Category Archives: Phones

Blogs about telephones and accessories of all types

Update on BT Digital Voice

I’ve previously noted that the existing PSTN copper-wire telephone network is due to be retired by the end of 2025.  Although this may seem impossibly ambitious, given that’s only 3½ years away, it seems that the intention is not to rip out the copper network – this will remain in place for years to come – but to provide the telephone service over the broadband signal, which might come via the existing copper network or via fibre to the premises if you have that fitted.

Openreach Retiring the copper network say that there are 221 locations where they will stop selling ‘copper’ products between now and the end of the year, and from September 2023, you’ll only be able to get a digital phone, although delivered via the copper network where full fibre isn’t available.

They’re planning to connect 20 million homes to full-fibre, including 3.2 million premises in ‘harder to reach’ areas.

Salisbury was the first ‘fully-fibred’ city in June 2020, taking a year to reach more than 20,000 premises. By ‘reaching’ premises, it means that there is a connector on the building, but it will not be until 2022 that everyone is switched over.

But the thing I just don’t get is the cost of the ‘landline’ service.  In fact, their website no longer has ‘landline’ as a headline service – it comes under ‘Broadband’.

‘Pay-As-You-Go’ is £21 a month ‘line rental’ plus 21 p a minute for calls.  You can get 700 minutes of calls for an extra £7 per month.  But I remember getting stung by this some years ago when our only use of the landline was my partner making a 2-hour call to a friend once per month.  After the first hour, the cost went up to 20p a minute, so cost an extra £12!  So 120 minutes once a month cost £19.  Their prices just aren’t competitive with a mobile phone deal – they’ve lost interest in their traditional business, and must be trying to price it out of existence.

 

BT switches to ‘Digital Voice’ phone service

Today I received a letter from BT explaining that my phone would shortly be switching to ‘Digital Voice’.  Their letter says that the phone service will be delivered through my broadband connection rather than my old copper phone line (cheerio Dixon of Dock Green!).  I do have ‘full fibre to the premises’ so the copper wires are essentially redundant in my case.  There is a socket on the back of the ‘smart home hub’ for ‘Digital Voice’ which takes any standard phone plug, so anyone could do the changeover.  Obviously the smart hub can still be used for voice even if your broadband is delivered over the copper pair.  BT can disconnect the copper pair at the telephone exchange as the broadband signal is injected at a street cabinet.  What a change from the dozens of pairs of humming copper wires strung from pole to pole that I remember from my youth, although the thick, black, fibre cables are just as unsightly.

They warn you that if you have a burglar alarm or ‘pendant’ (personal safety) alarm, you shouldn’t change yet.  Presumably these might require power from the phone line.

There is one issue that they studiously ignore – if you have hard-wired extensions, or an extension bell, these will not work as they rely on wiring from your landline socket, which will be deactivated.

There is an acknowledgement of this hidden away on their help pages, suggesting that you don’t changeover yet.  It is clear that if you need phones in several rooms, they expect you to use cordless phones which will use the DECT wireless system.

They also acknowledge that if your power goes off, your smart hub and ‘digital voice’ connection will cease to work.  I’m assuming that given that the vast majority of people now have a mobile phone, BT feels that this is no longer the risk it used to be.  (I remember the instructions that accompanied the rotary dial telephones, explaining how to dial 999 when in a blackout or smoke-filled room!)

I suppose that preparing for the changeover will cost BT quite a bit, but there will be huge savings from not having to maintain all the digital switching equipment and all those unreliable copper wire connections, not to mention the huge amount of power needed to run the old system.

So it is looking like the time is coming to bid the PSTN to RIP.

Wiring a CAT5 RJ45 ethernet cable

Why wire your own Ethernet cable?

To finish installing my security camera, I need to drill a hole through a 9-inch wall.  I happen to have a long 8 mm masonry drill, and some ‘CAT 5e’ cable, but there’s no way that an Ethernet (RJ45) plug will go through an 8 mm hole, so I will have to fit plugs on each end.

How do you wire an RJ45 plug?

Well if you think about it, in theory there will be a correct electrical connection as long as you connect the same colours to the same pins at both ends.  But that won’t be satisfactory for high-speed data transfer.  A Cat 5e cable contains 4 ‘twisted pairs’, i.e. eight wires, for a reason.  Each pair carries a different part of the Ethernet signal and each pair of wires is twisted together because this helps to reduce the pick up of electrical ‘noise’ from stray signals.  This includes pick-up of signals from the other pairs (called ‘cross-talk’), and electric fields from nearby mains cables, radio signals, noisy electric motors and the like.  So the first thing is to ensure that you keep the pairs together.  They are easy to identify as each pair consists of one wire with a ‘solid’ colour and one white wire with that solid colour striped along it.

Now, you might think that in the plug, the pairs would be laid in the sequence solid colour/ dotted colour side by side.  But they’re not.  It seems that the original sequence was arranged so that you could use plugs with just one pair, with two pairs and so on.  So the first pair occupies the central two pins, and the next pair takes the next two pins outside the central two, and so on.  This is called ‘USOC’ and is convenient where you often don’t need many pairs.  But it resulted in the ‘positive’ connections being on one side of the plug and the ‘negative’ connections being on the other side of the plug, which is not ideal for rejection of stray signal pickup, because the pairs of wires are separated in the plug.  So they came up with a system that kept the primary pair in the centre of the plug, the second pair straddling each side of the first pair (so the same as the original USOC wiring) and the other two pairs are kept together each side of the central two pairs.  Quite logical.  This is called T568-A and was used for ISDN (telephone) wiring.  Indeed a small (two-pair RJ11) jack plug can plug into an RJ45 4-pair socket and will work if it is wired for a telephone.

However, it discovered that there is less cross-talk between the data pairs when pairs 2 and 3 are swapped in the plug.  This is called T568-B.  Pair 3 now straddles the central pair 1, pair 2 is on pins 1 & 2, and pair 4 is on pins 7 and 8.  To ensure that the colours alternate across the plug, the white stripy one of the pair is first and the solid colour is second. Except for pair 1 where the solid colour is first.

The T568-B arrangement should now be used for new data cabling for this reason.

Ethernet Wiring Pairs
Ethernet Wiring Pairs (not the wiring order in the plug)

As an aside, going back to the telephone jack-plug days, in each pair the white stripy wire is the ‘tip’ and is positive, and the solid colour is the ‘ring’ and is negative.  USOC stands for ‘Universal Service Ordering Code’.  It was originally developed by Bell Telephones in the 1970s and used in the RJ-11 (two-pair) jack plug for example, to connect telephones to the network.

Which Ethernet pair is which?
  1. Pair 1 is blue
  2. Pair 2 is orange
  3. Pair 3 is green
  4. Pair 4 is brown

This does not follow the resistor colour code, sadly!

What are the pairs used for?

This depends on the system that they are connected to.  For Ethernet up to 100 Mbps, then using the abbreviation Tx for Transmit and Rx for Receive:

  • Pair 2 (orange) is Rx at the Modem and Tx at the computer
  • Pair 3 (green) is the Tx at the Modem and Rx at the computer
  • The other pairs are spare (but may be used for power)

As previously mentioned, the plugs at both ends are normally wired identically: the distinction between transmit and receive pairs is handled within the devices – the modem or switch can automatically detect which pair is Rx and which is Tx.  However, when connecting two computers directly by a single cable, they might both try to transmit on one pair and to receive on the other pair.  This won’t work, so you might need a ‘crossover’ cable to fix this.

For Gigabit Ethernet, all four pairs are used.  Each pair carries a bi-directional signal.  Gigabit Ethernet does not require a higher operating frequency – it transmits more data by using all four pairs bi-directionally (to send and receive). This needs a much more sophisticated modulation system.

It also means that you can’t mix Ethernet systems connected on a single cable –many Ethernet switches will revert to the slowest system on the network, although ‘smart’ switches contain additional electronics to ‘buffer’ data when connecting from a slow system to a fast system, and thus don’t slow everything down.  One of the easiest ways to speed up a network is to install a ‘smart switch’.

[I will need to write separately about network switches – these are clever boxes for connecting devices on the same network.]

Power over Ethernet (PoE)

Devices using the Ethernet will need some sort of power for their electronic circuits.  For peripheral devices that don’t need much power, such as security cameras and telephones, it makes sense to supply the power via the Ethernet cable.  For speeds up to 100 Mbps, the spare pairs can be used for power, but for Gigabit, power is supplied on the data pairs.    For this reason, care is needed when supplying PoE as this might cause an issue with an old device that doesn’t expect it.  The PoE voltage is 48 v and usually limited to around 10 w per device.  However, ‘intelligent’ switches can adapt between various modes of operation.

Types of Ethernet cable

There are several different types of Ethernet cable.  The most usual is UTP cable, standing for ‘Unshielded Twisted Pair’. FTP cable has each pair shielded by a metal foil.  It is also possible that the whole cable is shielded by braiding or a foil.  If the whole cable is unshielded, this is designated as U/UTP.  If each pair and the whole cable is shielded with metal foil, this is shown as F/FTP.  S/FTP is even better protected with a braided sheath around the cable.

CAT5e vs CAT6

Why bother with CAT5e when you can have CAT6?  The wiring of the cables is identical, but CAT6 is designed to have lower cross-talk and less signal loss, so it can work at higher frequencies.  A CAT6 cable often has an internal PVC separator to keep the pairs correctly positioned.   However a CAT5e cable is fine for Gigabit Ethernet.  A CAT6 cable can support 10 Gigabit Ethernet, which is more than common network hardware can use, although it might be more future-proof, especially in office environments.

It’s worth noting that you can’t always tell the effective transmission rate of a network – if the network is noisy or lossy, then it has to keep resending ‘messages’ and if this gets excessive, it will become too slow to be useful.  In this case, a slower transmission rate will be much more effective.  Some smart switches have network analysis capabilities which can help with troubleshooting network bottlenecks.

How long can an Ethernet cable be?

Generally speaking, a Cat5e twisted pair cable can run at 100 Mbps over lengths of up to 100 m.  Different cable designs or signal repeaters can be used for greater distances.

Fibre to the premises – Finally!

Well,  on 14th October, BT came again to fit the Fibre to the Premises.  But again, despite my reminders, they didn’t send a cherry-picker, or hoist as they call it. But this time the engineer called the depot and managed to get them to agree to send one first thing the next day.  He did fit the optical modem and downlead, however, and the next morning, the cherry-picker came and they strung the fibre across from the pole  to the house – probably only 10 metres.  [Surprisingly, they left the landline on the old copper cable, so this hasn’t changed at all, and it does mean that we still have a phone line should there be a power failure, which seems to occur more than it used to.]

Then an ordinary Ethernet cable runs through the eaves cupboard to the ‘smart hub’.

Is it good?

Well, the speed over wifi to my mobile phone is 86 Mb/s down and 68 Mb/s up. This is good for wi-fi especially as I have a lot of wireless equipment running in my office.   The ‘Smart Hub’ no longer shows the ‘sync speed’, but instead takes you to the online BT test.  I had a struggle to log in, but eventually it told me that I was getting a download speed of 498 Mb/s.  It doesn’t show an upload speed though. An ‘independent’ speed test to my PC shows 93 Mb/s down and 71 Mb/s up with 2 ms latency. I can believe these speeds.

So, is it worth it?  Well, we manage to have multiple Zoom meetings running at the same time with no lag or freezing, so yes, it is worth it.  I’ve also got a new security camera running over the internet. We also watch most of our telly on ‘catch up’ or we download films. So at the price I’m paying, it is definitely worth it.  But BT will have to up their game on installations, or it will become a money loser for them.

One thing I would add is that BT claim for their weirdly-named ‘Halo’ system: ‘Service like you’ve never experienced’.  This is a strangely ambiguous strapline, and my experience has done nothing to dispel the negative connotations.  I have to appreciate that many people get into a bit of a dither when they have to deal with tech, so their technical help could be useful to many people.

They are also trying to persuade people to take up their mobile phone offer, with inclusive ‘double data’.  But after my poor experience with their mobile coverage and their total lack of help to provide me with broadband when I had to temporarily vacate the house during renovations, I shall steer well clear of that.

Fibre to the premises

I’ve been so busy trying to get the renovated house ship-shape that I’ve neglected this blog.  But now to revert to an old hobby-horse, BT.

About 18 moths ago, I was writing about the impending demise of the aged hard-wired telephone system, the PSTN.  Epsom has a few ‘claims to fame’.  One is that it had the first automatic public exchange in the country, opened just over 100 years ago in 1912.  But its days are numbered.  Epsom been plagued for months by OpenReach vans laying optical fibre to enable ‘fibre to the premises’ service and indeed I got rather upset by ‘Kelly Communications’, who are contractors for OpenReach, festooning cables around and over my garden.

So I was rather expecting the call from BT offering me ‘Fibre to the premises’ giving 500 Mb/s download speed and a somewhat vague upload figure of 75 Mb/s.  The guaranteed speeds are not so impressive (250 Mb/s down and 10 Mb/s up), especially as I’d like a faster upload speeds for videos and so on. The price was £60  per month (£5 more than I’m paying for my present ‘fibre to the cabinet’ but in reality, I would pay slightly less as I’m dropping the ‘unlimited anytime calls’ option as we have made no outgoing calls on the landline for over a year!  Any calls we do make will now be ‘pay-as-you-go’ but as we both have unlimited mobile calling, we’d only use this in exceptional circumstances.

After agreeing to this, I felt rather bullied by all the ‘don’t forget your appointment’ messages:  ‘We are getting ready.  Are you?’

The guy turned up on time, and asked where the master socket was.  When I showed him, there was a look of dismay.  It turns out that they like to terminate the optical fibre on the inside of the house immediately at the point where it enters the premises and to put the optical modem there.  But my downlead wanders around the eaves for a considerable distance round several corners then disappears into the eaves and reappears in a room on the opposite side of the house.  This appears to be a legacy of alterations to the house and the GPO moving the telegraph pole several times during the ninety years since the house was built.  Not ideal as optical fibre isn’t easily jointed and the technician had only been supplied with a limited length.

The other issue is that the optical modem must be close to a power point.  (Some of the BT material talks about a battery backup unit, but he said that the Nokia unit they are fitting doesn’t have this, and there was little point since the router (home hub) needs mains power.)  I noted that BT has switched from Huawei to Nokia, but ironically the Nokia unit is proudly emblazoned ‘Made in China’!)

As it happens, the best and most convenient route is through an eaves cupboard to the ‘office’ where we want the router, but we have had to ask him to come back as we will have to clear a lot of junk from the cupboard, fit a power point and run a Cat 5 Ethernet cable to the office room.  The router can then be fitted in the office.

So what about the telephone service?  There is a socket on the ‘Home Hub’ for ‘Phone’ marked ‘For Digital Voice Customers Only’.  This looks like an ordinary phone socket, so presumably that is where the phone goes and hopefully it can supply enough current to ring my treasured extension bell!  This will mean the end of the power-failure-proof hard-wired phone, but we have been expecting this for some time now.

Annoyingly, clearing the cupboard is another job I have been avoiding, but I suppose it will compel me to get it done.

Wiring a new telephone master socket

Determining that the line is live

In the previous post, I explained that BT advised me to instal a new master socket myself.  My builder had installed a 4-pair cable (probably a standard CAT-5 network cable) from the BT drop-wire to my workroom (although I have no idea where the junction box is hidden), and had pushed the white/green pair into an old socket, so I guessed these carried the line. The CAT-5 network cable is not compliant with the UK telephone standard, but no matter.  A telephone line usually only requires a single pair nowadays, although my system originally had an earth connection from an earth rod near the drop wire, but this has long since been disconnected.   Earth wires were originally installed as part of a spark suppression system in the days of long overhead wires and in some cases were used as part of the exchange-calling system on so-called ‘party’ (i.e. shared) lines.

In the idle condition, the network pair carries a potential difference of 50 v DC, with the so-called A-leg being at 0 v and the B-leg at -50 v, relative to earth.  The polarity on the pair only matters in a few special cases, but I wanted to do the job properly, so I measured with a voltmeter to confirm that the line was active and determining that the white/green wire was 0 v (making it the A-leg) and the green wire was at -51.2 v (B-leg), see photo below.  This told me which wire to put into each of the terminals.

Testing the voltage on the A and B legs of the network ‘drop wire’

It is safe to touch the wires, although always wise to avoid this for the reasons I’ve previously mentioned.  However, if someone rings the line whilst you are touching them, you will get a nasty zing, because the ringing voltage is about 75 v AC at 18 Hz.  I believe that now it is around 100 v at possibly slightly higher frequency.  So the peak voltage is √2 times this, i.e. about 140 v, and the peak-to-peak is twice that, so plenty of juice to sting you.   Remember the electrician’s mantra – keep one hand in your pocket!

The NTE-5c Mk 4 master socket
Rear of base-plate with exchange wires connected. Non-standard wire colours – see text.

The NTE5c socket is a clever piece of design. It is in three parts – a standard-sized back-box that is fixed to the wall.  Then the base plate.  The drop wire is connected to a 1-pair cam-lock connector on the back of the base plate, marked A and B. Nothing else. The Base Plate is then fixed to the back-box by two screws.  This demarcates OpenReach’s ownership from the subscriber’s, who is not supposed to remove these screws.

On the front of the base plate is another cam lock connector, this time with three terminals, marked 2, 3 and 5.  They have kept the historical numbering, even though the other wires are no longer used.  Wires 2 and 5 carry the speech  and correspond to legs A and B, whilst wire 3 is the bell wire, and separates the AC ringing current from the DC loop current by means of a capacitor.  The Master Socket also used to have a surge protector across the A and B legs.  This was a small neon tube that would discharge a potential above a few hundred volts, preventing damage to the instrument or a shock to the subscriber, but the gas-filled tube also acts as rather a noisy capacitor at high frequency and thus makes the line noisy for the broadband signal, so it is no longer fitted.  It does mean that there is less surge protection than in the past, but this is much less of an issue than in the days of miles of uninsulated lines carried on overhead poles.  [I was once in a house during a violent thunderstorm when the fuses in the drop-wire junction box blew out.]

Connection of network wires to A and B legs of master socket

You don’t need any tools to connect the wires to the camlock connector. You lift up the clear plastic tab and then, observing polarity, push both wires through the front holes, then making sure to keep them straight,  through the back holes. It’s not quite so easy to keep them in place when fitting three wires – one can easily spring back.  If the wire isn’t through both holes, it may not be properly forced between the terminal prongs when you push the plastic tab back down. I would say this is a slight issue with the camlock connector.

Having connected the network wires into the rear of the back plate, secure it to the back-box with the screws provided.

You will see that there is a socket for a telephone plug on the front of the back plate.  Plug in a standard (non-powered) telephone.  You should get dial tone (you may need to wait a few moments) and be able to make (and receive) a test call.

So your line is working! Excellent.

Connecting the extension wires
Front of base-plate with extension wires connected

Returning to the NTE5c – you, the subscriber, can connect all your hard-wired extensions to the 3-way cam-lock connector on the front of the back-plate.  However, until the front plate is inserted, there is no connection between the exchange line and the subscriber’s wiring.  Instead, if you look carefully at the telephone socket in the back plate, you will see three wires at the bottom which are not connected when inserting an ordinary telephone socket, as these have no pins on the bottom edge. However,   when you plug in the front plate, this has a special plug that connects wires 2, 3 and 5  to the terminals on the front of the back plate, thus connecting your extension wiring to the exchange line.   The beauty of this is that when the front plate is removed, the exchange line is completely disconnected from the rest of the internal wiring, so if you can’t get dial tone from the socket in the back plate, the fault must lie of BT’s side of the system.

The front plate

As I understand it, two types of front plate are available.  One just has an ordinary telephone socket on the front, and the other has a telephone socket and a broadband socket with the necessary filters being built into the front plate, as in the illustration at the top of this post.

The front plate sockets

The socket on the left is a ‘modem’ socket that uses a small RJ11 plug.  You connect this to the modem socket on your home hub or router. The shutter lifts upwards and the plug is inserted with the spring retaining lug at the bottom.  The socket on the right takes an ordinary telephone plug to connect to your telephone handset or cordless telephone base station.  The shutter lifts upwards and the plug is inserted with the spring retaining lug on the right.

Connecting the front plate

As mentioned, the front plate has a special plug that goes into the telephone socket in the back plate, but at the same time, connects the internal wiring circuit to the exchange side of the circuit.  The front plate is kept in place by two spring lugs and can be easily removed by the subscriber.  The idea is that if your line goes down, BT can ask you to remove the front plate (no tools needed) and ask you to plug the phone into the socket in the back plate.  If this works, they know the fault is on your side of the system.  They can then charge you whatever to come and fix it, or no doubt there will be independent firms who can investigate, perhaps more cheaply.

That really is a brilliant wheeze!

Fitting the extension bell wiring
The old-style GPO telephone extension bell with original wiring

The builder had run another 4-core pair to the position of the extension bell.  So I have re-fitted the bell and connected the blue and white-blue pair to terminals 2 and 5, and the orange wire to terminal 3 on the front of the back plate of the master socket.  The extension bell solenoid is connected at the other end to blue and orange wires.  The label in the bell-box states that as connected, the solenoid offers a resistance of 1000 Ohms, which is, I think, below the presently recommended value, but has always worked well.  Possibly it may not be so happy if there were more ‘ringers’ on the circuit.  Having now tested it, it is extremely loud, so there is plenty of current at the bell.

The ringing current

On a related subject, where does the ringing current and all the other system tones come from?  In the old Strowger exchanges, there was a ringing machine at the end of each rack, basically a motor-generator set.  The generator had a number of different windings to generate the necessary tones and a cam-operated set of contacts interrupted the tones to produce the brr-brr ringing cadence.  I can remember having an argument with someone who said to me ‘The phone is ringing at the other end’ and when I said ‘how do you know’, they said ‘I can hear it’.  They just could not understand that the ringing sound they could hear was supplied by the exchange, and was not the bell at the far end!

I hope this gives you a bit of insight into the telephone system and will allow you to instal your own master socket when necessary. Take care as always when working with electricity, especially at height.

BT amazes again!

Broadband connections

Some months ago, I had to switch to mobile broadband whilst I had some building work done. Unexpectedly, the builders had ripped out all my phone wiring!

So the builders have gone and I need my connection to be reinstated.  They got rid of everything, including the phone master socket, although they’d left the extension bell box in a corner because I specially asked.  Luckily the ‘drop wire’ from the network is still there.

Putting in a Master Socket

So I looked up how to put in a Master Socket.  This basically provides a termination to the exchange line and also separates the voice line from the broadband line (through a filter circuit).  Although it’s straightforward, a YouTube video I watched (clearly made a few years back) pointed out that it was illegal to fit a Master Socket yourself.  As I’ve said before, I worked as a student trainee for Post Office Telegraphs and Telephone (as it was then) and I remembered how ‘precious’ they were about it.  In those days, of course, they owned everything including the ‘instrument’ as the phone was called.  Telephones were permanently wired in and you couldn’t fit your own. Your instrument was rented and quite often your line was shared with a neighbour! They would say things like how an idiot householder could accidentally connect the phone line to the mains and this could electrocute a technician.

So I thought, well, I have a lot of things to do in the house, so I guess I will have to bite the bullet and get BT to do it.  Today I called BT and after a long wait got through to a nice girl in Blackburn. ‘Oh’, she said,  ‘Well we could do it for you but it will cost £130.  But you could just buy a socket in a hardware store and do it yourself.’.. ‘Right’, I said, ‘But I thought that was illegal.’  ‘Oh, no.  It’s perfectly fine and easy enough to do if the wiring is still there!’

I was gob-smacked.  So I’ve ordered a very nice ‘genuine Openreach’ NTE5C socket (which probably means Network Termination Equipment’ via Amazon and will look forward to seeing how I get on.  I haven’t yet tested the voltage on the line.  If I remember right, there should be 50 v across the exchange pair as long as the line is still connected.  From experience, you don’t feel this voltage, but it goes up to 75 v (AC) when ringing and this can give you quite a thrill.

I’m going to re-fit the original extension bell box as this is audible in the garden.  Should be fun.

Wait for the next instalment soon!

Broadband connections

Getting temporary broadband
BT cocks up my order

I needed to temporarily relocate my office for a few months.  I need fast broadband and a ‘landline’ telephone.  I already have this in my present office, provided by BT.  My clients must not be affected by this move in any way, shape or form.  The obvious thing is to ask if BT would transfer my contract to my temporary location, and move it back when my office has been refurbished.

‘Yes’, they say, ‘No problem, and we won’t charge you.’  That’s fantastic.  The new location is only a short distance away.  ‘Sorry, Sir, that is on a different exchange.  We will have to give you a new phone number’.  ‘OK, no problem, it’s only for a couple of months.’ ‘Sorry, Sir, but when you move back, we will have to give you another new number, because we only hold them for 60 days!’

‘Oh, sugar! I exclaim, ‘So to keep my number, I need to take out a new contract and redirect my old number to the new one?’

‘Yes, that’s right.  And the minimum term for the new contract is only 12 months!’

I can’t waste time on this, so through gritted teeth, I say, ‘OK, sign me up to the new contract’.  The firm will pay and it’s one of the costs of refurbishment.

After a few days, I haven’t heard anything from them, so I ring up again.

‘Sorry Sir, but we have no record of any order from you! However, if it is only for a few months, have you considered mobile broadband?  Go into an EE shop and ask them!’

EE Mobile broadband

Well, I know that EE was bought by BT, but even so this was quite unexpected.  Off I went to the EE shop and bought a 4G Broadband Router with 100 GB of data per month for £35 per month.  Minimum term 2 months, plus £100 up front for the router.  This is very competitive with fixed-line broadband and I have to say that I’m entirely delighted with it.  I’m getting about 10 MB/s download and about 3 MB/s upload, but my router is located on a window-sill in a weak-signal part of the building.  Even so, it is fast enough to stream TV and to do normal office work.  I can get a strong signal in another location, and the data rate is faster, but it isn’t convenient for me to use that location.  I could have an external aerial, but it isn’t necessary.

Update on EE mobile connection quality

I have found that at certain times, the 4G signal can drop out. This is very irritating when streaming a film, as it seems to upset my streaming device. I’ve relocated my EE box but it hasn’t eliminated the problem entirely.  Although the authorities can find out which mast you are connected to, the public can’t do this, presumably for security reasons. I presumably the data signal drops when the network is saturated, and this  happens when everyone wants to use it!

Keeping your landline number

EE even said that if I hadn’t been in contract with BT, I could have transferred my landline number to EE and then it would have been portable.  I’m not 100 % sure about this, but I have kept my landline number for mainly sentimental reasons, as I use VOIP for business calls, which is working well with the router.

One thing I particularly dislike about BT is that they keep changing the name of the package, but this isn’t shown on the bill, nor is the contract termination date.  Indeed, whilst I got sales calls from them at the contract termination date, none of them said that my contract was coming to an end.  They simply tried (and succeeded) to inveigle me into a new contract.

Just as I moved to my new location, I got an email on my mobile from ryml.me saying that Royal Mail had a parcel for me from BT.  Obviously a scam email coming from an address like that.  Then in the entrance lobby, I saw a package addressed to me from BT.  It was clearly a home hub.  They had spelt my name wrongly, though.  Yes, the twerps had actually placed an order from me, but owing to the incorrect spelling, I never received the confirmatory email (and I never will)  which also explains why they couldn’t find my order.  Needless to say, I have cancelled it.  I asked whether the email to my incorrect address had bounced, but they said they don’t check! Shriek! Scream!! What a way to run a business!!!

BT’s new website

When writing this post, I thought I’d check the BT website and I saw that everything has changed without warning. They have replaced their ‘connected world’ logo with a boring BT in a circle and they have changed the names of everything again.   For new contracts, landline UK phone calls are now at a flat rate of 20 p a minute on top of the line rental charge of £20 a month, but you can now buy a package of calls – 500 minutes is £5 a month extra (the cost of 25 minutes ‘pay as you go’.)  This is not cheap, but I think much more sensible than all the pesky ‘add-ons’ which put the prices up too much.

However, if you want unlimited everything, including landline and mobile calls and fast broadband, this will set you back an eye-watering £85 a month on a 24-month contract!!  That is expensive, although maybe I could have got an unlimited data sim and an unlocked 4G router.

Anyway, I absolutely HATE their new website.  They haven’t fixed all the links, so unless you go into it from a particular direction, it’s entirely sales orientated and you inevitably end up on the ordering page, even though you are trying to find information.  All these daft names, yet I can’t find basic information about my contract.

Bottom line – 4G mobile broadband seems to be the way to go, especially as an upgrade to 5G is already coming down the street.

Putting a larger SD card into your Android Phone

If you take much video with your mobile phone, your phone’s internal storage will soon fill up.  You may even have filled up a small SD card and you need a bigger one.  You will no doubt be prompted to get ‘cloud’ storage, but this is not great for storing HD video that you want to view regularly, due to mobile data transfer speeds and costs.

If you google this, you will get hundreds of answers, mostly involving downloading a ‘free’ app.  Some of the apps really are free, but many carry some payload, like advertising or being free to download but needing a payment to use.  Some can carry malware.

In fact, you don’t need an app – your Windows PC has all the capability you require.

I am assuming that you’re only using the SD card to store ordinary (photo and video) files – which is usually going to be the case.  Firstly, using the USB cable, connect the phone to the PC.

Using Windows File Explorer, you should be able to find the name of the phone in the folder list under ‘This PC’. (If you are prompted to select what to do with the device, choose ‘file explore’.)

Double click on the name of the phone and you will see two folders – Card and Phone. [Your phone also has ‘memory’ storage, but this is like RAM in a computer – used by running apps to process temporary data, not for long-term storage.] These two folders represent the SD card and the phone’s internal storage.  Click on ‘Card’ and you will see several folders.

Select the data files you want to transfer – usually DCIM (Digital Camera Images).  Don’t bother with system files like Android, System Volume Information, etc.  These are created by the system and will be put onto the new card when it is initialised.

Create a new folder on your PC and copy the selected files.  This is likely to take an hour or more.  You should copy your DCIM files from both the phone’s internal storage and the SD card.

Now unmount the SD card [to disconnect it from the phone’s storage system], switch off the phone, take the card out, put the new (blank) card in and switch the phone on.

Most (micro) SD cards that you buy will already have been formatted (which means a blank filing system has been created on the card, ready for files to be written to it.) [Android uses the exFAT filing system, should you need to format a card.] The phone will recognise that a new, blank  SD card has been installed and will initialise it for use by copying some ‘system’ information, which will appear in the file called ‘Android’.  On my phone this was mainly a lot of folder names which didn’t contain anything.

Connect the phone to the PC, select the SD card and copy your data  files back from your PC to the SD card.  Again this may take a while.  If you are copying photos and videos, copy the whole DCIM folder back to the SD card. You can’t have two DCIM folders, so if you are copying from both the SD card and the internal storage, then after copying one of the DCIM folders (probably the one with most files) just copy the files from the other DCIM folder and paste into the new DCIM folder.

Using your phone, check that everything you wanted from the phone’s internal storage and the old SD card is now available on the new card.  You don’t need a ‘file manager’ program on your phone, as you can Windows File Explorer to do all this.  Using the phone, check that you find everything you expected using ‘Gallery’ or other Android application that you normally use.

Now, using Windows File Explorer, check the phone’s internal storage and delete DCIM on the internal storage (being totally careful not to delete anything on the SD card that you have just painstakingly updated).

That’s it!  You have now freed up the internal storage on your phone and created a lot more space for all those exciting new videos.  Because it is a slow process, it is probably worth getting the largest memory card that your phone will accept – you don’t want to do this again!

You can, and should, use this system to make regular backups of the SD card.  They last a very long time, but not for ever.

BT Bills

I’ve just received by BT bill and as expected by changing from quarterly payment plan to monthly total billing, I’ve gone from being in debit to being £200 in credit, plus a lower monthly payment!

My broadband speeds are 37.5 Mbps downsteam and 10 Mbps upstream. The guarantee a minimum downstream speed of 37 Mbps but say that my estimated download speed is 42 to 61 Mbps.  In fact, the street cabinet is getting on for a mile away, so I think their estimated speeds are rather optimistic anyway.  In the past I’d had a lot of trouble with reliability, but it was only when my phone rang non-stop that they looked into it and found a stray wire in a street cabinet causing an intermittent short-circuit.  Mind you, before they would look into it, they warned me of a hefty charge if the problem was in my house wiring!

Today I got an advertising leaflet from Sky that was enticingly cheap until I saw the pathetic speeds they were offering.  There is Virgin Media fibre in my street, so I checked that out as well.  I can get 100 Mbps for £49/month (after the first year discount) plus some TV channels.  Maybe I should look into this further.