David who lives in Queensland sent us an email to say he had been suffering for three months with very slow speeds for no apparent reason.
“Pages that took seconds to load now take minutes or often don’t load at all. At certain times of the day, typically around 8:00am and 5:00pm, my connections are so slow that they are unusable. Sites hosted in the US seem to be the worst affected and I have recorded ping times in excess of three seconds to some sites that I use regularly. In recent weeks the problem has not been as bad, but there are still times when my internet connections are unusable.”
Two connections, two PCs
“I have an Optus wireless connection and a Telstra wired connection and use two different PCs: one running XP the other W7. I have called Optus about the problem, they ask me to run a speed test and then they say the speed is within limits. I have also called Telstra and they say it’s okay. I don’t run antivirus software and my firewall is turned off. I am running Windows Defender.”
“I wanted to make sure it wasn’t my computers causing the problem before I start blaming Telstra. At the time the problem started there were some major solar flares and I also wanted to make sure this was not the problem because some satellites may have been damaged by the flares.”
We approached Telstra and asked it to look into the issue. A company rep confirmed to us that David’s service is a Telstra Enterprise and Government service for his business. A representative got in touch with David to say it had looked into the situation and that it was a problem with network congestion in his local exchange. “I was informed that the network people are aware there is an issue and are monitoring the problem.”
How some see copper download speeds.
We also approached independent telecoms analyst Paul Budde to shed some light on the possible causes of this kind of speed problem. He pointed out that there certainly can be computer and modem issues. In general, however, he sees these kinds of slowdowns as capacity problems.
“The copper based telecoms network was never designed for broadband and it is rapidly reaching its limitations. Copper-based technologies such as ADSL and VDSL have been able to lengthen its life but there is only so much you can squeeze out of a piece of copper. Once you start squeezing ADSL2+ then distance also becomes an issue. The further away from the exchange, the more the broadband signal deteriorates.”
Going on David’s description of the problem he suspects it may be that traffic over the network in his area has increased to such an extent that at his end the network is reaching full capacity and once it can’t handle the amount of traffic anymore, it slows down or drops out. “Obviously this happens first in prime time and if you use the network outside those times you can get better speeds; however, as more people will be doing that the problem gets extended over longer periods.”
It’s not just users who see slow internet speed as a problem. Google warns that longer search times and longer times for pages to load, particularly multimedia heavy sites, is bad for users, bad for business and particularly bad for search engines. In its latest Think Quarterly magazine devoted to all things digital, it says that the average web page takes 4.9 seconds to load. “So a 400ms delay leads to a 0.44 percent drop in search volume – in a world where fractions of a second count, that’s an eternity.”
Google uses a ‘fixed latency budget’, and has live performance dashboards on big screens in many of its engineering offices, so that teams can see latency levels across its services. It is building its own fibre network and wants “other internet providers to crank it up, too”. “Speed is simply part of our engineering culture.”
Budde’s view is that these kinds of problems won’t be properly resolved until the NBN is rolled out and capacity is no longer a problem, with fibre instead of copper running to premises.
“The better the quality of the network the more you can squeeze through the pipe. However, many networks are decades old and the quality of the copper network varies enormously. This is an added problem and in particular with increasing traffic those problems are becoming more and more prominent. Often the quality of the network is unknown to ISPs and obviously there is very little they can do about it.”
Having broadband issues? Share your experience in the comments area below.