Sunday, 29 November 2009

Finally, New Firmware for the BT HomeHub 2.0

Way back in June I wrote about the problems that were being caused by the latest iteration of the firmware for the BT HomeHub 2.0. Far from getting rid of problems, the new firmware (8.1.H.G (Type A) ) had introduced a raft of new problems that have annoyed BT customers all summer and autumn.

BT initially promised a fix by 26th June 2009, but no one was really surprised when this failed to materialise.

Finally, 6 months after the problems with firmware 8.1.H.G were first reported and a mere 5 months and 1 day later than promised, BT have finally begun to roll out a new firmware.
The details are as follows:

Software version 8.1.H.J (Type A)
Software version (Type B)

There are two versions of the latest Hub 2.0 firmware because of changes in the BT Hub manufacturing process. The functionality of both firmware versions is the same.

The latest version introduces the following improvements:

* Changes to automatic wireless channel selection.
* Correction to a problem with Power Save activation.
* Correction to problems uploading large files.

The new firmware has been 'in the wild' for 48 hours now. It's not clear what proportion of Hub users have already been updated, but BT expect the roll out will be complete by Christmas. BT haven't specified which Christmas, but in the light of previous experience this may be a tactical omission.

So far, so good. I've not seen any reports that the firmware is causing any problems, but watch this space.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Wi-Spy 2.4i - A Great Tool for WiFi Problems

I've frequently written about the value of a little piece of freeware called InSSIDer when it comes to checking which wifi channel might be the best for you to use, to avoid conflict with a neighbour's router that might be on the same channel. If you have a wireless router, I really cannot recommend InSSIDer enough for every wireless equipped machine you have.

InSSIDer is produced by a company called metageek who produce a range of spectrum analysers - widgets that can help locate sources of wifi interference. The 'baby' of the range, shown at the top of the page, is the Wi-Spy 2.4i. metageek also produce a range of these devices that operate in the 2.4 GHz (802.11b/g), 5 GHz (802.11a/b/g/n)and 868 and 915 MHz bands.

If you want to see in detail what these devices can do, then it is worth spending a little time exploring the metageek website.

Perhaps the best way of understanding what the Wi-Spy 2.4i can do, is to look at a couple of traces from it. The device can output the 2.4 GHz spectrum in a variety of 2D ways and as a 3D display (but not all 3D-capable video cards are yet supported for the 3D display). To be honest, whilst the 3D display is pretty, I've found the the 2D displays to be more useful so far. The trace above (click on it to get a larger view)shows the 'Waterfall' view and the 'Density' view seen by my PC. The Density view is overlaid by the output from my wireless adapter, so you can see my router (solid green line) sitting on Channel 6 and my neighbour's router (solid red line), which is on Channel 1. The blue speckles surrounding the green line are the output from my router, in this case a 2-Wire 2700 operating in 802.11 b/g mode.

Now, lets take a look at some interference. In the trace above (again, click to see an enlargement), I've managed to identify some of the things that might cause my WiFi connection problems - and there are a couple of things that are still a bit of a mystery. I've also switched off the wireless adapter output, so that the W-Spy 2.4i output is a little clearer.

In the upper Waterfall display, I've labelled some of the sources of radio frequency emissions. Most obvious is the green vertical bar close to Channel 9. It turns out that this is the car alarm in my Toyota Previa. There are similar bars near to channel 6 and channel 13 that may also be car alarms, but I haven't yet shown that for certain.

A little harder to see are the array of green and yellow speckles that form a horizontal line across Channels 9 to 13 at the bottom of the Waterfall display. This it turns out, is characteristic of my microwave oven. So, although Channel 11 (one of the three non-overlapping channels in the UK) is free from wifi routers, it's probably not going to be a good channel to use as it will be affected by both the microwave oven and the car alarm.

There is an odd source of interference that appears best in the Density trace below and is labelled #2. It's not clear, yet, what is causing this. It's not my PC, nor any of the ancillary equipment. I've also eliminated my DECT phone, Homeplugs, Skybox, TV and a host of other things. Because of the way the trace was obtained and the close proximity of the router, it is possible that the router itself is being picked up by the Wi-Spy. Clearly, I've a bit more work to do on this.

In a nutshell, that's what the Wi-Spy 2.4i does - helps you find and eliminate, or avoid, sources of interference.

If you are in the UK, you can find Wi-Spy at Crownhill Associates for £68.94 (inc VAT). OK, it isn't cheap, but if you are having wifi problems, it could save you a lot of time and effort - and money spent on other solutions that don't work.

The other bit of good news is that Wi-Spy 2.4i works with both PCs (XP and Vista) and Macs (OSX 10.5).

As for me, I've been so impressed after only a few day's use, that I'm going to have to save up for the WiSpy 2.4i's big brother!

UPDATE: You can see a recent success with the Wi-Spy here. It shows what you might expect if you are hit with repetitive electrical impulse noise (REIN)

Sunday, 8 November 2009

HomeHub 2.0 Faults & Finding the Manufacture Date of Your Home Hub

Going off the many posts on the BT Broadband Community Forum, a fair number of HomeHub 2.0 users are having problems with them. Perhaps the most commonly reported problems are associated with the wifi. Either the range of the router, despite it being type n, is pitiful and worse than earlier type g models, or the wifi keeps cutting out for no apparent reason. Other issues include an inability to hold sync particularly well, and the 8.1.H.G (Type A) firmware upgrade of May 2009 that has caused all sorts of problems, many of which are still unresolved.

Often, the problems disappear when the user goes back to using an earlier version of the HomeHub (1.0 or 1.5) or uses an entirely different router - which does sort of point to the HomeHub 2.0 being the culprit.

A great guy known as DS on the BT Community Forum, has recently been pulling his faulty HomeHub 2.0 (Type A)s apart and found some interesting thing, including:

- trapped and chafed power supply wiring
- finger-prints all over the internal circuitry
- loose/unattached aerial wires
- dirty connector strips for the wifi adapter sub assembly (Top right in the adjacent picture of one of my HomeHubs

I pulled two other HomeHub 2s apart to see if mine had similar issues. Fortunately, the two I looked at did not show any of the faults reported by DS - aside from a single greasy fingerprint on one of the internal components. The power supply wiring for the hub phone charger were well routed, aerial cables properly attached and the aerial plate securely mounted.

Now the question is this. Are these faulty HomeHubs fairly randomly scattered through the production run, or do some batches of hub suffer from more faults than others?

If you are going to report a fault on the BT Forum, or directly to the BT Help Desk, you might want to tell them when your hub was manufactured. To work this out, look at the base of your Home Hub and you will see a large sticker. The serial number appears on the top right hand side of the sticker and looks something like this:

SN: CP0825*****

The first four numbers refer to the year (08) and week (25 = June) of manufacture.

If you are tempted to full a faulty HomeHub apart, it is fairly straightforward by following the simple yet excellent instructions referred to by Jarviser here . Please note that I wore an earthed wristband to minimize the chance of static damage to the electronics.

Be warned though. If you do pull a hub apart, there is a risk that you could brick your hub and it might never work again!

You might also want to add your HomeHub date of manufacture to the list here, reporting whether it works and if it has problems, the nature of the fault.

STOP PRESS If you have any photographs of the insides of a HomeHub 2.0 (Type B), please send them to Jarviser at:

He wants to add the details to his excellent website.
Having had some major problems with my own broadband service, I understand how others struggle to get help from BT.

There is a lot of good information out there, but it can be hard to find. So this blog is an attempt to pull some of it together, in one place.

It's a blog that really shouldn't be needed - if only BT and possibly other ISP's in the UK, provided useful customer support.