Slow NBN or Fiber Internet? Check your modem/router and your WiFi band.

If you have Australia’s infamous NBN or other high speed internet service, but you find your service to be slow, then two things to check:

1. A poor quality modem/router can affect your speed. You may be getting 90Mbps into the router, but a bad router or too many connected devices will reduce the speed coming out of it into your phone/tablet/computer.

Here’s an example from my own experience.
I’ve been a customer of TPG’s FTTB (Fiber to the Building) network twice. The service consistently gives me speeds over 50Mbps and often nudges around 90Mbps.
When I initially setup the service (both times) TPG have be their own branded Huawei router.
In our first home it worked OK for a while and seemed to give good speeds (at least, compared to the ADSL2+ I previously had). We had 3 computers, 2 phones and an occasional tablet connected to it. After a while the Internet stopped and I suspect I literally burnt out the device. And devices would continually disconnect because we had too many connecting at the same time.

So I spent $300 (AUD) on a Netgear Nighthawk D7000 and saw immediate improvement.
We started nudging the theoretical max speeds, even over WiFi, with all devices connected. I could run 4 computers, 2 phones and a tablet at the same time, all over WiFi, with 2 computers streaming high quality video services and we never saw an interruption.

The same thing happened in our second home. We received a new modem, which I plugged in initially and tested. I was only getting ADSL2+ type speeds (about 12Mbps). I switched back to the Nighthawk and wham!, straight back to consistent 60-90Mbps over WiFi.

I’ve been running the Nigthawk and same number of connected devices (all on WiFi) for about 4 years now.
Occasionally I have to reboot the router. Very occasionally TPG has a service interruption. Apart from that, we regularly stream video services (free-to-air TV via web/YoutTube/Netflix/Amazon Prime) at the same time, over WiFi, during peak night time periods, and I never see a problem except in the service provider (usually the Australian free-to-air TV streaming sites).

2. It seems 2.4GHz vs 5GHz WiFi can affect your speed. That’s according to this article I found. The article starts:

A study of 43 devices conducted by Enex for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has “unexpectedly” shown 5GHz Wi-Fi outperforming 2.4GHz in long-range testing, negating a major reason to continue using the slower 2.4GHz band.

If your modem/router allows both bands, switch your connection up to the 5GHz band if you haven’t already. If you only have 1 WiFi choice then chances are you’re stuck with 2.4GHz.

[End of article]

In case you are interested

We need to remember “The Internet” isn’t just a solid pipe running from a website into your phone or computer.
There are many segments, devices and relays data must travel through to get from a website to your screen, each of which has it’s own limitations and factors that affect speeds.

Here’s just a few off the top of my head:

  • The server (computer) running the website or service:
    • CPU, memory and bus/network speeds affect the processing and speed of data.
    • Heat, both in and around the the server, affects the speed. In fact, heat can have a big affect on all electronics and computers.
    • Sometimes the server is under extreme load. Or the service is out.
    • Sometimes the data is “cached” (a copy is made) closer to you so time to get it to you is less. Sometimes the data comes from the other side of the world.
  • The transmission lines between the server and your Internet Service Provider. This can include:
    • Going up to space (to satellites) and back again.
    • Through undersea cables and crossing half the world.
    • Crossing through and being processed by tens of other servers as it moves across the world.
    • Some of these links around the world can be down, to the data has to be re-routed through other links.
    • Sometimes there is interference in the signal and quality is reduced.
    • Sometimes the Internet is “under attack” (being clogged up) by Denial of Service attacks that also affect your data.
    • Always there are many different segments that data must travel through.
  • In your Internet Service Provider.
    • They have filters and computers the data must travel through, checking for content restrictions and who knows what else.
  • From your Internet Service Provider to local phone exchange.
    • The quality of the transmission line (cables) will affect the speed.
  • From your local phone exchange to your home.
    • If you’re in Australia, the data could be travelling through anything from long-distance WiFi, to old copper cables or new fiber networks.
    • The distance from your exchange can affect speed because on older networks speed reduces the further away from the exchange you are.
    • In some networks (like old copper phone lines) the data also has to travel through curb-side switches before betting to your house.
  • In your home or building.
    • Phone line or fiber cabling inside your home will affect speed.
    • Physical lines can degrade or be damaged over time.
  • Into and through your modem.
    • Your modem will have different speed capabilities.
    • It will also have internal software and services that need to process your data.
  • From your modem to your device.
    • The quality and health of your cable from the modem to computer can affect speed.
    • If using WiFi, where you place the router and what the signal has to travel through (e.g. walls) to get to your device will affect speed.
  • Inside your device.
    • Your device will have different network components that have different speed and quality ratings.

And that process happens in both directions.
To get the data from a website your computer first sends a request to the site, going through all those same steps in the opposite direction.

Every step of the way, your data is being switched, processed, sped up or slowed down.
In the fraction of the second between a your device requesting data from a website or service and it being displayed to you, that data is been touched by hundreds or thousands of pieces of equipment and software.

(Note: In the above list refer to “data” as a singular – i.e. “data has”. I know this is wrong. I did it on purpose for the great good of reading.)