- Cable > DSL...sometimes
- Wireless is convenient, but poorly suited to many people
- Do I have to move?
In a Senate Estimates hearing last week, the head of product development at NBNco, the firm managing the rollout of the National Broadband Network, revealed that to date 44% of homes connecting to the NBN had chosen the top speed tier, for 100 Mbps speeds.
To put that into perspective, a report from US technology firm Akamai, titled The State of the Internet, came out today to reveal that Australia has average fixed-line data speeds of 4.4 Mbps, with mobile data speeds around 1.9 Mbps. So 100 Mbps is a whole new world compared to what the average Australian is experiencing - even if that represents a 24% rise from this time last year in average speed.
Even on Cable Broadband, which provides a broadband connection over the Foxtel or Optus cable network, speed promises of 100 Mbps rarely deliver consistently. Each street (or block of streets) shares a limited fibre optic feed, with coaxial copper lead joining to each home. In peak periods like the early to late evening, with everyone online, speeds can drop severely or service can drop out. This is before considering the issue that Cable broadband passes by less than 30% of homes, and is only provided by Optus and Telstra – and is typically expensive.
These issues are compounded on mobile broadband. 4G and Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks provided by Optus and Telstra are still limited in their scope. Even though speeds can range up to 50 Mbps or more, there’s not much you can do with those speeds, at least in terms of downloads and video streaming (data allowances are usually less than 8GB per month). But as with all mobile networks, speeds vary wildly throughout the day and go to ground in the evening.
DSL, which covers all connections made over a standard copper telephone line (ADSL, ADSL off-net, ADSL2+, Naked DSL) remains the most consistently fast and stable means of making a connection. Still, thanks to limitations in the underlying technology, only 5% of customers achieve a steady speed above 10 Mbps.
All this adds up to a simple conclusion – Australians want, need and demand faster speeds, but there are limitations at every turn in getting it. There are other factors too – many people are using older modems, or limiting the quality of their experience by going with what they think they need, rather than what would best suit them.
Mobile Broadband covers all connections made over a mobile network. For consumers, this can be confusing, as the ‘form factor’ is often sold as more relevant than the underlying technology. So to make it clear – if you have a modem that doesn’t plug into anything (other than your computer, or a power source), then you have Mobile Broadband. This includes mobile Wi-Fi, USB ‘dongle’ type modems, using your smartphone as a hotspot or using a SIM card inserted into a tablet. They’re all using a radio wave connection back to a mobile tower.
What causes slowness?
All speed issues on Mobile Broadband can be boiled down to two things: signal strength and congestion.
As with your mobile phone, the strength of signal will directly correlate to the quality of your connection. This can be boosted a number of ways:
- Use a better modem. If you use the USB ‘dongle’ type of modem, consider that it has a tiny antenna (really just a copper plate about 1 cm across, embedded inside the device), and is powered by a low voltage USB port – off your laptops battery or power supply.
Getting a full sized, AC powered modem, with several antennas, can help boost the signal strength. This type of modem will typically be Wi-Fi enabled, meaning it can sit in one spot of the house that gets good reception, and then use Wi-Fi to transfer the connection over short range to your other devices.
- Get on a better network. Telstra’s network comprises more towers, and more and more of those towers are directly fed by fibre optics. This means the ‘cells’ covering each area are wider and stronger.
The Optus network is typically good as well, with Vodafone a bit of a ways behind. In metro areas, all three networks are usually as good as each other, but only Telstra and Optus (and Virgin, which is owned and operated by Optus) offer the much faster 4G standard for now.
I Tried All of That…
Get an antenna on the roof. It’s not different to TV – rabbit ears not working? You need a better antenna.
A Yagi omni-directional antenna, mounted to the roof and run down to the modem with an RF cable will significantly boost a signal – if there’s a signal to be had.
This is serious business, and should only be carried out by a professional antenna installer or electrician. But it’s pretty much the last stop before you have to resign yourself to another technology- or move (more on that later).
The main factors slowing down a Cable connection are contention and plan details.
- Contention covers any instance where your broadband link is being shared by more people than it was designed to handle. Cable networks have been under-maintained for the last few years, much of that having to do with the NBN making further investment a waste of time. As such, cable contention is purely luck-of-the-draw.
HOWEVER. Most cable areas overlap with well serviced DSL areas. So consider changing to DSL, which is typically slower, but more stable. And if you’re within a 2km range of the telephone exchange, your speed will be above 10 Mbps – and that’s still classified as ‘High Broadband’.
- Check your plan. Plans are mostly divided up by how much data you get, but in the past (and still in some areas) there were several speed tiers to differentiate the price. You may be on a slow speed tier – like 8 Mbps or 30 Mbps.
Only Optus and BigPond have cable, so call 1300 137 897 for Optus, or 13 7663 for BigPond.
I Tried All of That…
Do the usual troubleshooting. Make sure it’s not a faulty modem. Try an Ethernet link direct from the modem to your computer, rather than relying on Wi-Fi. Beyond that, continue escalating any persistent issues to your ISP.
All DSL connections are made over a standard copper telephone line, limiting the speed to a maximum 24 Mbps (ADSL2+) or 8 Mbps (ADSL).
Your actual line speed will vary depending on the length of the copper link between your home and the telephone exchange, where your line is then connected to a port on a Multiplexer (a big mainframe connected back to the net via fibre optics).
ADSL2+ is 3 times faster than ADSL, but slows down more rapidly after 2km. All in all, you can expect the following speeds:
ADSL2+ up to 2km from exchange – 15 – 24 Mbps
ADSL up to 2km from exchange – 6-8 Mbps
ADSL 2+ 2-3 km from exchange – 5-15 Mbps
ADSL 2-3 km from exchange – 3-6 Mbps
ADSL 2+ 3-4.5km from exchange – 1.5 – 6 Mbps
ADSL 3 – 4.5km from exchange – 1.5 – 3 Mbps
So set your expectations accordingly before signing up for a new connection, obviously. But if you’ve already confirmed what line speed you SHOULD be getting (or thereabouts), and you’re getting a slower speed than that, make sure you’ve done all the usual troubleshooting and log a fault with your service provider. Bad speeds can be affected by:
- Poor waterproofing of joins along the line (very common- the pic below was from a fault repaired on the owner’s lines just last week which was cutting speeds in half – note the damaged plastic sheath that was previously being used to waterproof the line)
- Damaged cable due to recent works in the pit or at your property.
Contention is less of an issue on DSL, because you don’t ‘share’ anything until your line reaches the exchange. From there, your line is plugged into a port on a mainframe, which has been (hopefully) built to service each line with 24 Mbps.
Some providers can use contention at this point. So instead of plugging 20 lines into a single bank of ports, they can get 40 users in there.
This gets over the issues of ‘no ports available’ that plagues many attempts to connect, but it also means that people will experience more erratic speeds. This isn’t always a problem – not everyone uses the net at exactly the same time – but it can lead to instability and slow speeds. And dropouts.
Who uses contention?
At some point, every provider uses contention. Each exchange area is different, and has different needs. But generally speaking, there will be lower contention for providers using their own wholesale network for the bulk of your link.
Every ISP uses a Telstra line to make the connection between your home and the exchange. But from the exchange, the big wholesalers, in order of size, are:
iiNet Group (including Internode, AAPT, Westnet)
Going with one of these companies might help secure a more stable link, simply because they’re not relying on the wholesale equipment of yet another company to provide your connection. They can take greater control over the service and administration of your account.
I Tried All of That…
Move. Seriously, this is the best way to get around the issue of slow DSL.
Even if contention is an issue, being closer to a telephone exchange means that your initial speed will be so high, that even sharing the connection won’t impact the quality of your connection.
If you’re on mobile, consider trying fixed line. If you’re on fixed line (Cable or DSL), then finding the issue can be difficult – and in the end the only fix might be to move to another area. If this seems extreme, then you have little choice other than to continue regular troubleshooting with your technical support.
If you’re moving and want to know whether or not your next address will win the location lottery for DSL, give us a call on 1300 106 571.