Using Sky Broadband – some interesting problems

Sagem router

41SjWSLJnGL__SX300_When we moved to our new house we were obliged to use Sky as there is no cable supplied on the estate and the house is wired for a dish supply.  This worried me as I have never used Sky before and I was unsure about broadband, service support and the eventual ownership of the hardware.  As soon as Sky was installed I became aware of an immediate problem – we have a patio that sits above the dining room, on a concrete support, which reduces our mobile phone signal to almost zero and almost wiped out the WiFi signal from the router.  However, despite my concerns about aftersales service, I was, at the time, able to contact the Helpdesk directly by phone and they were very helpful.  They provided, free of charge, a wireless extender, but this did not overcome the problem and, as a consequence, I decided that my best solution to this problem was a TP-Link powerline system that transmits the internet connection via the mains system in the house.  The setup purchased consists of a link to the router, a wired link that allows me to connect my smart TV to the internet and a wireless/wired link that allows me to connect the Sky box in the dining room, while also providing the missing wireless signal in the same room.  This solution works really well and, by using the same SSID for the TP-Link as provided by my Sky router, my laptop connects automatically as I move around the house.  The system seems very stable and has only been switched off a couple of times over the last year.

So one unusual problem solved, but the take home message for me was that Sky provided really good support at the time and did all they could to resolve a problem that was not of their making.  However, this telephone help service was withdrawn and things are less good now……

Some while ago I posted a message, on the Sky Community, about a problem with the SAGEM router supplied with my Sky broadband.  The problem I had was that I could not get my HP inkjet network printer to connect to the router.  This is an annoying situation as one reason for purchasing the printer was that I could access the printer anywhere within the house, using a laptop, without having to have the main desktop computer switched on – the printer should work after plugging a network cable into the printer and the router.  This worked fine when I was with Virgin, but, as detailed in my Sky Community post, not with the sky Router.  In fact the router delivered a network address that simply “said” the device was local, but did not register the device on the network.

On the Community Pages, I was given a few pointers of things to try (which you can read in the link above), but nothing worked and a bit more reading outside of the Sky Community led me to conclude that the router is locked down using something called MER – MAC Encapsulated Routing – which allows Sky (in this case) to disable certain features and requirements and allows them to “support” their broadband service in a predictable way.  While I understand why sky are doing this, I was very disappointed by the lack of support for my problem, from the Sky Community, who eventually simply archived my post without ever addressing the issue.  To me, to lock the router down such that a printer cannot be attached, is an excessive restriction on use of the machine, which should be declared up front – especially since the SAGEM has available network connections suggesting this is possible.  However, I have overcome this situation by installing my own router, which was easier than I thought; although, it does infringe the Terms and Conditions of the Sky package, but I understand they do not enforce these conditions in reality.  I was worried that installing my own router would be a difficult process, but I was pleasantly surprised about how easy this was, once I had gathered the required information.

The first stage of this process was to get the Username and Password for the router, which is different from the supplied SSID and password that Sky provide and is not available from Sky.  In fact discovering this information was the most difficult step and information around the Internet is fragmented at best.  So, here is what I hope is a simple explanation of what to do:

The first step is to obtain the LAN MAC address for the modem and identify the make and model of the router supplied by Sky – in my case this was a SAGEM F@ST2504 and the MAC address is available from the routers status page as detailed on the video HERE.  If you have never accessed Router Status Page then watch this video first and take your time to have a look at the Router setup and what information is available where (Type http://192.168.0.1/ into your web browser and the Username is admin and the Password is sky – N.B. this is not the username and password required to setup your own router!).  This information is used to generate a Username and Password at https://www.cm9.net/skypass/.  Once you have this information, setting up your own router is easy.

TD-W8970-1_0-02Choosing a suitable router is not as easy as I thought as I wanted a system that would readily accept the username and password, but I was not sure whether all routers would do this – I now think that they would once you choose the required protocol for the new router, which is PPPOA.  However, this slight problem was easily solved for me when I discovered someone was recommending the TP-Link routers as a replacement for the SAGEM, so I bought a TP-Link TD-W8970 V3 from Amazon (it is also available from WH Smith).

In summary:

  1. Obtain the model of the current Router and its LAN MAC address from the Router Status Page at http://192.168.0.1 – Username admin Password sky.
  2. Use this information to generate the required Router Username and Password at https://www.cm9.net/skypass/.
  3. Connect the new router to your computer and access the setup page as detailed in their instruction.
  4. Choose PPPOA as the protocol, enter the generated username and password when requested.  Change the default SSID of the new router to that of the SAGEM (usually SKY*****) and enter the WPS security password (as provided on a small business card by Sky).
  5. Plug in the ADSL connection used to connect the SAGEM  router and off you go!

Mine worked immediately; although I did have to register the computers on a Home Network.  I will update if I have any problems, but what is important is that I now have my printer networked as originally required.  I am now looking at whether I can attach a USB drive to the router and use this as a NAS Media Server.

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Broadband speeds – slow progress?

Internet speeds can be quickly determined at this site, the results for my line are:

Line speed

Having just moved house (May 2012) I find i have gone from a Virginmedia connection (formerly NTL fibre optics) to a BT landline (through Sky) and what a difference I notice in download and especially upload speeds!  This subject seems to have disappeared out of the news, but there is still a major issue to be addressed by the government, if they are to make good use of modern internet capabilities within the economy.

The reason for this blog is that I am disappointed with the speed I get from out BT landline, but also because I think this is a typical example of a missed opportunity – a new housing estate with poor internet speeds.  I cannot understand why there is no fibre optic capability on this new estate, nor any sign that there may ever be such a fast connection.  It seems to me this is one place the government could provide regulation (just as they have regulated the energy use of new buildings) by insisting that a new housing estate should be provided with fibre optics and a choice of supplier who can use this facility!

speed4As you can see from the data at the top of this blog, I am only getting 5Mb/s download speed (against a maximum offered speed of 8 Mb/s; although the advertisements suggest upto 14 Mb/s) and an upload speed of only 0.68 Mb/s!  This illustrates the other area that needs government regulation – advertised speeds are theoretical maximums, not actual situations.  This is very misleading and should not be allowed – it is the use of the phrase “upto” with the offered speeds that is particularly misleading.  Although, I could choose another supplier (other than Sky) this is unlikely to help me as they all have to use the BT landline.  I have asked Virginmedia if they plan to lay fibre optics in the area, but they may not be able to gain access to do so!  BT would make no comment about upgrading our area to fibre optics.

So, I imagine that nothing will change in this area, the government simply make noises when they have to, but implement no policy changes.  The suppliers are only competing on price (except for Virginmedia) and there is no coherent policy to introduce fibre optics in areas that could be upgraded without too much disruption – very disappointing!

Chrome slated – problems with Google’s Browser and Outlook email package.

Some while ago I installed Google’s Browser Chrome, just to trial it and see if it was faster or more convenient than Internet Explorer.  However, after a few weeks of trialing the browser, I decided that there were no significant advantages offered by Chrome and consequently I uninstalled it.  A few days later I discovered that I could no longer launch a web page from a link within an Outlook email, or task etc.   I got an error messaging that indicated that there was an administrator access rights problem and the link was disabled – very odd!

A quick search of various forums suggested this problem originated with Chrome, but a solution to the problem was not, at that time, available.  I was unsure what to do, so I reinstalled Chrome to see if the links worked.  Hey presto!  Outlook links were working again!  But the problem had not really gone away – I was “stuck” with Chrome on my laptop.  Further research suggested there may be ways of doing a “complete” uninstall including removing registry entries, but nothing I tried worked.

However, just a few days ago, I came across a simple solution and an explanation of what the problem was due to – it seems Chrome sets itself as the default browser, this is done through a registry change and is not reversed on uninstall, but even worse this cannot be undone by the use of Control Panel to set IE as the default browser again!  The solution was to use another Browser to reset the default browser situation, then uninstall that browser and reset IE as the default!  Not obvious, but it worked.  So if you have this problem here is the solution:

  1. Uninstall Chrome, but do nothing else.
  2. Download and install Firefox.
  3. Run Firefox and allow it to set itself as default browser – it does this automatically.
  4. Close Firefox and then run Internet Explorer, when it asks if you want to set IE as your default browser SAY NO.  Close IE.
  5. Now uninstall Firefox.
  6. Run Internet Explorer again and when it asks if you want to use it as the default browser, SAY YES.

Now your links in Outlook should work again.