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Latest interaction with the Knutsford Probus group - October '08

This page has now been 'FINALLY' updated but it is still open to change if anyone has feedback that it should be

I have enclosed a lot of material below but it all relates to the various discussions that happened on Monday. I have also provided the content of the foils at Probus - Foils used on Monday. If you want to go directly to the links they are at: Links to other resources. With any of the links on this page you will need to use the back button on your browser to return here because THIS PAGE IS NOT FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION as it is intended solely for Probus members - ideally just those who attended the session on Monday.

Your scenarios - only numbered for reference just in case we talk by 'phone

Due to time constraints and lots of good questions we didn't have as much time available to discuss scenarios as I had hoped. Most attendees however seemed to be most interested in one simple scenario - from home what is the best approach to getting: Talk, e-mail and surfing... Broadly speaking the conclusions are in three areas although we only really discussed the first two in any detail:

  1. If you don't have a BT line and have NTL (Virginmedia) as your main supplier of communications then you are likely to find the easiest and probably the cheapest approach is to stick with Virgin unless you have telephone call costs in excess of £20/month. If your call costs are more than £30/month you should get an itemised bill for at least one month and do a rough calculation with the rates from the 18185 web site to see how long it would take to repay a possible investment in re-connecting a BT line.

    If your overall bill for BB plus 'phone calls and line rental is more than £40/month you should certainly either:

    • Take a look at their 'bundled' deals - 3 for £30/month for instance or
    • As long as you feel that you are both willing and able to go through with this action then I would negotiate with their 'customer retentions department' (NOT customer service!) to get a better deal on the basis that you would switch to BT
  2. If you have a BT line it is very likely that this will be the best route to getting your needs met with a good service and at a good price, HOWEVER if your cost of calls is more than £5/month you probably will be better to keep your line CONTRACT with BT and get other services from other providers - see 18185, Plusnet, Zen et. al. below.
  3. If you could manage WITHOUT a BT line and/or you are often in other parts of the UK AND you are a light user of broadband (less than 3GB/month) then you might want to at least CONSIDER the MOBILE option. Almost all mobile operators will provide 3GB/month of Broadband (BB) for £15/month. If you only use e-mail and surf less than 5 hours a week then you may want to try using the offer from the company called 'three' which is just 1GB of download which must be used within 30 days of activation at a cost of £10.

Broadband (BB) topics - only numbered for reference just in case we talk by 'phone

  1. Although PlusNet is very good for 'light users' (less than 2GB/month) they would NOT be competitive for very heavy users - for instance those who use the BBC I-Player for more than an hour per day - note that the I-Player MAY be using large quantities of bandwidth even when you are not watching it because YOUR PC is serving BBC content TO OTHER USERS unless you stop it from doing so. Moderate users could start with the £10/month deal and either top-up when needed, upgrade to the £15/month for 15GB or even accept a 'speed throttler' (128Kbps until new month) when they exceed their quota.
  2. When you sign up for BB online or over the telephone you need to be very careful - even on 'BT friendly' web sites such as Plusnet that you only let them take over your BT line (i.e. the contract / payment / responsibility) IF that really is what you want them to do because you have then lost your protection from anti-competitive behaviour such as blocking the use of services from other companies.
  3. Although there wasn't a question on this topic I realised that I had not given you any way of measuring your usage of this important commodity called 'download' or 'monthly usage'. Basically it is as simple as shown to the right - how much data has been BOTH Sent and Received - add the two to get usage over a period.

    Although you can get (download!) tools that will measure this in detail and with great accuracy I would suggest that rather than add yet another software component to your PC you can simply look at the XP statistics whenever you turn off your PC over the month.

    To see statistics such as those to the right you simply right-click on the network icon** (either in the very bottom right - i.e. the system tray or in Network Connections) and then choose 'Status' writing down both the duration of your network connection as well as millions of bytes received AND TRANSMITTED (especially if you run the BBC I-Player) and record that along with the date and a few words describing the characteristics of that session - e.g. general surfing and handling 1 day's worth of e-mail.

    In particular try to describe why a particular day/session is either very heavy or indeed if it was very light - that will help you understand what you are currently using and what the factors are that make a difference.


Personally I would record the above usage as:

Date/TimeDurationSentReceivedActivity
15Oct 13:004 days80MB160MB General surfing, 4 days e-mail, 15MB of downloads.
No use of BBC I-Player or Internet radio

Note that I had to look at the sizes of the files downloaded to know that it was a 12MB plus a 3MB download.

If you use the BBC I-player you should make some observations not just every 10 minutes while you are watching something which has just been produced but (every 10 minutes) for at least the next hour or so after it has been downloaded too.

If the above 4 day example was my only data then I would estimate that I was PROBABLY using between 1.2 and 2GB per month as the daily usage is 60MB ((80+160)/4) * 20-35 (working?) days in a month.

** If your connection to the Internet is via USB then your network icon and statistics will look different to the above because the modem supplier will have THEIR software linking it to your PC and so it will be THEIR tools which can inform you of usage.

'Talk' by 'phone topics - only numbered for reference just in case we talk by 'phone

  1. As far as I know - 18185 is the cheapest but I have added the 18866 link to my links page for comparison. One small extra that they (18185) provide which I use quite often is their SMS Text messaging service which is available on the web. The main reason that I! use this is because I can use a keyboard but have no ability or desire to try to use the keypad of a mobile 'phone to send anything other than the most urgent and terse text message!

Skype and Voice over IP (VoIP) topics - only numbered for reference just in case we talk by 'phone

Sadly we didn't get the time to discuss and debate this but just some comments from my own usage and knowledge:

Please bear in mind that Voice over IP technology is actually everywhere - even BT and NTL use it for their core services - the challenge is finding where it can be easily and usefully used to meet your needs at an appropriate cost. Also check the cost of using an ordinary 'phone with a provider such as 18185 as that MAY be a lot more attractive than you think if you have had a less-than-competitive provider.

  1. Free calls to other (PC) users! this is very popular between people in different countries where the cost of 'phone calls is high. Please check that the cost really is high by looking at the 'Talk' links (e.g. 18185) before trying to use these technologies.

    This is by far the most attractive usage but it DOESN'T need Skype or the subscription that they charge. Voice and Video chat between PCs is freely available using many tools - the simplest (because you probably already have it installed!) is perhaps Windows Messenger. Note that this is the SIMPLE messenger from Microsoft and NOT MSN Messenger which is geared towards teenage chat and exposes your PC to much more of a threat as it is constantly updated.

  2. Free calls to other (Telephone!) users but from your PC. There are companies who offer this and of course it depends if they happen to match your specific requirements, see VoIPCheap (in links) as an example. Obviously if the company is charging you a subscription then you should EXPECT to have some free usage as well as discounted calls.
A copy of my 'Useful links' page

See Links to other resources for the original but it is exactly as below because it is dynamically copied when you visit this page.

Useful links - to other service and product providers on the web

The web gets its name from links like these. Our company has trust in the following companies which also do business on the Web.

Bear in mind that although we cannot make any representations on their behalf and cannot make recommendations without a full understanding of what your business needs are - some of the links below may result in our company receiving a trivial benefit for the traffic and business that we generate.

What they do or provide Who they are
(links are 'clickable')
18185 is an ADDITIONAL Telephone service IF you pay BT for your landline - see BELOW for what BT OFFERS. As at Jun'09 they (18185) offer calls to:
  • mobiles for 6p per minute (ppm)
  • UK landlines for 5p PER CALL - no extra ppm charge even for 2-3 hour calls! - ideal for 'certain people' (50% of UK population?)
  • approx. 30 worldwide destinations at less than 2ppm
  • many countries at 1ppm or less - even to mobiles - US, China etc.

The minor irritation of dialling 18185 in front of any number is offset by not just cost but the fact that if you want to use BT for any call you simply omit this (18185) prefix.

18185 also see
/ compare to:
18866
although I
think it is
slightly more
expensive.
Contact organisations by telephone using a cheaper number than 0870, 0845, 0844, 0871 etc. that they may have provided to you on their literature, web site, bill etc.. saynoto0870.co.uk
Plusnet are a Broadband (BB) provider to both residential AND BUSINESS clients at competitive rates:
  • Their Call Centre is in Sheffield and in our experience, almost all calls are answered by staff that are both
    (a) capable of talking to non-technical people despite being technically competent but are also
    (b) committed to fixing whatever problem you are having with their services, ideally over the 'phone

    N.B. Knutsford BT exchange is now deemed competitive and thus LOWER PRICE

  • Urban (residential) dwellers will PROBABLY be able to get 10GB (download limit) for £6.50 per month. Click here if you live in a rural area. Business users pay a reasonable premium for their enhanced service and support which is £10 + VAT or £15 + VAT in rural areas for 10GB/month but Note: this includes four hours of telephone calls to landlines using their Voice over Internet Protocol service - VoIP.
  • Keep your 'phone line with BT and therefore use 'really cheap' 'phone services - see '18185' elsewhere on this page.
  • If you exceed your usage limit (e.g. 10GB/month!) - your BB just slows down (to 2-3 times Dial-up), not stops! like some others. OR, extra bandwidth can be bought per GB. Also - if usage IS a problem then there is 'Free' overnight usage (for downloads/file sharing) - midnight-8am
  • Like all BB providers - other benefits such as your 'phone line is free for incoming / outgoing calls and the fact that Broadband connections are usually 'left on' and therefore much quicker to connect. (See Fast PC startup using no electricity for much faster PC startup too!)

Please call BrianR before ordering as there are SOME options to AVOID and ONE specific TECHNICAL thing to request during or just after ordering


Note that as of August '09 there are also EXCELLENT BUSINESS OPTIONS but again please call BrianR to ensure you are ordering the best options

Even if you take their lowest-usage BUSINESS Broadband package:

  • Four hours of 'phone calls over Broadband are included
  • Their target telephone response times on BUSINESS support is 30 seconds (also UK-based - see above!)
  • They prioritise your important/urgent network traffic over their customers who have chosen 'Value' products.
PlusNet

The above link
generates the
equivalent to 1
pint of beer
per YEAR.
The benefit to
YOU is that if
Plusnet lapse in
their customer
service - I can
liase with them
very aware
that I have
recommended
them to well
over a dozen
of their
customers.

Broadband in rural areas - often now more expensive because of BT wholesale charging

Sadly - OfCom has not forced BT wholesale to do the same (charge reductions) in rural areas...

The same (10GB/month usage) from Plusnet will cost £13 per month in Knutsford for example.

We would recommend to Business users that they accept the discomfort that paying more than their urban counterparts will give them unless there is a clear alternative at the exchange - call us to help you find that out and whether that has other implications (including 'hidden costs') as a result.

Residential users might however want to explore other options:

  • There MAY be providers at their exchange who have their own equipment and are therefore not limited by the charges made by BT wholesale. If there are then it will be obvious in the pricing / availability of BB services at price comparison sites - see links.
  • Mobile broadband MAY be a viable option but is obviously dependant upon there being a nearby mobile transmitter. This option obviously has other benefits for people that travel but beware that the use of dongles an actual mobile 'phone tend to be priced very differently and can be excruciatingly high!
  • If you happen to live in a rural area that also has been 'cabled' then you may be able to get a deal from VirginMedia that is competitive.
You may wish to use a comparative site:
Broadband™ Choices

Broadband™ Choices
Voice calls at weekend and evening - WITH BT!
For many years we have promoted the idea of retaining your line rental with BT so that all? of the services over that line are regulated by OfCom and therefore relatively competitive. What BT are now (Feb/Mar'09) offering may be interesting to many - in exchange (pardon the pun!) for committing to a 12 month contract you can get FREE evening and weekend calls (up to an hour) AND even some 0845 and 0870 calls at the weekend! AND that is included in the line rental which is £11.50 approx. from April - again approx. - see their web site for details.
bt.com/free
Allow you to pay for goods and services WITHOUT giving your credit card details to the provider of them. Both of these companies allow individuals as well as businesses to give and get money on-line. Supports on-line trading in goods and services. Google checkout - and an alternative:
Paypal - now a part of eBay I believe
SOFTWARE that is FREE for PERSONAL USE. Another set of useful links can be found elsewhere on this site at Personal Software. This is listed here because it is a useful link for many PC users. Personal Software

** Note Peer to peer file sharing is normally associated with downloading copies of movies and CDs and often violates Copyright laws. HOWEVER the BBC! make LEGAL use of PEER to PEER technologies in their iPlayer which may be affected by the caps on the bandwidth available. I will update this page when I know more about the effect of the caps.

If you want to refer people to specific items on this page then you may want to give them one of the links below:

This page © Business before Technology 2008 - see the respective sites of the owners for their copyright as well as terms and conditions

Links and other information last validated on 9th October 2008. Please use the Contact us page to suggest any additions or revisions.


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