back to article Diary of a not-spot: Breaking the BT barrier

Friday, 29 July 2011 will forever be the day I stopped paying BT any money at all, with a personal microwave link now supplying all the connections anyone could need without touching the copper in the ground. The link has been running reliably for some months now, supplying iPlayer in HD and streams of Octonauts-based gaming, so …

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the title would be here if I did titles

Bravo to you Sir

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::boggles::

Your gear isn't grounded?

For the love of gawd/ess, why not?

Serious question ...

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@Jake. Are you referring to lightning strikes?

Would you bother to bond your TV antenna to ground if it was on the roof? What about the twisted pair from the exchange? Your mains electricity connection? Out in the sticks, all these services turn up on wires high up on the house.

Here's a PDF link about calculating lightning probabilities.

http://otportalsrv.east-northamptonshire.gov.uk/pap/showimage.asp?j=10/00068/FUL&index=424772

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@Symon

"Would you bother to bond your TV antenna to ground if it was on the roof?"

Uh ... Yes. Unless I were an idiot.

"What about the twisted pair from the exchange?"

That is $TELCO's issue until it's my side of the NID/NIU.

"Your mains electricity connection?"

You have got to be kidding me ...

"Out in the sticks, all these services turn up on wires high up on the house."

At *my* house out in the sticks, I provide the services ...

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Meh

@Jake

You are the only person I've ever heard of who bonds their TV antenna to ground. So, I guess everyone I know is an idiot. You do realise that by grounding your aerial, you make it a bit more likely that your house will be struck as compared to your 'idiot' adjacent neighbour's? Whatever, I hope your lightning conductor ground rod has radial conductors. Otherwise, it might not work very well.

http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_lhm/Radials.pdf

As for the Telco being responsible for the exchange connection, I'm delighted that your estate will be able to blame them if you're on the blower when your house gets hit. Also, you can blame the electricity board when the mains transformer up a pole somewhere near your house gets zapped.

It's not just a problem if the services coming into a property get hit. The same problem exists if the house gets struck, because the services wires then take large currents out of the property as the house's potential gets charged up to thousands of volts. These currents often go down water pipes, so don't take a bath when there's a thunderstorm.

Anyway, it appears that you "provide the services" at your property (not sure how you manage with water, or sewerage, that could be smelly) and so generate all your power inside your property, hopefully inside a Faraday cage. I hope you have a CO detector.

It's very hard to mitigate against lightning strikes. It's almost certainly best not to worry about it and buy some insurance.

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@Symon - You're American, right?

Pole-mounted transformers are an almost exclusively North American concept, and have a lot of downsides - such as the one you mentioned.

(US electrics are weird as hell, BTW - all kinds of really crazy ideas. I can't quite decide whether it's "Wild Leg" or wirenuts that takes the biscuit though!)

In the UK, we have substations at ground level and the final 230VAC low voltage is buried underground for almost every installation.

In the case of telephony, one of the functions of the Master Socket is to eat unexpected high voltage transients, such as lightning strikes. You're unlikely to have the phone explode, though the master socket might rupture.

Aside from that, lightning is actually pretty rare in the UK, so protection that's worthwhile in an area where thunderstorms are common probably isn't worth bothering with in most of the UK.

Back to the original point:

Ethernet is electrically isolated (except for PoE). So unless your line to the antenna is PoE, you're going to be fine. A lightning strike would destroy the switch port, and possibly the whole switch, but other than that you'll be fine.

Not to mention that in the UK, Protective Earth (PE, Ground) connections are really rather good. Domestic electrical installations really do have several earth spikes *as standard*, and the PE from a standard BS1363 socket back to spikes *as installed* really can sink well over 6kA for a short time - often as high as 10 or 20kA.

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@Richard, I'm not American. I spelled it 'neighbour'! :-)

There are plenty of transformers up poles in the English countryside. There are loads near me. Here's a 2 phase one for a domestic supply.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1431441

The phone point and the transformers in an Ethernet card will do a fair job against some transients. The Ethernet transformers are rated at 1500 volts. However, a bolt of lightning, which has sparked from the sky to a house, isn't gonna notice a few centimetres from the NIC or modem to the computer chassis. This is where having a good PE might not help, especially if someone is between the phone and the ground. The phone point is not grounded, but they might be! I agree though, a switch with a decent protective ground might save equipment. One last thing, I think PoE systems meet the same isolation specs as regular Ethernet, 1.5kV.

http://www.snopes.com/horrors/techno/phone.asp

http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/itdojo/burned-computer-modem-illustrates-lightning-danger/1835

http://kwc.org/mythbusters/2005/03/mythbusters_son_of_a_gun_showe.html

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@Richard 12

Or maybe Australian, they've the same silly transformer on a pole concept. Forever rehanging lines after storms too.

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@Symon

You, sir or madam, appear to be confused.

0) Note I never typed anything about lightning.

1) Go eyeball a professionally[1] installed aerial. It will have both a "content" wire and a ground wire. Every time. The ground wire will connect to a water pipe or a copper grounding rod.

2) Look at the fuse panel/breaker box/J-box just house-side of your power meter. See that wire connecting the sheet metal to a (surprise!) nearby water pipe or copper ground rod? What do you think that is for? Next open the panel, and remove the protective cover[2]. See how the building ground & neutral are tied to the same sheet metal?

3) Go look at the interior of your telco installed demarc box. See how that little wire connects to a water pipe or copper ground bar (often the same as the mains power feed). Why do you suppose that is?

4) Not that it has anything to do with the subject at hand, but my water is from a well and a spring and a couple ponds. Power is from solar, and a small hydro trickle charger (keeps the fridge & deep freeze battery going), backed up with a couple propane powered generators when needed. My black water is handled by a couple leach fields[3]. My gray water generally waters the roses and fruit trees and lawns.

[1] Note the OA isn't a professional. Apparently.

[2] Maybe in your case you should get an adult to show you this step ...

[3] I switch between them every couple years.

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Paris Hilton

Is there no end......

to townies who've never seen pole-mounted transformers in the UK?

It reminds me of the female townie idiot jobsworth who couldn't understand that in the countryside water which falls on the surface of the ground does not necessarily have to be fed into a municipal drain.

Paris, because even she is surely not that stupid.

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WTF?

You are joking right!!!!

Transformers up poles all over the place in rural UK, I got one on my land. Supplies Large business and 9 or so dwellings.

My previous rural house also had one and I could point out many more.

We are in that well known part of the USA called Cornwall.

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My apologies

I didn't do enough research - too used to big installs.

Yes, you are right. There are indeed many places with the substation mounted on the transmission pole. However, you should note that the 230VAC lines to the premises are underground in almost all cases - thus any lightning strike to them will safely dissipate in the mass of Earth.

In the US, the pole-mounted transformers are per-building and often have 'in the air' low-voltage lines to the house - thus a strike goes straight into the building.

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Happy

Two-phase

I think you mean one-phase.

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Overhead supplies

My parents live in a small town in Wiltshire where there is quite a lot of 230/240V three-phase overhead supply, with a phase being picked off for each house. As no earth is supplied, there is an earth rod fed through an RCCB (not an RCD) although this may be quite historic as RCDs (measuring current imbalance between live and neutral rather than current in an earth wire) are a relatively recent phenomenon.

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£30 BT bill?

It's less than half that, and you can shift it to Primus to save a couple of quid and still be able to use override

On grounding (earthing), my solar PV installer said that on the first installation they ever did, they carefully earthed the mounting bars and brackets and were then told to remove the earthing by the inspectors. And TV aerials aren't earthed either, so what's the problem?

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Boffin

Earthing encourages Lightening..

By providing a nice low resistance route to earth at a nice high up location you are actually encouraging lightening to strike! If you have metal on your roof that is not a problem UNLESS it is earthed. insulated metal does not provide a route for striking because funnily enough it is insulated.

Insulate metal can be struck if it forms part of the "lowest resistance path" in the area.

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Headmaster

No earths outside

The reason you don't connect external bits of metal to the (electrical) earth is because they are outside the "equipotential zone" that exists inside your house, this is also the reason that outdoor tap kits now come with a length of rubber hose rather than encouraging you to stick some nice conductive copper through the wall. There are some quite strict rules concerning "extensions" to the zone, garden shed for example should be provided with their own earthing arrangements unless supplied by a suitably hefty armored cable.

Lighting protection is a completely separate system, and in the case of building with T-T earthing arrangements (an earth rod) must be kept suitably far away.

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Anonymous Coward

reselling broadband access

So what's BT's view on Clare reselling her broadband access to you? I can't believe that this isn't covered by T&Cs.

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@reselling broadband access

RTFA - broadband is from Zen via the dish... <tch>

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Welcome to the club

I've been BT less for over 2 1/2 years now and have not regretted it.

Ok I'm still using Mobile broadband but thats actually performing better than when I did have BT so I'm not worried.

Saying that I am thinking about Satellite broadband as Mobile is becoming a bit flakey recently

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Not quite as cheap

Its not quite as cheap as you imply, though, is it? theres £60 for that guy to climb a ladder, plus the cost of the microwave kit. The £50 a year OfCOM licence needs to be factored in as well.

You'd probably still show a saving, but its not that big.

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cheap as chips

Have a look at the earlier articles - it's not the cost saving, it's the fact that BT can't give him broadband at all, he is too far from the exchange. His earlier articles talk about satellite broadband, running cat5 cables through fields - all in search of a data connection capable of working beyond when an engineer is holding the cable just right...

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Go

Recommendation

I've been using SIPgate for quite few years, flawless service & they're open enough to use a range of SIP devices, in my case a Siemens Gigset VoIP unit. I believe they'll port numbers now.

Haven't paid BT, directly, any money in nearly 18mths but my ISP is using their wholesale FTTC service but that's OK, it's their retail service that's to be avoided.

[No interest to declare other than as a satisfied customer).

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Anonymous Coward

Another Sipgate customer

I'm in Germany and use a smaller provider for both DSL Internet and telephone. The telephone is supplied as VoIP only but I have been using Sipgate for some years now and have DID numbers in both Germany and UK. Like Wanda Lust, I also use a Siemens Gigaset phone for all three VoIP services.

All these VoIP services seem pretty stable/reliable now and are quite reasonable replacements for the likes of BT (or, in my case, DT).

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JMB

Re: Diary of a not-spot: Breaking the BT barrier

Having worked around the Highlands and Islands for many years I would be very sceptical that an area does not get any lightning. I have seen too much lightning damage over the years including one large installation completely destroyed.

I presume there is a nice big UPS with backup diesel generator at your friend's house so it can be fairly compared with a BT line. I know I would not want to not have a proper fixed connection in a remote area - many mobile phone base stations don't have battery backup. There have been long (i.e. several day) power cuts in parts of the Highlands in the past (one of the reasons I don't have much faith in the emergency services' complete dependence on Airwave).

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Lightning

I wouldn't worry either - just make sure the switch isn't resting on or surrounded by flammable material. I've seen plenty of lightning-fried electronics (video players, central heating controllers) that have burnt out but haven't set light to anything else.

I am BT-less too and couldn't be happier. My only task now is to convince all my neighbours that we don't ALL have to pay for individual connections and wifi networks and that we could share.

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Vonage?

Tying yourself into Vonage seems a little surprising, I went with Siemens Gigaset phones partly because they'll handle multiple SIP accounts instead of being locked into just 1.

Of course if you don't need new phones like I did Vonage is cheap and reliable, still think I'd have got an unlocked adaptor though and hedged my bets.

And yet another case where 'unlimited' actually means 2000min ;)

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Congrats

Well done extricating yourself from the claws of BT and fingers crossed you don't actually ever get Lightning.

BT might arrange a few storms over head as revenge! Their arm has grown long.....

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Vonage...

I used to use them, they are about as flexible as BT, I migrated to Gradwell, haven't looked back.

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Go

Fibre

If i run an external cat5 I cheat and pop a set of 10/100/1000 media convertors between the cable coming in and the switch.

Brute force and ignorance

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What powers the media converters?

...because that will provide a path for the lightning.

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What happens in bad weather?

As I understand it, microwave links are affected by rain, snow and even high pollen counts; the latter may not be a huge problem in the highlands, but I'd expect rain and snow to make a fairly regular appearance, even if they're not accompanied by a Bohemian rhapsody of thunder and lightning...

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rain fade

Indeed, depends to a degree on the transmission frequency but it's normal to allow around 30dB for rain fade when doing a microwave point to point link budget, so if it's marginal on a dry day it will disappear completely in heavy rain.

The lack of 999 capability would be my main worry.

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About that bet ...

"I'm betting (my house) that he was just hallucinating"

Have you at least checked that your insurance will cover any damage should lightning decide to do its best Michael Cain impersonation and "blow the bloody doors off"?

Earth bonding possibly isn't a good idea as it likely provides a more appealing target for lightning than a non-earthed aerial/dish. Have you considered erecting a lightning conductor nearby which can more safely conduct any strike to earth and would be more attractive to it should one turn up?

In towns and villages there's at least a good chance, that if the worse happens, it will be a strike on a neighbour or other erection so individual risk is reduced, but as the only lightning attractor in a field there's a higher risk.

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Boffin

Electricery

Electricity does not only take the path of least resistance, it will take all available paths. With voltages as high as those created in electrical storms, the purpose of having lightening conductors is to create a path which will provide a route for the bluk of the current, reducing the energy created in the object we are trying to protect, usually a church tower or the like. Earthing an alloy dish or aerial would be pointless. It will vapourise, and enough current will still flow through the cable to blow the electronics on the other end to dust. I once stood in a shed next to a wooden telephone pole which was struck and bust into flames, and that was sheet lightening, not forked. Oh, and yes, the weather will play havock with the connection, particularly snow and heavy rain.

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Are you that annoymous guy that has just been arrested?

He lived somewhere without broadband too...

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Sure Signal

You have hacked your box ala Full Disclosure. This will help with the five minute cut off!

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Elastictrickery!

If you directly earth the transmitter pole you are more likely to suffer a strike on that pole.

So might be best to trust to luck and “fire box” the kit directly connected to the transmitter unit.

Though you could always place a second pole taller by around 6ft and directly earth this to the ground to a depth of around 4ft, thereby providing a route of lower resistance, favoured by the elastictrickery gods!

This is what I did after discussing our existing pole with our insurers, there are plenty on professional online guides to the recommended way to do this.

Keep us all posted on your exploits!

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Emergency calls

How do you make emergency calls if the voip goes down, you lose power and the mobile system is out?

A load of people round my neck of the woods have gone for a not wired system , and no one has come up with a satisfactory answer, we are more rural than you appear to be, but well what would you do in this situation (and it did, twice in the last three years)?

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@Aimee - Emergency Calls

You do what people did in the old days.

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No BT ??

considering she is using BT copper for Zen internet your not as free as you wish.

Oh well

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Headmaster

Lightning "conductors"

It continues to baffle me why people persist in asserting something along the lines that a "lightning conductor" is there to provide a path for lightning. The truth is that if lightning ever struck such a device it would blow both the rod and its "conductor" to smithereens.

I admit that the the device could be better named (these days it is called an "arrester" not "conductor"), but the way it is supposed to work is that the prongs at the top suck away static charge that might otherwise build up during a storm and shunt it safely to earth. When it does this, it creates an area of low charge, and thus high impedance, around the building being protected, so that the lightning goes somewhere else. A protective bubble surrounding the building, if you will.

"We don't have much lightning" is a complete myth in the UK. BT, in fact, go to a lot of trouble and expense to minimise the collateral damage that lightning causes to both theirs' and their customers' plant throughout the UK. They were the pioneers of determining what was truly correct earthing and lightning protection for large area exposed cabling systems. This was finally sorted during the 1990s (yes, only that recently).

By disconnecting the BT line, Bill will have reduced this lesser known method of lightning damage caused by EMP induction spikes coming down his telephone wires. BTW: going off grid solar + UPS, solves the the same problem on overhead mains supplies.

As Bill lives in a rural area and, I suspect, has shit power (as I do in rural Sussex), he will have a reasonable UPS (even on grid power). Most decent UPSes have ethernet lightning protection systems in them which will, at least, limit any lightning damage to just the UPS.

But it would be worth adding a professionally installed "lightning arrester" to his pole, which should prevent any future problems. Just earthing the pole will not be adequate.

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I agree with what you have said.

We fitted the system ourselves, but got it certified by a professional and took images of each stage of the works (for him and the insurer).

Save us around £1500, as the "Arrestor guy", was fully booked for the next 6 months.

In our area we get a lot of lightning strikes and have seen several on buildings in the area while I was working on our roof. I did immediately leave the roof after I saw the strikes, didn't even look like a thunder storm was about to happen, i just did. The air was all tingly (and my spanner), which I think should have told me something. So yes, lightning strikes are common in the UK.

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Please consult your local electronics company on earthing

There are precise rules on how to ground your antenna mast. Please follow them. This is not your average "ohh my NIC is fried" situation, but more likely a "ohh my house is fried" one.

Other than that, I have used VoIP over a wireless connection while studying. It was terribly unreliable. Faxes hardly ever worked. Oh I'm glad I now have my own ISDN.

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Pint

schmitle

Bill wisely doesnt tell us exactly where he lives, but I lived in Aberdeen for 13 years and saw two thunderstorms in all that time. I guess this is what happens when you have the Grampian mountains between you and the prevailing wind. It is a very low risk and not worth the effort to mitigate against, and that is what home insurance is for at the end of the day.

I salute you sir, and just wish I could earn a crust living in the sticks back up that way too. Not many software build managers needed around there though! :-(

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Facepalm

@Richard12

"Pole-mounted transformers are an almost exclusively North American concept."

Lol, not in this part of rural Staffordshire. They're ten a penny here.

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Pint

Lightning... Wifi makes a lovely air-gap

If he uses *only* a wifi link for the last 30 feet, then he could limit the inevitable equipment damage that will result from a direct, or even near-by, lightning strike.

Earth grounding is duh-obviously a good idea (and typically required by Code). But it's not really what some people think. Airplanes (while flying) get hit by lightning about once per year each - almost always without any damage whatsoever. That simple fact exposes many myths about lightning and lightning protection.

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Why is everyone beating BT

I don't understand why everyone beats BT.

Line rental is expensive and I wish it was a bit cheaper.

£13.90 add anytime calls £4.70 total £18.60. So you must have been calling other numbers or have taken additional services like call dirvert, waiting etc.

As far as I'm aware, voip providers do not give 0845 or 0870 at the same rate as 01,02 and 03.

Also, unless you have packet prioritization on your friends router, the moment they're downloading or watching tv, your calls will sound nasty.

If you hate bt that much, then look at be, they do landline for £14 including uk calls and 600 minutes to other countries (22 most popular ones), broadband starts from £17 however, you're still paying bt.

I have no problems with BT, infact, I use my landline all the time. I do have voip but until broadband gets better and voip packets get priory then I'll stick with the landline.

When BT make FTTH (FTTP) more available, I will then wonder how they will make you take the landline. But hopefully they will reduce the line rental.

Virgin do offer internet without a phone line however, its only about £6 cheaper.

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