My Internet is Too Slow!
Internet performance is one of the biggest challenges for people working from home at the moment. Even if they have a 100mbps plan, they’re frequently finding the Internet unusable. But the NBN was meant to solve problems like this, so what’s going on?
First, it’s important to understand that there are a range of potential causes for what people perceive as ‘slow Internet’. It’s not uncommon for people to think their Internet connection is slow, but it turns out to be something like a limitation of their wifi equipment and not the Internet connection at all, so there are a number of things that could result in this sort of poor performance.
Here’s a list of some of the most likely causes:
1) FttN – Fibre to the Node is a type of cabling that could be used for your home’s connection to the NBN. If your house or business is connected to the Internet using a copper cable that’s more than 800m long, your Internet connection is going to suffer terribly, but there are a few things you can do about it.
If you’re not getting 25mbps or greater at any time (and you never have), talk to your ISP (Internet Service Provider). If your connection is incapable of achieving at least 25mbps you’re entitled to have NBN repair or upgrade it with something that can actually achieve that speed. Bear in mind though, that the legislation as it stands only requires that your service can achieve a 25mbps sync rate for 60 seconds per 24 hour period, so if an NBN Co technician can exceed that requirement with his test equipment, it doesn’t really matter if you can’t achieve that in the real world. NBN Co have also revealed that there are around 60,000 premises already in this category, but they’ve only publicly committed to upgrading the services of 3,000 of those.
If you’re in Perth, you’re stuck on underperforming FttN and there’s no end in sight, there is another option. Pentanet specialises in high performance fixed wireless networks, and they may be able to help. Because they don’t need to run cable to your property they’re able to deliver broadband services where no one else can, so it means they can provide you with a high speed, reliable connection where NBN can’t (or just won’t).
2) Congestion – Think of this like having to share your home Internet connection with 50 kids all watching Netflix at the same time – there isn’t enough bandwidth to go around, so no one can actually watch anything. It doesn’t matter if you have the fastest NBN connection, each of those devices needs around 10mbps unshared in a continuous stream for an HD video, which is simply impossible with 50 devices all trying to use the same connection at the same time. The telecommunications term for this is ‘contention’, because they’re all contending for the same limited resource at the same time.
There are actually two types of contention on the NBN. The first is called CVC, which is controlled by your ISP. The second is to do with the contention ratio NBN Co chose when designing the network, and is essentially a hardwired limit.
CVC (Connectivity Virtual Circuit) is something ISPs need to purchase from NBN Co – it’s essentially a chunk of bandwidth they have to buy that they then share with their customers. For example, if they purchase 100mbps of CVC from NBN Co, and they then share that with 20 customers, if all those customers try to use their Internet at the same time to watch Netflix, they’ll all be competing for a share of that 100mbps between them. In simple terms, that means they’d get an average of just 5mpbs each, but really their connections will fluctuate up and down as the network feeds them data in a sort of round-robin fashion – sometimes their connection will stall completely while they wait for someone else’s data stream to finish.
In reality, your ISP will purchase a few hundred mbps to share with thousands of customers – when no one’s using it heavily, everything seems to work well, but when everyone’s at home trying to work, access school platforms and binge-watch streaming video, there’s simply not enough bandwidth to go around. Unless, of course, your ISP purchases more CVC capacity from NBN Co to cope with the increased demand. But for ISP’s, there’s little incentive for them to do that – they’re not making any more money because all their customers are using their Internet connections heavily, so there’s little financial justification for them to increase their own costs, which means their customers’ connections suffer.
If you find yourself in this situation – if your NBN Internet connection is usually really good, but the last few weeks it has been unusable at times, then that’s probably because your ISP’s network is congested and they aren’t buying enough bandwidth from NBN Co to ensure their customers have a reliable connection. In that case, we highly recommend you consider moving to an ISP that looks after their customers and ensures they have sufficient capacity available at all times.
There is one ISP in Australia that has designed their network to never exceed their capacity, and that’s Aussie Broadband. They monitor their network constantly, and when their customers’ traffic hits 80% of the available bandwidth capacity they’ve purchased from NBN Co, they automatically purchase additional capacity to ensure their network never hits that ceiling. We’ve been monitoring our own network performance and that of our clients over the past few weeks – while we’ve seen customers with NBN connections through iiNet dropping to a quarter or a fifth what they should be, the Aussie Broadband networks we manage have been operating at close to normal peak performance, and they haven’t gone near their (publicly visible) CVC capacity.
The NBN Network – The second type of congestion occurs because NBN Co have designed the network to share uplinks. This happens on all NBN networks, but is best (lowest) on FttP, is bad on FttN and worst on HFC (the old Telstra Cable network). NBN Co have been cagey about their contention ratios since the LNP redesigned it as the Multi Technology Mix (MTM) NBN, but essentially what it means is that even if you have a high speed plan with a good ISP like Aussie Broadband, you can still suffer poor performance at peak times because your local network is being overloaded. Because you and your neighbours are trying to use so much data at the same time it’s overloading NBN Co’s equipment at nodes (both FttN and HFC use types of nodes to share connections between multiple premises).
Much of this is hardwired and the only way to change it is to upgrade it (lay more fibre cable and add more nodes). This requires capital investment by NBN Co, which of course they’re going avoid if at all possible in order to keep the costs of the MTM NBN from blowing out more than they already have.
3) Overloaded Websites – With the two major NBN issues covered, there are some other things people may be experiencing that they might think are a result of ‘the Internet being slow’, but in actual fact are caused by other things, some of which they may have no ability to control. One such issue may be the services you’re trying to access. For example, Centrelink, MyGov, the Department of Education, and even shop websites such as Kmart, have all been experiencing tremendous demand over the past few weeks, resulting in extremely poor performance and even being completely inaccessible at times. It’s extremely frustrating when you open a website and you just get a waiting icon, you can’t click on anything and it can be minutes before each page is loaded properly. No matter how fast your Internet connection is, these sites are still going to be slow until they increase the capacity of their infrastructure to respond to so many people trying to use them at the same time.
4) Wifi – We’ve had to fix wifi issues for a number of clients recently who were extremely frustrated by what they perceived was poor ‘Internet speed’. While most homes have wifi these days, unfortunately the majority of them don’t perform very well. If you run a speed test from a PC connected to your router using a network cable, and then run another test over wifi and it is substantially slower, then your wifi just isn’t up to the job.
It’s possible to design a fast, reliable wifi network for any scenario, but what’s best for one building isn’t necessarily right for another. If you think your wifi isn’t performing well, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help fix your wifi issues once and for all.
5) Other people in your house – if you’re trying to work from home while your kids are streaming Youtube and Netflix, they may be chewing up all your Internet bandwidth. If you’re all using wifi, they could be saturating your wifi network, leaving insufficient bandwidth for you to work, even though your Internet connection may actually be ok (see point 4 above). While it’s fairly easy to test by kicking them off for a few minutes, simple issues like this are often overlooked.
So there may be a range of contributing factors that result in your experience of ‘slow Internet’. Some of these are just out of your hands. But others can be addressed and certainly improved, such as underperforming wifi or Internet providers who aren’t investing sufficiently in their own network. If your Internet connection just can’t get above 25mbps and you’re on FttN, have a chat to Pentanet. Or if you think your ISP isn’t purchasing enough bandwidth for their customers, give Aussie Broadband a call. But if you’re having troubles with any of these issues and you’d like some help, feel free to get in touch and we’ll be happy to assist.