March 25, 2020
By FarrPoint Team
With the unprecedented shift to working from home we would like to share some of our experience, so you can get the best out of your home network.
These simple techniques will hopefully make everyone’s home working experience less stressful than it could be over the coming weeks.
As an organisation that helps our clients implement robust remote working practices and connectivity infrastructure, our staff all over the UK and abroad are as well prepared as they can be to work remotely.
Your broadband is likely supplied over your regular BT telephone line, Virgin Media Cable or if you are lucky, direct fibre to your home. The majority of homes in the UK have broadband delivered over their BT phone line, although the service may be from BT, Plusnet, Talk Talk, Sky, Vodafone, Now or others.
Those supplied by Virgin Media or direct fibre should already have a stable broadband service (fingers crossed) and can go to the next section. Otherwise, the following steps should help you get the most out of your current connection.
Stable and fast broadband over a phone line depends on the quality of the cable and distance from your local street cabinet or telephone exchange. The longer and older this cable is, the weaker the broadband signal will be, affecting your bandwidth and its stability. You could have a fast service, but if it keeps dropping out then streaming video or working from home on conference calls can be very frustrating.
Whilst you can’t do much about the distance from your home to the cabinet or quality of the cable in the street, you can make sure your broadband router is connected to the first or master BT socket in your home. That way it’s that bit closer to the street cabinet and not connected to old and perhaps suspect telephone wiring running through your property.
Once your home has a broadband service, you need to get the best quality connection between the device you’re using and your broadband router. Normally this will be via WiFi, which uses wireless signals to distribute the Internet connection around your home.
For those whose broadband router is close to their workstation, the best solution is to connect your device to the router using an ethernet cable. Whilst this isn’t always practical, it will give you the fastest and most reliable connection between your device and the Internet. If you don’t have the option to connect via ethernet cable, follow our techniques for WiFi below.
As WiFi uses radio signals to connect to your device and whilst these signals can get through walls, their power is considerably weakened in the process. For the most reliable WiFi, your device should be in sight of the router (i.e. unobstructed by walls, floors, furniture, family pets and stockpiles of toilet roll). Older houses with solid brick walls will generally have poorer signal, compared with newer properties that mostly have thinner plasterboard internal walls.
Most home routers have WiFi that operates in two radio bands (2.4GHz and 5Ghz). Depending on the age of your router, both are likely to be active at the same time. The 2.4GHz radio band is very congested and can also suffer interference from microwave ovens, baby monitors, and other emitting devices. Better performance can be had using the 5GHz band and so if possible, try and make sure your devices and router are using that. The downside of 5GHz is that it has less ability to transmit through walls than 2.4GHz, so in some cases where you are in a weak signal area, 2.4GHz may be a better option.
WiFi works across multiple channels and to avoid congestion, it's possible to try and swap to a less congested one to avoid other neighbours' traffic, although this control is only available in your broadband router and therefore may be daunting to attempt as you could easily disconnect everyone’s WiFi by getting it wrong.
Even after all this, there are still likely to be dead spots in your home where WiFi struggles to reach. For those who still have dead spots, it may be worth investing in additional WiFi access points or WiFi repeaters/extenders. The optimal way to improve coverage is to add access points in the weakest areas wired back to the router, but this is not always an easy solution to implement. A useful alternative solution would be a powerline access point which uses the mains cable in your house to extend the WiFi network to another power socket and from there, a WiFi access point can be connected, filling in the blank area.
By now, your connection to the Internet should be improved. The next area to be considered is how much capacity you have and whether it is enough to cope with your household’s demands. Most Internet service providers sell services based on estimated speeds (i.e. an average of what their customers get across the UK).
To be sure what your broadband is actually capable of, try doing a speed test from your device (We like Ookla’s Speed Test). The most accurate results are from a wired ethernet connection to your broadband router or standing next to it with a smartphone. Try and make sure no one else is using the Internet in your house when you’re performing the test, or your results won’t be as accurate.
In general, a good benchmark is 30Mbps download speed or above. In the UK, this means your broadband is classified as Superfast. If you are getting substantially less than this, even after a few attempts, and you think you should be getting more because of the service you have subscribed to, then there may be a fault which will need your service provider to check out, so give them a call. If you are getting 30Mbps or better that normally means you should be able to accommodate many simultaneous users of video in your house.
If you have a busy household, try and encourage everyone not to use High Definition video if possible on their smart devices or laptops at the same time, although this may be challenging with a house full of kids!. As a side benefit, HD video also consumes more power not only in the home but where the video is stored so isn’t as “green”, so you could be kinder to the environment by not using HD where you can.
To make everyone’s experience at home using broadband as pain free as possible, here are some additional tips:
For those that have read this to the end, congratulations you are now a home networking expert and can amaze your friends and relatives with newfound expertise to fix their troubles (at your peril).
Over the coming weeks FarrPoint hopes everyone stays safe, keeps well, and has a less stressful home working experience.
For further tips please get in touch.