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Why is my internet connection so slow?

by Tom Cumming


[This FAQ makes the assumptions that you connect to the internet using a modem and a telephone line, and use a PC running Windows 95 or later and dial-up networking version 1.2 or later.]

So, you think your Internet connection is a bit slow? Right? What do you do?

Well, the first thing you need to do is find out exactly how fast your PC is connecting at. When you are connected to the internet, you will see a little icon in your system tray that looks like two computers joined together. Double click on this icon, and a window will appear that will tell you, amongst other things, the speed of the connection in bits per second, which will hopefully be somewhere between 14400 bps and 52000 bps.

52000 bps is about as fast as a modem can normally manage, given the limitations of our analogue phone network that was never designed for internet connections. So, if you are getting a connection speed of about 44000 bps or more, then you are doing pretty well. If you are still dissatisfied, you will need to look at a different type of connection, such as ADSL or cable.

So, you've checked your connection speed and it says something ridiculous like 128000 bps? Yes? Well, you've probably got the wrong drivers installed for your modem, and so it is mis-reporting the speed. You need to got to the modem manufacturer's website and download the latest drivers for your modem, designed for your Windows version (Windows 95, 98 etc) or other operating system. Even if your modem is not misreporting the speed, this can often help improve the speed a little. If you still cannot get Windows to report the correct speed, then you may find the best place to look is in your modem log file.

If you are using Windows 98 or ME:
1) Click on Start, point to settings, and select Control Panel
2) Double click on the "modems" option
3) Click on your modem, and click on "properties"
4) Click on the "connection" tab
5) Click the "advanced" button
6) Click on "view log"

If you are using Windows XP, to access your modem log file:
1) Click on Start, and select Control Panel
2) Double click on "Phone and modem options"
3) Click on the "modems" tab
4) Click on your modem, and click on "properties"
5) Click on the "diagnostics" tab
6) Click on "view log"

(Unfortunately I could not seem to get this technique to work reliably under Windows 95. If anyone knows any different, please tell me!)

The log file gives a record of your last dialup attempt. If you connected succesfully, you should find a line that starts something like:
Recv: <cr><lf>CONNECT 52000/.... etc
where the "52000" is the speed of the connection in bps.

Next, think about the modem itself. How old is it? If your modem is a 33.6k modem then you are of course limited to a maximum connection speed of 33600 bps. If it is a 28.8k modem, then you are limited to 28800 bps. If your modem is this old, then perhaps it is time to buy a new modem.

Or, maybe you do have a 56k modem, but it is still not connecting at above 33600 bps. If your modem is not a V90-compliant modem, you may need to flash upgrade it. When 56k modems were first released, there were two competing types: K56Flex and X2. These were eventually merged into an overall standard called V90, which all companies have now standardised to. However, if your modem is not a V90 modem, but only a K56flex or X2, you will probably find you cannot get a connection above 33600 bps. Most manufacturers allow you to upgrade old modems to V90 by means of a file that you download from the manufacturer's website and then transfer to the modem's firmware. This is called "flash-upgrading" the modem. The website HERE used to be a useful site for this kind of thing, but when I last looked it had not been updated for ages, so you may find unless something happens soon, you would be better off contacting your modem manufacturer. If you find your modem cannot be flash upgraded to V90, then you may still have to buy a new modem, but they are so cheap nowadays, this is probably the easiest option.

Around 2001 or so, the V90 standard was revised to another new standard called V92. However, not many ISPs support this and has not caught on in a big way. It would be a good idea to check with your ISP if they support V92, and if they do, then make sure you have a V92 modem, and you will gain a subtle improvement in speed and reliability. The procedure is the same as above: either flash-upgrade your modem, if it is not already a V92 modem, or buy a new modem.

Another limiting factor can be your ISP. Simply, some ISPs are faster and more reliable than others. Have a look at the ISP rankings that appear at the back of Internet magazines, and see where your ISP ranks. If it is fairly low down, you may wish to consider a changing to a different ISP.

A poor quality telephone line can also slow the speed of your internet connection. Most phone companies will only provide a phone line of sufficient quality to make good-quality voice calls, so all you can really do here is ask your phone company to test your line and see if it meets their "acceptable" standards.

You may also be able to change the "gain" of your phone line. At your phone exchange, every phone signal is amplified so it is audible at the other end, and the "gain" is the amount that it is amplified. Most phone companies use a variable gain level, that varies according to how loud the original signal is. So, if you whisper rude jokes to your best mate, a high gain level will be used so that he can hear you, whereas if you start hollering very loud at some incompetent plumber who has plumbed your house incorrectly, then he will not get deafened. This is great for voice calls, but slightly reduces the speed of an internet connection, as the variable gain level reduces the signal-to-noise ratio slightly.

So, if you wish to improve your internet connection speed, you could ask your phone company to use fixed gain level, rather than a variable gain level, for your phone line. Or if you already have a fixed gain level, try increasing that level a bit. Of course, this will affect your voice calls: you may find that by doing this you start deafening all your voice callers. Therefore, unless you have a second phone line just for your internet connection, then you will have to reach a compromise here.

If you have two phone lines or more in your house, you may find that they have been installed using a DACS box, which effectively splits your phone line into two, each of half the bandwidth. This is fine for voice calls but completely ruins the speed of an internet connection. If you have more than one phone line, ask your phone company if they have used a DACS box, and if they have, enquire about the possibility of having two *full* phone lines, ie two actual cables from your house to your exchange, instead of a DACS box.

Do you connect your PC to your phone line using an extension socket? If you do, try using the master socket and see if the connection speed improves. If it improves significantly, then your extension socket is probably of poor quality. When installing extention sockets for internet use, for best signal quality you should aim to use the shortest length of cable as possible, as few junction boxes as possible, do not route the cables near mains cables, and do not use cheap cables. Use high-quality, shielded phone cables.

If you do not mind spending a bit of money and have a reasonably powerful computer, HERE is a service that compresses data as it travels between your computer and your ISP, so reducing the amount of data transferred and increasing the speed, provided that your computer is fast enough to decompress it so quickly you will not notice. Do be aware though that it will only affect general browsing - downloading files will not get any faster because the vast majority of downloads are already compressed in some way or another and Onspeed cannot compress them any further. Ultimately, there is only a limited amount that can be done to speed up a traditional dial-up internet account. For major improvements there is no substitute for getting some kind of broadband connection, via cable or ADSL, most commonly, and I would only recommend a service like Onspeed if you are in an area that cannot have broadband internet connections.

Copyright © 2001-2006 © Copyright Karl Davis.

No part of this site may be reproduced in any format.All documents author acknowledged are copyright retained by the author.

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