Our own local IT guru, Ian Posner, gives us advice on alleviating slow internet problems.
Slow internet problems are probably the most frequent reason people contact me these days. The causes of this are frequently multiple rather than single issues and can include the following:
- A problem with your ISP’s network
- A misconfiguration with your router
- Faulty equipment (cabling, switching, routing) in your flat
- Your internet demand exceeding the specification of your internet package
- Suboptimal wifi configuration
- Contention between too many users using wifi in your area
- A flat layout with internal walls causing “dead zones”
- Fluctuating demand for wifi bandwidth
- Fluctuating demand for internet bandwidth
Let’s take a look at these in the order we tend to troubleshoot a problem.
Determining whether there’s an issue with your internet connection is normally the first port of call for the simple reasons that a) a poor internet connection will frustrate any other measures you take to improve performance and b) unless you’ve been tampering with your router, any fault in your internet connection is the responsibility of your ISP.
To test your internet connection, it’s important to connect a computer directly to your router using an ethernet cable and perform a speed test using a site like SpeedTest.net.
Perform tests both at peak demand times (weekdays in the early evenings) and at quieter times. You should get consistent results. Compare your results with the specification of the package you are paying for and if unhappy, raise a support ticket with your ISP. Most ISPs are good at resolving problems for which a support ticket is raised. Unfortunately, many users are not willing to initiate and pursue support tickets so it is unsurprising that a significant number of users are dissatisfied with their ISPs.
If wired performance from your router is good but your other devices perform poorly, it’s time to consider your internal networking.
Unlike most domestic environments the Barbican is unusual in that:
- There is a substantial amount of reinforced concrete that interferes with wifi
- There are many more wifi users sharing limited bandwidth in a small area than one would find in a lower density environment
The large number of wifi users in a small area means that wifi connections will often perform inconsistently as a result of contention between users, especially at peak usage times.
Therefore if you want consistency in performance, you should avoid using wifi unless absolutely necessary.
The best way to connect devices to your router is with ethernet cabling, but this requires dedicated cabling. The next best way is to use a powerline adapter.
Powerline adapters send ethernet traffic over your internal power cabling, avoiding the necessity to put in dedicated networking cabling, but your mileage may vary depending upon the distance between the devices in your flat, the specific powerline adapters you use and the quality of your power cabling. What you will get is consistency of performance.
In particular you should focus on connecting your static video-streaming devices using a wired connection as these use the most bandwidth and are the most likely to suffer from poor wifi connectivity. This includes devices such as:
- Google Chromecast (Ethernet Adapter Available from Google)
- Amazon Firestick (Ethernet Adapter Available from Amazon), FireCube
- Apple TV
- Smart TVs
- Smart Blu-Ray/DVD Players
Note that some of these technologies (e.g. Chromecast and Fire Sticks), have optional ethernet adapters that are available separately from their respective manufacturers.
Some devices (like Sky Q boxes) have the option to disable the inbuilt wifi once connected with a wired connection. This you should do to reduce the contention on the available wifi spectrum to all users. (Move to the Settings menuitem then press 001 before pressing the Settings menuitem to enter the secret engineers’ menu!)
In addition, if you’re an online gamer, you should connect your PC/console up with ethernet to avoid contention with wifi users and to reduce network latency (which will improve your gaming experience and may well result in more wins…)
For those mobile devices where wired connectivity isn’t an option you’ll need to optimize your wifi to get the best out of them. This can include the following activities:
- Identify better wifi channels to use
- Manually setting the wifi channels to use on your router
- Using mesh technology to make multiple wifi access points appear as one
- Reducing the broadcast power on mesh wifi units to encourage swapping of access points as you move around your flat
- Performing a wifi survey to determine dead spots and come up with a plan for resolution
- Disabling wifi on all devices that use wired connections
Normally wifi can penetrate one internal wall quite well at a perpendicular angle, but deteriorates significantly if the angle is oblique or if penetration through more than one internal wall is required. The solution here is frequently to use a powerline wifi extender.
- If your wired internet connection is poor, prioritise resolving this.
- Where possible, connect your devices using a wired connection.
- Powerline devices are a great solution to get internet connectivity where wifi strength is weak.
- Where not possible, you may need to perform a wireless survey to understand what is the cause of your problem.
Ian Posner is a freelance IT consultant specialising in performance troubleshooting and optimisation: In his free time, he provides technical help to his neighbours! firstname.lastname@example.org