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Are you getting the speeds you expect from your broadband?
Thursday 19 October 2006 12:13:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Three years ago it was pretty easy if you had broadband from a UK provider, since the services were fixed speed, for example if you ordered a 1Mbps (Megabits per second) product and it was an ADSL service it would connect always at 1152Kbps (Kilo bits per second) and more often than not give speeds of around 800 to 900Kbps. Since the up to 8Mbps ADSL products have rolled out both the Max and unbundled services it is a lot harder to find out if your speeds are what you should expect. Those with the cable providers are still on fixed speed products, with any variations in speed being down to hardware set-ups and congestion.

When you sign up or are moved onto an up to 8Mbps ADSL service the actual speeds you will get are largely governed by length of your telephone line and the state of the telephone wiring in your property. The first step to see what you can get is to visit www.btwholesale.com/getbroadband and type in your telephone number (you can do a postcode check but this is lot less accurate). A copy of the text similar to what you should get on a line that has ADSL active is shown below:

For Telephone Number [number hidden] on Exchange [where I live]

Your exchange is ADSL enabled, and our initial test on your line indicates that your line should be able to have an ADSL broadband service that provides a line rate up to 2Mbps.

Our test also indicates that your line should be able to support a potential ADSL Max broadband line rate of 5Mbps up to 8Mbps.

The actual ADSL Max line rate supportable will be determined during the first 10 days of use, after which time the highest stable rate possible will be set.

If you decide to place an order, a further test will be performed to confirm if your line is suitable for the service you wish to purchase.

Thank you for your interest.

Note: If you have an ISDN or Home Highway service connected to this number and you wish to purchase Broadband ADSL, this can be arranged through your Service Provider. You will only be able to keep one of your ISDN / Home Highway telephone numbers - generally you can choose any of your numbers but there are some rare exceptions. If you have an existing Broadband ADSL service and wish to change service providers then please contact both your new and existing service provider to have this service transferred.

The first paragraph relates to the older fixed rate products that some providers still allow you to order. The second paragraph that mentions ADSL Max gives you an idea of what speeds you can expect from an up to 8Mbps ADSL connection, this estimate applies equally to the Max and unbundled products that use ADSL. If your unbundling provider uses ADSL2+ you may get a higher speed particularly if the checker reports 6Mbps or higher is possible. of course this checker is not infallible, and if you have an odd result or don't understand it, post in our General Chatter section where people will be more than willing to explain it for you.

So what next? Well lets see what speed you can get, there are lots of speed testers you can use, ours is here, we would recommend doing a test or two both when you normally use the connection and around breakfast time when the Internet is quieter. If the speed you get is close to the checker suggestion, then you are doing well. For those getting lower speeds there can be many reasons, which we will now cover.

Why can the speed you get vary so much from the estimates? The estimator can be wrong, plus lots of extensions in a home can cause noise problems for ADSL, not having good micro filters on your telephone devices, noise problems that only show up in the evening, a stuck IP profile (sometimes called BRAS Data Rate) or just plain old Internet congestion.

For those not an unbundled connection, BT Wholesale provides a speedtester that will test your connection and can eliminate the ISP from the equation. This requires you to change the username you log onto your ADSL with, some more detail is in our Q&A section. The tester is at www.speedtester.bt.com and will work using your normal login, but it can be very busy meaning it is hard to get a result. One big advantage of using this tester is that it reveals your IP Profile setting (an example screen shot can be seen here. The IP Profile is a system which BT Wholesale uses to ensure it can manage its ATM network, unbundled providers do not have this setting as they use IP based networks. The IP Profile that is set gives you the maximum download speed you can manage on your line, this value can change over time and has been discussed before as the BRAS Data Rate. Our test line shows an IP Profile of 4Mbps when our line is connected at 5120kbps which is one step down from its best setting for that line speed, this is because the line is unstable and the line speed changes at night. If your line speed is massively higher than IP profile, e.g. 0.5Mbps versus a line speed of day 4Mbps then this suggests a highly unstable line, or that the setting is stuck which can happen. If you think it is stuck then wait a few days to see if it changes and if not, report it to your service provider or seek help in our forums.

Your own ADSL modem is a wealth of information, with some telling you your exact line speed and attenuation and SNR Margin (sometimes called noise margin), which you can monitor to see if the line is altering a lot. For help in finding this information and interpreting it try here and here. Some small variations are to be expected, e.g. the attenuation while fairly stable may alter by a couple of dB, but if your SNR margin is changing by more than 4dB over the course of the day (especially in the evenings) you may have some internal wiring issues. For those who think that their telephone wiring may be causing issues, if you have a NTE5 master socket you can remove the faceplate and use the test socket inside (see a this picture for how the socket comes apart). Be careful when removing the faceplate as any extensions you have will be wired to the back of this. The trick is to then connect your ADSL modem using a single micro filter to the test socket and see if your line speeds improve, if they do then a BT NTE5 Master ADSL Adaptor may improve things by isolating your extensions from the ADSL modem. These faceplates can be bought from various sources including Clarity.it and ADSLNation.com. WARNING The wiring inside the master socket is BT's domain and if you break anything they will charge you to correct it. Therefore proceed with caution.

While we have really skimmed what is a much larger topic, hopefully this item will be of some help to people, and help is always available a click or two away on our forums. One whole area not covered is the effect that congestion and traffic management can have on your connection, that will be covered in another article tomorrow.

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