Sep 13, 2022
Understanding the different types of broadband networks and technologies available to you can help you to understand what you can do to improve your broadband speeds at home. Below, we discuss the different technologies and how you can optimise your broadband for a better online experience.
DSL – or Digital Subscriber Line – refers to a family of technologies that are used to transmit digital data over legacy copper telephone lines. Historically the most common type of DSL to be used by Internet Service Providers was ADSL, or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. ADSL was followed by a slightly improved version, ADSL2+. While ADSL and ADSL2+ technologies introduced the world to “always on” broadband rather than “dial-up” broadband, they led to long lengths of legacy copper wires being used for internet access because the equipment was located in the exchange and most people don’t live near an exchange. This meant that few people received the full speeds that this technology was capable of delivering.
As a result, a different, faster member of the DSL family called VDSL was later introduced into the networks. But as with all electrical signalling systems that use copper wires, those inconvenient laws of physics are unavoidable and the faster VDSL signal gets slower, faster! In other words, over a shorter length of copper wire, it can run slower than the ADSL or ADSL2+ that it was replacing.
To mitigate against this, the VDSL equipment was moved closer to internet users, by installing it not in exchange buildings but in streetside cabinets, many hundreds of which have been installed on street corners around the UK.
A third member of the DSL family was more recently introduced into the network, which if you were close enough to it, could deliver quite fast download speeds – and that was called G:Fast. But this signalling system, like all legacy electrical signalling systems, is bound by basic laws of physics and the speed “drop off’, the rate at which the signal strength reduces and therefore your broadband speed reduces, is even faster than that for VDSL services. 300m in fact is when G:Fast becomes “gee, that’s slow!” And of course, all these are asymmetric, meaning your upload speed is always slower than your download speed. This can be catastrophic for Zoom or Teams video calls on which we now seem to depend.
If your broadband connection is using ADSL, ADSL2+, VDSL or G:Fast, there is, unfortunately, little you can do to improve the speed of your connection.
Switch to DOCSIS
If your broadband connection is using ADSL, ADSL2+, VDSL or G:Fast, then you could try swapping your service provider to VirginMedia/O2 (if available in your area) as where they have their own network, they use a superior form of legacy copper network that uses copper coax cables (like the cable that connects a TV to an aerial) and yet another signalling system especially designed for it called DOCSIS.
DOCSIS over copper coax cable is still subject to the same basic issues as copper wire services, impedance and crosstalk in particular, but it seems to be less affected by them. In addition, VirginMedia/O2 have been doing clever things (port bonding) with the standard version of DOCSIS to increase the speeds to close to that which real fibre optic broadband or “Full Fibre” broadband can achieve. At least for the download speeds. Sadly, DOCSIS is asymmetric so the upload speeds will always be slower.
The really good news is that if you do become a VirginMedia/O2 customer, you will get Full Fibre broadband from them eventually as they have publicly announced that their long-term strategy is to replace the legacy copper coax network running DOCSIS with a full fibre one.
Full on Full Fibre!
Of course the very best broadband connection is a Full Fibre one – one that delivers the optical fibres directly to your home. There are an increasing number of modern telecoms companies that are building these networks, including Netomnia. It’s what we do and you can check whether your home or business is on our network by popping your postcode into our Full Fibre Broadband availability checker here.
Check for viruses or malware
With legacy copper wire internet access using ADSL, ADSL2+, VDSL or G:Fast, your internet connection won’t be particularly fast at the best of times so anything that unnecessarily consumes your bandwidth is going to have a disproportionate effect on the speeds you experience.
According to Microsoft… “two of the most frequent causes of poor Internet performance are spyware and viruses. Spyware can slow your system by interfering with your browser and monopolizing your Internet connection. Spyware monitors your Internet use and keystrokes, which adds delays. The problem is compounded when there are multiple spyware programs running at the same time. If the problem is severe enough, you can lose connectivity altogether. To get your Internet performance back, you should regularly run an antispyware program to clean out any spyware infestation.”
Regularly run a speed test
Simply go to speedtest.net and press the ‘Go’ button. If the speeds recorded don’t match what you’ve had in the past, or aren’t close to what your service provider promised, then discuss this with your service provider. There are many reasons why a legacy copper-based service will run slowly and they will be able to find and rectify any problems to get you back to the best possible service speeds they are able to deliver.
Reset your router
That famous IT mantra of 'try turning it off and on again' is a mantra because, well, it often works. You could also try resetting the router to its default settings, which usually involves sticking an unravelled paper clip into a recess in the back of the router for 10 or 20 seconds. This process should clear out any of blockages in the system that are impacting your broadband speed.
Make sure your router has up-to-date software. While this may be too technical for some, it’s not so hard to do and your service provider will be able to guide you through the process.
If you are using your Wi-Fi network to connect your devices to your internet router, and you almost certainly are, then there are some actions you can take to ensure you’re getting the best possible Wi-Fi signal.
Make sure your Wi-Fi router isn’t stored away in a cupboard! Keep it out in the open.
Make sure your Wi-Fi router isn’t covered or surrounded by books and other objects
The shape of the Wi-Fi field is like a ringed donut, so make sure it’s located as close to the centre of your house as possible
Wi-Fi can operate at different frequencies, and within each frequency there are different channels. Modern Wi-Fi routers will automatically and seamlessly switch between these so you should get the best Wi-Fi performance. If it doesn’t you may need to do this manually – and for that you will need to read the instruction manual or discuss with your network operator.
If your house is particularly large (tall and/or wide) and/or it’s built with particularly thick walls, then one Wi-Fi “node” may not be enough to get decent coverage throughout your house. In this instance, the only real solution is to use a Wi-Fi Mesh network, which your ISP will be able to help with.
Hopefully this brief guide has given you some ideas about how you might be able to optimise the broadband you have, to give you the best internet experience possible.