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From a bicycle to an Arianne

I had a rendezvous yesterday morning. Sometime from half eight to just after noon. They turned up shortly after nine and apologised for being late.

Two men, an older one in charge and a younger nerdier looking one who was learning the job (given the number of questions the older man gave him).

The younger man set about installing a cable into the loft, while the older one handled the cherry picker to string up the cable outside.

Working with the wires
Working with the wires.

"Is this our first visit?", he asked. Yes, it was. Then he thanked me for cutting back the trees. Apparently quite a number of clients don't bother, far too many don't even read the message that says they should. So that six hundred euros was a lot to get the trees sorted, but possibly less than if they need to make a new appointment and come back, and come back again. Yes, it happens. I guess there are people who think that the lines just sort of go up there by magic.

It took about an hour and a half to get the cabling strung up. The guy in the loft was doing his stuff in the meantime, which appeared to be attaching the new cable alongside the existing phone line using zip ties every 15-30cm (so it will have kept him quite busy) and then stripping the outer sheath from the cable to leave the most delicate looking thing imaginable. This was, get this, stuck to the wall using a hot-melt glue gun.

It's a good thing I'm not planning on changing the wallpaper
It's a good thing I'm not planning on changing the wallpaper.

After a while, it was all in place so the older man came along with the tech. A special machine that analysed what was happening with the cable, and then to splice the end of the cable into the cable contained within the wall socket. I think it may have literally melted glass to make that happen. And, by this point, it was like handling things barely thicker than a strand of hair. A quick test showed the connection to be good and that was the installation completed.

A twenty first century phone socket
A twenty first century phone socket.

The older man said that he was not permitted to do anything more as this was part of the installation service that is quite pricey (something like €80-90?). As he was explaining that he was not permitted to perform any installation, he unboxed the Livebox 6, installed the optic cable, plugged in the power pack, and finally switched it on. 😂

The new Livebox
The new Livebox.

I asked if I could set up the ID and password of the old box. He told me that this wasn't possible, but it'll show me the new password if I prod the display in the right way.

I offered them both a lemonade, thanked them, and at about eleven it was done. The transition from banging electrons down an ancient piece of copper, that used to manage 3.7-4.5Mbit but recently has stuck at 2.8Mbit (and a fairly steady 0.75Mbit upload), to blinking lights down many miles of delicate bendy glass.

I mean, just take a moment to appreciate that we're now harnessing light in order to watch cat videos.

The Livebox's default key was different to the old ones. Instead of a long length of hex digits, it was a shorter length of random looking upper and lower case letters, with a number stuck in the middle just to annoy.

I connected my phone and signed in to the web interface. I then renamed the SSID to that of my original Livebox and then entered my previous password. Once the WiFi had restarted, everything was able to connect without needing any reconfiguration. ☺

What was a bit painful was that the box had no way of picking up settings from the previous box, so I had to redo the DHCP allocations to reserve some of the addresses used by the things that are static IP. I also reserved addresses of things that are DHCP but at a fixed location as I often refer to them by address (like the inkjet is always .14). Then I had to add NAT entries so the web server worked. And, finally, sign in to NoIP to report my password forgotten (it was) in order to recover it so that I could update the Dynamic DNS client in the Livebox.

That done, and my server and security cameras demonstrated as being accessible from 4G, I set about seeing what was what.

The Livebox 6 reports a download rate of 2038 Mbit/sec and an upload rate of 554 Mbit/sec.

There's no sensible comparison with ADSL
There's just no sensible comparison with ADSL.

In my testing yesterday, I was "only" able to achieve about 887 Mbit/sec and 389 Mbit/sec; though I suspect that I might have now been running into the limitations of WiFi (5GHz) and a smartphone that isn't top of the range.
I put "only" in quotes because, let's face it, it's around 110MByte/sec download and 49.5MByte/sec upload (tested using Ookla Speedtest).

This morning? The test showed my download to be 115MByte/sec and upload as 35MBytes/sec, and a bit later 29MByte/sec. Possible congestion with other users? Still, it's absolutely nothing to sneeze at, and it's worth noting that real world experience will be starkly different to communicating with a test server in Rennes.
For example, a Comcast test server in Baltimore (US) offered an 87ms latency with an download of 39.8MByte/sec and upload of 29MByte/sec and no jitter. So the upload wasn't much affected but the download was a third.
Verizon in Tokyo was a huge 252ms latency and a 43ms jitter, but astonishingly after a slow start it managed to ramp up to 41MByte/sec down and 29MByte/sec up.
Zen internet in London flew. 92MByte/sec down and the up again capped at 29MByte/sec - that seems to be as fast as it wants to go right now for the upload.

Note that my download rate is likely maxing out the capacity of the 5GHz WiFi. It is quite a bit slower when I'm connected via the Vonets as 2.4GHz WiFi just doesn't run as fast, so I may actually be able to get something like 150MByte/sec, but nothing I have could handle it. So, in essence, my world connectivity is so damn fast now that the slow part is my equipment!

To put to the test, I just tried running Ookla Speedtest on two phones at the same time. One recorded 91.7MByte/sec and the other got 50.1MByte/sec; though running the tests sequentially showed one phone (Mi10T) getting 89.6/43.8MByte/sec while the other (Redmi Note 12) phone got 112/43.6MByte/sec.
Oh, and did you notice? My upload is now 43MByte/sec rather than the 29 that I recorded this morning. But, again, it's just numbers. When I can upload a gigabyte in around twenty three seconds instead of thirty five... come on... it's a near irrelevant difference.


A far better test is a video that I made to talk about it. Running to a minute and forty eight seconds, it was recorded 4K (2160p), and saved at the high quality setting. I simply would not have done this in the past as the result was a file that was 815MB. We'd be looking at many hours to upload that. And given that YouTube's uploader has a terrible tendency to throw away huge chunks of data (like you're on 79% and the next thing you know it's on 23% and starting from there all over again), whatever you calculate you can double.
Technically, that would take maybe three hours to transfer (no, not the 2h30 your download calculator suggests because it is probably not accounting for TCP/IP overheads), but like I said, double it for a more realistic result. So let's say 5~6 hours.

Less than thirty seconds.

No, seriously, less than thirty seconds.
I probably should have timed it or made a video but I wasn't quite expecting that. The YouTube app took about fifteen seconds to prepare the video for upload. I went into the kitchen to flick the kettle on. When I came back, YouTube was processing the video. The upload? Well, the entire thing happened in the time it took to get up, walk into the kitchen, flick a switch, walk back, sit down, and think "WTF?".
And if you think my upload dropping down to around 29MByte/sec is unfortunate, divide 815MByte by 30 seconds, the result is a little over 27MByte/sec, so that's perfectly within observed speed parameters. And, honestly, I'm not going to quibble over "about thirty seconds" as opposed to "five or six hours". Like I said, there's no meaningful comparison between the two, the difference is just so extreme.

I said to Mr Pilling in a YouTube comment that it was like going from cassette tape to floppy disc, and then from floppy disc to harddisc. ADSL to fibre is like going from tape directly to harddisc.

I downloaded a film from Netflix. "Atlas", an AI themed sci-fi story. At my monthly sub I get regular HD and at best quality it's a 507MB file for a two hour film (compare that with my 815MB for less than two minutes), and that came down the wire in a smidgen under six seconds (rather than half an hour).

There are other little things that I have noticed. Even little fetches happen much faster. Such as Tea when fetching the available channels. For me it happens in two batches. Blink, blink, done. While the ADSL and Pi/WiFi doesn't need long to transfer something like 60K of data, what did take time was establishing the connection. Between two and four seconds. But it's as if we've simply removed that and it does an SSL session instantly now.

Uploading photos for my blog? I upload the full sized photos to the server and a bit of PHP does the resizing to 680 pixel width (because nothing on Android can resize worth a damn and the results are always rather horrid). The images are usually between two and six megabytes for a 4096×1840 or 4160×1872 (depending on which phone I used) image.
Usually I would have enough time to copy-paste the image insertion code and modify it for the new picture (change the filename, alt text, and description).
Now no longer. The result is near instant. Tap on the upload button and bang, the image is there.

I can also, mostly, stream QHD (2304×1296) video from the outdoor camera. I say mostly as, being on the other side of a stone wall, the impediment is the connection between the camera and the Livebox. SD quality always works, as that runs at 4KB/sec ~ 36KB/sec depending on what it happening in the scene. QHD runs at 90KB/sec ~ 300KB/sec, which needs a stable WiFi signal.
More importantly, while I could always step down to SD to watch the live video, I was unable to watch anything that the camera had decided was worthy of recording, primarily because it does not offer adaptive encoding (like the little tilt-and-turn on the table). It expects to send the recorded QHD stream. Well, now - WiFi connection permitting - that works remotely.


A look at the Livebox 6

Despite the weight and the chunky 3A power brick, neither part felt warm, despite the internal (CPU or laser?) temperature being 42°C.

Looking at the management status page, the RxPower is -20.457 dBm (standard FTTP ONT range is -27 to -8 dBm) and the TxPower is 1.936 dBm (standard range is +0.5 to +5 dBm). Weirdly it says the maximum supported bit rate is 10mW. I wasn't aware that data speeds were measured in watts. ☺
It also says the "bias" is 8750. The laser is supposed to be less than 150mA. What's the value here? 87.5mA perhaps? The laser degrades over time (and temperature). The laser diodes (infra-red) have an expected lifetime of between 25,000 to 50,000 hours (if you Google this, note that "fibre lasers" with lifespans of 100,000 hours are something entirely different). Given 8,760 hours in a year, the expected lifespan is between 2¾ and 5¾ years but if the laser is pulsing then it's not on continually...
Plus, this Livebox is well built, quite a nice design, and a solid looking thing. I doubt they would have done that for something that is expected to fail within 3-4 years.

The Livebox 6
The Livebox 6.

The thing that stands out here is the big orange light on the top. If it's a reassuring orange, then all is good. If it is blinking then it is rebooting or trying to connect. And if it is white? Something has gone wrong.

To help with diagnosis and basic functions, there is a little e-ink display that is touch sensitive. While the Livebox web UI can be set to French (default) or English, the e-ink messages are always in French.

The normal view of the info panel
The normal view of the info panel.
Shown here is the normal view of the info panel. The top icon is for internet, where you can test your data rate and the connection.
Below that is the WiFi icon. This allows you to turn WiFi on and off, retrieve information on how to connect to WiFi (including a QR code for smartphones), and to test the WiFi.
Finally, the sleep mode icon which allows you to activate sleep mode. There are also options to know your consumption and set up sleep mode, but these are just QR codes that direct you to the Orange et Moi app.
The box offers two sleep modes. The light sleep turns off the internet and keeps the phone active. Deep sleep deactivates everything. They say this makes the most power saving, but why not just switch the box off?
More importantly, the sleep modes can be programmed.
Setting custom sleep times
Setting custom sleep times.
If I was a normal person and didn't have cameras or a server, then it might make sense to have the Livebox go to deep sleep while I'm at work, and light sleep in the night when I'm asleep (keeping the phone active).

Tapping the down arrow will bring up the final two options.

The other two options on the info panel
The other two options on the info panel.
At the top is the telephone icon. This allows you to view your telephone number and to perform a diagnostic test.
Finally, the settings icon that allows you to turn the little 'blip' when you touch the screen on and off, plus to do likewise with the "melody". I have no idea what the melody is. Maybe it plays La Marseillaise when the box connects?

The icons are shown inverted if the function is deactivated. There's also the possibility of a little additional icon, a thing that looks like a pie (it's supposed to be like a clock) if there's an active schedule, or a little warning 'X' in a triangle if there's a problem.

There is, as expected, a configuration system built into the Livebox which is accessible by connecting to and signing in (user "admin" and password); but it is rather useless as choosing the "Forgotten password" option pops up an option to specify a new password. It's not quite as dumb as it sounds because you need to authorise a change of password by tapping the prompt on the Livebox's e-ink screen... but it's a pretty lousy way of locking down the box to stop your kids messing with it as if they can access the Livebox...

The pages try hard to be mobile unfriendly, preferring to redirect you to the Orange et Moi app. And, granted, the app is simpler to use, but it's nowhere near as capable as the built in system. Thankfully you can trick it by using a tablet or by switching to Desktop mode in a browser.

The design has been jazzed up a little since the rather basic interface of the Livebox 2. But this comes with potential problems. I have taken screenshots on my Android laptop using Chrome. I have the Brave browser, but it crashes. I haven't yet gotten around to installing and setting up Firefox.

When you first connect, you get a page not found error. Refresh doesn't work (as it is a form submission), but tapping the link itself to fetch it anew works.

The welcome screen
The welcome screen.

Normally you get Connected devices, WiFi, and Diagnostics. I have added others to make things simpler for me. You can see logos of the other screens at the bottom.
The three-pointed thing is for Network, the cog is for Advanced parameters, the question mark is for Support, and finally Applications (which for some odd reason has the logout option).

Of particular interest is the option to now have a guest WiFi which is separate from (and cannot access) your own network and devices. Which means that the little block box beside the Livebox (which provided a segregated Guest WiFi function) is no longer necessary.

Setting up Guest WiFi
Setting up Guest WiFi.

There's no problem with showing the SSID and password. You've probably already seen it, it is written on a blackboard on the wall just behind the Livebox. And, of course, it's only active when I choose, for a time span of my choice (1/2/4/24/48 hours or unlimited). I especially like that I can set it to, say, 4 hours for a visitor (not that I get those much!) and it'll turn itself off afterwards without me having to remember to do so.

The status stuff is also useful for visualising what is currently connected.

What's connected on WiFi
What's connected on WiFi.
Following the little line down is the 6GHz WiFi. There's nothing.

Below that, status information for the ethernet ports (also nothing) and finally the USB port (technically nothing, it's just supplying power to the NetRadio).


What is actually inside the fibre cable?

Of course I kept a piece. ☺

After a lot of fiddling, I was able to strip it down into its parts.

A stripped down fibre cable
A stripped down fibre cable.

The outer is a fairly rigid black outer sheath, most likely something like high density polyethylene.
Inside of this are strengthening fibres that help protect the inner part. Of particular interest is the more rigid white fibres (just visible above the "Rich" in the copyright text). This is bendy in one direction but quite rigid in the other direction. This means that in one sense you can wrap the cable around a clenched wrist, but in the other sense if the cable bends more than, say, 3 degrees then you'll hear an audible crack. It's not the fibre, it's this thing put in the fibres.
Inside that is a much flimsier and bendier (white) PVC style sheath, not unlike you would find going to wired headphones.
Inside that, more protective fibres followed by yet another (red) sheath. There may or may not be some sort of gel inside there. I didn't detect any, but it seems to be common.
Finally, a really thin bit of glass fibre, coloured red.

The glass fibre, actually, is a lot more resilient than it might otherwise seem. Here is a piece of inner fibre resting against a regular pencil lead for an automatic pencil. I think those measure 0.7mm which means looking at it, this must be something like 0.2mm?

Yes, I tied it in a knot
Yes, I tied it in a knot.

Actually, the knot could go down to about half that size, but since there was nothing to hold it in that shape it slid open until it reached equilibrium.

The benefits of using optical fibre are that it is immune to electromagnetic interference. A nearby lighting strike won't make any difference as there's nothing to induce a current in. Also there are far fewer losses than copper, so cable length doesn't affect data transfer speed. Light is able to be more reactive than electrical signals in copper, so there is less latency and the ability to push communications speeds far in excess of anything possible using twisted pair copper.
The downsides, on the other hand, is that the cables are more fragile, and it would be more complex to repair requiring splices that melt the fibres together to form a continuous optical channel. This requires specialist equipment, and is quite a bit different to patching a broken cable with a replacement piece and hooking the joins into a terminal block.


And finally? No more video like this...

Example of crappy low bandwidth video
Example of crappy low bandwidth video.

More video like this:

Example of high bandwidth video
Example of high bandwidth video.



Your comments:

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jgh, 10th June 2024, 03:56
I'm still stuck on 21M down 2M up, if I'm lucky. Can't get fibre 'cos I'm nearer to the exchange than to the nearest fibre cabinet. :( Attempting video conferencing is like using lantern semaphore in a lightening storm. 
Though, the county council has stated that all copper lines will be replaced with fibre "by next year", so things may improve. 
Rick, 10th June 2024, 07:50
?? Cable length isn't really an issue with fibre. It sounds like an excuse... 
But, yes, they're going to be pushing for tearing out all the copper so it'll come.
jgh, 10th June 2024, 18:31
I checked online earlier and my "guaranteed" speed is 1M upload, so they're complying with me managing 2M. ;P
David Pilling, 11th June 2024, 12:46
Here, up 11 and down 49 Mbs, that's BT FTTC. Doesn't take much to keep some people happy.
Rick, 11th June 2024, 21:44
As it turns out, I cannot have more than 1Gbit of throughput (assuming a cable connection, I'm not sure WiFi is up to these sorts of speeds?). 
Why? My current contract allows for up to 2Gbit, but each individual device is capped to a maximum of 1Gbit. If I pay a little bit more, then I can have the full 2Gbit dumped to *one* device. 
Oh, my god, such a hardship, the possibility of downloading an entire 4.7GB DVD-R image in *eighteen* seconds instead of *thirty seven*. 
I hope you're spotting the obvious sarcasm of the ridiculousness of this whole thing, given that up until Saturday we'd be looking at "about six hours" rather than "somewhere south of a single minute". 
Of course, this is purely theoretical. Can the server send data that quickly? Can WiFi keep up? Can my device actually dump that much data to disc/flash that quickly? Etc etc etc. 
So, really, "it's effing fast" should be better than talking about numbers. Indeed, numbers are kind of meaningless, as I hope my 1 vs 2Gbit download example demonstrated. 
Suffice to say, finally I won't have to wait an eternity to do anything these days, so that's the main takeaway from all of this. 
Oh, and I won't be making many 4K videos, because my video camera is a little Xiaomi thing aiming for middle-of-the-road performance by making tradeoffs. I have a rather nice AMOLED screen to look at, but the camera cannot do any sort of stabilising at 4K resolutions, and trust me, when you're used to the internal smarts fiddling with the image to keep it steady, suddenly having it jerk around like a '90s camcorder is REALLY jarring. 

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