How can I get more from what I already have (broadband)?

November 22, 2011

Is your broadband performing as well as it could be?  Maybe it is frustratingly slow or you are thinking, maybe I could get more out of it?!  There are quite a few factors involved in how good a service you get so I am going to go through them using a check list with explanations approach.  It may not be exhaustive but I hope it will help.

My equipment

If you think you have a problem with your broadband and you call your ISP the first thing they will ask you to do is check your equipment so let’s do this first.

  • Old BT sockets and iPlates.


    • Some older BT sockets have bell ringer wires that interfere with broadband.  You can isolate this by plugging an “iPlate” into your BT master socket if one is not already fitted.  Bell ringer wires are not needed for modern phones.  This can make a significant improvement where relevant.  It is possible that more recent ones have bell wires as well.
  • ADSL filter – This is the little box that splits the voice element from the broadband.  You plug your phone into one socket and your router into the other.  You will find it plugged into a phone line wall socket.
    • If an ADSL filter is not being used then start using one, the difference can be quite significant.

      Tailed ADSL Filter

    • Are there secondary extensions taken from the back of the master socket?  If there are each one that you are using must have an ADSL filter even if it’s just a phone or a fax machine plugged into it.
    • Is your ADSL filter faulty?  All you can do is try another one and see if it makes a difference.
  • Cables– The network cables that you use between the BT socket and the router or from the router onwards are important.
    • Are any cables damaged?
    • Are there any suspect plugs or sockets?
    • If any are suspect try replacing them with another cable and see if that makes any difference.  You may be able to swap them around to check.  One faulty cable coming from the router to a switch for example could compromise the whole network.
    • Are they too long?  The maximum recommended distance for a cable run is approximately 100 metres, after that things start to deteriorate.   Either use shorter runs or boost the signal by adding a powered switch along the way.
  • Routers and switches.
    • Is your router able to handle the service plugged into it, for example older routers may not be capable of handling ADSL2+ in full or in part.
    • Can the router handle what you are putting through it?  If you have 50 users going through a cheap router then it may be too much for it and therefore you may perceive your broadband to be slow or unreliable.  Try a better router.
    • Is it a 10/100 router or a gigabyte router.  Older routers may only supply 10mbs to your local area network (LAN) which is probably not enough these days.  Make sure it is at least supplying 100mbs or better, gigabyte speeds.  This partly depends on your connected devices such as an old PC with a network card that will only support 10mbs.  As above if you suspect your router try another more recent one and see if this makes a difference.
  • Devices.
    • Is your laptop PC, desktop, tablet or smart phone slow?  If other devices are getting good speeds then it’s probably not the LAN or your broadband etc, it’s just that particular device or the network card in it.
  • Web sites.
    • Some websites are faster than others so check by using a control website such as or another reliable site.  If this appears slow then it’s not slow websites that are the problem.  You can use to check your speed when no-one/nothing else is using your broadband.

My location

The distance between you and your BT exchange and the quality of the cables etc. between can make a big difference.  If you are next to the exchange then your broadband service should be very good but if you are 10 kilometres away, the BT cable is old and not so great then the service you get may not be so good.  Too far away and / or poor cables could at worst mean you don’t get a useable service at all or it may be unreliable. See my previous blog for more information about this.

There is not a lot you can do about this unless BT are prepared to replace some of their infrastructure but this is probably unlikely.  Sometimes just having a new line put in will give you a better (or even worse) broadband service as this line may take a route back to the exchange using different cabling.  BT has been known to replace the bit of cable between the green box on the street and premises but there are no guarantees that they will do this or that it will make a difference.

What can your ISP do for you?

Time to get a bit more technical but I will try and make this easy to understand.  This bit you can’t really control but to some extent your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can.  Some characteristics of your broadband depend on your ISP and the networks they use.

  • Sync – This is simply the raw up and down connection speeds that your router reports on its online status page.  It is the speed of connection between your router and your ISP.  If you check your speed with something like it won’t be quite as good as this is the speed you get accessing the internet which is beyond your ISP’s area of control

    Draytek router sync status

  • SNR or Signal to Noise Ratio – Pick a phone up and if the line is noisy (not the phone itself) then you are not likely to get as good a broadband service as when it is quiet.  Broadband might be a digital service but a normal phone line is an analogue transport service and noise on it will interfere with a digital service which is not so tolerant with interference and causes data errors.  BT fixing faults, should there be any, in their infrastructure could improve this.

You can usually see the SNR on your routers online status page.  It’s measured in decibels and a good average is 6db.  If the line is noisy and the signal is not strong enough there will be lots of errors which means the broadband appears slow as data with errors has to be re-sent to you.  Your ISP can change the SNR in 3db stages from 3db to 15db to increase the signal strength.  Increasing the SNR will slow your broadband down but if there are fewer errors then from your point of view it goes faster.  Get your ISP to increase the SNR by 3db at a time and try it out for a few days each time.  If it gets better, keep going until it slows down again or you get to 15db.  If you get to say 9db and works better then go to 12db, if it slows down then get your ISP to back it up to 9db again.  It’s a balance between speed and errors.

  • Attenuation – This is measured in decibels.  It’s the quality of signal.  10db is good, 30db is ok, 60db is acceptable, just about, more than 60db and things rapidly go downhill.  Apart from changing cables or moving closer to the exchange there is not much that can be done.  Changing the SNR as above should help.
  • Latency – Another word for delay in this context.  It’s the round trip of your data.  For example, if you go out to get a take away pizza straight down the motorway it might take you 15 minutes to get back but if you go cross country down small roads with grass growing in the middle and lots of turns etc. then it might take an hour to get back even if the distance is more or less the same.  This is generally the case on the internet but some services can be routed down a prescribed route if the source and destination is known, for example voice calls (VoIP) are known types of data and can be routed more directly to particular destinations and back. Some latency your ISP can control and some they cannot. will give you a “ping” speed which is the time a piece of data takes to go out to a particular destination and come back to you.  It’s measured in milliseconds. 30ms is great, 50ms is still good, 80ms ok, 100ms+ not so good, 200ms+ definitely talk to your ISP.
  • Jitter – This how much latency varies so for example a general variance between 30ms and 60ms is not going to cause too much of a problem but if variance is between 50ms and 200ms then things like VoIP are not going to work very well as your broadband service in effect speeds up and slows down.  There are lots of reasons why this might occur and may be nothing to do with your ISP but you can ask. This problem could be within your local area network.
  • Packet loss – This is caused by some of the characteristics above.  Data is broken up into pieces called packets, sent to you and then re-assembled.  If some packets are lost due to noise on the line corrupting them for example then the data needs to be re-sent to you which slow things down.  If you went to Ikea to buy some flat pack furniture and a box was missing then you will have to go back for it which means it will take longer to put it together.  In the case of a real time services such as a phone call over the internet “sme its ight be missg” and a re-send will do you no good as by then it’s too late.

What’s left?

If you’re broadband service is still poor after all the above and maybe a few other checks that become apparent then maybe two broadband services using a load balancing router such as the Draytek Vigor 2830 series may be the answer.  At least you will get the benefit of 2 poor services combined which might then be satisfactory and probably more reliable.  It could be the difference between unsatisfactory and acceptable.

In my last blog I promised something a bit lighter than all this serious stuff and I have found something worth a mention.  In the blog following after this one I am going to have a bit of a rant about “Contracts – use, abuse and downright dishonesty”.

How am I doing?  Please help me to improve my blogs by commenting.

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