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The SIN 349 Problem of Trying to Get BT Wholesale to Fix Broadband Faults

Thursday, August 4th, 2016 (11:13 am) - Score 2,511
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It’s fair to say that some ISPs in the United Kingdom have never had much love for BT’s Special Fault Investigation (SFI / SFI2) engineer service, which often struggles to identify broadband faults and can result in a string of disputed charges. Today’s story highlights another example.

Strictly speaking BT should not charge ISPs (related fees can also get passed down to end-users) for fixing faults that exist within their own realm (network), but in reality the national operator far too frequently takes an approach that can only be described as loopy (e.g. trying to force a copper line test on a fibre optic FTTP line, yes it happens).

One such example stems from the requirement to test lines to the SIN 349 (Metallic Path Facility, Interface Description) specification. The problem with SIN 349 concerns the fact that it’s a technical specification for the copper pair for telephone use and is not really ideal for identifying broadband faults.

At this point we should say that Openreach (BT) supply SFI is an “optional” extra chargeable service over and above the metallic path service they sell to help diagnose and repair broadband issues where the metallic path is as per SIN349. Meanwhile BTWholesale seem to redefine SFI to ISPs as an optional Openreach service that just tests for SIN349 and this is where it gets a bit confusing.

In practice SFI’s, which can sometimes be very tricky for ISPs to avoid (even when they know what the fault is), still requires an engineer to test for SIN 349 when examining broadband faults, although it’s not designed for that purpose and will often miss related problems.

The ISP can thus end up footing a hefty SFI bill for something they knew would never detect the problem and meanwhile the engineer walks away saying the test was passed. However this does rather depend upon the engineer as some can show a greater willingness to look beyond the basics (being polite and offering them some nice tea and cake may go a long way towards that goal).

In the latest example from AAISP we have a situation where the phone line is working OK for calls, but the broadband connection keeps dropping (a lot of people have suffered similar faults and they can be caused by all sorts of things). Funnily enough BT’s engineers have already identified that the issue stems from a drop wire, which needs to be changed and a new anchor to the building fitted.

Sounds clear enough, but the fault has stalled and after an escalation AAISP was told that BTWholesale “cannot even talk to” Openreach unless the ISP first orders an SFI engineer.

Adrian Kennard, MD of AAISP, said:

“We have endured THREE DAYS now of BT trying their damnedest to sell us this optional service in order to progress the repair of a fault on a broadband service. Note that broadband is not measured against the “metallic path specification” anyway, we don’t buy a “metallic path”, we buy “broadband”. So it is a pointless service, and one they know we will be charged for as the line meets SIN349 (they charge for SFI if the line meets the spec).

We could have booked the optional extra service of an SFI and the fault would have progressed, and then we would have to dispute the charges later. But we want this issue resolved so we don’t have these issues and disputes in future.”

At this point everybody in the chain from the ISP and up to Openreach should already know what is required to resolve the fault and forcing an “optional” SFI visit just to make progress, which everybody knows is likely to be a waste of time, doesn’t seem like the best approach.

Since then AAISP has spent the past few days pushing BT to clarify if they have a process to get broadband faults fixed which does not involve them ordering an optional extra service from Openreach.

Finally, after a long battle, BT recently agreed that they could progress the fault without booking an SFI engineer. But should it really have taken so long to reach such a conclusion? We have asked Openreach / Wholesale to comment and are awaiting their reply.

UPDATE 12:11pm

Corrected some confusion between the BT Wholesale and BT Openreach side of AAISP’s complaint.

UPDATE 2:41pm

BT has given us their very general reaction.

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We’re sorry to hear about any issues which might have had a negative impact on our customers.

We work closely with all of our Communications Provider customers to ensure we understand their needs and take on board any feedback they have about our products and services.

Over the last 12 months, we’ve paid particular attention to SFIs – giving customers advice on how they to use them effectively and where it might be appropriate to explore other options.

We will continue to hold regular customer forums to discuss such issues, and our account teams are on-hand if CPs want to speak with us directly.”

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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11 Responses
  1. RevK

    Just to add, the BT plc t/a Openreach side is not that daft – they define SFI differently, and they *sell* that service as a means to help address broadband faults. They charge because (at least for ADSL) Openreach don’t sell broadband, they sell metallic paths. The issue here is actually BT plc t/a Bt Wholesale, not BT plc t/a Openreach. BT plc t/a BT Wholesale redefine SFI as a service simply to check the line to SIN349, and not a service to fix broadband faults. After all, we would not want to buy a *service* to fix broadband faults as that is already part of the broadband service we already pay for. That redefinition means we would never want to buy that SFI service. However, logically, BT plc t/a BT Wholesale would want to *buy* the SFI *service* from BT plc t/a Openreach to help fix broadband faults, and as fixing broadband faults is part of the broadband service, they should not charge us when they pay for that service. I hope that make some sense.

  2. Steve Jones

    There should surely be a different between the purchase of GEA-FTTC and MPF/WLR. With GEA-FTTC OR sell a BB connectivity product which runs from the demarcation point in the property to the hand-off point on the ISP’s backhaul network. There is seems wholly appropriate that OR should have a BB fault finding and rectifying service which deals with any issues, including sub-loop problems, transparently. Whether that involves and MPF test or not would be up to OR but not presented separately.

    With MPF the product is simply that. A metallic path. It’s how the regulator defines the product and the relationship with the service provider for the ADSL, voice or whatever other service. Clearly that’s a messy lot of hand-offs between the operator of the MSAN and OR and the eventual ISP who may, or may not be, the same operator as the MSAN.

    No doubt this could be improved, but as Ofcom specifically wants this highly layered approach (and with PIA there could be another one), it’s always going to lead to extra complexities.

    Perhaps if there was a GEA-ADSL product from OR and it took over the responsibility of operating BTW’s exchange-based MSAN/DSLAMs, that might simplify the interface and responsibilities for BTW provided services, but it won’t sort out full LLU issues.

    • Steve Jones

      nb. I should add that OR spent a lot of time fixing a sub-loop problem I had with the sub-loop issue I had with Infinity which uses GEA-FTTC of course, very possibly because the technician involved had access to the end-to-end aspects of the VDSL link and could do the appropriate tests at that level.

    • RevK

      It will be interesting to see how this develops with FTTC faults where Openreach have to take responsibility for the VDSL service they sell, not just metallic path. SOGEA will make that interesting too. At this point, as an ISP dealing with BT Wholesale and Talk Talk Business, we are not yet seeing differences in the way FTTC is handled, but we really should be.

  3. RevK

    Sorry but “Over the last 12 months, we’ve paid particular attention to SFIs – giving customers advice on how they to use them effectively and where it might be appropriate to explore other options.” is BULLSHIT (in my opinion). The way BTW define SFI is as a service to check a line meets SIN349. There is no reason any BTW customer would ever want to purchase that service. They can test SIN349 for free using the test systems / eCo, and ISPs don’t buy SIN349 lines, they buy broadband. BTW have still not stated how an ISP can get BTW to fix a broadband fault on a line that meets SIN349 without ordering an optional extra service.

    • Steve Jones

      LLU operators buy MPF wand (as far as I’m aware) the technical characteristics of MPF are defined by SIN 349. Now ISPs buying wholesale BB services (whether BTW, LLU ADSL2+ operators or GEA-FTTC services) do have a right to a single service stop. But it’s those operators of wholesale ADSL2/ADSL2+ services that are surely responsible.

      MPF is not a BB service. OR do not supply and ADSL2/ADSL2+ exchange based services of which I’m aware.

      For what it’s worth when I had a problem with slowing sync rates on my BT Infinity 2 service, once the initial over-the-phone checks had been done, then it was fixed by an OR engineer by dealing with problems with the subloop (which took a couple of hours).

    • Steve Jones

      nb. I should add that the MPF technical standard may be insufficient for ADSL purposes, but the principle remains that is what OR sell.

  4. jon

    sin349 could do with being revised, especially loop resistance and insulation resistance, as a pass / amber pass can still be detrimental to broadband i.e hr faults

  5. Mark

    I’m the customer (I’m expect ‘Revk’ will be able to confirm this if you give him my email address entered on the form). I had another engineer appointment booked today after the efforts A&A made to get them to accept the fault. The engineer called me the morning to say he’d read the “pages and pages” of notes (this has been going on a long time and I’m up to about ten engineer visits, albeit with a gap of two years as I ran out of annual leave to wait in for BT to do nothing last time around). He asked if a new pole had been installed outside my house (no) or I’d heard from “planning” about installing a new pole or running underground ducting to get the dropwire to my side of the road (no), then said he couldn’t do anything and would make some calls and call me back (he didn’t).

    I had been expecting that the fact that BT accepted the fault back without needing another investigation / line test (I’ve had many of those) meant they were going to do what the last three engineers said should be done, which was renew the (65 year old) dropwire and install the new pole required to maintain the height across the road. Apparently not, they seem to have accepted the fault for the sole purpose of wasting my time and annual leave (and I’ve used plenty of that already waiting for engineers).

    Perhaps if ispreview can get answers from BT Wholesale they might be able to get them to explain what they hoped to achieve with the appointment today?

    • John Lawton

      Going through the normal channels clearly won’t work. Why don’t you ‘accidentally’ cut down the drop wire while doing some house repairs or tree pruning. Then BT* would have to replace it.

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