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Broadband Speed Explained (better than Watchdog)

I recently watched the BBC Watchdog programme (aired on 9th November 2016) and I was appalled at the poor quality of information given regarding broadband speed and improvement. The idea of the Watchdog segment was to show the consumers how to improve broadband speed: however the information presented was inconclusive and at times misleading. As a trusted computer repair company, PC Repair Leeds has below listed a more accurate guide to understanding the broadband you receive at your home.

Types of Broadband

There are various types of broadband connection. ADSL, Fibre, Cable, 4G and Satellite are the main five. The connection types are:

  • ADSL – Through the traditional phone line using copper wiring from your home to (and through) the exchange
  • Fibre – This uses a Fibre connection at the exchange which is much faster
  • Cable – Provided directly from a cable provider such as Virgin Media, cable is also fibre however much faster than traditional fibre
  • 4G – Mobile broadband – The same as your mobile phone. Normally a sim card in a dongle or 4G router
  • Satellite – Not to be be mistaken for Sky. Satellite broadband is a last resort if you do not have any of the above connections.

The majority of homes and business’s have either ADSL connection – (from 1 – 10 MBPS) or Fibre (up to 50MBPS) or cable connection (up to 300 MBPS). The type of connection you can have is dependant upon a number of things:

  • How far you are from the Exchange
  • Are you in a cabled area?
  • Is your Exchange Fibre enabled?

ADSL and Fibre connections have a direct ratio of speed versus the distance your are from the exchange. As a very rough guide, you will lose 1MBPS for every mile your home is from the exchange. If you have a cabled connection, you will generally get the maximum promised by the supplier, i.e 100MBPS

If you are in long way from the exchange, it is unlikely you are will get a fast ASDL or Fibre connection speed. Our own Clients who fit this criteria, have the option of 4G or Satellite. 4G broadband is simply a sim card in a dongle or router. Often, speeds can be achieved up to 70MBPS but there are often restrictions on the amount of data a supplier will include. 4G is ideal for low internet usage. Satellite broadband is the very last resort. The reason is the cost and speed. A small satellite is fitted to your home and this beams signals into space and down to a base station somewhere else in the country. The is procedure causes latency. Latency is the delay incurred by transmitting data up to a satellite and down again. An example would be trying to browse a website. It might take 10 seconds to open a web page, although once open it will be pretty quick to use. The latency is a big downside to this type of broadband connection but if you have no other options, this is better than none.

Broadband in the home

Now you know how broadband arrives at your door, the next step is understanding how it gets to your laptop, computer or tablet.

All of the above methods of broadband will require a router. A router is three devices in one. Firstly, it is a modem. The modem will deal with the incoming broadband connection, checking for login details, speed etc. Think of a modem as your main fuse-board in the house. Once the broadband connection has been established, it needs to be shared. This is done in 2 parts. Firstly, it done by using the 4 ethernet ports found on the rear of the router. These are just like a power extension lead in your house (or 4-gang). Once broadband is in the router, it can be shared via the 4 ports, allowing 4 connections to 4 computers or devices). This is all well and good but a lot of devices now use wireless connection. This is what the 3rd part of your router is used for. Wireless. Wireless will allow devices to connect and receive broadband. i.e tablets, laptops and phones.

Now we understand how a router works we can explain about the most common problem.

When we are told by a Client their broadband is not working or is slow, we check firstly how they connect to the broadband supply. If you think of the above description, you will now understand there are 2 parts to connecting broadband. The first is the connection from the device. i.e.laptop to the router. Then there is the connection from the router to the exchange. The most common problem is actually the connection from the device to the router as at least 75% of the time, it is a wireless connection. Wireless is a radio wave that is received and send from and to the router from your device. The different radio frequencies used by a router are relatively low, sometimes only using a dozen different frequencies. Unfortunately, the radio frequency used by a router is also used by a number of other devices in your home:

  • Wireless doorbells
  • Garage door transmitters
  • Portable phones
  • Your neighbours devices as above
  • Microwaves

If the radio frequency of your router is the same or very near to the frequency of one of the above devices, your wireless connection can be slow or sporadic.

Whilst many devices connect to the router via wireless, many do still use an ethernet connection (cable from your device directly into your router). This type of connection is much more reliable as it is normally either working or not. If your ethernet connection fails, it is most likely a software driver, faulty cable or faulty ethernet port on your device.

How to improve broadband speed. You can’t….well not easily

Generally, you cant improve the broadband speed that arrives at your home unless you change your connection type. I.e move from ADSL to fibre, or fibre to cable. The myth that switching broadband suppliers will improve your broadband speed is simply that..a myth. A supplier uses the same exchange as the next so unless you are moving connection type, the only thing different between suppliers is the level of customer service and price. If there is a fault on the line, then a supplier can do a number of things to rectify the fault but once the work is complete, the speed will only be back to the normal.

Whilst you may not be able to do much with the speed of the broadband arriving at your home, you can do a lot to improve the speed reaching each device.

Ethernet

If you connect your device using an ethernet cable, ensure the cable is in good condition and purchased in the last 5 years (CAT 5E is faster than the older cables). Ensure there are no kinks or obvious damage to the cable. if your computer is older than 8 years, it might be using an old ethernet card that will slow your broadband.

Wireless

The further you are away from the router, the slower your speed. Try and use your device in the same room as your router. If you are getting a slow broadband speed, try turning off your wireless connection, connect an ethernet cable and perform a speed test. If you  get a much better speed then you may need to consider upgrading your wireless device, adding a wireless access point or changing the wireless frequency.

Location

The location of your router is critical. As it is emitting a wireless frequency, it needs to be able to send a clear signal. Your router should be at least 1m away from any other electrical equipment, such as a tv, stereo or cordless phone.

Router

If you router is older than 2 years it would be worth speaking with your supplier and asking for a new one. Often, if you have been a loyal customer, your supplier may send you a new router free if you agree to sign up for a further period. A router on its own can cost around £80.00 and if you buy a replacement from a high street store, your supplier may not be able to support it.

If your broadband is slow but your supplier says there is no problem…

Whilst the above helps improve connectivity to your device, below are a couple of fixes if your broadband is slow when it arrives at your home.

BT Master-socket

If you receive broadband via ADSL or Fibre, the point of entry of the broadband will at the BT Master-socket. This is shown below. Generally, you will have a micro-filter (a little box that splits the phone line allowing both data and telecom) then a cable leading to your router. The problem of slow or noisy broadband often occurs when a telephone line in your home is faulty. If you ring your supplier, they will always ask you to remove the front of the Master-Socket and connect your router to the “test” socket located inside the Master-Socket. The reason is simple. As soon as you remove the front of the Master-Socket, you disconnect all extensions within your home and you are left with a direct connection to the outside line. You would be surprised to know that this simple test can resolve a large proportion of broadband faults.

If your phone line is crackly or you can hear static, then this is a good indication your micro-filter is faulty. Don’t forget, you must have a micro-filter connected to each live telephone socket that is in use within your home.

Finally, if you want to test your broadband, we suggest Speedtest.net. Don’t forget your results are dependant upon your connection type. Always ensure you have a cable connecting you to the router when you do the speed-test as this will give you a true reading.

We hope the above has been helpful. Please do not hesitate in contacting PC Repair Leeds (rather than Watchdog) should you need assistance with your broadband issue.

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