What Can I do to Improve Internet Speed?
Before I proceed I need to explain that not all options will be available throughout the UK. Sadly, there are still areas of the UK where only one or two options will be available and they may be too expensive or they may just not live up to expectations. I sincerely hope this situation is resolved sometime soon.
Options to overcome internet congestion and improve internet speed
I have compiled a collection of internet access options and combinations of options that may give you a ‘get out of jail’ card if you are suffering with poor internet service. Some of these options require a degree of technical know-how and careful planning. If you are considering any of the options discussed below, please contact CITA and request assistance through a Technical Surgery.
Typical Problems with ADSL
The most common type of internet access is an ADSL service. Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line is delivered over a standard telephone exchange line. It enables the telephone line to carry digital information (ones and zeroes) simultaneously with telephony. It is asymmetric because the data speed from the internet to your premises is (significantly) faster than the data speed from your premises to the internet. This suits many businesses as a typical internet transaction is a few characters or mouse clicks outbound resulting in a web page downloading. This generally works well for web browsing. It is also usually OK for email.
The laws of physics dictate that the further you are away from the telephone exchange, the lower the speed of the service. Therefore, if your office is just down the road from your local exchange you are likely to experience a great ADSL service. Conversely, if you are a few miles from the exchange you may not have any service at all.
When you are suffering with poor internet performance it is likely to manifest itself as web pages rendering very slowly and sometimes failing to load at all. However, the cause is often due to insufficient upload speed to support the applications. You are waiting for pages to render because the website is waiting for acknowledgements from your device and they are being held up on a congested uplink. So, what could be causing the congestion?
Consider the following scenario. You may have members of your staff that take their laptops home with them to work on documents, images, videos, etc. When your colleagues finish work for the evening they save their work to a folder that is backed up in the Cloud and shut their laptop for the night. When they arrive in the office in the morning, the work they saved the night before needs to synchronise with the Cloud and ‘steals’ all of the uplink capacity. Some or even all this data may be personal and nothing to do with the business of the charity.
It is also important to note that ADSL is a ‘contended’ service which means some parts of the local infrastructure are shared with other customers so traffic from other businesses nearby may also be contributing or even causing bouts of congestion.
Let’s look at some of the options available to us when our ADSL services fail to meet our needs and expectations.
Traffic Type Management
In the short-term it may be possible to improve the overall user experience by blocking certain traffic types, i.e. the rogue applications that are stealing bandwidth. This is only viable if the rogue applications are not required for your charity to function. For example, if your charity relies on Dropbox then it may not be possible to function without it. Restricting access to Cloud services may cause your devices to behave erratically as they are seeking their Cloud service. There is also a risk that users will inadvertently open and work from outdated files if Cloud synchronisation is delayed. However, many of these problems are likely to arise due to congested uplinks so it always going to be a matter of trying to make the best of a poor situation.
Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)
If you are in an area where FTTC is available that is probably the most cost effective option available to you. FTTC makes use of the local copper cabling infrastructure from the road side cabinet (rather than the exchange for ADSL). The cabinet is connected to the exchange via a very high speed fibre optic link. This keeps the copper cable length from the equipment to your premises to a minimum enabling higher speed service. Like ADSL, FTTC is a contended service. There are numerous reasons why FTTC may not be available in your area. That is why some locations – even in towns and cities – face a long wait for FTTC.
Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM)
Ethernet in the First Mile uses a similar technology to ADSL but typically makes use of two or more pairs of telephone wires from the local telephone exchange to your premises. Unlike ADSL and FTTC this service has symmetrical download and upload speeds, no contention, and comes with a service guarantee. EFM availability depends on many factors including distance from the telephone exchange and equipment and copper cable pair capacity. The service speed depends on the distance from the exchange and the number of pairs used.
Generic Ethernet Access (GEA)
Like FTTC, Generic Ethernet Access is delivered via a copper cable connection from the local cabinet and over a fibre optic connection back to the exchange and onto the internet. Like EFM, GEA comes with service guarantees, has no contention and provides a symmetrical speed service.
Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP)
If available in your area this can provide a comparable service to EFM or even Ethernet fixed line. If there is a good line of sight between your premises and the Wireless Internet Service Provider’s antenna you may have access to a medium to high speed symmetrical internet connection and reasonably reliable service. Unfortunately, WISPs are in very few areas so there is very limited access to this type of service around the UK. Service charges may also be relatively expensive when compared to ADSL and FTTC.
Bonding refers to combining the capacity of two or more ADSL services to create a single higher speed internet connection. Typically, the total uplink and downlink speeds are slightly lower than the sum of all the bonded ADSLs. Bonding has the advantage of providing internet speeds greater a single ADSL but it can become unstable and deliver less than a single ADSL line if one of the ADSL services becomes unreliable.
ADSL Load Balancing
Like bonding, ADSL Load Balancing takes two or more ADSL services and allocates individual internet sessions across the links. It is important to note that this does not aggregate the link speeds in the way bonding works. The download and upload speeds are limited to the ADSL your internet connection happens to be on. There are many load balancing routers on the market some are very basic, simply allocating the internet sessions to the least used ADSL while others are more sophisticated giving you better control over your internet connection.
ADSL & Mobile Data 3G/4G Load Balancing
Load balancing routers can make use of a range of different services including 3G/4G mobile data connection to provide resilience in the event of an ADSL failure. The 3G/4G service can be used together with the ADSL services or as a failover service in the event of one or more of the ADSL lines failing.
ADSL & Satellite Broadband Load Balancing
It is also possible to make use of a Satellite broadband service to provide additional bandwidth. It is important to note though that satellite broadband services have download limits (e.g. 20GB per month), when this limit is reached service may be interrupted until a subscription is paid. Satellite communications also suffer with excessive latency (the time lag caused by the 25,000 miles into space and 25,000 miles back to earth between your office and the internet. Satellite broadband can work well when paired with ADSL on a Load Balancing Router. However, it is rarely suitable as a means of internet access in isolation.
Ethernet Dedicated Internet Access (Ethernet DIA)
Ethernet Dedicated Internet Access services are generally delivered over an optical fibre direct from the local telephone exchange. A wide range of speeds are available and this has considerable flexibility but it comes at a cost.
There may be other options available in your area but if so they are likely to be based on one of the above options. If you would like some help or you are in any doubt as to what options may be available to you, please contact CITA and request a Tech Surgery to discuss internet access options.