My Internet sucks….and will the NBN fix it? 2

slow internetAll too often when I speak with people the topic of internet connections comes up, and usually people are complaining about poor performance.  So I have created this post to try and help explain what’s going on, this information primarily applies to ADSL connections.

There are 3 issues that can come in to play and it can be tricky to work out which one is causing your problem or it could be multiple.
1. Modem/Router
2. Quality of copper from your house to the exchange (line sync speed)
3. ISP – You can have the best router and copper line but if your Internet provider’s network is congested then you will suffer.

1 – The Modem
Sometimes called a modem, sometimes a router.. the modem part is the component that hooks up the ADSL connection to the exchange.. The router component is what then shares that internet connection with your computers.. remember back in the day with the dialup modem.. it was just a modem. It connected your computer to the ISP, no router function.
Some routers will also have a wireless access point built in so that you can connect to the router (and therefor the rest of the network and internet) via a Wi-Fi connection. If you have a poor quality device, then perhaps a high Wi-Fi workload might slow down the routing function. A decent device would have separate processing for each function.

Is it the modem? – really the only way to test this is to replace with a different one. Some modems will work better for some connections than others. It’s do with the chipset in the modem (the brand of the “brain” that does the ADSL stuff) and the brand of the equipment in the exchange or RIM (mini exchange) that you connect to.. so a Netgear XYZ might work great for your mate in his apartment in the city but might be pretty average for you etc.

From my experience the best I have come across is Cisco, these are not a consumer type product and they have a pretty hefty price tag and can be rather difficult to configure. Next best I have come across is Draytek and I was using that at home (connected to a RIM near Dayboro) for years with great results until after the last big storm.. my ADSL splitter was fried and I suspect the line was degraded after that as well. From that point I was getting about 1/3 the speed and regular drop outs.

I then changed to a Cisco router, luckily I happened to have one lying around. And my Internet provider was able to assist in getting in configured. After that was done I was back to normal speeds and very stable and have been ever since.

2 – Quality of the Copper
Your ADSL service runs over the copper wire from your home to the exchange. Yep, one pair of crappy little copper wire and you are expecting it to stream large amounts of data flawlessly wink emoticon
There can be lots of problems with the copper but basically the worse the copper the worse your connection. Symptoms can be lots of ADSL dropouts (you will see the ADSL light on your modem go off then come back on) and varying speeds as the modem struggles to deal with the bad connection.
One issue is the distance from the exchange. The longer the run of copper the worse it will be. Simple, nothing you can do about that.

Tips for getting the best out of your copper:
a. Ensure you have as few devices as possible connected to the line. If, like me, you only have the line so that you can get ADSL then remove all phones and filters from the line and have it connected directly to the modem. But do make sure there’s no noise on the line (see point d)
b. If you do have other devices on the line, ensure each device has an ADSL filter. This will stop and ADSL “noise” being audible when on the phone. FILTERS DO FAIL so don’t assume that because you have a filter it’s all good. Try replacing the filter, they are cheap. And make sure your filter is installed the correct way. I have seen them backwards
c. Don’t run long phone extension cables. Especially to the modem. If your modem is not near the phone socket in your house then move the modem or use a network cable from the phone socket to the modem.
d. Make sure there’s no noise on your line. If you hear any crackling or other interference on your line when making a voice call report this fault to your phone line provider. Until that has been resolved it’s really not worth continuing with any other troubleshooting. Test for noise with nothing else connected but the phone and then add the filter in and then add the modem back on and make sure neither of those devices are introducing any audible noise.
e. Do what’s commonly referred to as an Isolation Test. Remove EVERYTHING from the line except for the modem, this includes any filters (not required if there’s only the modem connected). Then see if your connection has improved. Then add the other devices back on and see if there’s any change.

So how do you know if your changes are making a difference?

There will be a way to log in to your modem with your web browser to look at the status of the connection and there’s a few values you want to take a look at and record as part of your testing so you know if any of your changes have made a difference.  I can’t tell you where to find this information as every modem is different but just have a poke around, normally you will see an upstream and downstream value for each of these.
Line sync speed – the speed at which your modem has connected to the exchange. Normally the higher the better, attenuation and SNR will come in to play in determining the speed. The line speed is usually measured in:

kbps (Kilo Bits Per Second).. ADSL is advertised as up to 20Mbps (Mega Bits Per Second) which is approx. 20,000 kpbs
Line Attenuation – measured in dB is an indication of the length of copper. the longer the copper the higher the attenuation. The lower the attenuation the better.
SNR Margin – Signal to Noise Ratio measured in dB. The higher the value the better as that means there’s more signal than noise on the line.

3 – Your ISP (Internet Service Provider)
This is one of my favourites as it’s really easy to improve this part of the equation… All ISPs are not created equal, in fact, far from it. You and your neighbour could be running the same modem, have the same line speed statistics on the modem but have a different ISPs and you could both have a very different experience..

Your ISP cannot fix your modem or the copper line, if either of those are a problem then a different ISP may not improve things very much.
But if you have a good modem and good copper and seeing nice line measurements in your modem but still having poor internet performance then changing to a good ISP could well be the solution.
One of the biggest myths that I come across is that we have to use Bigpond/Telstra as our exchange only has Telstra equipment. That is not the case! Any other ISP can wholesale an ADSL port from Telstra, now maybe Optus won’t do that but from what I have seen most other ISPs can.

Some exchanges have equipment that belong to other ISPs such as Optus, AAPT, IINET, TPG etc.. That’s when those ISPs can offer the better deals as they are not paying Telstra wholesale rates for the ADSL port. Conversely that’s why the low rates advertised by certain ISPs might not be available to you as that ISP might not have their own equipment in your exchange.

Generally, the biggest issue is that an ISP will suffer congestion on their network. What happens is that as soon as you reach the exchange you are connected to your ISPs virtual network. Your ISP needs to pay more money to have more bandwidth or to keep it simple, pay more $ to have bigger pipes. So if your ISP is a “budget” provider with very low pricing then perhaps they cannot afford to invest in fatter pipes as they just don’t have the money to spend on that, or don’t want to. But you don’t always get what you pay for, an expensive ISP or large company may not necessarily mean they run a great network. I won’t even start on customer service
A good ISP will always ensure they have large enough pipes to handle peak periods on their network. There’s a lot more to it but that’s the basic version, perhaps you have great speeds with local web sites but poor speeds with international sites.. maybe your ISP has a really small international pipes?

I use a business grade ISP that has a well planned and provisioned network that copes with peak periods without getting congested.  With the launch of services such as Netflix, Stan, and all the other streaming services, ISP networks have been under greater stress and the low end providers seem to be the worst hit from the feedback I’m hearing.

The other thing that indicates your ISP is suffering from congestion is what’s known as the “3pm slow down”. From 3pm through the evening there is a higher demand on the networks as school kids get home and then the big kids get from work and start using the internet. This also happens on school holidays as well. So if you have great Internet speeds during the day and it gets worse in the afternoon/evening that’s an easy one to solve, change to a better ISP.

During the 3pm slow down there’s no change to your line stats. i.e. your sync speed (size of pipe from your modem to the exchange) and then attenuation and SNR won’t change. It’s all to do with congestion on your ISP network that you have no control over.

I hope that has helped you understand things a little better.. when I see blanket statements like “The Internet sucks in <insert your suburb>” I know that’s generally not the case. It’s usually one or more of the above things that needs addressing.

The only time that certain areas might have poor performance is when the total pipe size from an exchange back to the core network is limited. So even though your ISP might be running a great network they are suffering due to core infrastructure limitations.  If you are connected to a RIM (mini exchange) then there is another possibility that the pipe from the exchange to the RIM is too small to cater for all the connected services. Again, nothing you or your ISP can do about this.

Will the NBN fix this?

NO – NBN will not be the holy grail! It will help, as the NBN connection includes a modem installed in your house and the network to that point it managed/maintained on the NBN side of things. You then connect your own router. If you do have problems/faults on the NBN side then you want to make sure you have an ISP that deals with this well doesn’t “stuff you around” because they can’t be bothered dealing with NBNCo to log a fault.
So a bad ISP on NBN will still be bad. ISP congestion will still be a problem and even more so as they will have customers with the ability to consume more bandwidth and place more stress on the network.
So what ISP do I use? A Brisbane based company called VMVault. VMVault do not deal directly with end users they only deal with IT partners (of which I am one). Their focus is on business grade services with fully managed and monitored equipment. E.g. A business grade ADSL service with them includes a fully managed and monitored Cisco router. All those line statistics, line SNR and attenuation are monitored and logged so any changes can be reported and investigated.

ADSL is just one of several options available for internet connections. There are other copper based technologies, fibre and point to point wireless.
If you would like to find out about Internet connection options for your home and business just send me a message and I’ll investigate what’s available.