Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Those Offline Blues

Ah, a life without broadband. How did we ever survive?

At the moment I'm learning to cope without internet access at home, thanks to a dead cable modem. Internet access is one of those things that you don't really think too much about these days, until you can't use it that is.

So what happened? Well on Saturday when I tried to go online. . . . . . Nothing. Oh well, sometimes the connection does go down (usually for maintenance) so no need to worry. Sunday - still nothing. No internet (sniffle). NO INTERNET! (sob!)

By Sunday evening it was looking less like an issue with my provider (Virgin Media) and more like something more local. So after checking cables etc, powering off for a couple of minutes, trying with and without my router and so on I was fairly certain that the modem, although it was showing a "sync", "rdy" and "enet" lights it wasn't actually communicating with their servers.

A couple of things I have learn't about my modem that I didn't know before. One is that there IS a difference between just quickly disconnecting and reconnecting the power, and leaving it for a minute or two before restarting (it doesn't do a full reboot unless you leave it off for a while). Another is that whilst it is coming up from cold it allocates a temporary IP address (with a 30 second TTL) to allow you to connect into the Modem's configuration pages (username root, password root). It only gives you a real IP address once it connects to the service providers upstream servers, and returns if it doesn't.

Just to make that it wasn't my provider, I called Virgin Media's broadband status line. This used to give a run-down of problems around the UK that might affect your connection. What it now does is tell you to disconnect your modem, wait for two minutes and reconnect it. And if that doesn't work then call their support line (25p per minute, 10p connection charge).

With a lack of options available it was time to call their support line. Except I can't because it is a premium rate number which is blocked (by default all Virgin Media phones used to block premium rate numbers). As I couldn't find the phone number for help with this (and I couldn't go online to check) I'd have to make notes of all this at work on Monday.

On Monday I was able to check their website - nothing was listed for where I live that would explain why I didn't have any internet access. Also no freephone number for technical support. Once I got back home it was time to phone Virgin Media to unblock the premium rate number. On phoning their number I got to speak to a very nice Indian lady, who, once we were able to understand each other's accents, was able to allow me to call premium rate numbers.

So finally I was able to phone for help. As a full time Systems Technician I look after things like this as part of my job, so I am probably a helpdesk's nightmare to deal with - because I already know the answer before I phone. You can pretty much guarantee that if I'm phoning your support line you'll be getting your equipment back because it will be beyond repair. Honestly. Trust me, I'm a Technician.

So getting through to another Indian gentleman who was obviously reading from a script is an exercise in restraint. On the upside the phone was answered almost immediately and I was straight through to a real human operator. On the downside he then spent the next couple of minutes explaining just how much this phone call was costing me (10p connection, 25p per minute from a Virgin Media landline, call charges from mobile phones or other providers may vary).

So after giving some personal information (account number, name, address, what services do I buy, how do I pay for them) it is on to the script. At this point I usually just turn off and try and do what they say, "yes, I've turned off the modem. . . . Yes, I've turned the modem back on again. . . . . No, it isn't getting an IP address."

As a side note those of you who have been paying attention will know that I usually use Linux when at home. One thing I have learned in the past is that if I want to get anywhere with tech support then booting into that old Windows XP partition is a benefit - because their script doesn't usually cover Linux. And If I'm paying through the nose for the help then I want to get things resolved as quickly as possible.

Back to my friend in India. After a couple of minutes I'm given an update of how much this has already cost me, do I want to continue the call? As I want to get this working, what choice do I have really?

On with the script. We basically go through everything that I'd already checked (disconnecting the ethernet cable, rebooting the modem, reconnecting, disconnecting the coax cable, rebooting and so on). This takes us to the end of the regular script. "I need to check some things, can I call you back in ten minutes?" he asks.

"Sure, no problem."

Time for a cuppa whilst I wait. Around ten minutes later, as promised, he's back. "Your modem appears to be broken."

(deep breath, big smile before speaking)

"Is it? Oh dear." But, this at least gets me where I needed to be. They are sending me a new cable modem by post, which should be with me within five days. Or to be more exact five working days. Also, as the problem is with their equipment they've also refunded the cost of the support call (which ended up at around £4.50, which means that my bit of the call ran to around 18 minutes).

All being even life will return to normal either later on this week (hopefully) or early next week (boo!) with a brand new cable modem.


Anonymous said...

You should try virgin media technical support on the newsgroup virginmedia.support.broadband.cable
the service is 5 star and no premium rate stress


DanO said...

Thanks Peter.

That's a nice hint. The only problem in my case is that because the modem wasn't working I couldn't get onto the newsgroups. :(