The road to 200Mb/s

Speed test

When we moved to our present house six years ago, the only thing that I missed about our last one was the internet connection. That house had been one of the first to get BT Infinity and I’d quickly got used to 50Mb/s speeds. We only moved 1.7 miles, but suddenly we were cast back into the dark ages with a connection speed of 0.8Mb/s.

This clearly wasn’t going to work, so I signed up for an expensive satellite connection. In theory this offered 20Mb/s speeds, but in practice it was about half that and came with 800ms latency (no good for gaming) and nasty data caps (no good for Netflix).

Things improved three years ago when BT upgraded the cabling, but the distance from the exchange still limited the fastest speed we could get to about 12Mb/s. Upload speed was particularly constraining at 1Mb/s, which is a big problem with a house full of people uploading their photos and backing up their phones to the cloud.

Back in February 2015, I went to Israel to look at the tech/startup community and we were accompanied by friends from the BT Innovation group. Inevitably, the BT folks grouched about their airline problems and we complained about our broadband issues. This set in motion what proved to be a two and a half year joint quest to sort out my internet.

Many possible solutions were explored with BT over the ensuing couple of years, but it was frustratingly difficult to get real options. I think one of the problems was the regulatory restrictions that BT is forced to operate under. The people who could do the actual work (BT Openreach) weren’t allowed to talk to end customers. The people who were couldn’t fix my problem. Somehow we went round and round in circles for months, which stretched into years.

Finally, I got some real options on the table and decided to get a dedicated leased line from BT Local Business. A full fibre to the premises service, which understandably came with an associated high price tag and required me to register as a business. Rather than go for the “Managed Service” option, I decided to go for the slightly less expensive “wires only” option. “How hard can it be?”, I thought.

Well actually quite hard! BT’s “user guides” seem to assume that you are a qualified telecommunications engineer. Unusually, the internet wasn’t much help. So I thought I’d make a few notes on how to get things working for anyone who is mad enough to attempt the same thing.

I’d opted for a 200Mbps speed, delivered over a 1000Mbs fibre bearer. The following section in the BTNet “No Router Option (NRO) User Guide” describes how to connect things at the customer end:

4.1.4. 1000Mbps

1000Mbps services are presented to the customer as 1000Mbits/s Gigabit Ethernet conforming to IEE802.3z[25]. The customer connection is via a port on the WES1000 NTE.

The EAD1000 NTE customer interface is 1000Base-SX optical presentation via a Multimode dual LC optical connector as specified in the Gigabit Ethernet IEEE802.3z[25] specifications.

The customer must provide the necessary fibres to connect their equipment to the BT NTE.

The optical fibre patch cords to be used must be 850nm wavelength, 62.5/125 or 50/125 micron multimode fibre with LC connectors. The maximum fibre length is 550 metres for 50/125 micron or 220 metres for 62.5/125 micron.

It took me quite a while to decipher this and figure out what I needed to do.

Step 1: Which port do I need to plug into?

“WES1000” stands for “Wholesale Extension Service 1000”, with the 1000 referring to the 1,000Mb/sec speed of the line.

“NTE” stands for “Network Terminating Equipment”, which at least in my case was a box made by ADVA with a model number of FSP150CP FSP-ORNT-11-B. Here is a picture of one, which I have annotated to show the “Multimode dual LC optical” port referred to above.

What they mean by a WES1000 NTE

Step 2: What cable do I need?

You need a fibre cable like this one, shown below.

Duplex multimode fibre cable with LC connectors

Step 3: How do I turn this into something I can connect to my router?

You need a media convertor, which will connect optical fibre to regular copper 1000Base-T. I used a TP-LINK MC200CM Gigabit Multi-Mode Media Convertor.

Media convertor

You will also need a 1000Base-SX module like this one to provide the right socket for the fibre cable to plug into.

1000Base SX Module

Step 4: Connect your router

All that remains is to link the media convertor to the WAN port on your router with a standard ethernet cable and configure your router to use the static IP addresses that BT provides you with for your router, the gateway and BT’s DNS servers.

And that is all there is to it. 200Mb/s up and down and a happy household.