What is “Unlimited” data and why do ISP’s ignore the true meaning?

Posted by under Rants, on 19 November 2011 @ 7:24pm.
infinityWhat is “unlimited” when it comes to broadband?

This is a rant that has been going on for some time now and not just by me. You can see it all over broadband support forums, both static and mobile.

Before we begin, lets just outline the definition of “unlimited”:

1. not limited; unrestricted; unconfined: unlimited trade.
2. boundless; infinite; vast: the unlimited skies.
3. without any qualification or exception; unconditional.
From http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/unlimited

Now that we know what it really means, lets outline what ISP’s think it means.

You will have found it hard to escape the small print and the all common use of “up to” in broadband advertisements. ISP’s think they can get away with selling a product as “unlimited” when really it’s just such a high limit that 99% of it’s users will probably never hit it. However as broadband becomes a more widely and higher used commodity those limits are being reached by more and more people.

Mobile Broadband

A common example would be from a mobile phone provider who offers a tariff with “unlimited data”. If you look at the small print there will commonly be something to the tune of “Fair usage policy applies” or “Fair usage of 3GB”. So on one hand they offer it as “unlimited” and the other it’s really 3GB. Now to me that’s fraudulent advertisement as they’re saying two completely different things. However it doesn’t matter as it’s “in the small print” and as long as it exists there Ofcom will do nothing about it. That’s the part of this that really annoys me. To top it off, if you go over that allowance they have the cheek to charge you £3/MB for the data when in reality the cost for that 1MB of data is not even 1 pence. It’s just a money making scam and it has to be stopped.

Regular Broadband

Another example comes from your regular broadband at home. They again sell it as “unlimited downloads” but then in the small print it says “fair usage applies” or, and this is where it’s a bit different, “we may manage your line if your download usage adversely affects others”. The difference here is that there is no given limit on how much you can use, but rather they tell you “if we feel you’re using too much we’ll slow you down”. Again that annoys me and I don’t think it should be allowed.

Traffic Management

Traffic management is the most common way of ISP’s to get out of the unlimited data problem as they are still technically offering unlimited data, albeit at a slower speed than before which artificially reduces the amount you can download in a given time. Virgin Media have been doing this for years (and so do others but I’ll pick on VM because I’m more aware of their practices).

Virgin Media employ what is called “STM” or “Subscriber Traffic Management”. This only operates between peak hours of the day (which surprisingly is 10am-9pm every day). It’s split into two so you have two limits per day. Depending on your speed you get a different allowance between these times. If you hit your STM limit, you will be traffic managed and suffer a 75% drop in download and upload speed. So instead (for example) having a 10Mbps unlimited connection, you now have a 2.5Mbps unlimited connection, which really IS unlimited now since they won’t slow you down any more.

Although Virgin Media openly give these limits out to their customers, I still feel it’s not something that should be allowed. You’re paying for a 10Mbps unlimited connection, which means you should be getting 10Mbps when you want to use it. In this day and age to watch any form of video online in HD you need more than 2.5Mbps to do it, and more when you have multiple users on the same connection (which is increasingly more common too).

The one thing I did notice with Virgin Media was with the higher speeds being introduced, more and more traffic management was being introduced – a sign that their network was simply not ready for it.

BeThere – The UK’s only truly unlimited ISP?

bethereBeThere may well be the only
truly unlimited ISP in the UK.

Now personally I am with BeThere broadband and I have been 100% satisfied by this ISP purely for the reason that they really are unlimited. I have downloaded at 8Mbps solid for 2 weeks and not had any slow down or had a letter from them complaining about my usage. That is how an unlimited ISP should be. However with only 600,000 or so customers and little coverage compared to BT/Virgin Media, not everyone will have the privilege of going with such a great ISP.

The question is though, why do these other ISP’s limit the data allowance at all? I’ll tell you why. To save costs. Plain and simple. The only other reason to do it is if they don’t have enough bandwidth to go around and that’s what Virgin Media has been doing. They can offer 100Mbps speeds sure, but they don’t have the bandwidth to offer it to everyone ALL of the time, so they have to restrict it. It’s all about penis size with ISP’s and who has the fastest speeds. They may have the speed but they can’t deliver the actual data allowance. So there’s me with my lousy 8Mbps BeThere connection and someone else with their 10Mbps Virgin Media connection. They might have 2 more Megabits of bandwidth that me, but I can easily download more than they can because of traffic management.

Complaints to Ofcom

There have been tens of thousands of complaints to Ofcom over the years regarding this issue but all they can do is turn around with “guidelines” that the ISP’s are not even obliged to follow. It is my opinion that the word “unlimited” should not be allowed to be used in any advertising sense unless it can be proven it is unlimited.

If the ISP can’t provide the bandwidth they state on their advertisements 24/7 then they should not be allowed to sell that package as unlimited, and a GB cap should be introduced in it’s place (providing that cap can actually be reached so they don’t oversell that as well). 10Mbps is capable of 3300GB in a single month if used at full speed for 30 days so they couldn’t give a cap of 5TB if you can’t reach it. 2TB would be suitable as that would require just 6.4Mbps of bandwidth 24/7.

But anyway I think you can gather the point I’m trying to make. Hardly any ISP’s exist that are truly unlimited, and BeThere is the only one I know that stick to that policy because it’s what they’re best known for. Unlimited is a word that should be banned in the selling of broadband and phone tariffs, etc, because unlimited in these cases nearly always have a limit. The technology is becoming more popular and used more widely that these caps just don’t work any more. Jump back 5 years ago and unlimited was almost completely unheard of. Go back another 5 and nobody knew what a cap was because nobody used that much data.

Times change, and the language and meanings that come with it also needs to change to meet new expectations.



LM7805 5v Regulator For USB Phone Charging – Prototype 1

Posted by under Electronics, on 10 November 2011 @ 10:20pm.

Right! Now that I have finally solved the issue on the charging here is prototype 1 of the circuit.

It uses 2 voltage dividers to give 2.0v to D- and 2.8v to D+, which allows smart(er) phones to take a high current. 1A should be allowed with this setup. If you want 500mA maximum, set D+ to 2.0v just as D- is.

Note: The smoothing capacitors have been excluded from this circuit but will be included in the final design. 470uF on the regulator input, 330uF and 100nF on the output of the regulator.

Working Prototype 1 circuit diagram

Working Prototype 1

The meter is connected to the output of the regulator so it shows the current flowing to the phone.
Charging proof



A Case Of Fault Finding

Posted by under Electronics, on 9 November 2011 @ 11:52pm.

One of my current projects is building a 5v USB regulator for charging mobile phones. I’ll be using this when away camping so myself and friends can charge their phones whenever they like at full speed. My previous solution was a cheap cigarette socket version which only supplied 1A between two sockets. This custom version will provide 1A to each socket, of which I’ll have a total of 4.

Now from the beginning I thought “this is going to be easy!”. After all it’s just a regulator, some capacitors and some resistors. I connected up a nice basic circuit with an LM7805 5v 1.5A regulator. It was solid as a rock on 5v and could easily supply 1A. 1A is more than enough to charge most phones, and my mains charger only outputs 0.7A. However, try as I might, I could not get the phone to accept a decent charge.

It would start off at 0.5A, then fall to 0.1A and often drop off completely. I was getting really frustrated. I’d tried dozens of techniques I’d found on the web for connecting the data pins with different value resistors etc. None of them worked! I even tried another phone to no avail. I thought my circuit was to blame and I wanted to know what I was doing wrong. Subsequently I hacked open my genuine blackberry charger to see what on earth was going on inside. It turns out nothing special was going on inside.

So I wasted a perfectly good blackberry charger for nothing (not that I ever used it but that’s not the point). By this point I’d spent over 8 hours trying to get this working and I even went to the trouble of posting on a forum and e-mailing a guy on youtube who I though may have the answer. He turned around and said he doesn’t answer personal project questions like that – fair comment. Being a knowledgeable guy he probably gets too many of them anyway. He told me to post on his forum so I did. It was at that point a friend of mine suggested something…

It’s the most stupid thing ever, but he suggested trying another USB cable. So I did…

Straight away I was getting 1.07A charge rate into the phone, rock solid. In 1 hour it was fully charged and didn’t flicker or fault once the whole time. I cursed like I have never cursed before because it was such a stupid thing not to check for in the first place.

I haven’t looked into why the cable I was using wasn’t working properly but it would explain why I had so many issues using it to sync to the PC. I always thought it was the phones fault but it has to have been the cable. It all makes sense now.

So what’s the moral of the story? Always check everything, even the stupid things like USB cables. You can’t easily diagnose a cable so just swap it out and rule it out as a possible cause. My guess is there is a small break in the cable causing intermittent problems, or there is a bad connection on one or more contacts. Without testing it I can’t be sure but suffice to say the cable is now deemed out of action.



Traffic Jams! You Can Control And Prevent Them You Know!

Posted by under Rants, on 2 November 2011 @ 7:33pm.

My next little rant is about traffic jams and how they’re so easy to control and even prevent if you know how.

Just this morning I was on the motorway for work, and there are ongoing roadworks which have been there for close to a month now if not a little longer. Many mornings there are traffic jams where the number of lanes changes from 3 to 2 as the contraflow begins. If drivers know how to manage such a change on the road there would not be traffic jams! There is still plenty of road for all of the drivers, but it’s knowing how to use it that is important.

Picture this: You’re in the middle lane and you get signs to say the 3rd lane is closing in 800 yards and the speed limit is now 50mph. What do you do? Most drivers will take no notice until it’s too late, where they’ll employ heavy braking and try to force their way into another lane that is not closed. Not only can this be dangerous but it also causes traffic jams. The drivers behind you in both lanes have to put their brakes on too. This causes drivers behind them to panic and put their brakes on even harder, and the effect cascades all the way back through the traffic. Eventually you’re all going so slow because of forcing your way into a free lane that traffic almost grinds to a halt. Congratulations, you’ve all caused a traffic jam.

So how can you prevent it?

Picture this instead: You’re in the 3rd lane of the motorway and you see the 800 yards and 50mph sign. Pull in and slow your speed down gently to the 50mph without brakes, just use engine braking. Everyone else around you also does the same thing in plenty of time so that you’re all pulled in and doing the correct speed limit in time. No fuss! Everyone is doing the right speed. there was no panicking. That wasn’t so hard was it?

OK, so things don’t always go to plan, we all know that.

If you’re in a traffic jam, what can you do to avoid it?

It’s actually easier than you think. It all comes down to two basic rules.

1. Keep your distance – By keeping your distance, if the traffic in front has to slow down, the gap you leave makes up for this until the traffic in front picks up again which often happens quite quickly. Leave about 10 car lengths and you should always have plenty of space.

2. Let people in! – If someone wants to pull in because of a closed lane, or they simply want to change lanes, then let them! Don’t force them to slow down to make the move, help them out. That way you reduce the amount traffic behind you has to slow down and you prevent the jam becoming worse. You may not be feeling nice during a traffic jam, especially if you’re late, but it pays to help other people. And remember, being nice puts everyone in a good mood!

Why does it work?

It’s all due to the stop-start cascade effect. If one car stops, the car behind has to stop. By the time the first car is moving again, the second car can move a few seconds later. But it’s already too late, the cascade has started. If you employ point 1 (keep your distance) you can avoid starting a cascade effect but you can also stop one too. Easy! This also applies to point 2 as well but in a lesser way.

So there you go, a comprehensive guide to controlling a traffic jam. What’s better, is it only takes 1 or 2 people doing this for it to start working. If everyone did it, there would be a hell of a lot less traffic jams on the roads today. I firmly believe it should be taught and tested (somehow) as part of the driving test/exam, especially now that we are seeing more and more vehicles on the road each year.



HID Lights – Why I Hate Them And Why They Should Be Banned

Posted by under Rants, on 2 November 2011 @ 7:18pm.

Something must be wrong with me as I haven’t had a bit of a rant recently, so here’s one I’m sure we can all relate to.

There is an increasing amount of cars on the road nowadays that are using HID (High Intensity Discharge) lights. To me, they are the most dangerous form of vehicle lighting you can get. While they are superior in the light they give out compared to standard bulbs, they cause a ridiculous amount of glare and dazzling effects which is very disorientating and dangerous as another driver.

Here is an example of what I mean. The HID lights are on the left, with standard halogen on the right.

HID Lights vs Halogens

You can very clearly see the amount of excessive glare these HID lights give off compared to halogens. Now picture yourself on a pitch black motorway (something I frequent this time of year travelling home from work on an evening). Although you’re on the other side of the motorway the glare from the cars going the other way can be extremely overwhelming if the vehicle has HID lights. You can very easily tell the difference if you were to look.

There is no need for HID lights on any vehicle except for specialised vehicles that require brighter lights (police, coast guard, etc). Standard halogens will light the road up perfectly well for normal road driving at no more than 80mph. If you need to see further ahead of you, you’re going too fast for the type of road, it’s that simple.

I wish HID lights were made illegal except on specialised vehicles because they’re so dangerous it’s stupid. The number of times I’ve been going down the road only to be blinded by HID lights and being unable to see on my own side of the road I can’t even begin to count. They’re also very sensitive to differences in road surface because they’re highly focused so one little bump in the road and they double if not triple in brightness in your view.

There have been numerous petitions to Downing Street over the last few years but they’re always dismissed or never make it far enough. We need to get HID lights banned. There have no doubt been accidents caused by HID lights but you just don’t seem hear about them. Why, I don’t know. I have plenty of friends who share the same opinions as I do and who have had close calls because of HID lights themselves so I know I’m not alone.