MDU Network Technologies, LLC (MDU Netech) delivers fiber optic internet access experiences. Fiber optics allows data to transfer from point A to point B at the speed of light. In addition, this transfer occurs with less signal interference – a significant advantage over traditional coaxial or phone line internet access that degrades the further you get from the point of origin. With all the speed and efficiency of fiber, the occasional resident wonders why their data experience is not performing as fast as they expect. In the next few illustrations we will explain how and why internet speeds can change; and what you can do to test (and) improve your online experience. Please note, the illustrations build upon each other.
There will be a brief diagnostic procedure at the conclusion to assist you in isolating and troubleshooting potential problems. Like anything, the better you understand how something operates, the more informed you can be in assessing the situation. We ask that you take the time to educate yourself. For some this will be a refresher, for others it will open your eyes to the future! Knowledge is power.
Illustration 1: The Data Pipe
Think of internet access like water flowing through a series of pipes. The most basic water pipe example is taking a bucket of water, pouring it into a pipe and letting it come out the other end. If you slowly pour the water into the pipe, the water slowly comes out the other end. If you accelerate the flow of water in the pipe, it comes out the other end at a faster rate. If you dump the bucket out quickly the pipe cannot handle the volume of water. Some of it flows through the pipe, but the excess makes a messy puddle on the floor (we’ll come back to this puddle in illustration 2).
This simple example is what happens when two computers connect in a straight line. If the computer on the sending end slows down or speeds up, the transfer of that computer’s information will change accordingly. No matter what you do in your residence, you cannot make the other computer’s web content you are trying to access any faster or slower. Likewise, transfer rates may be affected if your computer increases or slows down the speed at which the other computer is trying to send it information. In essence, both computers have the ability to control a valve at which information is being passed to or from it.
Illustration 2: Where did the Excess Go?
Recall the puddle of water from our 1st illustration? If a bucket of water is attempting to empty faster than a hose can handle the water will overflow and spill on the floor. Properties served by MDU Netech have a fiber optic system. In essence, we have replaced a 1 foot diameter hose with a hose that is 10 feet across. As a result, no water overflows from the hose when water (or data) is being dumped into it no matter how fast you try to empty the bucket. Furthermore, fiber eliminates the issues with cable or DSL (phone line) systems that slow the further you are downstream from the primary network.
But what happens when all my neighbors try to empty their buckets down the hose at the same time? Great question! A millisecond is 1/1000 of a second. Every neighbor in your building or on your floor (not the total property) would have to dump their buckets at exactly the same millisecond. For reference, it takes about 350 milliseconds for you to blink. Even so, the system’s advance electronics will put a 1 to 3 millisecond delay to allow the water to pass efficiently. This delay is not noticeable to users. In short, the diameter of the hose is so great that no matter how much water is sent to the pipe there should never be a resident slow down due to fiber infrastructure.
Don’t take our word for it! According to Corning, perhaps the leading manufacturer of fiber optic cable, the entire iTunes library can be transferred from London to Florida in roughly 25 seconds. Fiber is that fast, and that capable!
Illustration 3: Those are some Fancy Lights You’ve got Blinking There
We have talked about computers serving as valves at the ends of a water pipe and we have talked about the size of the pipe serving the property in Illustrations 1 and 2 respectively. In Illustration 3 we will discuss other valves in the pipe and how these are monitored by MDU Netech to ensure the flow of information on the property is not encumbered. MDU Netech uses the same active electronics (routers, switches, site routers, etc) that are used by Fortune 100 companies in their data centers, offices, and by those companies that provide internet access to these clients. The switches are in a class called “Carrier Grade” which is the highest grade possible for data routing equipment. Continuing with our water analogy, the active electronics serve as a gateway allowing water to pass through the pipe between a sending and receiving computer while allowing monitoring stations to verify how much water is flowing at what speed. Each unit served by MDU Netech has its own active internet line coming into it. In industry speak, this is called port isolation. Said differently, it means you and you alone are routed into one network switch port. This serves as a layer of security for MDU Netech’s customers as well as ensures that when a port is examined for speed issues we know only one customer can be responsible for the traffic being passed.
In the rare event of a lightning strike, it is possible that the switch may have its’ throughput universally slowed to a safety default setting. Our systems notify our staff any time there is a power outage, spike, or alteration of the active electronics at a property. Almost instantly, our technical team can remotely access the switch and verify its’ status and the rate at which traffic is being passed to both the switch and the individual ports which terminate in the unit. Often this exam is done inconspicuously to our users. We set the switches to allow for maximum throughput of traffic thus not becoming a bottle neck in the flow of “water” back and forth through the pipe.
Illustration 4: Nice Router!
So we have talked about the gear that powers the unit, how each unit stands on its own, how the line has more capacity than is required to meet the property’s need, and how the sending or receiving computer can impact speed. Now let us tackle the next thing often connected to the pipe that can unknowingly restrict the flow of information. Most residents opt to use a router which often has a wireless feature. MDU Netech encourages this as it allows customers to network their dwelling and also can provide an extra layer of security.
Unknowingly, most routers need to be configured to allow the fastest flow of information as well as being password protected. In essence, you as a customer are placing an extra valve in the pipe that can control how much or what priority is placed on data being passed. Most reputable router manufacturers have excellent user support centers to optimize the speeds of their equipment. MDU Netech encourages all residents to contact their equipment manufacturer to make sure the settings are not causing slowdowns or DHCP conflicts.
Illustration 5: I Can’t See it but I Know it’s There
As mentioned in Illustration 4, customers often insert their own valve (a router) in the pipe. Often, these routers have the ability to transmit data via a wireless connection. Here is where things can get interesting! By transmitting data via a wireless connection you have unknowingly added two additional valves affecting the flow of water. First, the valve from the router itself can impact the speed at which data is transmitted. Second, the wireless card or radio in your computer can serve as a valve affecting the flow of information. Both the wireless setting on the router and the computer can impact the speed of data transfer. As in illustration 4, it is encouraged that you contact your hardware provider to ensure the equipment settings are optimized.
Ok, so the equipment is configured to pass the optimum amount of data. Let’s talk about interference. Using our simple analogy of water moving down a pipe, whenever a rock or debris is inserted in a pipe it can slow or altogether prevent water from passing. The same is true with wireless transmission except the item that is causing the interference cannot be readily seen. There are many things that can cause interference and degrade the speed of wireless signals. Your microwave, your neighbor’s microwave, the building’s electronic signature, stereo and TV equipment, and you and your neighbors using the same wireless transmit frequency are all capable of impacting wireless throughput. The best way to visualize interference is to think about what occurs when a performer or instructor walks in front of a speaker while holding a microphone. We all know what happens; a loud shriek is emitted from the sound system. Where did this sound come from? Did the person make the sound? No. Did the sound technician make the sound? No. Did the inanimate speaker all of a sudden decide to make a sound? Of course not. What happened is called a feedback loop. Wireless signals are subject to distortion or blockage and can misbehave without your knowledge – just like the speaker and microphone.
Interference occurs and it will degrade your wireless experience. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done by you or anyone else to address it. For casual surfing a slight slowdown from your device to the wireless router may be acceptable. MDU Netech encourages customers to think about hardwiring their bandwidth heavy devices to their router for maximum throughput. Streamed videos, especially HD or 4K videos should be hardwired to a router for the best viewing experience.
Two other things to think about with regards to wireless “valves” impacting the throughput. First, wireless routers are tested in lab or best case environments. Said differently, the router may advertise it is capable of 150 x 150Mbps throughput but in the real world the maximum throughput maybe more like 30Mbps x 30Mbps. Distance from the router and obstacles such as walls, furniture, etc all impact performance. No matter what is done, the wireless capabilities of the router maybe the bottleneck. It might be time to invest in a more robust router if you are predominately relying on wireless connectivity in your unit.
The second thing to think about is the hardware itself. Your router and your device are basically “always-on” radios. We all have had electronic equipment that stops working over time or performs significantly less than when it was new. It may have been an MP3 player, a CD player, a personal cassette player (hey, what’s a cassette?). The point is simply that your router and possibly your wireless card are getting tired. It may be time to upgrade to a newer unit and retire the legacy device that has served you well.
Illustration 6: Windows 8, Computer Settings, and Viruses oh My!
The next issue that can impact speed that is outside of most people’s control is software settings or viruses on a computer. Windows 8 often defaults its wireless settings to turn off radios to conserve battery life. Additionally, some viruses can degrade the performance of a computer taxing its processing power, and ability to pass traffic. MDU Netech encourages users to be diligent and protect themselves from viruses or malware that can impact their system’s performance. These programs can intentionally divert the flow of water slowing or stopping downloads and uploads of internet traffic. If suspecting ill performing computers or devices, then try utilizing another device to test speed or have a friend bring over their device to test throughput while being first hard wired into the wall jack, second hard wired through the router, and third via a wireless connection. If their computer is also slow in all three scenarios then more than likely your computer is not the problem.
Step-by-Step Ways to quickly Troubleshoot (Don’t Worry; There is a Cheat Sheet at the End!)
The best way to troubleshoot speed issues is to isolate or remove the valves or processes that can affect the flow of data. Let’s start by running a few speed tests from various websites. Try: http://my.verizon.com/services/speedtest and www.speedtest.net. Take the average of these. If the speed is less than desired let’s roll our sleeves up and get busy. Note, while speed tests provide an easy visual gauge, true speed is measured by the download and upload of a file via FTP or File Transfer Protocol.
Step 1, Turn Off WiFi and Disconnect Almost Everything
- If using a wireless device that can be hardwired into a data port please start by turning off the wireless radio. This is usually done with a physical switch that needs to be toggled. We have now taken the wireless connection out of the pipe.
- Disconnect the router that you have connected to the Ethernet wall jack. We have now removed all of your electronics from the data pipe.
Step 2, Verify & Test Hardwired to the Wall Jack to Isolate a WiFi Bottleneck
Ok, let’s get testing!
- Please plug your computer into the wall jack using an Ethernet (Cat 5) cable. Your computer is now hardwired from the computer’s network jack to the wall jack with the least number of valves possible.
- Please perform another speed test from the multiple sites listed at the beginning of the trouble shooting section. If your speeds have improved, then you have identified that either your computer’s wireless radio or the router is the problem and should proceed to Step 2b. If your speed has not improved, please proceed to Step 2a.
Step 2a, Speeds Still Slow – Patch Cable, Computer, or Both:
If your speeds did not improve, then there are a few things we can still test.
- Disconnect the Ethernet cord from the wall jack and your computer.
- Using a different cord, reconnect your computer to the wall jack and re-run the speed test. Cords can and do go bad over time. A pinched, knotted, kinked cable, or a cord with a damaged end can significantly impact performance. If speed has now improved, please discard the bad cord and replace it. If speed has not improved either there is a problem with the wall jack, the network outside your unit, or your computer itself is causing the issue.
- To confirm your computer is not the problem, please ask to borrow a friend’s or relative’s computer and repeat steps in Steps 2 and 2a. If the speed increases after borrowing their equipment, then there is a problem with either the hardware or software on your computer.
Step 2b, What’s Going on with my WiFi:
If your speeds improved in Step 2 by connecting your computer to the wall jack then we have isolated your router or the wireless components of either the router or your computer (or both) as the speed bottleneck.
- Please unplug the Ethernet cord from the wall jack only.
- Plug the cord into the local side of your router (there will likely be multiple ports that will accept an Ethernet cable often numbered 1-4 or 1-8). Any of the numbered ports will do. You now have your computer hardwired using an Ethernet cable from your computer into the router. There will also be an internet side which is a port that is a different color than the rest or off on its own – do not use this port at this time.
- Take a second Ethernet cable and plug one end into the wall jack and the other into the internet/colored or isolated port on the back of your router. You should now have your computer connected to the router (Step 2b-2) which is now connected to the wall jack.
- Please turn off the router (you may need to unplug it).
- Please turn off the PC.
- Turn on the router and wait approximately 2 minutes.
- Finally, please turn on the PC or computer and if necessary log in to your internet account.
- Please re-run a speed test. If speeds have improved then the wireless components of the router or the computer/device is the problem. These will be addressed in Step 3.
- If speeds have not increased, unplug just the Ethernet cable from the wall jack and the internet/colored port on the router.
- Use a new Ethernet cable to reconnect the router to the wall jack and repeat Steps 2b-4 through Steps 2b-8. If speeds have improved, discard the cord that has proven to be bad. If speeds have not improved, then the settings of the router need to be examined.
- Please contact the router’s support number and ask them to walk you through the settings and protocols ensuring the DHCP on the WAN is different than the DHCP on the LAN. Their support team should also be able to walk you through settings to make sure bandwidth is not being restricted on the wireless radio and individual ports.
- Now is a great time to make sure your wireless access is password protected, encrypted and secure. Unprotected wireless access can allow people to access your network and devices, can steal your bandwidth, can potentially hack your devices, and access websites with illicit if not illegal content – none of these are good!
After going through all of these steps and speeds do not improve the router itself may be at or nearing its end of life. MDU Netech encourages people to replace their routers at least every three years. Given routers are almost always on, it should be expected that circuits, transistors, and electronics eventually wear out. Please replace the router (we encourage the use of Netgear routers) making sure the settings are properly configured for maximum throughput of both the ports and the wireless transmission. Don’t forget to password protect your WiFi access!
Step 3, Wireless is the Issue
Ok, if after the various steps in Step 2 it is determined that the router is in fine working order it is time to focus on the wireless aspects of the router and the computer.
- Please disconnect the Ethernet cord connecting the computer to the router.
- Reactivate your computer’s wireless radio performing the opposite done in Step 1. Ensure your device is now wirelessly connected to your (not your neighbor’s) router.
- Perform a speed test. If speed has been restored, the router setting changes made in Step 2b solved the problem. If speeds are still slow, please borrow a trusted relative’s or friend’s wireless device. You will need to give them the password to your network. For additional security you may choose to establish a temporary wireless password at your discretion. Make sure they are logged onto your network and not a neighbor’s unsecured network. Have them perform a speed test. If speeds are improved, then your computer or device’s hardware or software has been isolated as the problem. Please contact your manufacturer for a solution. If their speeds are also slow, then the router’s wireless radio has been isolated as the problem. It is recommended that you replace the router, have it properly configured as in Step 2b then re-run a speed test.
When replacing a router, make sure the wireless component of the router is able to pass higher bandwidth. Older and inexpensive routers are only able to pass 50Mbps in ideal circumstances. Some router also share their throughput so if you and your friends collectively have 5 devices connected to the router, then the router may rate limit each device to only 10 Mbps per device. As the saying goes, you really do get what you pay for – especially with today’s routers. Be sure to change the password you just gave to your friend if you want your network to be secured.
If after replacing the router you are able to achieve fast wired speed and your and other people’s devices are still struggling with good wireless speeds your residence may suffer from interference akin to Illustration 5 above. Try relocating the router in the room or further down the wall. A longer Ethernet cable may be required.
There you have it! You have just tested every valve or component that can impact the speed of internet access. If after all of this speed is still an issue a technician will need to test the wiring from the outside of the building to the unit. Prior to doing this the technician will perform all of the steps above to double check and confirm your equipment is not the issue. The tech will hardwire his computer into the wall jack, as in Step 2 and run a speed test. If his speeds are consistent with the package subscribed to then your router or computer is the problem and you will likely be charged a service fee. If the technician also has troubles connecting, she will run tests on the wire and will contact MDU Netech’s senior technical staff to troubleshoot the system’s electronics. No service fees will be assessed if the technician experiences similar speed issues as reported by the resident.
Resident Cheat Sheet
- Turned off your device’s wireless capability?
- Hardwired into the wall jack and performed a speed test?
- Confirmed your Ethernet cords are in good working order?
- Reconnected and rebooted your router and hardwired your computer into it and performed a speed test after also rebooting your computer or PC?
- Contacted the router’s support desk to confirm settings are optimized?
- Contacted your computer’s or device’s manufacturer to confirm settings are optimized?
- Borrowed a friend’s computer and hardwired into the wall jack to test speed?
- Using the same borrowed equipment, hardwired into the router and test speed?
- Using the same borrowed equipment tested the wireless throughput?
- Relocated the router in the home?