuinely helpful.  It’s a rare pleasure to find a help page that tells me anything that wasn’t already blindingly obvious.

BTW, I have a couple of DECT phones and an ATA adapter to use my old phone&fax on order.  Should be arriving tomorrow.  So I’ll have a well-equipped house and should hear the ‘phone from anywhere.