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The most common broadband questions
Wednesday 04 March 2009 16:15:42 by Andrew Ferguson

Broadband pricing has been tumbling and speeds increasing, but almost one constant is the popular questions asked on our forums. The focus is clearly on speed and questions about the broadband hardware people have at home with the most common question, to which there is no real answer, is 'who is the best broadband provider?' Even if there was an answer, it would not hold for long as the influx of customers will mean they start to experience congestion and fall from grace.

Are these the speeds I should be getting?

It is all too common that consumers are unaware of what speeds to expect from their broadband connection. For ADSL and ADSL2+ services the largest factor is the length of the telephone line from the exchange to the home. This means while you are signed up to an up to 8Meg service you may only receive 3.2Meg if your telephone line is around 5km (3 miles) long. (This is referring to the distance of the cable as it wiggles down the road from the exchange to your home). It is expected that 93 per cent of telephone lines will connect at 2Meg or faster.

Other factors such as the state of the telephone wiring in the home, congestion and configuration of the computer are all further factors that can reduce the speed you actually get. Another common issue is confusion over units. Broadband is sold in Mega bits per second, but computers often report downloads in KB/sec which stands for Kilo Bytes per second. One Byte comprises of eight bits and 1 megabyte is 1000 kilobytes, so 2Mbps becomes 0.25MB/sec which is 250KB/sec.

Virgin Media cable broadband connections are of course not affected by line length issues, but this does not mean that downloads and uploads will always be at the connection speed, factors like how fast your local wireless network is, computer setup and how much others are using their connection in your town will have an impact on speeds experienced.

One further area that can cause confusion is traffic management, which can result in downloads from websites being fast, while a download via a peer to peer application may not.

Why does my modem say 6Meg but I only see 1Meg downloads at night?

First thing to do is check what speed your modem is saying it is connected at. If it connects at around 6Meg during the day and at night, then the most likely cause is congestion. This can happen at any point once your data has entered the providers own network and beyond. If speeds improve after midnight and fall off from around 2pm each day then congestion is also likely.

If slow speeds at night coincide with the modem connecting at a slow speed, it is advisable to check what speed the modem connects at when using the test socket at the BT Master socket. Fitting an I-Plate if you have extension wiring, will often alleviate some of this speed reduction.

Do I have to leave my router on all the time?

If no-one is at home for more than eight hours then it probably is worth switching off your broadband router. So switching on to check mail before leaving for work in the morning at 7:30am, and then switching off until the kids come home at 4pm, before switching off again at 11:30pm is fine. Switching off more often than this carries a risk that some automatic monitoring systems will think your line is unstable and may slow your service down.

Some contest that switching electronics off and on too often can wear them out, and this may be true if you do this multiple times every day, but with kit switched off it is also less likely to be damaged by power surges.

If there is an electrical storm unplugging and turning off ADSL kit is recommended, as the lightning creates RF noise that affects ADSL. If the storm is overhead though it is best to err on the side of caution and not use telephones or touch anything plugged into the phone line.

If you have any questions or need further help on these questions, then our broadband forums are a great resource where you will find people often asking the same question and can see how they figured out what to do, or simply ask a new question and people will direct you to the resources allowing you to help yourself.

Comments

Posted by philipd over 6 years ago
In more and more instances the maximum speed is likely to be hard throttling. E.g. PlusNet's latest products have a hard throttle which means 22 hours of the day speed can be no more than 2Meg or a lot less.

While PlusNet continue to sell their latest unlimited products as "upto 8Meg", they are in reality only upto 2 Meg.

Check out the maximum speeds on PlusNet products http://community.plus.net/blog/2009/02/17/plusnet-unlimited-broadband/

I'm sure the majority of ISPs are the same although maybe not so open about it as PlusNet.
Posted by comnut over 6 years ago
Please can people also properly state their details.. :) :)

and if you have problems, DO NOT use shorthand! b/s = bit/sec, B/s = BYTES/ sec, roughly ten times larger! :)

Also 'peak speed' is different from 'average speed' - please look at the pic..
http://speedtestpro.net/images/speed.gif

notice the 'measured speed' is only 2.5Mbps, where the actual peak speed is 6.4 Mbps!!
- so stop moaning about 'only 2.5' and check is properly, using TbbMeter, or the tools below.. (scroll to end of page.. :P )

http://www.skyuser.co.uk/index.php?news=11246

Posted by comnut over 6 years ago
http://speedtestpro.net/ is NOT a web-based speedtest, but a full diagnostic program, to check speed of ALL type of net access AFAIK..

Also speedtest.net seems to be failing to give a reliable reading sometimes - www.speed.io is sometimes better..

also use a 'solid server' like that used for TBB videos..
http://www.thinkbroadband.com/videos/iplate-installation.html
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
There is nothing rough about the conversion from bits to Bytes, 8 bits makes 1 Byte
Posted by Groovehound over 6 years ago
...and 1024 Bytes make 1 Megabyte... unlike the "1000" quoted on your page... ;-)
Posted by ElBobbo over 6 years ago
While a byte is always eight bits, companies involved in storage (hard drives, etc.) and communications (ISPs) use the 10^x definition of units, so a kilobit is 10^3 = 1000 bits.
Posted by brightd over 6 years ago
@philipd. You need to look at the PlusNet page again.Other than for VPN and Gaming which are limited to 2Mbps throughout the day you will get line speed from 2am - 12pm and from 12am - 2am. That is for 12 hours per day. The throttling also does not affect web browsing, e-mail and streaming which are proritised.
Posted by sparky_132 over 6 years ago
The kb/s (or kbps) and Mb/s etc notation is used for decimal data rates: 10^3, 10^6.
Kib/s, Mib/s is the notation for binary data rates: 2^10, 2^20.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_rate_units
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
@Groovehound:No it doesn't.

Only geeks and engineers who've been living in a cave for the last decade still think that.

http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/binary.html
Posted by baby_frogmella over 6 years ago
'who is the best broadband provider?' Even if there was an answer, it would not hold for long as the influx of customers will mean they start to experience congestion and fall from grace"

Absolutely. Just look at O2 to see a good example of where the masses flock to. My ADSL service is with a small web hosting co who use an Enta L2TP connection...i get top speeds 24/7. If the illegal P2P rapists ever joined my ISP, my speeds would suffer and i'd be out like a shot!
Posted by uniquename over 6 years ago
@baby_frogmella Nothing wrong with O2 LLU despite the masses flocking to that.

Maybe you are referring to O2 Access which has temporary capacity problems due to similar masses.
Posted by baby_frogmella over 6 years ago
Sorry i meant O2 Access which has big capacity problems ATM
Posted by stduc over 6 years ago
In reality you can't be too pedantic about download speeds. There is the speed your router reports it connects at and then there is the speed you will actually achieve. This speed is effected by contention, congestion, and the source amongst other issues.
Posted by stduc over 6 years ago
In addition because of overhead (start/stop and control bits) you get a better conversion from bits to bytes by dividing by 10. So if your router says it connects at 8 mega bits per second and a speed test reports 6 mega bits per second then the best download speed you can expect to see as reported by internet explorer is .6 Mega or 600 Kilo Bytes per second.
Posted by stduc over 6 years ago
Having said that on occasion compression will be good and you may see 1.2 Mega Bytes per second or better being reported.
The only thing you can rely on is that your download speed will vary constantly!
Posted by Mr_Fluffy over 6 years ago
Actually the true definition of kilobyte can be found here: http://xkcd.com/394/ :D
Posted by Mr_Fluffy over 6 years ago
kilo or kibi, Mega or Mebi - THAT is the question!
Posted by jupiler over 6 years ago
Thanks for the history lesson AndrueC 10yrs in cave is a long time, but I just check my HD makers specsan they still use the wrong prefix for data storage!

I'm right behind Mr_Fluffy. how should data trans rates be measured?
Posted by CARPETBURN over 6 years ago
^^^^ Maybe you should read pages like this...
http://www.t1shopper.com/tools/calculate/
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