Thinking of joining Bigpipe? It’s a case of buyer beware.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 12-Mar-2014 08:44

As many of those who read my blog will know, I’m passionate about fast internet and truly believe that overall NZ has fantastic internet performance and infrastructure. Sure there are exceptions, but as I’ve written about in numerous blog posts such as this, Telecom spending in excess of $1 billion building a cabinetised FTTN xDSL network has meant around 85% of NZ premises have access to 10+ Mbps ADSL2+, and somewhere in the vicinity of 40% of premises have access to VDSL2+ delivering up to 70Mbps down and 10Mbps up. One of the most important contributing factors to the performance of an ADSL or VDSL connection is wiring, and statistically speaking the most common cause of slow speeds and poor performance is poor internal phone wiring within the home which impacts the xDSL sync rate and performance. People posting on Geekzone complaining of poor performance and finding their internal wiring is at fault is a pretty regular occurrence, so I wrote a blog post last year talking about such issues and explaining why your internal wiring can affect your performance, and why a master xDSL filter is so important to receive the best performance.

Lets make one thing very clear – it’s my personal opinion that a master filter should be mandatory for every ADSL, ADSL2+ or VDSL2 install. With the average NZ home consisting of 3-4 jack points, typically wired in series, typically a mix of master / secondary and 2wire jack points due to age, and often old jack points suffering from corrosion due to the damp conditions of NZ homes, it is the only way to ensure that your xDSL connection is as good as it can possibly be.

If you don’t have a phone and have a naked xDSL connection, wiring your modem directly to the incoming jack and disconnecting all internal wiring will achieve the same effect.

When VDSL2 was soft launched by Telecom Wholesale (prior to the separation and creation of Chorus) there was no requirement for a xDSL master filter to be installed, however it was recommended by most ISPs offering the service that a master filter be installed at a cost of $199. Many people chose not to pay this cost, and while some people found their VDSL2 connection ran smoothly, many found the exact opposite and required a master filter to be installed to make their connection stable.

When Chorus launched VDSL2 as a commercial offering in mid 2013 their pricing model changed to ensure that every VDSL2 connection included a master filter so that every user received the best possible connection speed without having an additional up front cost that may put them off. Rather than the home owner having to pay a $199 up front cost, it was built into a small monthly fee that was charged to the ISP to be recovered over 30 months. Every ISP simply built that cost into their VDSL2 pricing.

In early 2014 Telecom decided to launch a new low cost ISP to compete against flat rate offerings from Orcon and Slingshot. Since Telecom themselves don’t see a flat rate pricing model as sustainable, it wasn’t surprising that a new brand was created for this offering. Bigpipe was born, offering cheap internet and using a Carrier Grade NAT (CG-NAT) solution to offer service due to the looming shortage of IPV4 IP addresses. To compete on price, Big Pipe have decided to cut costs even further by not offering a master filter as standard, saving themselves a few dollars every month. This means that some customers being installed are receiving a sub standard connection.

There have been several posts in recent weeks on Geekzone from new Big Pipe customers who have had new VDSL2 installs and are suffering from poor performance. One was fixed by Big Pipe sending Chorus around to install a master filter. What is most remarkable however, is the Big Pipe attitude towards a master filter. To quote a Big Pipe representative in this thread

However, I should point out that a master splitter is not required for VDSL in most cases.  It will certainly help (in some cases help a lot), but it isn't absolutely necessary except in rare cases.

To be honest this is complete and utter bullshit and really shows a total lack of understanding of how xDSL technology works. If this is the sort of advice that Big Pipe are dishing out, I’d be recommending that they be avoided at all costs.

A xDSL master filter is not going to fix every problem, and there will be some premises close to a cabinet or exchange where performance may be fine without a master filter. To say that this is “most cases” however is just plain wrong. A master filter is the only way to eliminate reflections caused by internal wiring, and it’s also the only way to ensure that your modem isn’t unnecessarily transmitting at a higher power level than required. One thing that has been happening in increasing numbers lately has been a gradual reduction in VDSL2 sync speeds as more customers switch to the technology as a result of cross talk occurring in cable bundles between the customer and the cabinet or exchange. Poor quality connections can make this problem worse.

If you’re thinking of switching to Big Pipe it’s very much a case of buyer beware. Yes you’re getting a cheap connection,  but you’ll need to ensure your internal house wiring is up to scratch, either by sort your own internal wiring, or paying Chorus or a 3rd party to visit and do this. Any prospective users will need to weight these risks up before signing up, especially when competing offers from other ISPs typically include the professional installation of a master filter by Chorus in the price.

Other related posts:
Spark Paging network shutdown – the event nobody cares about? Not quite.
UFB voice, power cuts, copper invincibility and mainstream media FUD.
New Zealand’s growing BUBA problem (AKA I feel sorry for you if you’re on a Conklin)

Comment by kent, on 12-Mar-2014 14:21

I got Bigpipe - no master filter and works great. I do plan on getting master filter at some stage though. Just haven't needed it yet. :)

Comment by johnr, on 12-Mar-2014 18:44

Kent what about the other users you could be impacting? Not just Big pipe customers but customers of other ISPs

Comment by Regs, on 12-Mar-2014 22:56

if not having a master filter impacts on other customers, then it shouldn't be a decision left for the customer or ISP - it should be built into the service from Chorus as lines company.

Comment by mattwnz, on 13-Mar-2014 13:48

Agree with Regs, why isn't it mandatory for chrous to install it, if there is a risk of that problem. People aren't going to spend money if they don't need to.

Comment by BigPipeNZ, on 13-Mar-2014 16:59

Hi Steve,
Thanks for the blog. Very interesting reading.
It might be useful for me to explain a bit more about where we are coming from.
At Bigpipe, we don't see ourselves as 'low cost'.  
Our VDSL is $99, whereas other ISPs VDSL starts from around $75/85, (less if you bundle postpaid mobile.)
Granted, ours is uncapped data, but my point is that people who only want the cheapest connection are unlikely to sign up for Bigpipe. Doubly so when you consider they would also need to buy their own VDSL modem which starts from around $150. We're ok with that. We're not aiming to be the cheapest.
We see ourselves as providing nothing but broadband. We provide the big pipe (hence the name), you (the customer) provide the rest and it's up to you do what you want with it. If you prefer a $400 Fritzbox for your modem that's great, we don't want to waste money on giving you a cheap modem you won't even use and forcing you into a contract in the process. Likewise if you prefer to sort your own filter, that’s cool too.
With the money saved from not providing things like modems, email accounts, tv discounts, mandatory splitter, music streaming, an inbound call centre, cloud storage (all things that many NZ ISPs provide) we buy *heaps* of international bandwidth, (and I mean heaps, I would estimate more than triple the international bandwidth per customer compared to other NZ ISPs).
So we're really not an ISP for 'everyone', and we're not trying to be. 
We're an ISP for people who want to use the internet a hell of a lot, people who are prefer having online only support via their smartphone (and yes, quite a few people do prefer that), people who prefer to source and setup their own modem, and tech-savvy enough to understand that if they want to get the best out of their connection, then a splitter is a great idea.
So where am I going with this?
At Bigpipe, the vast majority of our VDSL customers have come from existing VDSL connections with other ISPs, meaning they already have a filter installed. (and already have their own modem)
We have also picked up a lot of very tech savvy customers, including several industry technicians, who prefer to do their own master filter install, as well as lot of geekzoners who prefer to either DIY or use someone like coffeebaron. (and he does a fantastic job every time)
That's fine with us too, although we don't recommend DIY unless they really know what they are doing.
A couple of examples of posts from other geekzoners in that thread to illustrate what I am talking about here:
"I'm moving to BigPipe myself later this week and would actually rather not have to be forced to pay for a master filter considering I've put one in myself in at the demarc"
"I'm glad that it's not mandatory as I don't need or want one as I have a single jack. To force me to pay for a chorus visit that will achieve nothing is absurd. " 
Even the OP from that thread has come back and acknowledged that they do in fact already have a VDSL master splitter installed (by coffeebaron) which was done the year before they moved to VDSL.
We think having a mandatory new filter for any of those customers described above would be a waste of time and money, and could well require either an upfront charge or a lengthy contract, neither of which customers really want.  We'd prefer to buy more bandwidth with that money.
Regarding my quote in your blog post, I was not intending to dish out advice but rather referring to Chorus policy on master filter i.e. it is not 'required' by Chorus. That's not really advice inasmuch as it is a statement of fact. Note in my very next sentence I concur that getting a filter will certainly help, and in some cases help a lot. So, overall I think we seem to be agreeing that the use of a filter is a great idea, and only disagreeing about the business process behind it and whether we it should be required for all customers to have one, even if they don't need it.
I've written enough already (I'm in the danger zone of being TL:DR) but happy to continue the discussion in person next time you are up in Auckland. 
If you want to PM me on geekzone we can set up a time and show you round Bigpipe (and maybe even a sneak peek into other TDV things that are going on if that interests you)


Comment by dirtbag, on 13-Mar-2014 22:25

"If you don’t have a phone and have a naked xDSL connection, wiring your modem directly to the incoming jack and disconnecting all internal wiring will achieve the same effect"  is this statement valid for naked VDSL or should a filter still be used?

Comment by Damager, on 17-Mar-2014 00:50

If I'm on a 17A profile  (62mb/s down and 10 mb/s up) right now with my current VDSL ISP, does that automatically carry across to BigPipe if I switch? I'd hate to lose it and then wait a long time to get it back.

sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
New Zealand

I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems.

I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)

  -xDSL deployments

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.

+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.

You can contact me here or by email at