Monthly Archives: May 2014

TalkTalk Business, the good and the bad

Last year, the assimilation of Be into Sky prompted us to have a think about our internet provider at the church. We have a single phone line into the church office, rarely used for calls but often used for internet.

Prompted by the attraction of having one bill to pay, and not paying as much for line rental as we were to BT, we moved both phone and internet over to TalkTalk’s business offering. They did send us a router, but I just plugged their account details into our existing one and left everything as it was. The switch-over was refreshingly simple – because they were providing the landline too and plugging it into their equipment at the exchange, faffing around with migration codes for the ADSL wasn’t necessary.

For six months, all seemed well – our ADSL was fine and running at 9mbps, and the phone line we never used was presumably OK. Then a couple of weeks ago, the real test of the supplier started when the line developed a fault. Our ADSL wouldn’t stay sync’d and was running at a third of its usual speed with massive packet loss.

I was pleasantly surprised to get hold of a human being in support on a bank holiday Monday, and even more so when he was prepared to take my word for it, without arguing, that I’d tried replacing everything my side of the master socket and even used the test socket* to eliminate a possible fault in our equipment. The only annoyance was a classic call-centre screw-up – the automated system picks up, asks you to key in the phone number you’re calling about, then puts you through to a human who … asks you for the phone number you’re calling about. Pretty shaky for a telecoms company…

It all went a bit sideways from there – I explained that the church building isn’t manned continuously, so if he was going to get BT Openreach to send an engineer, he needed to (a) call me back and say when that would be, and (b) make damn sure the engineer had my mobile number. Neither of those things happened, and I had to call back two days later to be told an engineer had been sent and failed to gain access to the premises. I was told an engineer had been re-booked for Thursday between 1 and 6. I duly spent my Thursday afternoon sat in a chilly church with no WiFi, and phoned to tell them nobody had turned up. I was told that I had been misinformed, and they’d failed to re-book the engineer. Suppressing my anger, I asked them to try again and make less of a hash of it. This time, I got the 8am to 1pm slot on Friday morning, and thankfully BT’s man arrived by 8.15.

He swiftly identified a junction box just inside our property (but before the master socket) which was full of water. One replacement later, and everything is fine again.

I’m not sure who to blame for the screw-up over sending an engineer – perhaps such problems are an inevitable side-effect of being TalkTalk’s customer on BT’s piece of copper, much like the loss of accountability between Network Rail and the train companies.

What else? I wasn’t impressed by TalkTalk’s free router – the web interface has a noticeable delay on all operations, and it’s slightly lacking in features (e.g. you can configure the DHCP to always give the same IP address to a given device, but you can’t specify which IP address). The fact that the £20 TP-Link one I got from Argos is better is a bit of a clue as to how much they spent on theirs.

* Un-screw the faceplate from your master socket, and you’ll find the test socket behind it.

New church sound systems

Last month at St Columba’s, we finally had some lovely new AV equipment installed. As the bloke sorting it all out (or “project champion”, as I might be referred to in a more buzzwordy organisation), I thought I’d share how it went…

Planning

The plan was pretty simple. We knew we had £8,000 to spend and we quickly worked out that we could like-for-like replace the microphones and hearing loop in the church, and get a nice new projector and speakers installed in the hall.

Tender

One of our church members who works in procurement put together a nice detailed tender document spelling out what we were after, and, armed with this, we called in three firms to quote. Expression Media got the job partly on the strength of recommendation from other churches, partly for being second-cheapest, but mostly because I was really impressed by their honesty.

They explained that a couple of existing pieces of kit – notably the amplifier for our hearing aid loop – could be kept and re-used and thus we could save a bit of money. Neither of the other suppliers suggested that.

Delivery

Expression did a top-notch job of the installation, finishing it in one and a half working days to work around the heavy usage of our building. It’s all finished off nicely with some lockable cabinets to stop people messing around with the controls.

Aftermath

As is so often the way with these things, nobody has had a word to say about AV at church since the upgrade. Which means it’s all working perfectly!