PlusNet to Nildram to Virgin

[This story deals with the truth as I remember it. I havn't researched it, so I may be wrong in some details.]

I have been on the internet for a long time. Long before most folk had heard of it. The earliest archive I can find of something I wrote was dated 13th May 1988.

Initially my connection came through my employer, then later by dialup. Somewhere in a file I still have an invoice for email which itemises my international messages.

With telecoms de-regulation came the opportunity for unmetered phonecalls. As soon as it was available, I subscribed to Plus-Net for their always-on 24/7 dialup internet service. That was ok to start with, but after a while, they decided that they didn't like people who left the always-on service on all the time, and they cut me off, without warning. I vowed never to go back to Plus-Net and I never have.

Next came broadband. I waited impatiently for it to arrive. I knew there was a 10-day lead time, so I tried to order it 10 days before it became available - it was unorderable. Even on the day before it became available, they refused to sell it to me. On the day that it was switched on, I placed my order and was told that I would have to wait 10 days.

My broadband supplier of choice was Nildram. They were small supplier with reputation for technical excellence. Their support team was excellent, they played fair. I stayed with them for a long time, through house moves and service upgrades. Eventually they got bought out by Pipex. The technical sharpness was blunted by their new corporate owners, but whilst they still charged a little more I had little reason to change.

Until recently. Service began to become unreliable and eventually died. I phoned up the support line only to find that it had switched to a premium number. I switched to a land-line and paid to listen to hold music. Eventually, there was a recording which said "enter the number of your landline and we will call you back". I don't *know* the number of my landline. By the time I had run and got the mobile and looked it up, the ringback service had hung up on me.

So I had to wait on premium-rate hold again. Then wait for the ringback. Sure enough, they fixed the dead line, but the service had also become unreliable. A heavy burst of activity would often lock it up. Nildram had always been a little more expensive and clearly the excellence that had justified the slighly higher price had long since evaporated.

My new choice is Virgin. Virgin has the advantage that it doesn't need a BT landline. I don't have to pay around 25 quid a month for a phone I don't want (and can't remember the number for), just to be able to put an ADSL service on the line.

So I subscribe to Virgin and they install the line a few days later.

Virgin comes with a very easy to use setup disk. You put the disk in the drive, it talks you though how to wire up the router and modem, negotiate with HQ, set all your parameters and you can be up and running in a flash.

If you want to do things their way. But I don't want to do things their way. I need to use a different address range from the default, so that I don't clash with the office address range when I use the VPN. So, I need to change the router parameters.

This means that I want to set up the modem and router myself. Not only are there no instructions for this but Virgin don't even tell you your own password. Their easy installation tool, connects to virgin HQ, goes throug an authentication sequence (what is your name, address, order number?) downloads the password and configures it into your router - all without bothering to tell the user the actual password used.

The result of this is that you *must* install their software to get the modem working.

But before it configures the modem, it configures the router, setting it up in a way that doesn't suit me. As soon as it has "broken" the router, it changes the router password, so that users can't accidently change the router config.

Asif this wasn't annoying enough, the Virgin "easy" wireless configuration tool is a replacement for the standard windows one, so once it is set up, you can't go back and use your wireless for anything other than the Virgin broadband service.

It took me all evening to iron out the wrinkles, but the technique is as follows:

  1. Install the virgin software and follow the entire install procedure, like a good consumer. Make sure it works. Use a Wired connection. This gets the modem working.
  2. Reset the router to factory defaults (there is a microswitch behind the grill, next to the aerial)
  3. Point a web browser at the router and fix the router setup.
  4. Uninstall the Virgin Wireless manager.
  5. Go into Service and turn Wireless Zero Configuration back on (the uninstall doesn't do that for you)
  6. Reboot. The stack is pretty mangled.
  7. Using the regular Wireless tool, configure your wireless configuration.
There was also an "install netstumber" stage to help find a suitable channel, but tht is hardly Virgin's fault.

It was excessively painful, but it works well. I tried streaming multiple video windows from I-player. I stopped at 4 because I think the laptop was struggling, not the link.