We all like a moan, but is some of it our own fault…

Sometimes I really wonder whether I have been given some super copper cable for my phone lines. The reason being that in my area I am some 2.5km from the exchange (approximate cable length), but manage 4.5Meg on ADSL and 6Meg on ADSL2+ in actual speed tests on two lines into my house, yet when I look at the results for others in the area, everyone else appears to be slower.

This disparity is so bad that it cannot be explained solely by unusual telephone cable routing, there are lines within 500m getting under 1Meg still. Now some of these will be providers keeping users on fixed speed products, but given the extra cost of these legacy products, one would expect the user to have been migrated onto an up to 8Mbps service. ADSL2+ has only just arrived from one supplier, a surprise for a 2,500 line exchange.

From the experience of the number of times people post on our forums complaining about slow speeds, or unreliable lines, and the regular posters help by pointing them to numerous guides and explaining the terminology, it seems clear that a lot of the UK speed problems could probably be solved with 10 to 15 minutes effort by someone with an understanding of ADSL and telephone wiring.

Back in the day when ADSL was new and it was all engineer installed, this was less of an issue, and line speed/line length limits were such that noise was hardly a problem. Roll-on 2006, and cheap broadband with rate adaption pushing lines to their limit combined with self-installs and we are left with the mess we have today. Those with the knowledge can get their line running faster, those without, can’t.

So to all those moaning about slow speeds from their ISP, some time spent removing unneeded telephone extensions, removing the ring wire (please don’t cut it), or fitting an ADSL faceplate can bring benefits. Of course if your line was unstable it may need some further tweaking as automated systems slowed your line down, in an attempt to make it stable, and may not spot the improvement for some time.

BT Retail did at one time offer a tune-up service, where if no improvement was seen, no fee was charged. Perhaps something that is more provider agnostic needs to be trialled to assess how much of a difference can be made.  Even if the improvements are just taking a user from a 0.6Mbps speed test result to a 1.4Mbps result, this increase makes the multi-media web much more usable.

What are the things you can do to improve speeds?

  1. Remove all those unused telephone extensions.
  2. Move the ADSL modem to the master socket.
  3. Fit an I-Plate, or an ADSL faceplate
  4. Check it’s not the telephones causing problems, sometimes you need to double filter the telephone (cheap DECT handsets suffer most from this)
  5. Check that any phone extension wiring is using twisted pair cable.
  6. If using a wireless network, check that there are not many other networks on the same channel as this can cause congestion and speed problems
  7. Ask for advice on places like forums.thinkbroadband.com
  8. When seeking advice, take photos of the wiring – descriptions are good, but very easy to confuse people.

While the state of the telephone wiring in our homes is very often of our own doing, professions such as electricians do not help, with split pairs sometimes being used for extension wiring and tales of bell wire, rather than proper phone cable being installed. Add to this the prevalence of cheap untwisted pair extension kits in the shops and you can see how this leads to a recipe for disaster.

The broadband providers are not blameless however. BT Wholesale based providers often hide behind the checker that updates periodically to reflect the line state, so a line check that showed 5Mbps before the line had ADSL, might drop to 1Mbps after a week or two, once enabled (if the internal wiring is very bad). Alas, the support staff simply then state that 1Mbps is the best the line can manage – never bothering to look at the attenuation reported by the ADSL modem (which providers can see via BT Wholesale systems), which would show the line is under performing.

So while we love a moan in the UK, with broadband there is a good chance you can do something about it, and for those reading this who know what they are doing, maybe next time your neighbour moans about their Internet offer to help them out!

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8 Responses


  1. HmmmUK on 12 Oct 2010

    Nice article :¬)

    To confuse things even more don’t forget BT’s ‘IP Profile’ system! It’s all a bit like ‘snakes-and-ladders’ where falls are quick but climbing back up takes a long time…

  2. Alastair on 12 Oct 2010

    The general public are still non the wiser that an independent qualified Telecom engineer is able to work on the customers own wiring at half the cost than ISPs/Openreach services. There are many company’s like this that are able to offer this service and with better results as they are not strapped for time and so have the ability to spend more hours on issues. Also we shouldn’t forget that with Xmas round the corner you can guarantee some one somewhere will have issues due to festive lights with poor unshielded technology. This brings me onto manufactures of lighting tvs, and just about anything that plugs into the main grid, surely better materials and design on shielding would improve both efficiency of the item as well as being more RF friendly as we gear up for a dependent wireless and data enhanced world.

  3. cyberdoyle on 12 Oct 2010

    Its all well and good having such great advice online, but the problem is with the newbies and oldies. I am old, so my peers talk to me a lot. They don’t know what to do with their poor connections, and wouldn’t know what a faceplate is. They just expect their broadband to work, just like the water comes out of the tap when they turn it on and the light comes on when they flick the switch. Until we are rid of the obsolete copper they are always going to be a problem. Its good that thinkbroadband is there to help the ones who reach it. I agree, we can improve the connection we have, but I still think we shouldn’t have to. IT should just work, and when we all have fibre to the home IT will.
    The future is coming. IT just ain’t here yet.
    chris

    • andrew on 12 Oct 2010

      Having worked with fibre, indoors and outdoors. When it works fibre is great, but it is far from perfect, damaged cable (not visible from the outside) can cause issues. Splicing a fibre back together that a window installer has severed is not something thats easy to do for example.

      Also fibre to the home will not resolve problems with wireless networks in the home, or congestion on the backhaul networks.

  4. Roger on 20 Oct 2010

    Good article, but as one who has tried all those suggestions ie.
    1. direct connected into the test sockect behind the face plate.
    2. changed the filter and operated with and without (one non dect phone).
    3. confirmed myself within 2.5 km of exchange. (HITCHIN STATION TO TOWN CENTRE)
    4. Allowed router to cool overnight and synced up again in early AM.
    5. Ensured no ring wire connected ie. only 2 & 5

    Still get 1.5 to 1.9 meg. depending on speedtest.
    I used to get 2.7 meg when first connected and suffered a drop in 1st quarter of 2010.

    Having observed a Db drop of 62 to 64 on down as shown by my router and an old BT voyager
    (the latter only syncs as is locked to BT) I am told it is the quality of copper by my ISP.
    Also my line length is est. at 3+ km. (no it isn’t).

    Does anyone know if it possible for ISP’s to route lines via a second low use broadband and
    steal a 2nd channel for their phone link
    (thus elongating the line and introducing furtherloss of Db)
    Anyway , the quest for multi Mb BB is of no consequence, if the following occurs:-

    Tbb line meter actually shows that all my web pages are delivered in dribs and drabs
    (packets) over a relatively long time period and therefore at discrete speeds of no more
    than 0.3 Mb. I have never really understood where the term ‘backhaul’ comes from,
    but suggest it has some relation to the term ‘backlog’.
    Has anyone got a clue which h/w component can quite simply (slug one’s line) in the interest
    of the ISP.
    Cynic Yes. Dissillusioned Yes.

  5. wired_retired on 22 Nov 2010

    Having started with Freeserve back in 1999 at 56K and progressed to 2Meg with Tiscali, I wanted to see what ADSL2+ would give. So I looked at the forums and fitted all the suggestions in the article above. I live 2.5kms from the exchange and tried Be Unlimited. They gave me 6Meg consistently no problems. If I set the line for max speed I could get 6.5Meg. Set for stability 6Meg was standard.
    I have changed to Sky now and my speed has dropped back to 4Meg. Whilst this is sufficient for my use now I wonder if they could deliver what Be always did.
    I too find that my next door neighbour using BT gets only 2Meg at best and at worst only 500K. I have tried explaining what he might get if he used the suggestions above but; he wants the internet instantly available at the touch of a button. He will moan but is not prepared to work at it. He also pays more for his broadband than I do but; “Can’t be bothered to change.”
    There seems to be too many moaners that simply can’t be bothered.

  6. Kevin Smith on 08 Feb 2011

    This is a very interesting an accurate article on improving the speed & quality of your broadband sevice.
    It can be a very simple thing to improve your broadband speed & quality by following the steps highlighted in the is article, that can be easily followed by someone with little technical knowledge. Thanks

  7. Stuart on 25 Jan 2012

    I recently moved house and changed my broadband supplier to BT. They “promised” a speed of between 10.5 and 19 Megs but the best I ever got was 3.9Megs. After weeks of fighting, BT sent an Open Reach engineer who re-arranged the wiring on the apartment block where I live. He showed me a reading of 9.5Megs.
    Today (2 weeks later), I tested the speed with 3 different checkers: My BT gave 16.5Megs Speedtest.net (as used by the Open Reach engineer) gave 9.7Megs whilst Thinkbroadband gave 3.9 Megs.
    Which should I believe and why are they so different?


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