As I have reported previously on this page, for the last few months, I have had the questionable privilege of using a review version of BT's Openworld ADSL service.
It would be fair to say that when I last wrote about this service (Money Marketing, July 12), I was having an increasing feeling of frustration.
Three months later, this has turned into a love/hate relationship – I love the system when it works properly but hate the appalling level of service from BT. Around the start of August, the ADSL connection basically failed to work
An initial call to the support number was met with a pre-recorded message saying they were aware that there was a fault and that service would be resumed shortly. This was a not uncommon situation. Around this time, lapses of service were quite frequent.
By the middle of the following day, the message was saying that all was resolved. However, my office could not use the service so we obviously had a separate fault. In my naivete, I expected that a call to technical support would result in a visit from an engineer to resolve the problem. How stupid of me.
Believe it or not, when a business user reports a service outage, BT passes it to its technical department, which will investigate and advise within 48 hours if the fault warrants a site visit from an engineer. In the meantime, BT's support centre is not even allowed to make contact with the technical department for an update. And they call this a business service.
I will not bore readers with a detailed summary of the events that followed but summarise by saying that it took BT around a month to get the service working for us again.
To be fair, it did combine this with installing a new router that now gives us a range of static IP addresses as opposed to the normal dynamic IP which is usually supplied with the standard ADSL service and that has now made further services possible.
Having had access, albeit erratic, to an ADSL circuit for a couple of months, the lack of it suddenly brings into stark reality how much faster the service is than a conventional dialup connection. A high-speed internet connection is something you can get used to very quickly and when it suddenly disappears you really miss it.
Once the connection was restored and complemented by a static IP, it has worked without any problems. On balance, I suspect the problems we suffered are symptomatic of the fact this is a new service using advanced technology.
I gather that BT is not the only ADSL provider with teeth-ing problems. Talking to our network management company, I gather it has recently had its fair share of problems using the rival Blue Yonder service being marketed jointly by Telewest and NTL.
With the benefit of static IP addresses, it has been possible to configure the service so that I can dial into our server from any standard internet dial-up and achieve a virtual private connection to the server.
This means that instead of having to dial up long distance to connect to the server, you can use a local call dial-up. The savings were brought home to me recently when I got a credit card bill showing a Â£20 charge for a five-minute dial-up in late August from a British Airways lounge in Edinburgh to our server in London.
The key question must be, is the pain worth the gain? I am beginning to think it is. I certainly have no doubt that when the initial problems are ironed out of the system, it will transform the way millions of small businesses operate.
For many IFAs, one service they are likely to want to use regularly over broadband connections will be the newly internet-enabled Exchange service. This allows advisers to access both the Exweb and CTP services via a conventional internet service rather than having to dial in via The Exchange private network service. This is something that IFAs have been wanting for.
The service, which can be accessed from www.exchange. co.uk, can operate on any PC with the CTP software installed and an internet connection. The only exception to this is users of the Freeserve ISP because of security protocols operated by Freeserve, which will refuse access to anyone operating a service where the phone number dialling in cannot be identified.
This is the case when The Exchange services try to send information over Freeserve.
Last week, I started testing the “Exchange over internet” services. The first thing that struck me was that not only is the Exweb portal accessible in this way but also the older CTP service. It is no small credit to the technical team at The Exchange that it has been able to get a service, originally built as desktop software over five years ago with very specific start-up and close-down procedures, to work over the internet.
When setting up the service, especially when operating over a local area network, it is very important to follow exactly the detailed instructions given on the technical support pages.
In addition to enabling the software to operate via a standard internet connection, it should remove the conflicts that The Exchange services have suffered with local area networks.
I frequently come across IFAs who find it necessary to maintain their Exchange software on a separate PC to avoid such difficulties. This should no longer be necessary.
It is too early for me to give an unequivocal thumbs-up to this long-awaited enhancement to The Exchange service. Over the next few weeks, I will be carrying out detailed tests on the systems using them not only over a broadband connection but also over conventional dial-up internet service and timing each of the services, benchmarked against the original CTP and exweb private connections.
The results of these tests will appear in this column in the near future. In the meantime, I can say that I have been very impressed by my early experiences with Exweb and CTP over ADSL.
Ian McKenna is a consultant and director of the Financial Technology Research Centre, which works for a wide range of industry organisations, life offices and technology companies, including Microsoft, Assuresoft and The Exchange. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com
Tel: 020 7935 2599