Checking your home network is reliable

Negotiating to have your line repaired or attended to is an art – Openreach will do the work but you’ll have to initiate that work via your ISP.  Being prepared with all the answers is vital as it removes as many variables as possible making it easier to diagnose the issues and hopefully pinpoint the problem to BT’s network – not your home network.  Openreach own everything on the outside from the exchange upto and including your internal master socket – everything beyond that socket to your router and extensions is your responsibility to maintain.

Using the Openreach Line checker will give you an indication of the theoretical speeds your line should support.GU8 Faceplate presentation.002

Your home setup shouldn’t be the cause of problems if nothing has changed over time, but there can be contributing factors – so follow the advice on making your system perfect. –   Ensure no other devices are using your Broadband connection at the same time you do the test – ie. check iPhones aren’t updating or synching, Smart TVs aren’t downloading, or the kids aren’t half way through a 10GB download on the Playstation!  I was recently troubleshooting a neighbours connection and the redundant phone cable from the socket to a Sky TV box was the source of interference – removing it increased the speed by 40%. Multiple extensions, doublers, cordless phones adjacent to a router, microwaves, LED lights etc can all cause issues with broadband.  Wireless issues are the biggest source of speed reduction and reliability so before you do any diagnostics, disable wireless networks and revert back to a ethernet cable from your PC to the router.  This is essential for any speedtests – and effectively rules out iPads and wireless equipment for testing.  This also shows your ISP that you are serious about troubleshooting as they know “wireless problems” is an easy excuse for them to blame you for the poor speeds.

First: Make sure your router is upto date with firmware. Asking your ISP for their latest router can help.

faceplateSecond: Locate where your line comes into the house, at the BT master socket. It will have a faceplate – ideally you should have one that looks like this NTE5 one with 2 sockets that has a built in VDSL Filter with a socket for phone and a socket for broadband via an ethernet cable that connects to your router.  This avoids the need for a separate MicroFilter – the dangly box on a lead.
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Then connect  your PC via an Ethernet cable from the Router. This is important to bypass the wireless network. Ensure the wireless system is switched off.

Just check no other devices are connected – phone extensions, alarms on that line, iPhones, playstations, printers etc.  The best way to do this is to unscrew the faceplate to reveal the engineers socket behind. Connect your router to that (temporarily using a dangly microfilter as the engineers socket bypasses the inbuilt filter) prior to doing the test.

Then goto www.speedtest.net and click the test speed button.

GU8 Faceplate presentation.001You’ll get 2 scores: Download speed is the important one, on the new fibre service we have it’ll be somewhere between 20Mbps and  85Mbps.
Hydestile gets around 44Mbps on average.
Upload speed will be around 5 to 20Mbps.
Ignore all the marketing guff about speeds available in your area from different providers.
Speed isn’t everything.

Once you have the speed coming from the master socket and reliability sorted it will be time to consider the reach of your WiFi.  WiFi does not stretch far, and some rooms in your home may not be able to connect to the wifi signal, or the signal is so weak that speeds suffer at that distance.   Speeds can drop very significantly over distance from your wireless router.

You can extend the network in a few ways –

First – a new router.  The ISP provided Router can be good, but the better routers from Netgear (my favourite) and TP and Draytek do give significant benefits in WiFi reach and speeds.   Most ISPs will allow you to use a third party router/modem (not Sky).

Second – the simplest way to extend your router’s range is via a WiFi Repeater.  By placing a repeater between the router and the dead-zone in your house you can extend the wifi range.  Repeaters pick up your wifi signal and re-broadcast it – they don’t increase the speed, they simply extend that speed further into the house and must be placed in a location where it can still pickup the router’s wifi.    Dead-zones can also be served by use of Powerline/Homeplugs that use the electricity circuit to transmit data.  Powerlines have the advantage that they send the data very far along your home electricity circuit without significant loss, and if wifi enabled, they can then re-broadcast that signal on wifi – so potentially offer a better speed to a more remote spot.

Powerline plugs and repeaters are simple, low cost solutions.

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Powerline plugs can even re-broadcast WiFi in the hard to reach rooms.GU8 Faceplate presentation.007

For bigger homes, and more complex networks you should consider “wireless access points” and laying CAT5 or CAT6 cabling throughout your home.  These are probably beyond most households capability and I would recommend you seek a professional installer to advise and install for you.  These effectively connect key areas in your home by cable directly from your Router Modem – this needs careful planning of where you can hide these cables as they cross your house. Once installed you can then place wireless nodes at the end of each cable to re-broadcast wifi – creating a comprehensive wifi coverage of the home. This is the future-proofed network and typical of new home installations.

About Paul Osborne

Hydestile resident GU8 Superfast Community Broadband Project Team
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