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Core Question

Buggerlugz

ULTIMATE Member
Probably a question for Gavin or Peter Clarke....

What are the differences in how an ISP's core back bone works (in both directions) when comparing "from the cabinet" with "from a mast"?

I ask because with more and more 4G/5G customers trying elaborate antenna's to get better speeds and failing, I think its becoming increasingly apparent that with LTE "mast signal quality/strength/contention" isn't the primary factor in slowing speeds and reliability.

To me its looking more likely (with Three at least) that the backbone from the masts is the limiting factor here and not the masts themselves.
 

TTJJ

ULTIMATE Member
Perhaps a simple explanation is that there's two entirely separate bandwidths to consider -

The network core is somewhat similar across both mobile networks and traditional ISPs - especially with 4G and beyond as the networks are internet first, with calls and texts going over the network as IP data or dropping down to 3G where this isn't available. It's going to be how fast and how much capacity that their network can handle when transferring data between it's own data centres as well as to the greater internet. This usually wouldn't be the bottleneck as providers are generally fairly good at managing this and have more than enough available bandwidth to serve the users even at times where there's higher than usual demand. Putting it very simply - if you had 10 customers only on 1GB connections - you'd think there's 10GB of bandwidth at the other end but in reality most users won't use that to the fullest extent and almost certainly not 24h a day so they may have something such as 5GB bandwidth which is enough for their general usage and when the occasional user has higher than normal usage. With Three I believe this is a huge part of their issue - they have a lot of customers using a huge amount of bandwidth and their network core simply doesn't have enough bandwidth or it is being artificially throttled down severely to constrain it. Plus there's lots of other sophisticated stuff going on in the background which decides where and how traffic gets sent as they don't just have a single connection to the outside internet.

From the cabinet/mast point of view - it's a bit different. There's going to be a connection with some kind of limit that connects that mast/cabinet to the core network of the provider. Masts have available radio spectrum that they're broadcasting and this has it's own limits in terms of what it's capable of depending on the band and how much of it there is so there's another bottleneck there. I have no idea as to exactly what speeds masts/cabinets are connected at but it's the same principle where it'll generally be more than what the provider can expect to be used by customers connected to it in normal circumstances. Openreach seem to plan this very well as you almost never hear of local congestion at the cabinet - Virgin on the other hand seem not to plan it so well as you often hear in some areas of heavy demand that it slows everyone else down. This is caused by the link from the cabinet to their network core/exchange not having enough capacity to serve the needs of the users connected to it. Generally not caused by the core network itself. It gets a bit more complicated than that as the cabinet/mast is not likely to be connected to the 'core' network itself and is probably connected to a smaller sub-core/exchange which again adds another possibility for a bottleneck as they're going to be connected with a bandwidth they think is going to serve all of the cabinets and customers which are connected to it.

Three is the highly unusual one in that I don't believe it's the masts on their own that are becoming congested, it's also the network backbone equipment plus some bad traffic management as the issues appear all across the country. In places where the masts aren't congested, good speeds seem to come through but then still have the issues you see elsewhere. You have to remember as well though that you're not connecting to a single point, traffic will be routed across many of their data centres and the network will decide which endpoint to send it to based on availability along with a number of other factors.

It's why I keep popping up to mention that an antenna isn't likely to work. If you've got a decent signal connected to a mast and getting low speeds - an antenna isn't going to improve the connections from the masts to elsewhere in the network. I'd think an antenna is only going to improve things when your signal to the mast itself isn't great but that same mast is capable of significantly higher speeds than what you're achieving without one.
 

GavinAshford

ULTIMATE Member
TTJJ has pretty much covered it. Antennas shouldn't try be thought of as adding speed, mainly because better signal levels don't (necessarily) mean better speeds - they can do in some circumstances (e.g. getting B3 instead of just B20 because the antenna is now outdoors rather than tucked away in a basement study room), but it's certainly not a given. Better signal levels do mean the connection should be more reliable and less susceptible to changes in variables that would impact speeds over the radiowaves.

Backhaul can certainly become a limiting factor in some cases too, but again, it's not necessarily a cause.
Take my home mast for example - because I know the most about it. Its microwave linked to a hub mast where the main fiber backhaul is connected, and then there is a further mast microwaved from my mast too (so this is 2 hops from the hub).
Up until B1 was added to the mast the microwave link from my mast to hub was 335mbps. As the mast hosts EE and Three that link is shared between the two providers (likely Three were allocated less than 100mbps). That ~100mbps would be shared by all Three users connected to the mast on all 3 cells. Individually, each of the B3 cell could provide 112.5mbps. adding up to way over the 100mbps backhaul link.
The 2nd hop mast also needs consideration, that too has B3 and 3 cells too (3x112.5mbps) but it's MW link to my mast is also 100mbps, effectively limiting the 2nd hops maximum speed to that, but that 100mbps potential data also comes to my mast and goes over the same ~100mbps link back to the hub site as 'my' data would too. That means my masts MW link to the hub supports 3x112.5mbps + 100mbps if everything gets maxed out on my mast and the 2nd hop mast.

Clearly 430mbps can't be pushed over a 100mbps link but I'm fortunate that there must not be many Three users on my mast (or they've not heavy data users) and the 2nd hop mast is even more rural and only covers farmland, common land and a road (super low population) as I was able to achieve ~65-70mbps pretty consistently on B3.
If there were more users, or more heavy users, I think it's obvious that speeds would drop pretty quickly for us all in this situation.

B1 has since been added and the MW links have been upgraded (though I don't know what to) otherwise I'd not be able to get the ~140+ speeds I am now.
 

Buggerlugz

ULTIMATE Member
So are you saying Gavin, that theres no fibre links to the core from most masts and they bounce off other masts using microwaves until they get to a mast that is connected to the core?

So adding more bands to masts effectively decreases the available bandwidth from all the masts hopped between on route to the core?
 

GavinAshford

ULTIMATE Member
I'm not saying that happens in all cases, but it will do for some. More rural the mast is probably more likely there are daily chained ones as it's cheaper/easier to MW them then have fibre runs.

The fibred masts themselves aren't connected to the 'core' rather the fibre link is leased from a fibre provider (openreach/virgin/etc) and traffic would be eventually be routed through nodes until it gets to the 'core'.

I'd expect in most cases that the MW links would be upgraded when more bands are added, like what happened with mine.
 

GavinAshford

ULTIMATE Member
You'd think, but business is business. I've heard there are some EE masts that are located on top of BT exchange buildings that use Virgin backhaul (though presumably they're in a list to be changed)
 

liveswired

Casual Member
I agree, mast is not the only part of the equation, some people with poor reception an antenna will of course make all the difference - but for me I have full bars on my router in my house, my router is registering 4GLTE, I also have unlimited 4G Three on my phone - if I go up onto the highest point on my roof and point in the direction of tower there is no speed difference.

My 4G home has stayed at 3-10mbps now for weeks since the previous hiccup - a far cry from the 50-70+ I was getting just a few months ago.

I've also went further, on my travels I've moved by different cell towers using my phone - and alas I am getting the same range of speeds at every tower.

It is a shocking state of affairs - if Three are working on their network and there is a reason I would be satisfied knowing improvements are on the way, but the silence is deafening.

I'm going to guess their traffic management is the culprit. That was what caused the month long Xbox game download blackout back in February/March.
 

liveswired

Casual Member
That's my experience also, though the drop has lasted since Apr.


View attachment 445
That meme says a thousand words!

They told me last week they were working on network issues and hoped to have it resolved by yesterday, nope šŸ™„. Though I got a surprise service text to say they hope to have it resolved within the next week. I've read many reviews stating similar, Surprise. However Three seem to be quick at getting debts recovered, so atleast one department is operating lol.

I have looked at trust pilot and 5G customers are getting the same speeds. And one person claimed they have run multiple tests and traceroutes which prove Three network is currently broken and Three didn't want to know.

Hopefully Three are working on something, but public notices wouldn't go amiss.

I don't know how many complaints it will take, but what is clear is that it is more than just a pocket of us from all around the UK suffering the exact same problem and Three are not willing to acknowledge.
 

BFG

Casual Member
I had a call back from Three 2nd line support today, offering me a monthly Ā£3 discount and the option to cancel without penalty.

She seemed to me as more of an admin person that a technical person, as usually you can have a good technical conversation with the 2nd line.
No attempts at all to do the off and on again router dance, just throw discounts at me.

I think that suggests they recognise there is a long term problem and are accepting it. I found this positive, although it's clearly not the outcome I woudl prefer, at least for the first time since Apr they've stopped trying to fix problems on my side of the service.
 

Buggerlugz

ULTIMATE Member
As a side note I had 4 hours of zero connectivity from Three today. It seems that this is becoming the usual once or twice a month these days. I actually went out this afternoon too and my phone from different locations still couldn't get mobile data from any location.

As always "Is it down" is the place to go, as three don't report service issues to their customers generally.

https://downdetector.co.uk/status/3/

It appears it was a nationwide outage.
 

liveswired

Casual Member
I had a call back from Three 2nd line support today, offering me a monthly Ā£3 discount and the option to cancel without penalty.

She seemed to me as more of an admin person that a technical person, as usually you can have a good technical conversation with the 2nd line.
No attempts at all to do the off and on again router dance, just throw discounts at me.

I think that suggests they recognise there is a long term problem and are accepting it. I found this positive, although it's clearly not the outcome I woudl prefer, at least for the first time since Apr they've stopped trying to fix problems on my side of the service.
Yea, it is definitely a core network problem.
 
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