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BT Midband: Just like ordinary dial-up, only without the good bits (part 3)

Well, after all the initial hassles of getting my parents hooked up to BT’s Midband/ISDN service (see parts 1 and 2 of this story), it’s finally working. And guess what? Once it’s up and running, it’s actually pretty good.

Well, after all the initial hassles of getting my parents hooked up to BT’s Midband/ISDN service (see parts 1 and 2 of this story), it’s finally working. And guess what? Once it’s up and running, it’s actually pretty good.

When I last left my parents, they had a freshly installed ISDN box with all the relevant sockets and wires…but no service. The main problems were that BT Midband doesn’t support Windows 2000 server through its USB interface, and that there was too much line noise on the ISDN line for a non-Win2K machine to connect at all.

Since that last time, they have had a BT engineer out who sorted out the line noise. On Wednesday I went up to visit them again, armed with an ISDN Terminal Adapter (TA). A TA is the only way you will get Midband to work with Windows 2000 Server. I bought a bog-standard BT Speedway PCI card. I could have got a non-branded card for less money, but after all of the earlier problems, I wanted something that would give me the least chance of being incompatibile.

The card was fairly easy to install in the server. The installation process tries to get you to install lots of voice, fax, voicemall, and data transfer widgets, but all I really needed were the device drivers to make it act like a modem. Once I had that going, I set up the dial-up networking connection, crossed my fingers, and….

…it worked! First time! Yay!

When I spoke to BT’s technical support last time, they told me that you don’t really need the dialler software supplied with the BT Midband kit. I decided to call them again just to double-check the access numbers some other details. Here’s what I found out:

  • The dial-up numbers to use are 0808 99 33 327 for your free hours, and 0845 60 41 594 for the pay-as-you-go service once you run out of free time. The dialler software has the option of connecting to alternative numbers if these ones aren’t available, but these numbers are not going to change. They are genuine access numbers, and not just for diagnostic purposes.
  • When you dial up to these numbers, BT does a CLI (Caller Line Identification) check to make sure that you are dialling from a number that is registered to an authorised BT Midband subscriber. They grant you access to their network based on this CLI check, not on the user name and password you provide. However, some software and hardware requires you to specify a user name and password before it will let you dial an access number. BT get around this by letting you use anything as your user name and password, so long as they are the same. So “test/test” will work just as well as “studmuffin/studmuffin”.
  • If you dial the free number, and you have no free hours left, the system will generate a connection error. Depending on the software/hardware you use, you may have the option of specifying an alternate number to use if your primary number fails. (In the Windows dial-up networking world, look for the button marked “Alternates” in the properties dialog.) You can use this to set up a single connection that tries to connect to the free number first, but falls back to the pay-as-you-go number once your free time is up.

(Also, just as last time, the first-line tech support person I spoke to was excellent.)

It was all looking pretty good. Something had to go wrong, though. For some reason the software my parents use for sharing their internet connection (WinProxy) decided to give up the ghost. Normally, Winproxy is a well-behaved little beastie, but after installing the Terminal Adapter card, ikt could no longer be bothered forwarding non-HTTP traffic–even over the old modem connection. It just sat there with its fingers in its ears ignoring DNS, POP3, and SMTP packets. (La, la, la, I can’t hear you….)

A couple of uninstalls and reinstalls fixed the problem–phew. So then it was just a matter of changing the settings on the mail programs to use a different SMTP server, and presto! All was well. Really.

(Note that although BT say that mail services are not included in the Midband package, it appears that the SMTP server mail.btopenworld.com will relay outgoing mail. Thanks to Mark Critchley for pointing this out.)

So what’s good about Midband? Well, it connects really quickly. About 5 or 6 seconds, as opposed to the 20-30 that is standard for dial-up. It also connects at 64K every time, or at least close enough not to make a difference. It’s a digital line, and so the signal doesn’t have to muck around with all of the digital-to-analog-to-digital decoding you get with a modem connection. And if you go for a 128K connection with both ISDN channels blazing, it’ll be even faster. You will use up your free hours more quickly that way, though.

The fact that it took me so long to get it set up is inevitably going to bias me against the product. On the other hand, when it works, it works well. I still think it’s not really a consumer-level product–you either have to be lucky enough to have it work first time, or you have to really know what you’re doing to troubleshoot it. (Actually, there’s a third option: have reall good tech support available. Hmm. Maybe that explains the coincidence of speaking to thoroughly competent people each time I’ve called their help line.)

The pricing of the product means that it’s not an intermediate step on the way to broadband. Broadband and Midband are the two separate paths for upgrading from dial-up. Midband is there for outlying (read “unprofitable”) exchanges that BT can’t be arsed to upgrade, and for people who live too far away from their exchange to get ADSL even if it were available. And in those circumstances, it makes sense. The improvement over dial-up will be noticeable–even if you stick to using just one of the 64K channels.

If you’re thinking about signing up for Midband, I hope this series of articles has been of some use to you.

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19 replies on “BT Midband: Just like ordinary dial-up, only without the good bits (part 3)”

I’ve just had isdn/midband installed. I’m using W2K pro and installed as per the instructions using the USB interface.

So far it’s all gone swimmingly. My next step is connection sharing. Armed with the dialup numbers provided in the previous article this shouldn’t be too much hassle – but I’m unsure about how the bandwidth at which I connect will be decided…

The software which BT installs to automatically ramp and drop the extra 64K channel is quite nice and useful – but I am not sure whether I will be able to take advantage of this using a straightforward dialup connection….

Any ideas?

I had ISDN installed last week after moving to the sticks and realising that I could not bring my broadband with me – I also wanted to install this on a win2000 server but could not – but now armed with your info I think I will have it up and running this weekend – many thanks!

I had BT Midband installed about 4 months ago and everything went smoothly until I tried to network my desktop and laptop PCs. The installed BT dial-up software just wouldn’t work from the laptop PC when it was connected to the wireless network. I eventually made contact with a very helpful Midband engineer (they are not easily accessible) who gave me the free dial-up number (0808 99 33 327). I set up a network connection and everything now works perfectly. As stated, any old username and password will work.
Like Mark Critchley, I also discovered that my old BT Internet account – not used for several years – could be reactivated and this has allowed me to both send and receive e-mails. BT Openworld (previously BT Internet) will also act as a gateway for e-mail accounts with other ISPs; I still use (Virgin and Freeserve) as well as Hotmail.
Why don’t BT tell customers this on their website and in the Midband booklet?

I’ve been using midband ever since it came out. Since I’m a linux user I had to resort to buying a Dlink 304 ISDN router/TA. This works reasonably well although it needs the odd kick. Now that I’ve swtched from RedHat to SuSe it is possible to use the USB modem built into the Home Highway box and this gives good performance ( but windows users should get a good firewall if they’re not using XP as the incoming “attacks” are constant!

ISDN *is* much bette than dial up but I’m switching to broadband when it comes to my exchange next year.

Vic

I had broadband for 6 months before moving to the sticks.
Midband has been an OK compromise.
But why does BT insist on this 2 hour connection limit – I’ve paid for my 75/150 hours and I’ll use them as I want.

Hi Martin,

I found your page during a Google search. I have been using Home Highway for two or three years now on Win 2K pro. We still cant get Broadband where I am in Devon.

I tried using my Speedway adapter with Windows 2000 Server and after downloading the latest drivers from BT Speedway site AND avm.de failed to get the thing working. Device mangler reported it there but that the drivers had failed to load (error 10). After spending days tring various things I gave up and reverted to Win 2K Pro wherupon the card works as it always used to.

It seemed to work for you first time. Any ideas/comments would be greatly appreciated. Maybe my speedway card is too old and has been revised.

Thx. Adrian

Adrian,

I’m afraid I don’t know what might be wrong. I just used the drivers that came with the card, and it worked okay. As you say, it’s possible that I got a newer version of the card you bought a few years ago. If you email me the version numbers of your drivers, I can look at my parents’ server next time I visit them, and see if they’re the same ones.

The dial up number you quote appears to be one of many. I’m on 0808 993 3333. I’m not sure how BT allocate them through their funny dialer, but to see which one you’ve been given, view the access log (right click the ISDN display and select View Log).

I am trying to install My BT Speedway ISDN TA onto my new computer running Window XP. The drivers on the CD are for Win95/98 I have searched the BT Site for updated drivers but can’t find them. My connection from the TA is a serial port. Can anyone point me in the right direction please?

i have purchase 2nd hand dlink ta model no.dmi128e and installed its driverand soft ie.comset but im not cunnectin isdn phone line

Having followed your tale for Midband, then have myself gone ahead, and i must say have been very impressed so far, the only problems i’ve had, was 1. the box stopped working a few days ago and a BT engineer has just been out to do some sort of a reset with it.
2. my ping rates are higher than i thought they’d be, and am chasing BT to see what can be done.

apart fromt the two niggles, then i’ve been very chuffed. Thanks for your pages dedicated to your experience……

How much I enjoyed your September pieces on Midband — so resonant of my personal experience with getting going with Midband, with added wry humour. Yes the first line technical help was impressive, and pleasant too. I spent hours and hours talking with them! Eventually the problem turned out to be line noise – your account seems to suggest that this may not be an uncommon problem — I wish I had known before I reformatted my HD!! Anyway, all done now and, as you say, it does work well as advertised. What I really wanted to tell you was that I discovered that the dialler actually incorporates 10 numbers (0808 9933 237, 9933 327, and 9933 330 to 337). It would be good if BT explained this somewhere and also advised that line quality is of key importance. By the way, you do know don’t you, that BT has been awarded the national (£620million) and London (£996million) contracts for the NHS National Programme for IT Care Records Service — makes you think, eh?
Tony

Have had Midband since Christmas. Certainly faster to connect and faster when there is traffic. My problem with it is that I have significant delays before any traffic (uploading/downloading) occurs. It is also an irony that it takes so long for the default Midband landing page to come up. It all uses up allocated time and makes my experience of surfing that much slower.

I am so deeply embedded in the country that my line is DACS (hope that’s right). Iam not techie enough to understand tha consequences but I believe it is effectively a shared line. That may be fine for voice communication but I wonder if it affects wider band communication?

It would be useful to know if anyone else is experiencing what I am.

Incidentally, midband helpdesk have tried helping me but without success.

Thanks for the tips.. I was having a nightmare with the BT software.. but I set up a dial up connection at 128k in 30 seconds using the details supplied by ths article:

Phone Number: 0808 99 33 327
UserName: midband
Password midband
Smtp: mail.btopenworld.com

big up your bad self..

Just a thought for when my minutes run out half way through the month.. Do any of you know of a inclusive hours 128k ISP i could sign up to that wont cost an arm and a leg?

I am using AOL at the moment..
Pros: No cut off, good connection, cheap for unmetered access
Cons: Massive AOL application, 64k only;-(

Thanks in advance

Thanks for putting together these excellent pages.

I’m using Midband – like alot of people in the sticks Broadband is a long way off. I’m using the USB connection to a W2K Pro machine and it works well.

However, what I want to do is move the PC to an office and use a wireless LAN connection. I can’t find any information on the BT website, or anywhere else, and whenever I phone BT I end up in a call cul-de-sac with some messgae about how wonderful Broadband is!!

Any ideas?

Hmmmm, having lots of problems now with midband hanging my modem. Each time BT reset my ISDN it works fine for 2 days & then dies again. If you reboot the router it all works again (sometimes). Have tried 2 pcs, XP, 2000 & 2003 server, supplied USB modem, 3 com router, Netgear router & Hayes TA. Engineer left today & told my wife that all was fine.

Also mail.btinternet.com seems to have stopped relaying my mail, any help?

What port are you using for it, I’ve purchased the 150 relays ‘outbound’ package but outlook can’t send any messages.

Have set it up as per instructions

Hi. I’m more-or-less a Midband fan but irritated by the unusual/inflexible implementation of bandwidth on demand. Perhaps I just don’t have the right info to set it up. More importantly, BT’s modems don’t seem to support compression. Bizarre. Has anyone got compression (LZS or STAC) to work with Midband?

Cheers Andrew

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