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Channelling messages from beyond…

OK, so who owns a BT Home Hub?  I’m sure many tens of you do, as that’s the default solution from BT for home internet connections. And I’m sure its a great product.  However, they seem to cause me nothing but trouble – you see, I don’t use BT as an ISP as they’re comparatively expensive, low on functionality, and reports indicate that its quite slow and unreliable too.   So, I’ve got my own Wifi routers (Linksys WRT54gl’s) in the house which run a custom firmware and allow me to set them up just so.  Three of them ensure that I have total wifi coverage at Very Good or above throughout the house.  Or that’s the theory.

For those that don’t know, here’s a brief technical overview of how wifi works…   Wifi is generally split into 4 types – A, B, G and N, with A & N running at 5 Ghz, and B, G (and N) running at 2.1 Ghz.  5 Ghz offers around 19 channels in Europe with 20 Mhz separation, which is fine.  However,  2.1 Ghz only offers 13 channels spaced 5 Mhz apart, but the wifi protocol requires 25mhz of separation.  This means that in reality, there are only three or four channels that can be used without clashing with other networks.  And that’s assuming that you’ve no other devices on the 2.1Ghz band such as Bluetooth, baby monitors,  TV senders,  wireless video game controllers – even microwaves and fluorescent lights can generate radio noise on this band.

A few minutes spent planning the network can reduce the impact that this has, even for a single access point.  The diagram shows the spectrum coverage of the given wifi channels, and you can use this to work out what the optimal settings for your network is.

File:2.4 GHz Wi-Fi channels (802.11b,g WLAN).png

So what you need to do is find out what channels your neighbours network is on (many wifi drivers and access points will show you).  If for example they’re on channel 11,  you could use 7 downwards.  Where it becomes more complicated is when you have neighbours both sides with wifi – you’ve got to slot in with them and hope that there are free channels available.

But back to my original point – flippin BT HomeHubs!  Most of my neighbours seem to be using them, which is fine, BUT the HomeHubs don’t seem to be able to pick a channel and stick with it – except when manually configured to do so! Every few weeks I find my wireless has gone to hell, and I look, and one of the hubs has changed its channel to the opposite end of the spectrum which means recalibrating my setup to get the best I can with the least overlap.  What’s most annoying is that they seem pretty useless at seeing what’s available and will often arbitrarily pick channel 6 or 7 no matter what is around them!  Which makes it pretty difficult to configure the network without any overlap.  My only hope is 802.11n (N networks) will go someway to improve this, but I don’t currently have any experience on its impact, other than it is supposed to be better in noisy environments.  But for now, I’ll stick with wired ethernet where I require guaranteed service such as to my media server, as its the only way of ensuring a consistent an reliable connection. 

And if you find your wireless experience is awful, check your channel assignment – the chances are you and your neighbours are all shouting at the same time and drowning each other out!

The Digital Britain Report.

So the Digital Britain report is out – a review of ‘digital’ services across the UK and how we can improve Britain’s take-up of these to make us a more competitive country in the world economy, led not by private businesses, but by the government.  Whilst its good to see, countries around the world have been addressing this for years, so its a shame that only now in 2009 that the politicians are waking up to technology.

The recommendations from the report will lead to a real shakeup of some services, potentially affecting the entire population, whether they like it or not.   The full report is HERE but I’ve summed up some of the points:-

    1. universal access to broadband by 2012, fund to invest in next generation broadband and liberalisation of 3G spectrum – government is keen to get the entire populous ‘online’ with at least a 2mb connection within 3 years.  To do this, they’re looking at having a 50p per month tax on each fixed phone line connection.  Our leaders are hoping that Rural area’s will be able to take advantage of 3G networks to supply the 2mb pipe they’re so keen push.  Which is great, but people don’t want Mobile pylons sprouting up across the country, so they’re going to need to address this.  In addition to this, the roll out of fibre to the cabinet by BT to bring upto 40mb/s to 50% of the population.  Virgin media are already working on 50mbps for their network, but many countries are already at 100mbps, and some looking at 1Gbps.  Too little, too late I think
    2. digital radio upgrade by 2015 – They’re talking of scrapping the FM and AM bands for national broadcasters, something which is going to upset a LOT of people, especially when the solution is the somewhat average DAB standard.  The FM frequencies will be made available to local broadcasters only as a temporary measure, presumably so that they can eventually be sold off for other services.   So, anyone like me who tends to buy 5-6 year old cars, don’t be expecting to be able to listen to the likes of the BBC Radio network when they switch it off, at least not without laying down a wedge to upgrade your radio to a DAB standard.  Most people are perfectly happy with FM and don’t see the benefit of DAB which is why, despite must protestation to the opposite,  Digital radio’s arn’t flying off the shelves.
    3. consultation on how to fund local, national and regional news, support for public service content partnerships – Discussions are already underway in allowing the BBC and ITV to share newsrooms in the regions – why bother sending two sets of journalists and AV people to report on a story, when often they capture the same information.  This could be an interesting approach and I’m all for it, provided that producers and directors within each broadcast agency are able to maintain their independence and take their own approach to reporting. 
    4. changed role for Channel 4 – Discussions have been ongoing to merge Channel 4 with BBC World, the commercial arm of Auntie Beeb.  The report hints at ruling this out, but allowing regulatory change such as to allow for a different focus and allowing C4 to compete with other corporate broadcasters.
    5. three year plan to boost digital participation – The BBC will be forced to take a slice of licence fee revenue (£200 million) to encourage the whole population to move to and embrace digital technology.  One interesting note from the report is that 3% of the populous surveyed by Ipsos Mori had never heard of the Internet.  Also 42% of people without internet access was due to self exclusion, with 37% of those saying that the Internet was of no interest.
    6. legal and regulatory attack on digital piracy – The Government are proposing to review copyright legislation and giving more power to Ofcom and ISP’s to first try and dissuade illegal downloading of copyright material by reducing access, before implementing criminal law for those hardcore downloader’s who cease and desist. Whilst this may go some way to addressing the issue, I personally believe that offering content at a lower cost and in a fair way (for example allowing the backup of physical medium for personal use) are the keys to reducing piracy on the Internet sea’s.

All in all, there’s nothing unexpected in the report, but there are some excellent idea’s & suggestions which act as good guidance.  The stone has been dropped into the mill pond, and I expect the ripples to radiate for some time.  However, there are some extremely contentious issues (especially in relation to the Radio) which I believe will cause a great amount of upset.  And the ‘rose tinted view’ of an all embracing digital UK will simply not live up to the expectations set out in this report. I hope they do, but I occasionally visit the real world to check on the state of things.