“My Broadband is Slow – Pt 2”

So we looked at the things that could happen at your end to make things slower and how you might look to resolve them. Now lets look at what your provider may be doing and what could happen on their network. We will be focusing on Cable and Telephone delivered services here (ADSL/VDSL). For those of you that work on these networks there is a level of simplification here. Yes I know there are other steps but they are of little if any concern to the end customer.

So we have two main categories here to look at. Deliberate decisions by the provider and ones they have no control over.

Deliberate decisions include over subscription, capping, bandwidth management, backhaul insufficiency and under investment. Now if you are going with a low end or monopoly provider all of these are likely to be bigger factors. So lets look at them….

Over subscription, the single biggest cause of slow downs and issues. Bandwidth is a finite resource and despite the technical differences both cable and phone delivered services use the same model with the only difference being where your connection gets merged with the rest. With VDSL and Cable this happens at your local cabinet and ADSL at your exchange. With the latter your connection goes to a local cabinet or mode. Once it’s here it is combined with everyone else’s and send on to providers facility. What you need to note here is that if you use VDSL you’ll be getting stuffed in with everyone else no matter who the provider is unless you are very lucky and use a provider with their own network. From the exchange out to the cabinets and on you you BT Openreach own ALL of this and you are on their network, even if you use Sky, Plustnet or Kcom for example. In some areas its even the case that Virgin traffic flows on these lines. So at this stage for 99% of the UK you are on the Virgin Network or the Openreach network. Each cabinet is normally supplied by a fibre and includes either the Virgin Headend or BT DSLAM. There is another small difference in that smaller Virgin cabinets feed into the “master” cabinets so one Virgin master cabinet may serve thousands of properties. These then connect to the Virgin fibre network and everyone’s traffic gets blasted down the same fibre. A BT DSLAM tends to service around 300 properties.

The backhaul, the fibre that goes to the next stop for your connection, has to carry everything and bandwidth on a fibre is again, finite. Multiple pairs can be used but there is a realistic upper limit on this. Right away you can see that 300 32Mbit connections isn’t going to be the same issue as say, 3000 100Mbit connections. ADSL, although slower, is actually installed at the same location as most BT connections end so it’s less of an issue here. The number of properties you share this fibre with is your contention ratio. This was a headline figure years ago when fibre was slow and many hundreds of ADSL connections were connected to low speed fibre. Nowadays it still plays a huge part but no one mentions it.

This all relies on one really big assumption, all of the customers arent going to be online using all of their bandwidth at once. Traditionally this works well but with the massive uptick in people staying at home or home working, it isn’t working so well and has been a source of constant issues and failure. This is where over subscription, selling connections based on a theoretical traffic model rather than actual traffic comes in. Virgin has way more scope to add users past what is sensible than Openreach as the DSLAM units are physically restricted in terms of connections.

One way providers try and manage this is use of traffic or bandwidth management. Although your connection speed doesn’t slow, the provider artificially slows the traffic on your connection to free up more bandwidth. This is a process many use and has drawn a lot of bad press. Thankfully it is falling out of favour. Lower cost providers or those with heavily congested networks often resort to this. As the data has to be paid for by the provider to BT many will use this as a cost reducing exercise. Incidentally traffic management is also VERY common on 3.5G and 4G mobile networks. As an end user this will show up as loss of performance despite your connection showing a normal speed. This will often happen at the same time every day and most end any management after midnight.

Under investment is the last part. All carriers are guilty of this one. Much of the network is old and in some cases bits of the Openreach network just cant support the speeds people want, this is particular bad on some industrial sites where older aluminium cables are installed. Large chunks of the Virgin network are as Nynex/Videotron/CW left them in the early 90s and this leads to some of the issues we will look at next.

External Forces

There are any number of things that can cause issues on the network of providers. Some obvious, some less so. There are of course the really obvious ones, damage to infrastructure from road works, road traffic accidents, tress and lightning and to be fair, there is little anyone can actually do about these. It wasn’t long ago our local FTTC cabinet was flattened by a car.

The cable network is pretty resilient, it’s almost exclusively underground and bar someone taking a cabinet or cable out its rare to have issues related to weather. Most cables in the network are point to point, so your cable goes to the cabinet in one go meaning its a long, uninterrupted run. Phone lines however run all over the place, the infrastructure is often quite old and lines are frequently merged and connected underground or in exposed locations leading to frequent issues with water ingress and/or flooding. Failing cables overhead can cause issues in winds and in icing conditions and are frequently treated to lightning strikes. Flooded ducts and open junction boxes are common causes of issues and the sight of an Openreach engineer in a cabinet or up a pole strikes fear into many customers.

Some sections of the Openreach network do use microwave links. Mostly these are remote villages or locations it’s hard to get fibre to. These installations can be affected by the weather in particular heavy rain, snow and fog.

“My Broadband is Slow”

Possibly one of the biggest complaints I hear and often the provider isn’t to blame or a simple change of equipment is all you need. So lets look at things you can do to help, how to narrow down issues and why they may happen.

This covers the issues you have control of, if you want to see what your provider may be doing to cause it click here…

Before we go anywhere remember, faults can and do happen. How often and how long for is directly related to your bill. Our Leased lines cost a fortune but in the time we have had them we have had one outage in three years which lasted minutes. Don’t expect to pay bargain basement prices and get good service, that’s not how it works.


That out of the way lets look at the most common issue: WiFi
Almost all of t he issues I see are caused by WiFi. Either bad equipment, poor setup and unrealistic expectations. If you are having speed issues the very first thing you need to do is rule out the WiFi connection. Connect to the router with a cable, if you are using a laptop, turn the WiFi off on the machine, some machines will STILL use WiFi even if cabled (I’m looking at you here HP). Re-run your speed tests and if all is well, you have WiFi issues. If not, something deeper is going on. for at least half of people that have issues this will solve the issue.

So what are the possible causes. First and foremost, the router may just be pants. There are a lot of very unrealistic claims put out by many providers about their kit. At the end of the day these were all built by the lowest bidder with little QA or actual verification of the claims. A number of times providers have been told by the ASA they need to prove this and have been unable to. Dont beleive the hype. For example one of the larger providers touts their router as being the best in the world, able to solve world hunger and cure cancer in rats. Sad fact of the matter is that not only is it garbage, but it can actually slow other people’s connections arounf you down which brings us on to:

Congestion. The radio waves are not an infinite resource. You have to share a relativeley small amount of radio spectrum with everyone else. The most commonly used band at 2.4Ghz is quite small with only 11 channels. Given the distance WiFi can go thats normally enough but in dense housing you may have a problem. This is made worse by many supplier routers being fixed to one of those 11 channels by default and in the case of one of the larger suppliers, the router using up to 4 channels in one hit. That 11 channels doesn’t go so far with this happening. To make it worse. Microwave Ovens, Wireless AV, DECT cordless phones, Bluetooth, radio control and many, many other things.

The location of your router can make things worse with regards to interferance, especially with cheaper units. Site the router away from any of the above items and one of the most common trouble makers here is the DECT cordless phone sat on the top of the router. It needs to be at least 3ft from the router.

5Ghz WiFi can reduce a lot of this but that band also has some big users meaning that its not immune, although there are less things up here at the moment it IS affected by some doppler and fire control radars making it a little hit and miss around military installations and airfields

There are many apps available for mobiles that enable you to see channel use in relation to your router and if you know how, you can fix your router on clear channels. If your provider use your router to broadcast a free network for your provider’s customers to use, you can ask for this to be turned off (Virgin and BT do this by default!) Sometimes a channel change is all that’s needed.

Obstruction is another issue. WiFi does not penetrate well, especially metal or materials containing moisture. Adding repeaters or moving your router can help but a repeater may be the best bet. The 2.4 and 5Ghz bands behave differently. Although both are affected by metal 2.4Ghz gives better distance where as 5Ghz scatters better and gives better connections close in. Many routers use both to get better coverage.

Often overlooked is the capability of the router. Many broadand connections are capable of well over 100Mbit and many routers top out at 54Mbit. This was a particular concern for some BT Homehubs where the WiFi cannot match the broadband speed. Replacing an older router may help and you have to remeber, once again, that your connection id not only shared by you and your household but by every device and router in range on that channel.

The Router

We have touched on this already above, sometime it’s just time to upgrade the equipment. Your provider will sometimes do this but in most cases it is easy enough to do yourself and you’ll get better equipment this way. Quite often as technology advances lines get the new technology but the old equipment can’t support it and so you never see the gain. Vectoring being deployed by BT is a good example of this. Very few routers including their own support this yet it is being enabled on many lines and gives more stable connections and in some cases better speed. G.Fast is another example. There are still DOCSIS 2 modems out there on the virgin network that top out at 10Mbit despite Virgin no longer offering a service that slow.

Supplier routers are normally ‘just good enough’ often with just enough processing power to get the job done and no more. On top of this some kit is bugged and crippled out the box. The Virgin Superhubs are infamous for having a serious bug that couldn’t be fixed. When you get down to the very low end routers they can be truly awful.

A router issue will show up with a poor speed result regardless of what you do, even direct cable connection. Its always worth rebooting the router before you go any further and leave it off for at least 5 mins before powering back up. If you still have issues then you have one last thing to look at, the line.

Sadly not all broadband services are created equal. With ADSL, VDSL (Also incorrectly called Fibre) and 4G you have the option to change your router. Some providers don’t like this but you are free to do it and in almost every case, even where there is no problem this will result in an improvement. If you are on a cable connection though you have less control and you must used the supplied router. All is not lost though, most of not all support being used as a modem, turning off the router side of things and then you can use most types of commonly available broadband router. The same can be done with most satellite providers, however as a rule the supplied routers are normally actually pretty good and rarely a source of trouble.

The Lines

This is different depending on your provider.
For cable all you can do is look for loose connections. The F connectors used can work loose. Check the box outside and make sure the cover is on. Thats about all you can do.

For full fibre, you are in the same boat. Check the cables for damage and make sure they are secure.

For ADSL and VDSL youc an do a little more. The first thing your provider will ask you to do is disconnect everything except the modem. If you have a BT type socket you can remove the lower half of the face place on the NTE5C sockets with a built in filter. This leaves your modem as the only thing connected. If this helps, you have an issue in the house and more likeley than not a bad or missing microfilter. They do actually fail believe it or not! On the older sockets you can remove that plate and plug your microfilter right into the socket behind it. Likewise if this helps you have an issue in the house. Now Openreach will do this same test for your provider. If THEY find this solves the issue you’ll be charged for the call out so its good to do this if you can.

If it’s still no good the odds are you have a line problem and you need to speak to your Provider.

“Stuck” BT Office 365 Tennancy

This is hopefully a quick guide to get you out of a hole with the old, free O365 offer BT did. Neither MS or BT will be helpful with this BUT if you can make it to second line support, you do get the answer. Neither online chat/WhatsApp or basic business support will be able to help and you’ll often end up getting the run around.

You can *try* to ask MS to remove the account, I’ve tried numerous avenues to make this happen, none even got a response even those suggested by our O365 partner. Its also been suggested invoking right to be forgotten may be helpful but I’m not sure how that applies here.

If you have an on site exchange server you *may* have had random password warnings after an Outlook patch a few months ago, I think I covered this elsewhere but it does serve as a warning you *may* be about to run into this issue.

This will only work if you can still log into the BT business portal at http://business.bt.com/ Otherwise you’ll need to throw yourselves on their mercy. The portal is painfully slow and I got a fair few HTTP 500 errors. The Ui doesnt seem to refresh that well, this may be Edge as Chrome wouldn’t login at all!

The Scenario:
Customer would like to move to Office 365. Upon setting up the count you find their tenancy can’t be completed as the domain is already used in a tenancy elsewhere. It transpires the customer had a 365 account which is no longer used as part of a BT business package. The above password symptoms can give this away.

The Fix:
Log into http://business.bt.com/
Under “Manage Services” click “Manage Domains”
Click “Manage Email Accounts” to expand it
Find your package, normally “Business Email Lite” and click Manage
Every single account shown on the domain you wish to recover must be removed, this isn’t a quick process. you’ll potentially have issues with the Primary User. Use the “go back to main hub” link at the bottom liberally as it seems to not always refresh the email list.

Primary User:

*IF* your primary user is not an account on that domain then you are done. The moment the last user of your domain has gone BT will release that domain.

If the user *is* a member of the domain this is where is goes all runny. I’ve not been able to find a way within the broken UI or O365 to do this. You are on the mercy of BT for this step I’m afraid. However if you call them and are clear about what you want and what you are trying to do this will only take a few moments to sort,