Is Your’ Internet Connection or Wireless Letting You Down?


No internet connection

My business relies on the internet; my phone is an IP phone, it uses the internet. If the internet goes down so does most of my business until it comes back up in maybe hours or days. It doesn’t stop there though because even my TV uses the internet these days and then there’s all those cloud services which means some of my data may not be on any of my computers. I’m running a cable internet connection and it’s pretty fast especially when it comes to downloads. The faster the broadband the more we can do with it and the more we rely on it. And … it doesn’t even stop there either! Laptops, mobile phones, tablets, TV’s, set top boxes, NAS drives, stereo systems, cameras etc. use wireless so wireless is really important too.

If you are running an internet reliant business or would really miss your internet connection at home you won’t want it to go down ever! Well, maybe when you are on holiday … uh oh, got a remote security camera linked to your phone through the internet or some other device, maybe a remote internet linked pet feeder or something.

I think most of us want reliable all the 9’s uptime for our internet but of course that’s not always easy to achieve. Making it 100% reliable I cannot promise in fact even all the 9’s is not that easy but I can probably show you how to make your internet faster, have a higher capacity, make it more reliable and improve your wireless WITHOUT SPENDING A SMALL FORTUNE!

A Common Problem

Most homes and small businesses have one internet connection, one line and one router that functions as a router a switch and a wireless access point … true? If any of those elements go down then so might your internet access. You could go ask the neighbour if you could sling a wire through to your business from their supply or ask for their wireless password and maybe sometimes this is ok, it’s a temporary solution of a sort. If you want to be self reliant though you’ll need another solution.

What happens if …

Your router fails

Simple, go get another router, configure it up (hope you know where your broadband login details are) or better still, have another router on standby, just in case! From my experience most people or businesses don’t have a spare. Your current router might be a bit special but anything will do to get you back up and running if a direct replacement is not to hand.

Your internet connection fails

Could be your ISP, a fault on the line or a JCB digging outside. Either way it’s down to the service level agreements of your provider. You’ll probably be down for a few hours, maybe a few days and if you are really unlucky, a few weeks, it happens, especially if the road needs digging up.

Flaky Wireless

Wireless has come a long way but it’s still a flaky service. It depends on lots of things, how many people are already connected, what’s in your building, atmospheric conditions, the type of wireless network you have and the capabilities of the devices you are trying to connect to it etc.

It’s also not so great when you have more than one wireless access point but your device stays connected to the access point you were near 2 minutes ago and which is now nearly out of range. You could be standing next to another access point on the same network but still not connect to it unless you manually do so.

Does all or some of this sound familiar?

A Solution

JCB cuts cables

There are very fast internet connections with high up-times and excellent service level agreements that mean if your internet connection does go down it gets fixed quickly but of course that can cost a lot of money and a JCB going through the cable is probably going to scupper even that plan for a while. There’s WiMax, line of site links and even satellite connections but, well, it’s a bit expensive and maybe a bit over the top for many.

My suggested solution below is not new but it has improved over time and costs less than it used to. I’m a fan and distributor of Draytek network devices so I’m going to use and suggest Draytek in my solution but you can use other brands solutions too it’s just that I know Draytek works well, is generally of a good quality, has a high specification etc. Lot’s of businesses and computer support companies use them so I guess that’s an endorsement in itself.

More than one

Broadband is pretty cheap so how about 2 supplies over different networks so that if it’s the ISP or just one line that fails then the other is likely to continue to work. Just to make it belt and braces how about feeding in a mobile broadband supply just in case that clumsy JCB comes our way and cuts all the cables to your premises (don’t laugh, this happened to one company I worked for).

In this case you would have 2 broadband feeds going into the same router which would balance all your internet traffic using the 2 services giving you more speed and capacity. If one broadband service fails then the other carries on until the failed service comes back up. If both services fail then the mobile broadband cuts in.

Draytek vigor 2860 load balancing

The mobile broadband does depend on the mobile signal you can get where your router is located and whether it’s 3G or 4G but at least it will let you access the internet. If it’s 4G this could be pretty good! You will need to watch your mobile broadband use depending on the tariff you are using but at least you are still up and running.

What if the router fails? Well of course this can happen so for the cost of it I would keep a second router as a backup. You can backup the configuration of the router in use and load it onto the second router. You can backup the configuration each time you change it and either load it onto the second router or at least have it ready. With some Draytek devices, this one included there is 3 year extended warranty available where they will replace your failed device the next working day with no quibbling. You could even use the second router as a second modem if you configure it correctly but that’s a subject for another day.

Improving Wireless Connectivity

Wireless or WiFi has improved over time. The range is greater, it’s more reliable and easier to connect up to than it used to be but it’s still a variable and sometimes quirky technology. If you need a consistent service over a defined area then you’ll probably need to over do it with wireless coverage.

Many routers are not just routers, they are routers, switches, modems and wireless access points. The wireless part of your main router will provide all you need in a small space but as an operating space gets bigger you will need further wireless access points to cover the area. Wireless access points can be obtained for both indoor and outdoor environments and can work well in a campus type environment.

Two Variants

There are two main variants which we can call push and pull systems. To use a couple of techy terms, the wireless system is called the server and your mobile phone, laptop tablet or other wireless device the client.

Pull

Most domestic or small office wireless systems are pull systems which means you manually connect your client device to a wireless server. For example, an office or house has 2 access points, one is a wireless router downstairs and the other is a wireless access point upstairs. When your client device is connected to the downstairs router (a server) it stays connected to it until it goes out of range so if you walk upstairs you may need to manually disconnect from the downstairs router and connect to the upstairs wireless access point. It works but it’s clunky and moving smoothly from one wireless zone to another does not occur. Both wireless access points are part of the same system but the connection to them isn’t managed automatically. You could say that you have to pull connections.

Push

Using the same scenario now the wireless system is being managed and pushing Managed Wirelessconnections. The effect is that when you walk up the stairs the wireless management software built into the system monitors it’s connections and as the signal from one wireless access point becomes weaker and another stronger it pushes connection to the stronger wireless access point to your client device such as your phone.

Another great thing about managed wireless is that it will share the load so if several devices are in range of more than one access point those access points can be made to share the wireless traffic instead of one being overloaded and the other hardly used.

Now you can walk up and down stairs with your client device and stay connected without having to think about it. Where two or more access points are located to manage a lot of wireless traffic they can look after the traffic loads so the user gets a good solid wireless service throughout the operating area.

Sounds Expensive

Managed wireless used to be expensive but it’s not now. It does cost more than pull wireless but not much more and is well within credible cost for domestic or small business users. If you need it it’s well worth the modest extra cost.

If you wanted to set up managed wireless using Draytek components you would need either a Draytek Vigor 2860 or a 2925 series router to act as the controller and either a Draytek Vigor AP810 or AP900 wireless access point.

Here is my suggestion for a robust broadband set-up with managed wireless for around £525+VAT for the equipment. All the prices are relevant at the time writing so whilst prices and devices may have changed by the time you read this I am sure this kind of system will be around for a good while yet!

You will also need 2 broadband supplies which can be a mixture of ADSL max, ADSL2+, Fibre known as FTTC or some other suitable broadband/Ethernet supply. You can use Virgin cable broadband. 2 lines carrying BT like broadband will give you 2 lines of voice as well. The cost of installation of the lines and broadband might come to somewhere between £200 and £250 + VAT. Monthly rental for the 2 lines and broadband might be around £60 to £90 + VAT depending on what you have.

From new:

  • All equipment and line installations maybe ~£775 + VAT
  • Ongoing monthly rental, maybe ~£75 + VAT
Draytek Vigor 2860n Draytek Vigor 2860n ADSL Router £180.32 + VAT The most popular business class router from Draytek. It acts as a controller for the managed wireless as well as managing dual broadband connection with a third mobile broadband connection.You could get 2 of these, 1 to use and 1 as backup.
Draytek Vigor AP-900 Draytek Vigor AP900 Wireless Access Point £113.85 + VAT Currently the top of the range wireless access point from Draytek. Lots of speed, power and flexibility.If the wireless range from your w860n router is not enough then get at least one of these.
 Draytek Vigor 120 Draytek Vigor 120 Modem £41.80 + VAT You may or not need one of these depending on the broadband you have. This can used to feed a second broadband supply to the 2860n router such as ADSL2+. It cannot be used with fibre broadband. Alternatively you could use the backup 2860n as a second feed if configured correctly but you will lose the second feed if the main 2860n goes down and you have to use the backup instead.
 Draytek ADSL Tailed Microfilter Draytek ADSL Tailed Microfilter £5 + VAT These split your voice and broadband elements into 2 so you can access broadband and make phone calls at the same time.You could get 2 of these, 1 to use and one as backup.
 Optional items
 Draytek Vigor AP810 Draytek Vigor AP810 Wireless Access Point £82.80 + VAT You can use these instead of AP900’s. It’s not quite as fully featured as the AP900 but if you don’t need those features it will work perfectly well with managed wireless.
 Draytek VigorCare Extended Warranty Draytek VigorCare Enhanced Warranty Subscription B £36.40 + VAT For Draytek Vigor 2860 series routers. These extended warranties are worth having. They don’t cost much and they will get you a new device the next day. See below for more information*
 Draytek VigorCare Extended Warranty Draytek VigorCare Enhanced Warranty Subscription A £24.70 + VAT For Draytek Vigor 120 modem’s and AP900 or AP810 wireless access points. These extended warranties are worth having. They don’t cost much and they will get you a new device the next day. See below for more information*

*Draytek VigoreCare Extended Warranty Main Features

  • One per device.
  • Upgrade of warranty to 3-years
  • Advanced-Replacement of faulty unit the next working day subject to delivery destination
  • Cover for the whole 3-years for one payment
  • Available on all DrayTek routers
  • Available within 30 days of router purchase
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100 Snippets


Snippets

100 Snippets

Over the last few months from the 5th September 2012 until the 5th April 2013 I tweeted 100 snippet’s of information about networking, routers, broadband etc. I also published them as updates in LinkedIn and most in eCademy/Sunzu.  I hope some people found them useful. I have preserved them here in case anyone  would like to dip into them.

The objective was to explain bits of tech in small digestible chunks that were hopefully fairly easy to understand.

05/09/12 – Snippet 1-SSID stands for “Service Set IDentifier”, a name that will easily identify your wireless network, for example “Smith Family WiFi”.

06/09/12 – Snippet 2-Mode: Wireless standard, IEEE 802.11n is latest, older devices may use 11b or 11g. Set your router for 3 most popular; 11b,11g&11n.

07/09/12 – Snippet 3-Wi Fi uses several frequencies , in most cases leave on auto select. If you get interference select a frequency, see if it helps.

10/09/12 – Snippet 4- If you have a wireless device that uses the 802.11b standard you may need to set “Long Pre-amble” to on in your general settings.

11/09/12 – Snippet 5- Mixed “(WPA+WPA2)/PSK” is the better wireless security setting but if you have older wireless devices some will only use WEP.

12/09/12 – Snippet 6-Password protect your WiFi network at least but did u know u can restrict devices that can connect or exclude those that can’t?

13/09/12 – Snippet 7-Did you know you can use a Wireless Access Point to extend the range of your WiFi? http://clixtrac.com/goto/?91551

14/09/12 – Snippet 8-2 wireless Access Points in a router or stand alone can be used to bridge a virtual cable between each other. http://clixtrac.com/goto/?91551

15/09/12 – Snippet 9-Did u know that on some routers you can control which data gets priority so for example voice and video can run more smoothly?

17/09/12 – Snippet 10-Did you know you can get more powerful aerials for your wireless Routers and Access Points. http://clixtrac.com/goto/?91949

18/09/12 – Snippet 11- You are a small business that needs up to 30 phone extensions but the phone system quote seems too much? – http://clixtrac.com/goto/?92122

19/09/12 – Snippet 12-Good broadband supply depends on exchange distance, cable quality, SNR, Attenuation, Latency, Jitter, Packet loss, more later…

20/09/12 – Snippet 13-SNR-Signal to Noise Ratio, can be adjusted if line is noisy, check router status. 6db is good, range 3db-15db, lower is better.

21/09/12 – Snippet 14-Attenuation, measured in decibels, the quality of ADSL signal. 10db is good, 30db ok, 60db acceptable, more than 60db not good.

24/09/12 – Snippet 15- Latency=delay affects speed. Round trip of data in milliseconds=MS 30ms=great, 50=good, 80=ok, 100+=not good, 200+=talk to ISP.

25/09/12 – Snippet 16-Jitter, how much broadband latency (delay) varies, 30ms to 60=ok, 50 to 80=not bad, 100 to 200=not good.

26/09/12 – Snippet 17-Last BB variable-Packet loss=data loss, packets lost are resent=slow BB. <1%=good, 1%-2.5%=ok, 2.5% to 5%=bad, > 5%=talk to ISP

27/09/12 – Snippet 18-If you want to know what broadband is available to you – http://clixtrac.com/goto/?93445, the telecoms industry uses this!

28/09/12 – Snippet 19-A VPN=Virtual Private Network is your own private road from one computer (or device) to another over the internet.

29/09/12 – Blatant Ad-SIP lines £3.50 month, 1ppm UK Nat/Loc , 5ppm UK mobile, per second billing, no minimum or connection charges http://dld.bz/bNE28

01/10/12 – Snippet 20-PRT Ordering files by date works well like this “YYYY-MM-DD Description 01.xxx”.

02/10/12 – Snippet 21-A modem connects to broadband, a router converts broadband to Ethernet, a switch routes Ethernet to various computers/devices.

03/10/12 – PRT – Cracking Draytek High end dual WAN router with £50 cash back only up to the 19th October -http://clixtrac.com/goto/?94173

05/10/12 – Snippet 22-What do all those weird acronyms mean when I try to configure the broadband on my router? – http://clixtrac.com/goto/?94491

06/12/12 – Snippet 23-Type “ip address” in Google and it will tell you what your current public IP address is, try it!

08/10/12 – Snippet 24-Watch out what you sign up for, avoid the unscrupulous baddies http://clixtrac.com/goto/?94736

09/10/12 – Snippet 25- DNS means “Domain Name System”, it translates a web address to an IP address. It’s made up of many servers in many places.

10/10/12 – Snippet 26-PRT MAC stands for Media Access Control. Every network device has a MAC, phones, computers, tablets. It uniquely identifies a device.

11/10/12 – Snippet 27-DHCP=Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, the system that hands out IP addresses to devices that connect to your network.

12/10/12 – Snippet 28-Static IP address, supplied by your ISP to your router and is always the same, if not static, could change each time you connect.

13/10/12 – Snippet 29-A “Packet” is a unit of data, it can be different sizes and there can be packets within packets, it contains info on what’s in the packet.

14/10/12 – Snippet 30-FTTC=Fibre To The Curb, the latest broadband giving up to 76mbs download and 19mb upload where available.

17/10/12 – Snippet 31-An iPlate, a new cover plate for older phone sockets, it isolates the bell wire which can interfere with broadband.

18/10/12 – Snippet 32-POE=Power Over Ethernet. Power is supplied to a device such as an IP phone from a POE switch instead of using a mains power unit.

19/10/12 – How do I choose the right broadband for me? http://clixtrac.com/goto/?96026

19/10/12 – Snippet 33-QOS=Quality Of Service, give priority to selected data traffic e.g. voice needs to get around fast for a real time conversation!

20/10/12 – Snippet 34-EFM=Ethernet First Mile, 2/4 ADSL supplies bonded together to give much better internet connectivity from exchange to premises.

23/10/12 – Snippet 35-VoIP=Voice over Internet Protocol, phone calls over internet & works well these days, costs less, does more! http://dld.bz/bQvXm

31/10/12 – What would combining 4 x broadband supplies into one do for your business or organisation? http://clixtrac.com/goto/?97233

31/10/12 – Snippet 36-DoS/DDoS=Denial Of Service, example; someone attacks a server with a flood of data so you can’t access a web site hosted there.

01/11/12 – Snippet 37-WLAN Bridging is a method of beaming a wireless link from one location to another as if it was a network cable.

02/11/12 – Snippet 38-Annex M is a high specification ADSL2+ broadband giving up to 16mbs or 24mbs download and 2.5mbs upload speeds.

03/11/12 – Snippet 39-SMTP=Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, simply the protocol / standard for sending email around. Email to SMTP, receive from POP.

04/11/12 – Snippet 40-POP3=Post Office Protocol and is simply the standard / protocol for receiving you email. Email to SMTP, receive from POP.

07/11/12 – Snippet 41-LLU=Local Loop Unbundled, this is where a supplier such as Orange or TalTalk have their own equipment in a BT exchange.

09/11/12 – Snippet 42-SIP=Session Initiation Protocol. This is the open standard used most frequently to make phone calls over the internet.

10/11/12 – Really excellent value for money IP PBX’s (phone systems) http://clixtrac.com/goto/?98331

15/11/12 – Snippet 43-A Dongle-Small device which plugs into computer via USB/other connection, offers a service e.g. WiFi, 3G broadband security etc.

16/11/12 – Snippet 44-Network Adaptor or Home Plug. A plug that allows you to run your local network over the mains, sometimes with built in wireless.

05/12/12 – Snippet 45-The Cloud-A secure place on the internet somewhere to store things so that they can be accessed from anywhere.

07/12/12 – Snippet 46-Unmanaged switch-Simple switch that allows you to distribute to between 4 and 48 network devices from each switch.

08/12/12 – Snippet 47-Managed switch-Configurable sophisticated switch that allows you to distribute to between 4 and 48 network devices from each switch.

10/12/12 – Snippet 48-WD-WRT A Unix based Open Source standard firmware for routers – http://www.dd-wrt.com/site/index

14/12/12 – Snippet 49-Homeplug Mains network adaptor – used to connect network devices over mains electric circuits, some have wireless access points

17/12/12 – Snippet 50-I want to setup a wireless network part 2! – https://iwantrouters.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/i-want-to-setup-a-wireless-network-part-2/

18/12/12 – Snippet 51-ATA=Analogue Terminal Adaptor, device for using analogue devices (a phone) with local or external IP services, IP PBX’s or SIP

20/12/12 – Snippet 52-SSL=Secure Socket Layer, a secure encrypted method of sending information over the internet. See also Snippet 53-TLS.

20/12/12 – Snippet 53-TLS=Transport Layer Security, newer secure encrypted method of sending information over the internet, replaces SSL see Snippet 52

21/12/12 – Snippet 54-Popular voice over internet quality levels G729=low, G711=high, G722=Wideband or HD. Set to G711 for best compromise.

24/12/12 – Faster, more reliable, inexpensive connectivity for business or where internet connectivity is vital – http://clixtrac.com/goto/?93428

27/12/12 – Snippet 55-Data Encryption–transmit data in a form that cannot be understood if intercepted. Various levels of security can be implemented.

28/12/12 – Snippet 56-PBX, Private Branch Exchange. A phone system, used by businesses etc. You can get Analogue/digital/IP PBX’s.

02/01/13 – Snippet 57-PPPOA=Point to Point Protocol over ATM, a protocol used to validate and keep alive your internet connection to your ISP.

06/01/13 – Snippet 58-A/DSL Microfilter-a small box or socket that separates the voice and broadband (DSL) elements on a single analogue phone line.

07/01/13 – Snippet 59-Gigabit Vs 10/100-Gigabit is 10 times faster than 100mbs and 100mbs is 10 times faster than 10mbs networks. Gigabit is the latest

07/01/13 – Learn about broadband, routers, networking, wireless networking etc with the jargon explained – http://clixtrac.com/goto/?104372

17/01/13 – Snippet 60-IP Phones work globally if there is a reasonable connection. Take your IP phone from UK to Australia, it will work, same number!

21/01/13 – Snippet 61-AP=Access Point usually re Wireless. Part of a router or a separate box, transmitter / receiver 4 wireless devices to attach to.

22/01/13 – Snippet 62-WCF=Web Content Filtering, flexible access control to websites and website types, parental control, time based restrictions.

04/02/13 – Snippet 63-Decibal (Db) is the unit of measurement for wireless (WiFi) signal strength, 2Db is low, 12Db is high.

06/02/13 – Snippet 64-BLF=Busy Lamp Field, telecom term, when lit, shows when other phones are in use = when other people are currently on the phone.

10/02/13 – Snippet 65-U=the height a computer related device takes up in a 19” or 23”rack. 1u=44.45mm/1.75” high.

11/02/13 – Snippet 66-SNMP=Simple Network Management Protocol, used for administrating, configuring and monitoring computer networks http://www.net-snmp.org

13/02/13 – Snippet 67-OSI 7 Layer model. How computers & other devices communicate on local networks & the internet. See next 7 snippets for each layer

14/02/13 – Snippet 68-OSI 7 Layer model, layer 1 is the physical layer, wires/cables, the, connectors, plugs, wireless signal, electricity etc.

15/02/13 – Snippet 69-OSI 7 Layer model, layer 2 is the basic high speed transmission of data from point to point regardless of the meaning of the data.

18/02/13 – Snippet 70-OSI 7 Layer model, layer 3 is concerned with the size, routing & integrity of data, making sure data arrives safely.

19/02/13 – Snippet 71-OSI 7 Layer model, layer 4 data is transported to the upper layers as reliably as possible so that SW can use it effectively

20/02/13 – Snippet 72-OSI 7 Layer model, layer 5 establishes and terminates connections locally and remotely between applications

21/02/13 – Snippet 73-OSI 7 Layer model, layer 6 makes sure data is presented to applications in the form they understand

22/02/13 – Snippet 74-OSI 7 Layer model, layer 7 is the applications handling of network data and their internal processes.

23/02/13 – Snippet 75-OSI 7 Layer model names, 1-Physical, 2-Data Link, 3-Network, 4-Transport, 5-Session, 6-Presentatio, 7-Application.

24/02/13 – Snippet 76-Load Balancing is a way of connecting 2 or more broadband supplies to a single router so that they act as 1 broadband supply.

27/02/13 – Snippet 77-Omni directional-When a radio signal radiates out in all directions, 360 degrees

28/02/13 – Snippet 78-Unidirectional-When a radio signal is focused into a cone radiating out 70 degrees for example.

01/03/13 – Snippet 79-HTTP=HyperText Transfer Protocol, tells network programs that web pages are being worked with and how to handle them.

02/03/13 – Snippet 80-HTTPS-The same as HTTP but a secure version using SSL/TLS which is a system for encrypting data. On web pages in this context.

04/03/13 – Snippet 81-A basic byte is made up of 8 bits, a bit is a 0 or a 1. The smallest value is on the right 00000001=1, 00000010=2, 00000011=3 etc

05/03/13 – Snippet 82-CAT 5/6 or Category 5 or 6 networking cables have 8 wires in them and are used in home, office and national networks such as BT.

06/03/13 – Snippet 83-RJ45, a common type of 8 pin plug used for CAT 5/6 cabling. It is fairly square in design with a clip to secure the connection.

07/03/13 – Snippet 84-RJ11, a common type of 6 pin (4 or 6 pins are active) plug used for phone, modem connections etc. similar but smaller than RJ45.

08/03/13 – Snippet 85-Plug connections. You have an RJ11 plug with 6 pins, 4 or 6 pins might be connected e.g. 6PC4 = 6 pins but only 4 connected.

11/03/13 – Snippet 86-UK BT plugs fit an NTE5 socket. 2 types now 431A and 631A, P6C4 & P6C6 respectively, an oddity as the RJ11 would be more standard.

12/03/13 – Snippet 87-USB=Universal Serial BUS. 6 types of plug, used for phones, computers, printers, mice, nearly everything – http://dld.bz/cpKxg

13/03/13 – Snippet 88-Buffer, memory reserved as a capacitor. Like a bucket of water that is always topped up so that it never runs out.

15/03/13 – Snippet 89-NAS-Network Attached Storage-Box with 1 or more hard discs in it & enough circuitry and software to share data across a network.

18/03/13 – Snippet 90-BUS-Name of the internal connection architecture of all the components in a computer. E.g. so a hard drive can talk to a CPU etc.

19/03/13 – Snippet 91-SATA=Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, a type of bus designed for mass storage devices like hard disks.

20/03/13 – Snippet 92-DMZ, derived from “DeMilitarized Zone”. A kind of neutral sub network zone used to protect more sensitive network areas.

21/03/13 – Snippet 93-TCP/IP=Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, this protocol streams raw octal data around the internet reliably.

23/03/13 – Snippet 94-Hidden SSID=“Hidden Service Set IDentifier”. Your wireless network cannot be seen publicly you have to know the name of it.

25/03/13 – Snippet 95-“Failover”, term used to describe switching from one service or device to an alternative where available if the current one fails

29/03/13 – Snippet 96-4G=4th Generation, a new standard of mobile broadband. 2 types, WiMax & LTE (Long Term Evolution). Unclear how good it will be.

02/04/13 – Snippet 97-EWAN=Ethernet Wide Area Networks. Remote connections functioning at Ethernet level as if plugging in a LAN cable

03/04/13 – Snippet 98-Hosted Telephony. A phone system hosted remotely by a provider, you access it & make calls over broadband. You just have phones.

04/04/13 – Snippet 99-GUI=Graphical User Interface. Outmoded term, nearly all our interactions with programs are GUI now. Alternative to command line.

05/04/13 – Snippet 100-The internet-Every computer, mobile, device attached to the internet is part of it and is it. It is the sum of its parts.

Stuart

http://www.iwantrouters.com


I want to setup a wireless network part 2!


Wireless Network 2

So now you have the equipment you need to set up your wireless network. It needs to be configured but manuals being manuals, are not always that easy to follow. I’ll assume the instructions on how to plug things together are fairly straight forward. As this article is from a fairly generic point of view I will talk about the typical lights and sockets on a router and then I will carry on with how to configure your wireless. I will use Draytek equipment in my examples as they cover a lot of ground but the same applies to any router even if the terms and conventions are a little different. I know that some of you would rather do anything else than configure your router in any way. I know how you feel; I feel the same about balance sheets. For whatever reason you are configuring your wireless network, expert or amateur, I will try to make this easy to understand. If there is anything that could be made clearer or could be improved let me know and I’ll do my best. Some routers have configuration wizards that will guide you through the initial setup processes and will get you going but are not generally much help beyond that. We will start off with configuring the wireless Access Point, in our example the Access Point built into a router.

Router – The lights

This routers status panel has more lights on it than most other makes of routers and the layout is compact so it should cover the majority of lights you are likely to come across. Some routers will have other lights or will name them differently. They could be laid out in a different way.

Front inputs Draytek Vigor 2850n

Light

Status

Explanation

ACT (Activity)

Off

The router is off.

Blinking

The router is on and working normally.

USB (not all routers have this)

On

A working USB device is plugged in.

Blinking

Data is moving between the USB device and the router.

WAN2 (2nd Wide Area Network , most routers do not have this)

On

A working WAN connection is plugged in.

Off

A working WAN connection is not plugged in.

Blinking

The connection is active and data is moving about.

WCF (Web Content Filtering, a Draytek specific feature, not shown in this example)

On

This subscription service is enabled.

WLAN (Wireless LAN, if you have it)

On

Wireless is active.

Blinking

This will blink slowly while wireless traffic goes through.

The ACT and WLAN LEDs blink quickly and simultaneously when WPS (see “Buttons” below) is working, it will return to normal condition after two minutes. (You need to setup WPS within two minutes.)

ADSL

On

Your ADSL is synchronised with your ISP (Internet Service Provider). This should stay solid once it’s connected successfully.

Blinking

Whilst the router is trying to connect with your ISP this should blink slowly.  It may pause and then blink again as it tries different methods to connect.  It could take a few minutes to connect.

VDSL (the newer FTTC or Fibre To The Cabinet service, BT call theirs Infinity)

On

Your ADSL is synchronised with your ISP (Internet Service Provider). This should stay solid once it’s connected successfully.

Blinking

Whilst the router is trying to connect with your ISP this should blink slowly.  It may pause and then blink again as it tries different methods to connect.  It could take a few minutes to connect.

DoS*1 (not all routers have this)

On

The DoS/DDoS functionality is enabled.

Blinking

An attack is in progress.

VPN*2 (Virtual Private Network)

On

At least one VPN tunnel is active

QoS (Quality Of Service)

On

QoS is active and giving priority to data traffic that has to have priority, for example voice traffic cannot be delayed for it to be effective.

*1 – DoS stands for Denial Of Service and DDoS stands for Distributed Denial Of Service. This is a malicious attack by someone trying to flood your router with duplicated data. This is sometimes aimed at bringing down web sites or a service. If you continuously flood an inbound internet connection with data then it is difficult for anyone else to get a look in. The router cannot stop the attack but can stop malicious data from getting any further and let you know that it’s happening.

*2 – A Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides a tunnel between your home computer and your work computer for example. It is a more direct, faster and secure route between the 2 devices. Not all routers can support this and only some routers fully support it. This model fully supports multiple VPN’s.

Router – The sockets

Sockets may be named differently, there may be more or less and they may be in different places on different routers.

Front inputs Draytek Vigor 2850n

Socket

Light

Status

Explanation

GigaLAN – sockets 1 to 3 (gigabit speeds)

Left green LED

On

There is an active connection.

Off

No active connection.

Blinking

Data is being transmitted.

Right green LED

On

It is a gigabit (1,000gbs) connection.

Off

It is a 10mbs or 100mbs connection.

GigaLAN – socket 4 – Either a 4th LAN socket or the second WAN

Left green LED

On

There is an active connection.

Off

No active connection.

Blinking

Data is being transmitted.

Right green LED

On

It is a gigabit (1,000gbs) connection.

Off

It is a 10mbs or 100mbs connection.

VDSL/ADSL

 

 

Plug in your ADSL/VDSL connection.

USB

 

 

For your USB lead or device.

Draytek Vigor 2850n power input / switch

The socket for your power adapter and the on off switch.

Router – The buttons

Draytek Vigor 2850n WiFi LED & reset

Buttons may be named differently, there may be more or less and they may be in different places on different routers.The “Wireless LAN ON/OFF/WPS” button has dual use in this example. If you press it twice it will toggle the wireless between off and on. WPS stands for “WiFi Protected Setup” and works a little like pairing a mobile phone with a Bluetooth headset. It only works WPA-PSK and WPA2-PSK security (there are several levels of wireless security and this will be discussed later on). If you press the WPS button once the ACT and WLAN LED’s will start blinking together for 2 minutes within which time you need to press the button on the connecting device or follow the procedure for that device as instructed. On this router example there is a factory reset button. If you press this and hold it down for 10 seconds (the number of seconds needed will vary between routers) your router will go back to the state it was in when you first opened the box. If the router you have is capable of backing up its configuration then take a backup every now and then so that if you do have to reset it you won’t have to start from scratch. This button is usually just inside the router so you will need something like a paper clip to put in the hole to operate it.

Router – Wireless Configuration

Ok, let’s go, let’s start easy …

Basics

Here’s an example setup screen from a Draytek Vigor 2850n. This one can handle up to four Wireless LAN’s so there are more options than you will see on most routers.

General wireless settings

Enable

Enable wireless LAN

Most routers, especially if you set them up with a basic setup wizard will default the wireless to on. Tick the enable box if it’s not already ticked.

Mode

Wireless technology does not stand still, people are improving it all the time which means that there are several standards of wireless. The latest is IEEE 802.11n (IEEE stands for “Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers”) which unless you are techy doesn’t mean much but “Wireless N” you may have heard of. Older wireless standards are 11g, 11b and 11a. If you have older devices then they may not work with just 11n (Wireless N) so it’s best to set the mode to use all three as needed, 11b, 11g and 11n which are the most popular standards. Like this:

Wireless transmission standards settings

Index (1 to 15)

This one is another feature that you may not see on other routers but I will cover it anyway. You can set the wireless LAN to only be accessible at certain times. You can enter up to four schedules out of a choice of 16. Click the “Schedule” text link which will take you here:

Schedule wireless access

Then click one of the index numbers to take you here: Create an access schedule

I think the date, time and duration is fairly straight forward but I will explain the technical settings.

Enable Schedule Setup

Switch it on or off, enable or disable.

Action

This allows you to specify how the wireless should behave and whether it should be on or off for a particular schedule.

  • Force On                        – Force the wireless connection to be on.
  • Force Down                    – Force the wireless connection to be off.
  • Enable Dial-On-Demand     – Specify that the connection should sleep unless required, the value of idle timeout should be set in Idle Timeout field.
  • Disable Dial-On-Demand    – Specify that the connection stays working when it has traffic on the line. Once there is no traffic it will sleep after the idle timeout is reached, the connection will then stay off during the relevant schedule.
Idle Timeout

Enter the number of minutes between 0 and 255 after which the connection will sleep or switch off as appropriate to the other settings.

How often

You can set the schedule as a one off or for selected days of the week from the start date onward’s.

SSID

SSID example

This bit is important as this is how you know what your wireless network is called! SSID stands for “Service Set IDentifier” … not too exciting really (zzzz)! Anyway, just give it a name that will easily identify your wireless network, for example “Smith Family WiFi”, “The company – private” or maybe something more anonymous, just so long as you and the people using it can easily identify it. Here’s an example:

And here are some examples of SSID’s shown on a Windows PC.

Scanned wireless connections

In our Draytek example you can specify up to four SSID’s which you can enable individually except for SSID1 which is set on by default when you enable wireless.

Hide SSID

If you have this option, which you should, you might want to hide your SSID so people from the street or the public in a public place for example cannot see your network therefore will not normally try to connect to it. This will mean that you will have to make a manual connection to it instead of just seeing the SSID come up on your connecting device and clicking to connect. Here’s an example of manually connecting to a wireless network if the SSID is hidden:

Manually connect to WiFi, hidden SSID

Isolate Member

Tick this box to stop people with connected wireless devices from accessing other connected wireless devices.

Isolate VPN

Tick this box to stop people with connected wireless devices using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) from accessing other connected wireless devices on different VPN’s. The explanation of VPN’s are outside the scope of this article but for now, if you are curious see here.

Channel

You can probably leave this on Auto. Wireless can use several frequencies and in most cases just let the system get on with it. If you suspect interference from other wireless sources, maybe outside of your control, then you might want to select specific frequencies and see if it makes any difference.

Wireless channel selection

Long Pre-amble

You can ignore this unless you are still using a wireless device that uses the 11b standard. Some 11b devices sync in a different way to the norm. If you have a 11b device that will not connect to your router’s wireless then you can try ticking this box.

Packet-Overdrive

This feature is more or less Draytek specific. “TX Burst”, which stands for “Transmission Burst”, is a way of speeding up data transmission in the older standard 11g (see “Mode” above). With the new 11n standard this is no longer needed so this is likely to be phased out. You are unlikely to find this on other makes of routers or devices. You can safely ignore this feature.

Rate Control

Here you can control how much bandwidth each SSID uses, that is, how much of the available wireless network capacity should be used by each SSID. If you enable this and if you have say 2 x SSID’s active you might want to share the capacity between the two instead of the four. If one SSID is used more than another perhaps you might want to give more band width to one SSID over the other(s).

Security

Security is such a pain but unfortunately necessary. If you don’t want unknown people connecting into your wireless network and not only using your internet but perhaps getting access to your files then you will need to put some basic security on your wireless network at least. Some routers will default to an open network and some will default to a particular security regime. If you set up your router with a configuration Wizard then it may have walked you through basic wireless security.

Mode

The mode is the type of security regime you choose one of which may be “Disabled” or “None” for example which means your wireless network is open to anyone. On some routers there may be a tick box to enable wireless security in others it may be one of several modes. Here’s a list of modes which I will explain a little but don’t worry it’s not as complicated as it looks. Most modern devices will figure out which type of wireless security is being used when they try to connect and will just ask you to put in the appropriate password.

Select wireless security type

If you don’t want to read all of this bit then to make it simple the best mode is “Mixed (WPA+WPA2)/PSK”. You will need to type in a pre-shared key which will be your wireless connection password.

WEP, which stands for “Wired Equivalent Privacy”, is an older security standard. If you have wireless devices that will only work with WEP then use this. You may need to put in a 10 character hexadecimal key/password like this “0x4142B33F3C” (computers count in base 8 or 16 etc) using numbers 0-9 and letters A-F. Some routers will allow you to put in a word or phrase which will be translated into a hexadecimal key. There are two types of WEP 64 bit (10 character key) and 128 bit (13 to 26 character). Some routers will allow you to enter four WEP keys from which you select one to be active at any time. This is a slightly odd approach but does mean that you could give people four keys from which to try connecting with, one of them will work at any time if the keys are switched around. In the authors opinion this is an odd approach but it was widely used not that long ago and does work well. In this example there are four 64 bit keys which are masked. Key 1 is active.

 WEP encryption wireless security

WPA stands for “WiFi Protected Access” and PSK stands for “Pre-shared Key” which really just means security with a password. The password or PSK bit can have between 8 and 63 characters so a long password should make it pretty difficult to guess. It can also take hexadecimal for example “x4142434445464748494A4B4C4D” but I always find this harder to remember J WPA/WPA2 is more secure than WEP and WPA2 is more secure than WPA. Why one is better than the other is more than this article aims to explain but if you want to find out then please go to WiFi Protected Access and go from there. /802.1x Only– Some selections have this after the security type. This is an advanced mode where wireless passwords/keys are administered more centrally. If this regime is in use then your IT support will probably sort it out for you or you are already know what you are doing beyond the scope of this module. I will touch on it perhaps in a later module.

What happens when you connect?

If you are here then well done and you are ready to connect a device to your wireless network. This is what should happen when you go to connect … using an Android phone in this case … From the WiFi settings screen, turn the WiFi on. Once it’s on you may see a “Scanning” message whilst it looks for networks that it can access:

Phone example of available SSID's

If you pick an open network, without a padlocked icon and “secured with …” message then you should be connected without further ado but if the connection is password protected then you will be asked for the password.Depending on the device you will get messages similar to this:

  • Connecting …
  • Authenticating … (it’s checking that you password is valid)
  • Obtaining IP address … (now it needs to get you an IP address from the router so that the router knows which device is which)
  • Connected (your’ done, it should say which network (the SSID) you are connected to).

Access Control

Password protecting your wireless network is the least you should do and as long as integrity is maintained everything should be fine. If unauthorised access is suspected or spotted then you can tie things down further with “Access Control”. Every device that can be networked has a MAC which stands for Media Access Control. Here’s an example “00-50-7F-DD-63-99”. There are several ways of finding out the MAC address of a device. The easiest is to look at the label for that device, it should be on there. If it’s a smart mobile phone or similar then try looking at the “Settings -> About -> Hardware Information” (Android) or  “Settings -> General -> About” (iPhone), finding it on other phones or devices should be along the same lines. You can find out what is currently attached to your network by finding the appropriate list in the LAN section of your routers admin pages. In this example there are 5 devices attached with their local IP addresses and MAC addresses although you cannot see in this example which device is which. Some routers may allow you to attach names to MAC addresses if you want to define them.

ARP table wireless

Here’s an example of an Access Control screen. It can accommodate four SSID’s but most routers only have one. Note that here Access Control is only enabled for SSID 1.

Wireless access control

Enable MAC Address Filter

See the example above but more usually enabling this security measure looks like this:

Enable access control

Note that in the example above you can switch between a White List (MAC’s allowed to connect) and a Black List (Mac’s not allowed to connect) for each SSID.

Policy

In the above example you can isolate devices attached to the wireless LAN so that they cannot get at your wired LAN. You would want to do this for example, if you wanted to give access to the internet and other wireless devices but not to your files which are on devices that are hard wired (guests that can access the internet and a wireless printer for example). Just tick the “Isolate the station from LAN” box for the MAC address you are entering. You might instead set a the policy to isolate the wireless LAN from the hard wired LAN entirely.

MAC filter / isolation

Clients MAC Address

Here you enter a new MAC address to add to the list; like “00-50-7F-DD-63-99” for example.

Attribute

Tick this box for the MAC address you are entering to stop this device from accessing the wired network.

Add, Delete, Edit, Cancel

So you can manage your Access Control lists.

Station List

This is an odd screen in so much as it really belongs in the “Access Control” screen. Subsequently I think most routers will not have this screen. It simply shows the status of a devices connection and allows you to add a MAC address to “Access Control”.

Wireless station list

WPS

Earlier I mentioned that you could connect a device using WPS (WiFi Protected Setup). I shall start by explaining the terms used In the diagram below:

  • AP Router    – This is just your wireless router, the wireless part is referred to as an Access Point, thus the “AP” bit.
  • PBC            – “Push Button Control” is where you press the WPS button on the router which will then wait for up to 2 minutes until you press the WPS button on the device you are trying to connect wirelessly to the router.
  • PIN Code    – Instead of using the push button method you can use a PIN Code. This is initially defined by the device you are trying to connect and you will have to follow the instructions for that device to define it.

Please note that WPS only works with WPA/WPA2-PSK security. WPS wireless connection

The following example is again from the Draytek Vigor 2850 series so this will look different on different routers but the essentials will be the same.

WPS wireless settings

Enable WPS

Tick this to enable WPS functionality.

WPS Status

This will be “Configured” as long as the appropriate wireless security has been configured in the “Security” section above.

SSID

This is the SSID for WPS connection. It will be in fact SSID1 for the router used in this example.

Authentication Mode

This must be WPA-PSK, WPA2-PSK or both mixed as in the above example.

WPS Statuses

In the above example you can see the “WPS is Disabled” status is greyed and the “WPS is Enabled” status is on by its red circle in this case. The “Waiting for WPS requests from wireless clients” status with the circle rotating shows that the router is  waiting for your device to connect.

Connect with the button

Press the button on the router or click “Start PBC” on the routers WPS settings screen (WPS LED blinks fast), then click the appropriate button or setting on the device you are trying to connect. WPS button connection

Connect with a PIN code

Define or have ready the PIN code on the device you want to connect then enter it in the PIN field and click “Start PIN” on the routers WPS settings screen (WPS LED blinks fast whilst connecting is in progress). WPS PIN connection

Web Portal

This feature will not be available on all routers. It simply allows a message to be displayed or redirection to a specified URL/Web Page when someone connects to your wireless network. WEB portal settings

Router – Advanced Wireless Configuration

I was tempted to say here “now for the tricky stuff” but it’s not tricky at all it’s just stuff that is less used than the more popular configurations above. Some of this you might not be too interested in but I would advise you to stick with it as some of this you may find useful and might discover something useful that you didn’t know.

WDS

WDS stands for Wireless Distribution System. All it really means is joining two Wireless Access Points together. This can be done in two ways in this context:

Bridging

Bridging means using two Wireless Access Points as if they were a physical cable joining two LAN’s together to form one LAN. Data is forwarded back and forth as if you had hardwired two switches together. This can be done multiple times, let’s say you have 4 buildings in a campus situation where you could not easily lay cables. In this case you could bridge the distances wirelessly. A more powerful directional aerial could come in handy here as discussed in I want to setup wireless network part 1.

Bridge Wireless Access Points

Repeating

This is used when you want to boost or repeat the wireless signal to extend your wireless networks coverage. It think this diagram shows this well.

Repeat wireless Access Points WDS wireless settings

Mode

This is set to either disabled, Bridge or Repeater.

Security

Now you have a choice of having no security (Disable), using WEP or WPA/WPA2 where, as above WPA2 is best.

WEP

If you chose WEP then you may have a choice depending on the router, to use the existing WEP key or put in a new one for the bridge or repeater mode.

Pre-shared Key

As with WEP you may have a choice depending on the router, to use the existing pre-shared key or put in a new one for the bridge or repeater mode.

Bridge & Repeater MAC’s

For either of these put in the MAC addresses of the other Wireless Access Points that you want to bridge or repeat to. Remember to enable the ones you want to use and disable the ones you are not using to maintain best performance.

Access Point Function

Disable or Enable the router as an access point for bridging or repeating.

Status

If present and supported by the other Access Points you can send “Hello” messages to them.

WMM Configuration

This stands for “Wi-Fi Multi-Media”. Not all routers will have this and it may look very different on other routers management systems but it is the principle that is important to understand. This is about letting more important data through faster and letting less important data take a little bit more time if necessary. Take VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone calls, the data streams that carry a phone call need to get around fast or the conversation becomes broken and perhaps unintelligible wheras if it takes a little longer to download a web page it does not matter so much. Unless things are slow or you are having performance issues then you will probably want to ignore this area. This screen looks a bit complicated but let’s see if I can demystify it for you.

WMM settings There are two sections. The “WMM Parameters of Access Point” affect bridging and repeating (see above) and the “WMM Parameters of Station” affect the connected wireless devices.There are four types of data defined here:

  • AC_BE  – Email traffic
  • AC_BK  – Web browsing traffic
  • AC_VI  – Video traffic
  • AC_VO – Voice traffic

The value types are defined as follows:

Aifsn

Range 1 – 15 This affects the time that a connected wireless device waits for data to be transmitted. Set low for voice and video so that the data gets processed faster.

CWMin/CWMAX

Range 1 – 15 This is to do with contention. There is lots of data contending for attention and this is a way of letting more priority data through at a time. The router will attend to certain data types more frequently. In the above example the video and voice data gets to go more often. You must set CWMax higher than CWMin.

Txop

Range 0 – 65535 This affects the priority of data transmitted. You would want to set higher values for video and voice, low for the other 2.

ACM

Tick box This stands for Admission Control Mandatory. This will restrict the appropriate type of data when ticked. You probably don’t want to tick this but let’s say you wanted to stop people viewing video’s, then you could tick it for AC_VI.

AckPolicy

Tick box This is a compromise feature. Normally when “A” sends data to “B”, “A” asks “hey B, did you get that bit of data ok” and “B” says “yes” or “no”, if “B” says no then “A” can send again. If you tick this box then “A” won’t ask “B” to acknowledge transmissions and will just blindly send data. It’s faster but might be unreliable. Normally you shouldn’t need to tick this box.

WMM Capable

This turns it on or off, enable or disable.

APSD Capable

In this example screen this is possibly an odd place for this feature. This is a power saving feature. Enabling this will mean that wireless devices can spend more time in a sleeping state. This may impact performance a little so you may want to leave this disabled.

AP Discovery

This screen allows you to find other Access Points in range so you can bridge or repeat them. Scanning takes about 5 seconds and during those 5 seconds wireless devices cannot connect. Only Access Points on the same channel can be found. This screen will vary in what it looks like and it’s functionality on other routers.

Access Point Discovery I’ll explain the column headings:

  • BSSID      – The MAC address of the discovered Access Point.
  • Channel    – The channel the Access Point is running on.
  • SSID        – The SSID of the Access Point.

Click the “Scan” button to start the scan. You can click the “Statistics” to get the following screen which shows which channels are working the best. In this example channel 6 is looking pretty good!

Access Point channel statisticsYou can click the “WDS Settings” text to go straight to the WDS screen or input the MAC at the bottom, choose “Bridge” or “Repeater” and click “Add” to add it to the WDS list.

Other Advanced Settings

This is going to vary for different routers, these settings may not be present and/or may be distributed on different screens.

Other advanced wireless settings

Operation Mode

Transmitting data wirelessly using different 802.11 standards is not as efficient as sticking to one standard. If all your devices use Wireless N / 802.11n and there is not going to be any interference from other wireless networks then set this to “Green Field” for better performance.

Channel Bandwidth

This router can use a 20mhz frequency for data transmission or if set to “20mhz / 40mhz” it will use 40mhz if other devices can support this frequency which would result in faster data transmission. A setting to try out and see if it makes a tangible difference.

Guard interval

Data is digital but wireless is not. If that makes you think “what’s he talking about” then I should not be surprised. What I mean is that data is binary, that is, a sequence of 0’s and 1’s but the wireless that transmits the digital data around is the good old fashioned wireless that you used to and still do use to listen to the radio with. The only thing that has changed really is the type of information it carries. To this end, for each little bit of data that is transmitted a little gap is put in to space the data out so one piece cannot interfere with another. This slows things down a little but there will be less errors, it’s a bit of a compromise. Some routers let you specify a short or long gap which is what this setting is all about. Probably best to leave it as it is.

Aggregation MSDU

This is to do with Wireless N and is a little trickier to explain. Without going too techy it’s a about putting lots of little “packets” into a bigger “packet” and sending them out in one go, it’s more efficient than sending them out individually to the same destination. Leave enabled in normal circumstances.

Well, I think that’s quite a bit to take in so that’s it for now.

In “I want to setup a wireless network part 3″ I will talk about configuring other wireless devices etc.

How am I doing, do you have any suggestions on how I could improve this article?

Stuart

www.iwantrouters.com

End – I want to setup a wireless network part 2


How can I get more from what I already have (broadband)?


Is your broadband performing as well as it could be?  Maybe it is frustratingly slow or you are thinking, maybe I could get more out of it?!  There are quite a few factors involved in how good a service you get so I am going to go through them using a check list with explanations approach.  It may not be exhaustive but I hope it will help.

My equipment

If you think you have a problem with your broadband and you call your ISP the first thing they will ask you to do is check your equipment so let’s do this first.

  • Old BT sockets and iPlates.

    iPlate

    • Some older BT sockets have bell ringer wires that interfere with broadband.  You can isolate this by plugging an “iPlate” into your BT master socket if one is not already fitted.  Bell ringer wires are not needed for modern phones.  This can make a significant improvement where relevant.  It is possible that more recent ones have bell wires as well.
  • ADSL filter – This is the little box that splits the voice element from the broadband.  You plug your phone into one socket and your router into the other.  You will find it plugged into a phone line wall socket.
    • If an ADSL filter is not being used then start using one, the difference can be quite significant.

      Tailed ADSL Filter

    • Are there secondary extensions taken from the back of the master socket?  If there are each one that you are using must have an ADSL filter even if it’s just a phone or a fax machine plugged into it.
    • Is your ADSL filter faulty?  All you can do is try another one and see if it makes a difference.
  • Cables– The network cables that you use between the BT socket and the router or from the router onwards are important.
    • Are any cables damaged?
    • Are there any suspect plugs or sockets?
    • If any are suspect try replacing them with another cable and see if that makes any difference.  You may be able to swap them around to check.  One faulty cable coming from the router to a switch for example could compromise the whole network.
    • Are they too long?  The maximum recommended distance for a cable run is approximately 100 metres, after that things start to deteriorate.   Either use shorter runs or boost the signal by adding a powered switch along the way.
  • Routers and switches.
    • Is your router able to handle the service plugged into it, for example older routers may not be capable of handling ADSL2+ in full or in part.
    • Can the router handle what you are putting through it?  If you have 50 users going through a cheap router then it may be too much for it and therefore you may perceive your broadband to be slow or unreliable.  Try a better router.
    • Is it a 10/100 router or a gigabyte router.  Older routers may only supply 10mbs to your local area network (LAN) which is probably not enough these days.  Make sure it is at least supplying 100mbs or better, gigabyte speeds.  This partly depends on your connected devices such as an old PC with a network card that will only support 10mbs.  As above if you suspect your router try another more recent one and see if this makes a difference.
  • Devices.
    • Is your laptop PC, desktop, tablet or smart phone slow?  If other devices are getting good speeds then it’s probably not the LAN or your broadband etc, it’s just that particular device or the network card in it.
  • Web sites.
    • Some websites are faster than others so check by using a control website such as www.bbc.co.uk or another reliable site.  If this appears slow then it’s not slow websites that are the problem.  You can use www.speedtest.net to check your speed when no-one/nothing else is using your broadband.

My location

The distance between you and your BT exchange and the quality of the cables etc. between can make a big difference.  If you are next to the exchange then your broadband service should be very good but if you are 10 kilometres away, the BT cable is old and not so great then the service you get may not be so good.  Too far away and / or poor cables could at worst mean you don’t get a useable service at all or it may be unreliable. See my previous blog for more information about this.

There is not a lot you can do about this unless BT are prepared to replace some of their infrastructure but this is probably unlikely.  Sometimes just having a new line put in will give you a better (or even worse) broadband service as this line may take a route back to the exchange using different cabling.  BT has been known to replace the bit of cable between the green box on the street and premises but there are no guarantees that they will do this or that it will make a difference.

What can your ISP do for you?

Time to get a bit more technical but I will try and make this easy to understand.  This bit you can’t really control but to some extent your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can.  Some characteristics of your broadband depend on your ISP and the networks they use.

  • Sync – This is simply the raw up and down connection speeds that your router reports on its online status page.  It is the speed of connection between your router and your ISP.  If you check your speed with something like www.speedtest.net it won’t be quite as good as this is the speed you get accessing the internet which is beyond your ISP’s area of control

    Draytek router sync status

  • SNR or Signal to Noise Ratio – Pick a phone up and if the line is noisy (not the phone itself) then you are not likely to get as good a broadband service as when it is quiet.  Broadband might be a digital service but a normal phone line is an analogue transport service and noise on it will interfere with a digital service which is not so tolerant with interference and causes data errors.  BT fixing faults, should there be any, in their infrastructure could improve this.

You can usually see the SNR on your routers online status page.  It’s measured in decibels and a good average is 6db.  If the line is noisy and the signal is not strong enough there will be lots of errors which means the broadband appears slow as data with errors has to be re-sent to you.  Your ISP can change the SNR in 3db stages from 3db to 15db to increase the signal strength.  Increasing the SNR will slow your broadband down but if there are fewer errors then from your point of view it goes faster.  Get your ISP to increase the SNR by 3db at a time and try it out for a few days each time.  If it gets better, keep going until it slows down again or you get to 15db.  If you get to say 9db and works better then go to 12db, if it slows down then get your ISP to back it up to 9db again.  It’s a balance between speed and errors.

  • Attenuation – This is measured in decibels.  It’s the quality of signal.  10db is good, 30db is ok, 60db is acceptable, just about, more than 60db and things rapidly go downhill.  Apart from changing cables or moving closer to the exchange there is not much that can be done.  Changing the SNR as above should help.
  • Latency – Another word for delay in this context.  It’s the round trip of your data.  For example, if you go out to get a take away pizza straight down the motorway it might take you 15 minutes to get back but if you go cross country down small roads with grass growing in the middle and lots of turns etc. then it might take an hour to get back even if the distance is more or less the same.  This is generally the case on the internet but some services can be routed down a prescribed route if the source and destination is known, for example voice calls (VoIP) are known types of data and can be routed more directly to particular destinations and back. Some latency your ISP can control and some they cannot. www.speedtest.net will give you a “ping” speed which is the time a piece of data takes to go out to a particular destination and come back to you.  It’s measured in milliseconds. 30ms is great, 50ms is still good, 80ms ok, 100ms+ not so good, 200ms+ definitely talk to your ISP.
  • Jitter – This how much latency varies so for example a general variance between 30ms and 60ms is not going to cause too much of a problem but if variance is between 50ms and 200ms then things like VoIP are not going to work very well as your broadband service in effect speeds up and slows down.  There are lots of reasons why this might occur and may be nothing to do with your ISP but you can ask. This problem could be within your local area network.
  • Packet loss – This is caused by some of the characteristics above.  Data is broken up into pieces called packets, sent to you and then re-assembled.  If some packets are lost due to noise on the line corrupting them for example then the data needs to be re-sent to you which slow things down.  If you went to Ikea to buy some flat pack furniture and a box was missing then you will have to go back for it which means it will take longer to put it together.  In the case of a real time services such as a phone call over the internet “sme its ight be missg” and a re-send will do you no good as by then it’s too late.

What’s left?

If you’re broadband service is still poor after all the above and maybe a few other checks that become apparent then maybe two broadband services using a load balancing router such as the Draytek Vigor 2830 series may be the answer.  At least you will get the benefit of 2 poor services combined which might then be satisfactory and probably more reliable.  It could be the difference between unsatisfactory and acceptable.

In my last blog I promised something a bit lighter than all this serious stuff and I have found something worth a mention.  In the blog following after this one I am going to have a bit of a rant about “Contracts – use, abuse and downright dishonesty”.

How am I doing?  Please help me to improve my blogs by commenting.


How do I choose the right broadband for me?


By now you will have got the idea that there are a fair few broadband options available and maybe you are not sure what to choose for your given situation.  One important question to consider; my broadband connection is important to me or it is not important to me.  I say this because if you access the internet occasionally at home and look at your emails a couple of times a week then some issues now and then with your broadband are not going to cause you too much distress but if you are running a business where your broadband is critical to it, it’s worth making sure you have good supplies and suppliers, and that you do your best to ensure continuity.

Before I get on with the “what’s right for me” bit I think it’s worth considering a few things.

BT, TalkTalk (who own Tiscali), Sky and a few others are the underlying suppliers of broadband and what I mean by that is if you change your supplier you might very well end up with the same broadband that you had before.  For example, if you have your broadband with TalkTalk and change to “Really Nice People Telecom limited” they might still supply you with TalkTalk broadband even if it’s branded with their name.

Another thing to consider is that behind the scenes telecoms is complicated, layered, fragmented and often process driven.  From my past experience working in telecoms and putting my finger in the air (so don’t quote me) around a third of all installations or changes go wrong in some way, from a minor delay to a full blown nightmare of a saga.  It doesn’t matter which supplier you use this can still happen, the big difference is how an issue is handled.  The vast majority of phone and broadband lines are installed by either BT or Virgin whoever you go through and this bit is not always easy to control.  A good and reputable telecoms supplier will take a lot of the burden away from you and deal with an issue as quickly as they can.  This means the difficulties of resolving an issue falls to them and even though they have special links into BT it can still be difficult for them.  A supplier with poor customer service like the ones supplying dead cheap broadband will sometimes have you pulling your hair out and other times will resolve an issue easily but you will have to drive things more either way.

In business a poor telecoms/broadband supplier can sometimes cost you much more than you save on a cheap service so pick your supplier with some care.

Let’s look at some scenarios:

In most cases here you might as well get the fastest ADSL available, it doesn’t usually cost any more.  Virgin may be different and charge a bit more for their faster broadband.  BT or LLU services (Local Loop Unbundled, where an ISP has their equipment installed in a BT exchange) are both fine.

The prices below are indicative and you may pay more or less.

All the DSL speeds below are “upto” speeds.  You are unlikely to get the maximum speeds when these services are actually installed.

I am a light domestic user who doesn’t use my broadband very often and if it didn’t work for a week then although it would be a bit frustrating I could live with it ok.

If this is all that you need then why not go cheap and just get the best deal from Sky, BT, Virgin, TalTalk, O2, Plusnet or another cheap supplier.  If something does go wrong the customer service might not be up to much, it’s pot luck, this is the downside of “cheap” but it probably doesn’t matter too much at this level.  To a point you get what you pay for.

Expect to pay in the region of £5 a month for the broadband, possibly as part of a line, broadband and calls package.

Example: 24mbs download, 1mbs upload, 3gb cap, 50:1 contention if relevant

A router will probably be supplied to you along with the broadband and should fine.

I am a relatively light domestic user who does use my broadband often AND if it didn’t work for a week then I would be really put out.

You don’t have to be a business user to buy business broadband so I would suggest a low end business broadband from a customer focussed supplier.

Expect to pay in the region of £15 a month upwards.

Example: 24mbs download, 1mbs upload, 3gb cap, 20:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2710 series router or a Vigor 2110 / 2130 if you want cable.

I am a heavy domestic user who does use my broadband often and if it didn’t work for a week then I would be really put out.  I download films, music etc.  I don’t want any limits on how much I download.

Buy an uncapped business broadband as fast as you can get for your location and with a low contention rate, no more than 20:1 (that is you share the service to the exchange with up to 19 other people).  10:1 is better.

Expect to pay in the region of £20 a month upwards.

Example: 24mbs download, 2.5mbs upload, uncapped, 20:1 / 10:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2710 series router or a Vigor 2110 / 2130 if you want cable.

I am a business user and although broadband is not critical to my business I want good customer service from my ISP, I want quick resolutions to issues where possible and a reliable service.  I access my business computers from home.  There are only a few staff.

Buy a low end business broadband.  Make sure you get a static IP, most ISP’s supply one for free and charge if

you need more.  This is a fixed internet protocol address assigned to you.  Look at it a bit like living in a house and having a permanent address as opposed to living in a caravan where your address changes (if you don’t have a static IP you getwhatever IP address your ISP gives you each time you connect to their service).  An example of a static IP address is “92.27.115.68”.

Expect to pay in the region of £15 a month upwards.

Example: 24mbs download, 1mbs upload, 5gb cap, 20:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2830 series router.

I am a business user, broadband is critical to my business and I want good customer service from my ISP, I want quick resolutions where possible and a reliable service.  If my broadband went down my business would suffer and lose money.  I am not a heavy user, it is mostly internet browsing and emails I need.

I would recommend buying a dual WAN capable router such as the Draytek Vigor 2830 with a Draytek Vigor 120 to put on the end of the second broadband connection.  You can then get 2 x low end business broadbands’ from 2 different ISP’s so if one ISP has problems the other will still work. 

You can additionally plug a mobile broadband modem into the Draytek Vigor 2830 if the mobile broadband signal is good enough where you are.  This means if your lines are cut by a digger working in the street for example the mobile broadband will still give you a service even if it’s a bit slow.

Expect to pay in the region of £15 a month upwards for each broadband and maybe £15 a month for the mobile broadband so perhaps £45 a month (excluding the cost of the lines).   Compare this to the cost of not having internet access at your business for a couple of days. Don’t forget the static IP’s.

Example: 24mbs download, 2.5mbs upload, 40gb cap, 20:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2830 series router.

Another advantage is that the Draytek Vigor 2830 will balance the 2 x broadband supplies for you so that you will get faster broadband.  Should one of them fail it will continue using the good supply, should both fail it will then use the mobile broadband whilst you get your line based broadband fixed.

I am a business user, broadband is critical to my business and I want good customer service from my ISP, I want quick resolutions where possible and a reliable service.  If my broadband went down my business would suffer and lose money.  We are heavy users, there are quite a few staff and we download some big files.

I would recommend buying a dual WAN capable router such as the Draytek Vigor 2830 with a Draytek Vigor 120 to put on the end of the second broadband connection.  You can then get 2 x high end business broadbands’ from 2 different ISP’s so if one ISP has problems the other will still work.

You can additionally plug a mobile broadband modem into the Draytek Vigor 2830 if the mobile broadband signal is good enough where you are.  This means if your lines are cut by a digger working in the street for example the mobile broadband will still give you a service even if it’s a bit slow.

Expect to pay in the region of £25 a month upwards for each broadband and maybe £20 a month for the mobile broadband so perhaps £70 a month (excluding the cost of the lines).   Compare this to the cost of not having internet access at your business for a couple of days. Don’t forget the static IP’s.

Example: 24mbs download, 2.5mbs upload, uncapped, 10:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2830 series router.

Another advantage is that the Draytek Vigor 2830 will balance the 2 x broadband supplies for you so that you will get faster broadband.  Should one of them fail it will continue using the good supply, should both fail it will next use the mobile broadband.

I am a business user, broadband is critical to my business and I want good customer service from my ISP, I want quick resolutions where possible and a reliable service.  If my broadband went down my business would suffer and lose money.  We are heavy users, we have a lot of staff and we download some big files.

Now things move up a stage.  You could use four ADSL supplies with a Draytek Vigor 3200 or 3300 Quad WAN router which could give you something equivalent up to 96mbs download and up to 10mbs upload (you probably won’t actually get those speeds but it should still be pretty good) with the resilience of four supplies from upto four ISP’s.  The 3200 has a socket for mobile broadband as well.

Example: 24mbs download, 2.5mbs upload, uncapped, 10:1 contention if relevant

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 3200 or 3300 series router.

If FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet, see previous blog) is available to you then a Draytek Vigor 2850 (the 2850Vn is available now, 2850n should follow in December) dual WAN router could give something equivalent up to 80mbs download and up to 20mbs upload (you probably won’t actually get those speeds but it should still be pretty good) with the resilience of two supplies from two ISP’s.  The 2850 has a socket for mobile broadband as well.

Example: 40mbs download, 10mbs upload, uncapped with possible guaranteed throughput after survey.

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2850 series router.

Another possibility is EFM (Ethernet First Mile) which is several broadband supplies combined into one as described in my previous blog.  Better SLA’s (Service Level Agreements) and guarantees may come with this.

Example: Up to 20mbs download, upto 10mbs upload, uncapped with possible guaranteed throughput after a site survey.

I recommend a Draytek Vigor 2930 series router.

You may also at this stage want to consider a leased line backed up by a high end ADSL which could give you between 10mbs and 100mbs both up and down guaranteed with a high end SLA.  I am not going to go into too much detail except to say that these lines cost from around £500 a month.  The higher end ADSL type broadband such as FTTC may give nearly as good a service as a 10mb leased line so I would probably start to look at leased lines if I needed 20mbs both ways or more.

With all of options in this section you are probably best consulting an IT professional in house or contracted to decide the best option.  If you are an IT professional reading this then you probably know a lot or all of this already.

I may be able to help you or it may be best to get an IT/network audit performed to help you decide.  I will make some recommendations for a situation if I can.

I recommend a Draytek Advanced Networking product or Switch.

VoIP

I think a special note for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocal), that is running your phones over broadband, is needed here.

Unless you are making just one or 2 calls at the same time it is better to keep the broadband used for VoIP separate to the broadband used for data.  In fact it’s better to keep it separate full stop really, it avoids conflicts.

For this you want a consistent broadband service.  SDSL can be good for this and can support up to 20 high quality calls at the same time or 40 low quality calls. Typically at upto 2mbs both ways with a low contention ration and QOS (Quality Of Service) added to it.

Some business ADSL services have QOS (Quality Of Service) attached to them that makes sure calls get a higher priority and some avoid using the internet as much as possible by routing your calls straight through to where they need to go.  The lower a contention rate broadband has the more consistent it should be.

Leased lines are fabulous for VoIP especially the latest ones where you can reserve a portion of the “pipe” for calls only.

How long does it take and what do I need to do?

So now you have chosen what you need and want to know what will happen after you order it!

When a BT engineer comes to install a line or fix a fault they will usually specify a morning or afternoon slot, that is 8am to 1pm or 1pm to 5pm.  You can get your supplier to pass on instructions to them such as a phone number to call before they visit you but there is no guarantee that an engineer will see or follow those instructions.  If BT cannot get access to do their work and they have to go away they may charge you for it so someone needs to be there even if they have to wait around for several hours.  There is no 100% guarantee that BT will turn up when they say they will but they do more often than not.  They base their appointment attendance on average times so a few too many long jobs will make them late or come the next day, you should be informed if this is the case at some point.

If you are having a new line put in for broadband it takes between 10 and 20 working days before the broadband starts working.  Depending on the type of broadband it may take 10 days to settle down to an optimal speed.

Putting broadband on an existing line or changing broadband supplier will take up to 10 working days and it is unlikely that a BT engineer will need to visit.

Allow at least 10 working days for FTTC installations.

EFM installation times are probably subject to survey but are normally around 26 working days.

Leased lines usually take up to 3 months, they are subject to survey and there are several stages to an install.

What do you think so far, are these blogs useful, are they easy to understand?  Please comment or I won’t know and won’t be able to improve them if that’s what they need!

Well, I think that’s enough for now!  Next time, “How can I get more from what I already have?” and perhaps something lighter and more amusing.  To be continued …


Broadband – How do I find out what broadband is available to me?


Hmmm, it’s taken a bit more than a week to write the next blog but hey, things were busy!  I was thinking about it though.  I think I probably need better excuses, anyway …

How do I find out what broadband is available to me and how do I choose

As I said in my last blog there are quite a few varieties of broadband that are available.  Regardless of the quality of broadband you might get it depends on which exchange area you are in as to what varieties of broadband you can get in the first place.  Exchanges mostly get upgraded according to expected revenue and to some degree need so if you are out in the sticks you are likely to have to wait longer to get the latest services than a dense city area.  There are still some areas that don’t get broadband full stop.

The quality of broadband that you will get depends on 2 things:

  • How far you are from your exchange.
  • The quality of the infrastructure between you and the exchange.  This means the cables and joints that the broadband has to traverse.  Two different lines of broadband into the same premises can give you different results just because the quality of the cabling varies.

Broadband is more sensitive than the voice element on a phone line which tends to work well enough even if the line is a bit crackly.  Broadband does not like noisy lines.  Whilst the expected broadband service can be estimated it doesn’t mean you will get what is estimated when it goes in.  If you are to get an up to 24mbs download speed service it is highly unlikely you will get the full 24mbs unless you live next to the exchange and even then you might not get the full speed possible.

Sam Knows

So anyway, what can I get?  Well, my favourite place for finding out is www.samknows.com.  A lot of people in the industry seem to like this site.  There is lots of info here but to get to the point I suggest going straight to www.samknows.com/broadband/exchange_search, putting in your post code and clicking search.  When your exchange comes up click its underlined name and a screen will come up with lots of info some of which I will now explain (and bear in mind that this is at the time of writing so links etc. may change).

Starting off with the location map to the right of the screen; you can see where the exchange is (green circle with dot in the middle pointing to a location) in relation to your location.  If it’s a long way away, say 10 kilometres then you are not going to get the fastest broadband.  If you are next door to it then things are looking good.

Next there is the “General Information” section which is fairly self-explanatory so I’ll skip this and move on to the “Broadband availability overview” section which shows you which general broadband types are available as follows:

I know it’s obvious but I’ll define it anyway; in the next sections a green tick means a service is available and a red cross means it is not.

  • ADSL: General ADSL delivered using BT’s infrastructure by BT or other ISP’s.
  • SDSL: Again delivered using BT’s infrastructure by BT or other ISP’s.
  • LLU services:  Broadband delivered by particular ISP’s who have their own equipment in some or all BT exchanges.  More on this below.
  • Cable: This will most often be delivered by Virgin Media but there are other cable companies.
  • Wireless: A generally available wireless broadband network (this does not mean it is free).

Now let’s look at the “BT Wholesale information” section.  Again these are services that are delivered using BT’s infrastructure by BT or other ISP’s.  Note that some services have dates next to them of when a service became available or in the case of an “RFS date”, when a service is expected to become available.

  • ADSL status: This is the older up to 2mbs type service, available in this example.
  • ADSL Max status: The up to 8mbs service, available in this example.
  • SDSL status: Available in this example.
  • 21CN WBC status: The ADSL2+ up to 24mbs service, available in this example.
  • FTTC status: The up to 40mbs service, not yet available in this example (at the time of writing) but on its way.

The “Wireless broadband availability” section shows which ISP’s can provide wireless broadband in an area if any.

The “Cable Broadband Availability” section shows which ISP’s can provide cable broadband in an area if any.

And finally the “LLU operator presence” section shows which ISP’s have their equipment in a BT exchange.  It is worth pointing out here that many ISP’s can supply BT broadband and broadband from other ISP’s, for example “ACME broadband” might supply broadband from BT, O2 / Be and TalkTalk.  The advantages of LLU are that it may cost less than BT originated services, some services may be available sooner and some services may be offered that are not available through BT.  The downside is that LLU services may not be as portable as BT, a small price to pay in most cases.  Most ISP’s will want to supply the line, broadband and calls together as a package.

How good a service will I get

Now you may want to see how good a service you can expect to get.  There are lots of checkers but I am going to recommend the BT service on this occasion, www.dslchecker.bt.com/adsl/ADSLChecker.postcodeoutput and putting your’ postcode.  Please remember that this is an estimate.  The result will give you a short paragraph on each type of ADSL that is available.

How good a service did I get

When your broadband has been installed how do you know how good it is?  Well before you check, bear in mind that it takes 10 days for some services to settle down to an optimum speed so speeds may be quite erratic until then.

A good router will tell you the online status as in this example.  This shows the raw speed that router is seeing from its synchronisation with the ISP, that is the speed between the router and the ISP.  The information in this Draytek example is:

  • ADSL Status Mode – the type of ADSL, in this case ADSL2+ (up to 24mbs)
  • State – SHOWTIME – this means it is up and running (a Draytek term)
  • Up Speed – about 1mbs in this example
  • Down speed – about 17mbs in this example
  • “SNR” and “Loop Att.” I will leave for another time

The speed you get when accessing websites depends on the journey of your data over the internet and the speed at which the computer hosting a web site can serve you.  If you have to drive across the city to a busy but understaffed pizza take away then you will have to wait a while for your pizza, it’s the same with the internet.  To get some idea of the speed you will get generally you could use a broadband speed test site such as www.speedtest.net (a bit flashy but does the job well, watch out for the intrusive ads).  This site keeps a history of your tests so you can see how things average out over time if you regularly run tests.  It will give you 3 figures:

  • The ping speed in “MS” (Milliseconds), anything below 80ms is ok, 40ms or less is good, above 80ms, talk to your ISP.  Regard this as either a small bump in the road or a pot hole.
  • The download speed
  • The upload speed

Don’t worry that the speeds you get with this are so different to the speeds reported by your router.

Ok, that was quite a bit again so I will leave the “how do I choose” section until the next blog.

For today’s digression (only a little), if you live in the Bristol (UK) area and you want help with your some­times ‘orrible computer equipment I’m going to recommend a colleague, Matt  Clark, see www.bristol-computer-support.co.uk  or www.linkedin.com/in/bristolcomputersupport.  The great thing about Matt is he can help you with your domestic or business computer equipment without stealing your wallet so to speak or assaulting you with loads of jargon.  And he knows about Draytek routers too (nudge, nudge – www.iwantrouters.com).


Broadband – I still don’t get it


Ok, this is a bit more than a bite size article so have a good munch.

Broadband – I still don’t get it

What is broadband?  A lot of people have got it and use it but don’t really quite know what it means.  To answer this it is useful to go back to when we were using dial up.  When we had this you would have to manually connect to the internet which would take a minute or 2 and you would have to listen to a cacophony whilst a connection was being made.  You would then have time to go and make a cup of tea and feed the cat whilst you waited for each web page to come up.  You could call this narrow band and like a narrow pipe you could only get a relatively small amount of, data in this case, down it at a time.  After you were finished you would disconnect.  Payment was usually per minute for the time you were connected paid through your phone bill.

Then came ADSL broadband which had some great things about it.  It was a much fatter pipe so you could get a lot more data down it much faster, you could leave it connected 24/7, you paid a set monthly amount and, you no longer had to wait an age for a page to download, hurrah (now who’s going to feed the cat)!

The speed of broadband has increased by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years.  The speed is measured in bits per second which means it is measured by the smallest unit of a data that can be transmitted, a 0 or a 1.  Speeds have increased in stages approximately as follows (and sticking with the pipe analogy):

“kbs” means kilobits per second, “mbs” means megabits per second and “gbs” means gigabits per second (as was pointed out by David commenting below, this analogy is not scientifically accurate and is merely illustrative).

  • 56kbs – dial up – like a thin 1mm diameter pipe
  • 512kbs – the first broadband – like a 10mm diameter pipe
  • 2mbs – now it’s starting to get really useful – a 40mm pipe
  • 8mbs – ADSL Max – now we can more easily stream video and make voice calls – 160mm pipe
  • 16mbs/24mbs – ADSL2 – Great for cloud computing (accessing software and data remotely) – 320mm/480mm pipe
  • 40mbs/50mbs – The latest ADSL being rolled out now – 800mm/1000mm pipe
  • 100mbs – expensive leased lines used mostly by businesses (I’ll explain more about this later) – even bigger pipe
  • N x gbs – very expensive, very fast leased lines of one or more gigabits used by larger businesses (I’ll explain more about this later) – really big pipe

Connecting to the internet

Sticking to the pipe analogy there are a few things you need before you can connect to the internet.  You need the pipe which allows data to come and go along it and you need something to send and receive the data at each end.

BT or some other telecoms provider comes along, installs a line in your premises and then your’ ISP (Internet Service Provider) gives you a login to connect to their internet service so that you can send and receive data to and from the internet using web browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome.  A web browser, email browser, phone, router etc provides the data handling at your end and the internet connection service and email servers handles the data at the providers end.

Another thing worth mentioning here is that accessing the internet and sending and receiving emails are 3 different services that can be provided by one or more suppliers.  In the case of emails you may have several suppliers for example; Google mail, your ‘ ISP,  your’ business email etc.

Types of broadband and suitable routers

There are a few different types of broadband which split broadly into the following types:

  • ADSL – this stands for “Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line” (yuk) which really just means that you can receive data faster than you can send it.
  • Symmetrical – you can send and receive data at the same speed.
  • Shared or contended – you are sharing a service, ADSL is normally a shared service which means you are sharing the ADSL with Fred down the road, the business next door and so on.  This can effectively slow the service down so for example, when all the kids come home from school and start downloading films and playing internet games with their mates your service may get considerably slower.  Business services tend to be less contended and sometimes you might end up getting the service all to yourself, for a while at least.
  • Not shared or uncontended – the service is all yours , there is ADSL available that is uncontended but mostly this applies to leased lines which are connections mostly used by business.

The next question might be; how is it delivered to you?  This is the bit where I start to recommend routers and point to the www.iwantrouters.com website.

Draytek Vigor 2830n

ADSL – This is what most of us use either at home or in business.  There are a few variants both are normally installed by BT.  A telephone line is installed at your premises and is either connected to BT’s equipment at the exchange or to another provider’s equipment that has been installed in a BT exchange such as TalkTalk or Orange have done for example.  This is known as LLU which stands for Local Loop Unbundled.

ADSL is getting faster mostly because BT are improving their infrastructure, the latest is FTTC which stands for Fibre To The Cabinet.  BT are installing optical fibre cables all the way to the green cabinet in the street where copper cables are then distributed from to connect up individual premises, if you look around the street you will spot these.  Optical fibre cables can carry much, much more data than copper cables; they are cables with strands of glass in the centre.

And here are the links to some fab Draytek routers suitable for ADSL:-

Draytek Vigor 2710n

EFM – This stands for Ethernet First Mile.  This is an advance on existing technology.  Instead of delivering an ADSL broadband connection on one copper phone line, 2 or more are combined to give you a higher guaranteed minimum speed so that for example 20mbs may be guaranteed, subject to a site survey.  This service has a higher service level and better resilience than ordinary ADSL lines.  It’s aimed at businesses wanting more speed and reliability but don’t yet want to pay the cost of a leased line which costs more to install and rent.  A special connection box will come with the EFM after which you can connect it into a router such as the Draytek Vigor 2930Vn.

SDSL – This stands for “Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line” and has been pretty much superseded by faster ADSL’s.  This broadband provides the same speed either way but only goes up to 2mbs.  If you have this already or have a good use for it (still used for voice calls over the internet sometimes) then the Draytek Vigor 3100 is a good choice.

Cable – This is mostly provided by Virgin Media these days.  This is broadband delivered for the most part by optical fibre and is capable of speeds up to 50mbs.  It’s a similar but alternative service to the ADSL delivered on BT type phone lines.  The Draytek Vigor 2110n or the faster Draytek Vigor 2130n are both excellent for this type of broadband.  After BT have rolled out their FTTC broadband there will not be so much difference between Virgin’s offering and normal ADSL.

Leased Line – A much more expensive service aimed at businesses.  This is provided on a dedicated optical fibre circuit for anything beyond 10mbs.  It can come as a restricted supply, that is a line capable of providing 100mbs is installed but you might only get 50mbs depending on what you need and how much you want to pay, this can be easily upgraded later on.  This is NOT a shared service so the owner of it has the full capacity of it.  It usually has a fast response service level so if it goes wrong it will be fixed relatively quickly.  It can be used to access the internet or to provide a fast service between offices.  If you have 50, 100 or more employees in one place you will probably want one of these.  You can get gigabyte supplies but these are more expensive still.  An appropriate connection box will be provided with the line which can then be fed into a router such as the Draytek Vigor 2955.  If you are paying for a leased line you will almost certainly want some ADSL broadband for backup which can be plugged into a router so that if the leased line does go down it wall fail-over to the ADSL.

For today’s digression and amusement how about this on YouTube – Click here – if you are in work you may want to wait until you get home, it’s not rude or anything but beware your companies internet policy.

Well, I think that’s quite a bit of info for one post, next time – “How do I find out what broadband is available to me and how do I choose”.