The Top 10 Ways to Improve Internet Bandwidth
Options to overcome bottlenecks and improve internet bandwidth
Before I go any further I should point out that not all options will be available in all areas of the UK. Unfortunately, there are even some areas of the UK where only one or two options will be available and they may be either cost prohibitive or ineffective for several reasons. That is a sad fact and I sincerely hope this situation is resolved sometime soon.
What follows is a collection of internet access options and combinations of options that may get you out of trouble if you are suffering from bandwidth strangulation. It is also important to understand that you can be in the middle of nowhere or the middle of a city and experience poor broadband delivery. There are locations in central London that fail to achieve downlink speeds of 1Mbps.
Typical Problems with ADSL
I have investigated many internet services in a ‘broken’ state, typically appearing as pages taking a very long time to load, not loading at all or loading in text format. For character based protocols and some thin client applications this is likely to be even worse with typed text appearing late to the point where the user thinks they have mis-keyed and repeat what they have already typed, only to have to backspace it out and retype again.
This is always accompanied by very frustrated users. Some even resort to using their personal mobile service (when available) for business internet use. I am sure you have witnessed these problems know the problems.
In all but a handful of media heavy applications the conclusions drawn from my observations and investigations usually indicate the download bandwidth is rarely reaching capacity. Although these problems appear as slow downloaded data the cause is due to insufficient upload bandwidth to support the applications. Rather than waiting for data to download, the remote applications are waiting for responses from the user’s device being held up by more traffic than the uplink can handle effectively.
ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber) Lines rarely have sufficient uplink bandwidth to support modern applications. These issues are exacerbated by transient users taking their devices home, working on documents and saving them to cloud shared drives. When they arrive in the office in the morning, the local drive synchronises to the cloud storage and ‘steals’ all of the uplink bandwidth. In many of the cases I have investigated the cloud synchronisation was personal data on personally owned laptops rather than actual business data.
Traditionally, asymmetric communications links with a high download speed and low upload speed were fit for purpose for many small businesses except for those creating and distributing large amounts of data or requiring support for real time communications such as voice. With the growing demand and use of cloud services the low upload speed of asymmetric communications has become severely restricted.
It is also important to note that ADSL is a ‘contended’ service which means some parts of the local infrastructure are shared with other customers so traffic from other businesses nearby may also be contributing or even causing bouts of congestion.
Let’s look at some of the options available to us when our ADSL services fail to meet our needs and expectations.
Let’s look at 10 options that are available to us…
1. Traffic Prioritisation
In the short term and if the facilities are available on your existing internet router, it may be possible to improve the overall user experience by blocking certain traffic types, i.e. the rogue applications that are stealing bandwidth. This is only viable if the rogue applications are not required for the business to function. For example, if the business relies on Dropbox then it may not be appropriate to block it. If personal cloud storage is the only (or main) rogue application, it may be possible to ease the situation by applying strict bandwidth controls in cloud storage preferences on each device.
Bear in mind that you could still suffer bottlenecks if several devices are synchronising at the same time. This may also cause the user devices to run slow with the occasional appearance of the Windows hour glass of Mac beach ball while the drives synchronise. There is also a risk that users will inadvertently open and work from outdated files if synchronisation is delayed. However, many of these problems are likely to arise due to congested uplinks so it always going to be a matter of trying to make the best of a poor situation.
2. Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)
If FTTC is available in your area that is likely to be the most cost effective solution available unless you need symmetrical bandwidth or require higher uplink speeds than downlink speeds. FTTC makes use of the local copper cabling infrastructure from the cabinet (rather than the exchange). The cabinet houses active equipment with a fibre connection to the exchange or point-of-presence. This reduces the copper cable lengths from the equipment to our premises to a minimum enabling significantly higher bandwidth. Like ADSL, FTTC is an asymmetric and contended service.
There are many reasons why FTTC may not be available in your area. The local exchange needs to be equipped, there needs to be sufficient duct capacity for a fibre link to the cabinet, there needs to be sufficient local distribution cable pairs, the FTTC equipment cabinet needs to be located as near as possible to the cabinet terminating the main exchange cable to distribution cables and it requires mains power. That is why some locations – even in towns and cities – face a long wait for FTTC.
3. Ethernet First Mile (EFM)
Ethernet First Mile uses a similar technology to ADSL but typically bonds two or more pairs of telephone wires from the local telephone exchange to your premises. This service comes with a performance guarantee and offers symmetrical download and upload speeds. EFM provision depends on availability within the local telephone exchange and the cable distance from the exchange to your office. The available bandwidth depends on the distance from the exchange and the number of pairs used but the services has no contention and once commissioned, comes with a service level guarantee.
4. Generic Ethernet Access (GEA)
Generic Ethernet Access is delivered in very much the same way as FTTC. The link between the cabinet and the customer premises is over the local copper infrastructure. The connection back to the exchange and onto the internet is high speed fibre optic link. Like EFM, GEA comes with service guarantees, has no contention and provides a symmetrical speed service, typically 20Mbps.
5. Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP)
This is similar to Ethernet fixed line but the delivery is via a point-to-point or point-to-multipoint radio link provided by a local Wireless Internet Service Provider. Wireless Ethernet can provide medium to high speed bandwidth and reasonably reliable service. Provided there is good line of sight to at least one of the Wireless ISPs central antennas. Wireless ISP cover is very sparse so there is very limited access to this type of service around the UK.
6. ADSL Bonding
Bonding takes two or more ADSL services and combines the bandwidth of the ADSL lines to create a single higher speed ADSL service. For example, if the three lines each provide 12Mbps download and 0.5Mbps upload the bonded service will appear as a 34Mbps download and 1.3Mbps upload service. Some bandwidth is lost in the bonding process. Bonding has the advantage of supporting bandwidths in excess of a single ADSL but it can become unstable and deliver less than a single ADSL line if one of the ADSL services becomes unreliable. This can be mitigated against by combining ADSL services from a business grade ISP with a third-party bonding provider or choosing an ISP that has their own bonding service.
7. ADSL Load Balancing
Load balancing takes two or more ADSL services and allocates individual internet sessions across the links. It is important to note that this does not aggregate the link speeds in the way bonding works. The download and upload speeds are limited to the ADSL your session happens to be on. There are many load balancing routers on the market some are very basic, simply allocating the internet sessions to the least used ADSL while others have sophisticated routing algorithms. The more sophisticated devices may be able to prioritise traffic down one ADSL. For example, internet browsing can be configured to always use ADSL No.1 unless it is out of service. This can prevent high demand non-critical services (such as cloud synchronisation) blocking critical business traffic. Other algorithms may include rate limiting to cap high demand non-critical services to a maximum rate lower than the slowest upload or download speed.
8. ADSL & 4G Load Balancing
Load balancing routers can make use of a range of different services including 3G/4G to provide resilience in the event of an ADSL failure. The 3G/4G service can be used together with the ADSL services or as a failover service in the event of one or more of the ADSL lines failing.
9. ADSL & Satellite Broadband Load Balancing
It is also possible to make use of a Satellite broadband service to provide additional bandwidth. For example, business critical traffic can be sent down the ADSL line while non-critical traffic such as cloud synchronisation uses the Satellite broadband service. It is important to note though that satellite broadband services have download limits (e.g. 20GB per month), when this limit is reached service may be interrupted until a subscription is paid. Satellite communications also suffer with excessive latency due to the time the data takes to travel 25,000 miles into space and 25,000 miles back to earth to the ISP. Latency may exceed 500 milliseconds as opposed to approximately 10 to 20 milliseconds for a terrestrial ADSL service. Thus, it is important to pass user interactive services such as web browsing via the ADSL service and not pass this traffic over the satellite link unless the ADSL fails.
10. Ethernet Dedicated Internet Access (EDIA)
Ethernet Dedicated Internet Access services are generally delivered over an optical fibre direct from the local telephone exchange. Services typically start from 2Mbps and go up to 10Gbps. As the service title indicates this is a dedicated service so the bandwidth is guaranteed. EDIA has considerable flexibility as if bandwidth demands increase in the future the bandwidth can be increased incrementally until the maximum 100Mbps out of 100Mpbs is reached.
Not for everyone…
As I mentioned at the start of this article, some of these options may not be available. You may even be in a location in the UK where none of these options are available or at least cost viable. This could be the case if your exchange is too far away for ADSL, the exchange is not FTTC enabled, too far away from a mobile mast and with no clear line of site to the southern horizon for a satellite connection. Unfortunately, there are locations that fail to meet any cost-effective internet access options.