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More technical FAQs

Home is where the B4RN is

Have you any more information on VOIP and can we dispense with phone lines on your service?

We supply a one hour electricity backup in your home, and generators in the hubs, so yes you can if you choose to dispense with your phone line. More technical details of Voip here

How will my Sky service work without a phone line? Am I correct in thinking that a landline is necessary to receive SKY TV?
The “landline” bit is a red herring, you need a phone line that has a socket type connection like BT’s or B4RN’s which is not available on a mobile phone hence the “landline” tag.

Yes you need a phone line to be able to access the Sky services BUT it can be a B4RN phone line not a BT one.
That will work in exactly the same way with a B4RN system. There is a small box that has one or two phone sockets on it. You plug your sky lead into one of the sockets and then plug your phone into the empty socket on the Sky cable. A B4RN VoIP line will look exactly the same to Sky as a BT landline does. You would normally plug the phone lead from the Sky box into the phone's wall socket and then plug your phone into the empty socket on the Sky cable. Or, if you don't want a home phone at all, Sky say: "You cannot have the multiroom option if no landline so the TV can only be in one room, and you lose two interactive options - buying a Box Office movie or event and checking your bill through your Sky+ box. Both of these can be done by calling a local rate 0844 number."

Forum with some great tips for Sky without a phone: http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?t=981185

Do you have plans on how to deal with new properties being built and adding these on to the network?

Because most of our area is in an AONB we don’t expect large scale building but there will be some conversions and splitting bigger properties into multiple dwellings. We have of course allowed for every building that exists at the moment whether they sign up for connection or not. All trunk routes have at least 10% spare fibres which can be brought into use as necessary. If there was a need for a lot of new connections, for instance a new small estate, we would simply create a new local node which could do up to 192 properties or even multiple nodes. The spurs use 7mm duct which we blow 2 fibres into but we can blow this back and replace it with up to 12 fibres and so avoid having to install new duct if a property was converted into 2, 3 or more dwellings. Because it is PtP fibre we could also move from using a pair per property to 1000BaseBX optics and deliver the 1Gbs using a single fibre - this would allow us to double the number of properties served via the existing trunk. Of course there is also the option to use CWDM in a WDM-PON type deployment. Whichever way you look at it we can cope with virtually unlimited expansion and there is no chance of that in an AONB. This is the beauty of using fibre in a point to point deployment, the options are all there and can be implemented easily

What is an ISP?

Definition of what an ISP is:

Technically it stands for Internet Service Provider i.e. some organisation which provides you with connectivity to the Internet. B4RN is going to be an ISP in that sense. We will provide you with an IP address and the rest of the techie things you need to get online.

What else does an ISP do? Well, strictly speaking nothing. Once you are online you access a range of services that are hosted within the Internet and your ISP may offer some of those services as well in competition to all the other providers who are not your ISP but have services you do want to consume. For instance you will want an EMAIL account and your ISP might offer you one. It's generally not a good thing to take email accounts from your ISP as it locks you into taking your connectivity from them forever unless you don’t mind changing your email address every time you shift ISP to get a better deal. So most people these days go with someone like GMAIL to maintain vendor independence. They give you huge capacity mailboxes and in my experience as good a service as any ISP. There are plenty of others out there too, take your pick.

Apart from email there really are not any services that ISPs offer you anymore. At one time you could get web hosting and storage but again there are numerous alternative providers who offer much better deals who are not ISPs and many ISPs have pulled out of that service area as it makes them nothing and costs them to support it.

So, really what your ISP needs to do is give you a fast reliable link into the Internet and you then sign up to take whatever services you want from suppliers who live in the Internet cloud. I think we are all familiar with the idea of clicking on the icon for Facebook or YouTube or IPlayer or ITunes and hundreds of others. These are all services and applications and nothing to do with your ISP.

Q: How much longer will ISPs exist?

I’ve had this debate with numerous people at conferences for some time and the consensus is that ISPs as anything other than connectivity providers are a threatened species whose days are numbered. The only reason they exist at all is that the vast majority of Internet connections come via BT’s network. Out of 5500 telephone exchanges in the UK around 3500 have no one but BT with equipment in them. The other 2000 have companies like TalkTalk, Sky, O2 and similar local loop unbundlers (LLU) in them who have their own equipment installed alongside BTs. However, to offer a national service they have to be able to connect customers on the other 3500 exchanges where they have no equipment. To make this simple they have all adopted management platforms that are compatible with BT’s one. This allows them to use one system whether provisioning a customer via BT or directly on their own system. So the bottom line is that everyone has had to put in place incredibly complicated systems that are compatible with BT’s ordering and management systems. These are complex because the BT system is overlaid on an 19th century telephony system. If you were starting from scratch today and wanting to offer fast internet connectivity you would not go the same way. What you would do is something like FTTH which is point to point Ethernet and does not carry the baggage of the old telephony world. Unfortunately for BT they don’t have the luxury of a clean slate and have to carry all the problems with them. B4RN doesn’t have that problem; we are starting from scratch.

Q: Explain the connectivity that B4RN offers....

Following on from the previous question, B4RN is suggesting a layered approach. Your ISP (B4RN) sells you a first rate reliable link to the internet and stops there. It does need to be engineered well and must have the usual technical support operation. But because it's using modern fibre optics the support load is very small compared to that involved with old copper wires. Fibre support takes typically about 10% of that required by copper. Additionally B4RN lives in a pure Ethernet world which is massively developed and achieves very high availability levels.

Q: Will B4RN provide services?

Above the connectivity layer there is some debate about whether B4RN should get involved with providing services. Most of the stuff you want is better sourced from the providers direct. People like Virgin are really in the business of selling you content, the connectivity is simply a means to an end. If they could dump the network onto someone else they would, they have been trying to find a way for years but no one will take over the cable end for them as that difficult to make money from. Content makes you money.

Q: What about video?

The way forward with video is to use Video over Internet. As you know, all new TVs sold today, or nearly all, are labelled as internet connected. They can take video streams across the internet from the content providers without a set top box in between. If you use Sky or FreeSat or Apple TV you are simply putting a set top box between the radio side and your TV. There is a new service emerging called YouView which will enable all the existing terrestrial and satellite channels to be delivered to you over an Internet link. This is supported by the BBC, ITV, CH4, CH5, BSkyB, Virgin and all the rest. This will include the subscription channels from Sky and Virgin. (Update: Sky are no longer a YouView partner so this question needs updating. We believe that Sky are included in a similar set top box project with different partners which may suit a different, premium audience).

The model will sell you services across the internet cloud rather than having to pay for expensive satellite capacity or install cables along the roads. The new services will also provide video on demand so rather than renting a DVD you simply pay online and watch the film there and then. To do this you need about 10Mbs per video channel so YouView specify compatible sets must support 4x10Mbs streams to allow for recording, time shifting, Picture in picture and other services. So you will need 40Mbs for your main TV. What about the rest of the family? By the time you factor in the kids doing their own thing you can see why 100Mbs starts looking like a good place to aim for as a minimum, and 1000 Mbs, which B4RN will have, is even better.

Q: Will other providers be able to use the network?

Well, we could offer other ISPs access via the B4RN network in the same way that BT Openreach does. However, we would not want to put into place such complex systems as BT uses as the costs are very high. Standards are emerging that use VLAN technology to link customers to providers over networks like ours. We would be happy to go along with this. However we would still have to charge them the same as we are charging the end user as that is what we need to be sustainable. So your ISP would have to add his overheads to our charges and bill you more than we would but what extra would you gain?

Q: Are there any security concerns with the free email services such as Hotmail and Gmail?

Being realistic, the Internet leaks like a sieve and the number of instances of accounts getting hacked seem to be as high with government departments and banks as it does with services like GMAIL. If you are concerned about security, you should use encryption methods such as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). One interesting model that can be adopted is for the customer to opt into one of the high security service providers by using a VPN across the internet into their network. Depending on who logs onto your computer you could use VPN technology to put them inside a cloud with suitable locks and security depending on who they are. We hope that a local company may take up the challenge of offering simple online security advice to domestic and SME users, which is sadly lacking in the UK.

Q: Is Cloud computing secure?

Is your house?! Is your existing internet connection? If you have confidential data, then you should seriously consider encryption. Nothing unencrypted that goes on the Internet is ever 100% safe because it needs to pass through multiple servers to reach a destination, and each represents a potential security weakness without encryption.

2) Telco Registration

Q: There are various references to registering as a Telco, applying to OFCOM for Code Powers and various other legalistic hurdles carrying a budget of £30K. Are there any doubts that any of this can halt or delay the project or run away with wildly greater charges?

No, the process is well understood. There is a two stage process, firstly applying for a CUPID code which effectively identifies B4RN as a communications provider (CP). Once B4RN is registered as a CP, BT and other CPs have to deal with B4RN on an equal footing and B4RN can access regulated services such as PIA and LLU. To get a CUPID code, there must be a credible business plan showing the intention to run a PECN (Public Electronic Communications Network) and there is a one page form from Ofcom to complete. There is no cost associated with the process.

Code Powers - once again, a business plan is required and a payment of £10,000 to cover Ofcom's costs. A bond which relates to the amount of duct on public land is also paid to Ofcom so that in the event of any telecommunications provider going bankrupt, any repairs to ducting etc can be covered. Less than 1% of B4RN's ducting is intended to be laid on public land so the bond will be relatively low.

3) Other questions
"Do I get a fixed public IP address, or a block of IP addresses"

By default we will issue 1 static IP address per premises. We expect many users to install a gateway/router/firewall/WiFi hub on the end of the line and that will handle additional internal address allocations and use NAT to share the single address.

If the user is taking VoIP services connected directly to our CPE switch then an additional IP address will be allocated for that. However we have no problem with allocating additional addresses or blocks of addresses if required so long as the end user knows what to do with them and makes a case to us. We have to justify our address blocks to RIPE who will want to see the case for assigning them. Given the shortage of IPv4 addresses we might be forced towards IPv6 numbering if a user wants to take a block but the B4RN network will support both protocol stacks. 

If anyone comes up with a novel application that needs special address support then talk to us, we are always keen to help.