21CN Update - Plusnet to begin Higher Speed Custom...
21CN Update - Plusnet to begin Higher Speed Customer Trial
We've spoken a lot about 21CN over the last few months and would like to give customers an update on what's happening with our trial and a brief overview about what 21CN is all about. We're also announcing details of how customers can register to take part in the higher speed broadband trial. Quick 21CN Overview We've been preparing for 21CN for quite a while now and keeping a very close eye on how the early rollout has been progressing. 21CN uses a new network to deliver customers' traffic from their local exchange to the ISP, so rather than using our "classic" 622Mbps central pipes we now have a new backhaul link which is completely seperate and dedicated to our 21CN traffic. (Note: IP Connect isn't expected until sometime next year.) The new link has a capacity of 1Gbps and has a very different architecture to a 622Mbps pipe, rather than having to provision capacity in 155Mbps chunks we can set a variable amount depending on what we need at any given time and can change this with only a few days notice. On the customer side of things 21CN brings the potential for higher speeds via ADSL2+. ADSL2+ is a similar technology to the current ADSL standards which are used by IPStream Max and the fixed rate products we currently offer but uses more of the frequency band and increases the number of downstream bits to be able to provide a faster theoretical maximum speed as well an increase in stability. The headline maximum theoretical downstream speed on ADSL2+ is 24Mbps; this graph plots the estimated speeds based on line length and compares that with the current estimated speeds on ADSL. (Note: the figures here are the sync speeds, actual throughput will be lower, at the maximum sync rate of 24Mbps the maximum throughput would be 21Mbps.) We have yet to make a final decision on exactly how we will be marketing our 21CN products. As part of the Ofcom Code of Practice for Broadband Speeds we will soon be providing customers an estimate of the available speed for their line when they signup (or move house or change the wholesale broadband product, e.g. move from a fixed rate 2Mbps service to Max). This is something we hope will make things a lot clearer for people than the current "up to 8Mbps" speed that is promoted and is also something that many people, including The Gadget Show, have been campaigning for. Our intention at the moment is to take a look at the results of the speeds that our customers see when they regrade to, take on board feedback from our customers, evaluate what is happening in the marketplace and make a decision from there as to how we will market our 21CN products. Trial Progress Update We now have 25 staff accounts live on the trial (and another 4 in progress), including Neil Armstrong, whose initial feedback you can read here, feedback from the other trialists has been positive thus far as well. Of our first 24 lines, 6 are sync'd at a speed above 10,000kbps with the fastest being 15,323kbps. All of the lines so far have seen an increase in sync speed, although for some that were in the middle band of 2.5Mbps to 4Mbps on ADSL it has been very marginal. The best results we've seen so far have been at the top end where, like Neil's, the 7-8Mbps speeds have increased above 10Mbps. We've also seen significant improvement for those whose ADSL sync rate was lower than 2Mbps which have increased into the 2-3Mbps sync band. Looking at the upstream on 21CN we have a choice of setting a fixed rate of 448kbps or setting it to "uncapped" which will allow the line to sync at the maximum speed it will support (up to 1Mbps). For the trial we've set all the lines to be uncapped and again so far all of the lines have seen increase in upload speed with some of them sync'ing at speeds above 1,000kbps. Next Steps It is still very much our intention to be cautious about the rollout of 21CN to our customers. We all remember what happened two and half years ago with Max and LLU and have no intention of repeating what happened then. We have defined a clear roadmap and test plan of what we want to happen next. We have split the work into several phases to make the development work simpler and because we don't need to develop all of the functionality in one go. Phase one has delivered the network infrastructure and updated Workplace (our customer management system) to allow us to manually manage the trial. Further phases will deliver automation for placing new orders from signup and migrations for existing customers and automating the fault process. At a basic level our main success criteria for phase one is to gather an understanding of how 21CN works, how it differs (or stays the same as the case may be) from 20CN and document that for the next phases. We also of course want to have a number of customers successfully migrated across to 21CN. Which is where you come in. Part one of the test plan was to migrate around 25 staff accounts, which has now been done. Part two is to invite around 25 customers to take part in the trial. So, if you're interested in taking part the first thing you need to do is check to see if your exchange is enabled, you can do this via the Plusnet Usertools site. At the moment there are about 114 enabled exchanges and more are gradually being done each month. Where the enablement dates are known these are listed on the checker. The second thing to do is to check to see if your router can support ADSL2+. All of the hardware we've supplied recently including the Thomson 585v7 and 510v6 , the D-Link 320T, 320B, DKT710 and 2640B, and the Voyager 2110 and 210 are all compatible. A lot of hardware from other manufacturers will be too but we would suggest checking on their websites, some hardware may require a firmware update. If your exchange is enabled then to take part please let us know in the forum here. If more than 25 customers wish to take part then we will process the orders on a first come first served basis starting early next week. We intend to place a further batch of orders in a few weeks so if there are more than 25 they will be saved up for that second batch. We will of course let customers know via ticket whether they are in the first batch or not. The orders take approximately 5 working days to process and the actually switch over seems to occur during working hours on the 5th working day. Downtime has so far been minimal, generally just a few minutes while the exchange work is done. While we don't want to be putting people off going for the 21CN it's very important to stress that this is a trial and as such things may go wrong. We have raised faults (the fix rates have been pretty good) as part of the trial and tested both the new platform and processes as much as we can but there may still be "bugs", for lack of a better word, in the systems. Also with only 25 staff lines on the trial so far not everyone in our support team has "hands on" experiencing of supporting 21CN yet, so for any pre-trial questions we'd kindly ask you post in our discussion forums here. We also published a set of support pages about broadband speeds now and the future which should be useful. Dave Tomlinson Plusnet Product Team