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Broadband - Problems and What You Can Do

As more people are working or learning at home - reliance on stable internet connectivity has increased and problems have become more noticeable and increasingly frustrating.

Internet connection problems often appear to be caused by the broadband supplier but in many cases the problem has nothing to do with the supplier and is caused by something in the user’s setup.

Many users are put off from reporting problems because broadband providers may make a call-out charge if the problem is found to be a problem with the user’s configuration rather than with the provider. This can leave people in the awkward position of having a very real issue but not able to resolve it for fear of incurring substantial costs.

This article will try to explain a little about the components of your broadband internet connection and things you can try to resolve problems and to give you the confidence to report the problem to your broadband provider.

Ashburton Town Council and the Ashburton Chamber of Trade are aware of complaints relating to internet connectivity and are working to identify and address issues.

What Does it All Mean?

Your broadband provision is best thought of as the connection between your router and the internet. Other terms might be used - ADSL, fibre broadband, FTTC are some examples. If you have fibre broadband or FTTC, then your provision may be capable of speeds of 30Mb or more.

Mobile broadband is an internet provision delivered over a mobile phone network - typically using an unlimited data plan and over 4g. This article doesn’t discuss mobile broadband in detail.

WiFi is short for Wireless Fidelity and is the wireless connection between your devices and your router.

People often confuse “broadband” and “WiFi” - they are two different things and a problem with your WiFi does not mean that there is a problem with your broadband provision. As we will see, knowing this can help to identify certain connectivity problems.

Broadband refers to the service that delivers internet to your router, WiFi allows your wireless devices to access your broadband service through your router.

What Makes Up Your Internet Connection?

Your internet connection has several components, not all of which are managed by your provider.

Broadband Provider - the company you pay for your internet connection. In turn, they pay for services from other organisations such as BT Openreach.

Exchange - the building housing much of the network equipment servicing the local area.

BT Openreach network - connects your premises to the local Exchange and is managed by BT Openreach.

Cabinet - a green box, generally situated at the roadside near your home. The cabinet connects your home telephone line to the local exchange. In locations supporting “fibre broadband” the cabinet is connected to the Exchange using fibre (FTTC), elsewhere the cabinet may be connected by copper. Unless you have cable or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) the connection to your home will be over copper cable. The type of connection to the Exchange determines the maximum available broadband speed.

Master Socket - this is the socket in your home which is connected directly to the BT cable from the cabinet. For best performance and reliability, your router should be plugged into this socket.

Microfilter - this is a small device that separates phone traffic from internet traffic. You will need a microfilter for every phone socket in your home where you plug in a telephone or other phone or broadband equipment. Many faceplates have microfilters built in - these have two different types of connectors on the front.

Router - the mysterious box provided by your Broadband Provider which plugs into your phone socket and connects you to the internet either via WiFi or an ethernet cable.

WiFi - stands for “Wireless Fidelity” and allows your WiFi devices to connect to your router wirelessly and then on to the Internet.

Ethernet Cable - some devices require a wired connection to the router using an ethernet cable.

Connected Device - anything you have connected to the Internet either wired or wireless.

You have access to every component from the Master Socket which means there is quite a bit you can do to diagnose and fix certain problems.

How Fast Is My Broadband?

You should check the speed of your internet connection when it is performing well so that you know what to expect. There are two checks you should perform to understand what your broadband connection is capable of:

Check your maximum theoretical download and upload speeds using the BT Broadband Availability Checker. If you are on fibre broadband (FTTC) look at the VDSL entries at the top of the list, if you’re on a basic package look at the ADSL 2+ entries. The Downstream Line Rate is your maximum theoretical download speed, and the Upstream Line Rate is your maximum theoretical upload speed.

Check your actual download and upload speeds using an Internet Speed Test with the router connected to the Master Socket. Ideally, you should connect to the router using an ethernet cable, or from a WiFi device next to the router. If you have a new broadband connection, you may find that it takes a few days to get up to full speed.

Your actual speeds are likely to be slightly less than the maximum theoretical speed, broadband speeds are dependent on the type of connection. If you have fibre to the premises (FTTP) you would expect to get the performance listed for your contract. If your “fiber broadband” is fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) your connection should be capable of 30Mb or more, but performance can be affected if you are a long way away from the cabinet. If you don’t have fibre broadband - then the performance of your connection will be affected by your distance from the Exchange. For more information about the impact of distance click here.

To put this in a local context - properties in the Balland Road area of Ashburton can get up to 80Mbps on fibre broadband and 17Mbps on a basic contract, in the town centre the performance on a basic contract falls to 13Mbps and at Peartree the maximum download speed on fibre broadband is 12.8Mbps and 2.5Mbps on a basic contract.

If your actual download speeds are significantly lower than the theoretical maximum you should have, or you are experiencing frequent drop-outs then there may be a problem with your broadband.

Your actual speed will be lower than the theoretical maximum speed which your provider might have told you and is dependent on your distance from the Exchange or Cabinet.

What Affects WiFi Speeds?

Most modern routers supplied by mainstream broadband providers offer WiFi speeds in excess of 150Mbps and so under ideal conditions are unlikely to be a bottleneck in your internet connection. However, a number of things can affect WiFi performance:

Distance from your router - the further away you are, the weaker the signal and the slower the performance.

Obstacles - such as thick solid walls, steel lintels, cabling can all adversely impact your WiFi performance.

Wireless Interference - if there are a lot of WiFi devices (particularly other routers) in close proximity then this can impact WiFi performance. Modern routers are better at compensating for this by using less crowded channels - try rebooting your router if you think this may be an issue.

Other Interference - microwaves, electrical motors, Christmas lights and other electrical devices can be a source of interference.

Modern routers and wireless devices are less prone to some of these issues, but if you think you are experiencing WiFi issues try testing your connection with your device next to your router before trying to eliminate or compensate for a problem.

A number of things can affect WiFi performance within your house, to understand whether you have a problem with your broadband you will need to eliminate these factors.

What’s Using My Broadband?

This is not the easiest question to answer. In a highly connected world, so many things are now connected to your broadband and will be using it to just do their job. Some heavy hitters include:

Video calling - this requires a real-time audio/video link which means it needs a stable, reasonably fast connection with minimal lag. Bandwidth requirements are 0.5 - 1.5Mbps upload speed. If you are experiencing problems you can reduce the bandwidth requirements by turning off video which will drop the requirement to around 0.13Mbps. If you are on a basic broadband package, you might have at most 10Mbps of download and 1Mbps of upload capacity. This should be fine if you are the only person using the internet, however, if someone else is using the internet you are likely to experience problems as the upload requirements may exceed the bandwidth available.

Watching movies - YouTube and Amazon Prime use between around 1Mbps (for SD) and 15Mbps (for UHD) of download speed, Netflix uses 3-25Mbps so is more bandwidth-hungry. So if you’re on a poor broadband connection and someone is watching a movie, you may find that it affects your ability to receive video calls reliably. Unlike video calls, movies are buffered and so can continue to play if there are temporary drop-outs or bandwidth issues.

Music - applications like Spotify and Apple Music used up to about 0.3Mbps and buffer tracks so are not particularly heavy-weight, however, it can all add up on a poor connection.

Computer updates - it’s likely that your computer is checking for updates at least once a week and may be downloading and applying updates when necessary. Whilst this can mean better security, it can lead to a temporary slowdown whilst your computer downloads and applies the updates. On Windows 10 you can limit the bandwidth used for updates - search “Delivery Optimization advanced”.

Sometimes the problem is simply that you are trying to use more bandwidth than your contract provides, using the above figures may help you to calculate your usage.

What Can I Do?

The challenge for the engineer trying to diagnose a problem with your internet connection is to work out which of these components is causing the problem and who is responsible. Whilst much of the network is outside your control, you have access to everything from the Master Socket which means there is a lot you can do when faced with connectivity problems.

Switch your router off for at least 5 minutes before switching back on. This should ensure that all connections are reset. This will fix most issues - but note that you shouldn’t make a habit of repeatedly switching your router off as this can lead to problems as the providers’ network compensates.

Your router should be plugged into the Master Socket. As this is connected by BT directly to the phone network, it should be a reliable connection. If you call your provider for support, they will ask you to make sure you have run tests with your router plugged into this socket. If you must plug your router in elsewhere for convenience, it would be worth running tests with the router in both locations to understand the impact (if any).

Make sure you have microfilters connected to every phone socket where you have connected phone or broadband equipment. You may have built-in microfilters, in which case you will have two different connectors on each faceplate.

Disconnect all other devices from your phone sockets - this will rule out interference from other devices on your network. You may also need to disconnect other wireless devices to rule out the possibility of one of these consuming all your available bandwidth. If this fixes the problem, re-connect your devices one-by-one to identify which one is causing the problem - it could be the device or the microfilter that is at fault, so try swapping the microfilter for the affected device.

Connect using an ethernet cable plugged into your router - this will rule out problems with WiFi. You will need a laptop or desktop computer equipped with an ethernet port and an ethernet cable.

Try an alternate router - if you have one.

Reduce the bandwidth for Windows 10 updates - search “Delivery Optimizations advanced” in the search box on your taskbar.

Report the problem - once you have run some basic local tests, if you still have problems, you should report the problem to your broadband provider. They can run tests while you are on the phone to see if there are problems on the network and offer advice about other tests you can try. Whilst they may have a callout charge, if you are able to eliminate problems with your local equipment using the above checks then call-out charges should not apply.

You should report problems to your broadband provider, but there are some simple tests to do first to avoid any possible call-out charges.

How Can I Improve My WiFi?

If you are having problems with a weak WiFi signal you may be able to overcome this using a powerline network system. You connect your router to an adapter plugged into a nearby wall socket and then plug a second adapter into a wall socket in the room where you will be working. The data signal is carried through your electrical cabling and the second adapter provides a WiFi (or ethernet cable) connection for your devices to connect to. Powerline networks need a relatively good electrical installation to work best.

If you have poor electrical cabling then a Mesh WiFi system can extend your range but as they are made up of multiple WiFi devices, placement of each device needs to be considered in order to avoid interference and get the best results.

Poor WiFi does not imply a broadband problem but there are readily available solutions for most cases.

What Other Options Are There?

Upgrade your provision - if you are on a basic (ADSL) contract then consider upgrading to fibre if it is available in your area.

Connect to your smartphone - depending on your mobile contract and whether you have a good 4g signal, you may find that you can get good performance by connecting your WiFi devices to your smartphones personal hotspot.

Use a mobile network - a 4g or LTE router uses a standard mobile phone SIM to provide WiFi. An unlimited data mobile contract will cost from around £16/month, so can be quite cost-effective compared to broadband. However, whether this is an option will depend on the strength of the 4g signal in your area and you should test this with your smartphone if possible.

Talk to a specialist provider - if your 4g signal is too weak, a specialist provider (e.g. AirBand or Cloud Wireless) may be able to achieve better performance by installing a 4g router with a high-gain antenna. If 4g is not an option, then satellite broadband may be an option though these are more expensive and not all providers offer unlimited data options - take a look at Konnect as an example. Satellite broadband has greater lag than terrestrial broadband so is not suitable for applications requiring low latency such as online gaming.

In rural areas, conventional broadband may not be the best option - fortunately, there are a number of other options but you should shop around and talk to others in your area.

Help Us to Help You!

We are gathering information to try to understand the issues faced by broadband users in the town. Join in this effort and help us to help you get the best out of your broadband provision.

  • If you are using broadband for a business in Ashburton click here.

  • If you are using broadband at home in Ashburton click here.

NOTE: information gathered through these surveys will be shared with the Executive Committee of the Ashburton Chamber of Trade, Ashburton Town Council, BT Open Reach and other broadband providers to assist with identifying and resolving any issues. Summary reports containing no personal information may be shared with others.

Speed Test App

To test your current broadband speed using your smart device - try Ookla Speed Test:

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