TWEAK YOUR WI-FI
With draft-n offering a maximum data rate around 300Mb/s, your wireless router should deliver a few megabits of broadband around your home with ease. However, anyone who’s set up a wireless home network will know that isn’t always the case.
802.11n may mean you can now access your wireless network down the bottom of the garden, but it could also mean next-door’s signal is ringing loud and clear in your living room, potentially interfering with your signal.
The excellent NetStumbler
(a free download from www.netstumbler.com/
) will reveal which Wi-Fi channel your neighbours are using, allowing you to set your router to a different channel using its web interface. Be aware that your wireless router may offer a weaker or even non-existent signal on certain channels, so a brief trial-and-error session is wise to achieve the optimum speed.
Peter Habib, from Telstra, emphasised the importance of placement: “the location of the WiFi device will affect the speed a customer experiences. The range and quality of wireless connections is affected by having to pass through large metal objects like a steel door, large amounts of water (like a fish tank) and even nearby electromagnetic devices. These electromagnetic devices can include televisions, radios, cordless telephones and microwave ovens to name a few. Finally, high density objects like floors, ceilings and walls can also affect the travel of the WiFi signal.”
If you’ve followed our experts’ advice and plugged your Wi-Fi router into the boundary termination socket in the lounge, but now can’t get a decent signal in the back bedroom, a booster may be your best bet. Our tests have shown that a 5dBi omnidirectional antenna
can provide an 80% boost in coverage and performance at distance.
Alternatively, wireless repeaters or HomePlug
devices may provide a more consistent connection. “Avoid connecting them to surge protectors, as performance can be significantly affected,” warns Zen’s Phil Long.GET DIAGNOSED
Your ISP almost certainly knows a lot more about your connection than you do. For that reason, your ISP's tech support should be your first port of call if you're running into speed issues. ISP support staff may be able to see detailed histories of your line’s maximum and average speed, faults and uptime to help identify when and where problems start. They may be able to spot, for example, that your connection slumps at 5pm every day.
While the range of diagnostic tools available to each ISP varies, and some of the more useful data is only available to Telstra, it's still a good bet when it comes to diagnosing hard-to-pin-down problems and your ISP can tweak far more settings than you can.
One thing they're likely to suggest is something you can do at home before calling them: an isolation test.
Put simply, an isolation test
removes all telephone interference, and then adds back devices one at a time to find problems. It's normally used to identify why ADSL isn't working, but in concert with speed testing can help find slow portions of your home setup. First disconnect all phone equipment. Then connect your modem to the boundary termination socket, using the shortest possible cable – no more than three metres in length.
Restart the modem and test speed, then switch cables and check speed again. You can continue testing, switching out a single item each time. Try a second modem, other phone sockets around the home and, finally, adding back each of your phone devices. Sort your system
Surprisingly, the ISPs we spoke to said that your system – and particularly the software you run – is one of the common causes they see for broadband slowdown. The culprits all download in the background, whether they are malicious interlopers or programs you've installed.
iPrimus recommends that you “keep your computer system free from viruses and spyware and checking for background running programs such as file sharing programs.” and an Optus spokesperson added that slow speeds can also be “related to the software running on the customers computer – for example peer-to-peer and other programs that use up bandwidth can sometimes be the cause of slower speeds.”
Most ISPs offer a deal on security software, and there are free products that provide protection, so there's no excuse for a compromised system.
Perhaps paradoxically, software is also a recommended solution for broadband speed problems. Some software gives you easy access to Windows settings that would otherwise require registry hacking, and some just add a cosmetic lustre to your speed.
You could, for example, try adding a firefox extension called FasterFox
, which makes better use of your bandwidth through pre-fetching and gives you easy access to many of the tweakable settings of your network connection.
If you have XP, try Unblocka
. Input your upload and download speeds, which you can obtain from your ISP, and Unblocka 'tunes' your settings to improve speed. Last but not least, install a good adblocker to prevent adverts from downloading to reduce their bandwidth-sucking effect.