ADSL speeds: what slows it down and what you can do

20 January 2017

With more than two decades of internet under our belt, our tolerance for sub-par download speeds is at an all-time low. We expect to see what we’re searching for in seconds, and if we don’t, we make our voices heard.

If you’re suffering from slow speeds, or looking to avoid them after moving house, there are a number of factors to keep in mind. We’ll try and make this guide as user friendly as possible, but understand that as simple as it seems when you switch your computer on, it is a pretty complex system that delivers your daily news and weather.

First and foremost, there is the distance you live from the exchange.

ADSL and ADSL2+ are delivered to your home over copper wires and because of this, the speed of your connection to the network is impacted by the distance the information needs to travel between the telephone exchange and your home. Copper is a great material for this transmission because it has low resistance, but this resistance increases the longer a signal has to travel, and so your connection speed degrades the further you are from the source.

This degradation doesn’t occur on a straight line, though. With ADSL2+, you can be up to about 1km from the exchange before you may notice speed starting to dip. Up to 2- and 3kms from the exchange and you’ll really see the difference at your end.

If you want to see how far your house is from your local telephone exchange, take a look at this DSLAM Coverage Map hosted by TPG.

What you see in the graph above is the best case scenario, and as you can probably guess, this is far from the average user experience.

For your speed to be the same as you see above, the copper cabling to your house would have to be in tip-top shape and preferably running in a straight line from the exchange to your house. Old copper wires are the nemesis of fast web surfing, but unfortunately there are plenty of old wires running through our communities.

A combination of these factors can lead to a household not being able to get ADSL at all. Even if you are connected to an exchange, living too far away from it and the condition of the copper wiring can cause Excessive Transmission Loss and it might prevent an ISP from getting you online. You might not like this, but it is better for an ISP to say no in, rather than providing a service they know will be sub-standard or not even work.

There are other external factors which can impact performance. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman lists some of these on its site:

  • The number of, and type of, other services being used over copper pairs in the same cable by other customers
  • Electrical interference from outside sources, e.g. electric motors and electric fences
  • The capacity of, load on, and access data rate of the destination host computer which the customer is accessing

Things you can control

You can’t pick which exchange you connect to, and you can’t fix the copper connecting your house to the exchange, but you can take care of the equipment at your end.

If a telephone technician has ruled out external problems up to the exchange, then having someone test your wiring and connections could make a world of difference. It won’t affect any of the elements outside your house, but if you feel you should be getting better speeds, then this is the best option you have.

central filter

If you live in an older house, you might consider contacting a cabling company to take a look at the wires and sockets inside your home. Your wiring might be corroded, as could your wall sockets. There could be kinks and bends in the wire causing interference, or your phone filters might be on the blink.

You could consider installing a central filter to service all phone outlets, rather than having a separate filter on each line. You might also upgrade wall sockets, too. It’s probably worth pointing out here that it is illegal to change or install these things yourself, so you’re best off calling someone in.

An old or faulty modem or router can also affect your ADSL performance. If you think there are issues with your modem, it may be worth buying a new one, but we'd say this should probably be your last resort. 

What else can do I?

If you can't get an ADSL connection or if you think your speeds are too slow, there are still other options for getting online. 

Mobile broadband is the easiest of these. Mobile broadband is a term that refers to an internet connection delivered over the same networks utilised by your smartphone, and provided you can get a decent mobile signal at your place, you'll be able to get online using the same technology. Since mobile broadband is delivered "over the air", the connection process is much faster and you can often get online the same day. The catch is that it can be more expensive than a more conventional internet connection.

Alternatively, you might just have to wait until the National Broadband Network comes to your area and hope for the best. 


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