Living in rural Wales, I know the pain of not being able to get a decent internet connection. I remember watching pages load line-by-line in the early 1990s and I get an eerie sense of déjà vu from time to time as it happens again, twenty-odd years later.
The main problem is that there are just too few of us living in the countryside to make major upgrades like the installation fibre optics worthwhile. Having said that, the way we rural dwellers are sidelined and ignored is a national disgrace and is undoubtedly holding a lot of us back; I estimate that on ‘good’ days I’m about 30% more productive than on days when I waste hours faffing about trying to get a connection that is fast enough to watch a video on YouTube. (And yes, watching videos on YouTube is work, despite what my wife would have you believe…)
Here is what I’ve learned about getting - and maintaining - a decent internet connection in the middle of nowhere.
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The different ways you get your internet connection
Your broadband internet connection is delivered to you in one of four different ways:
ASDL, short for ‘asymmetric digital subscriber line’, is a clever way to send high-speed data through a standard telephone line.
Speeds of up to 17Mb/s (megabits per second) are possible but the speed will rapidly drop as the distance from the exchange to the house increases - and some rural houses can be a long way from the exchange. This means that for many of us the reality is a much slower speed than a supplier suggests you will get.
This is delivered through a 3G or 4G phone signal, which can give speeds of up to 6Mb/s and 15Mb/s respectively. I still tether my computer to my iPhone sometimes, which is a crude and slow way to run a business but it can be a lifesaver when I absolutely have to have Internet access and the ASDL broadband is playing up
Fibre optic broadband is delivered via a dedicated fibre optic system and is capable of carrying extraordinarily fast broadband speeds to a large number of homes. The trouble is, it’s expensive to install and so is only usually fitted in areas that are densely populated.
The installation of a satellite dish is a viable alternative if your house is too remote to have fibre optic installed. Speeds of up to 42Mb/s are possible and the cost is tumbling.
Test how fast your connection really is
My supplier tells me that my broadband speed should be a minimum of 23Mb/s. I checked it using Broadband speed checker and found I was actually only getting a download speed of 16Mb/s and an upload speed of 2.5Mb/s. On a good day. Hmmm.
Incidentally, Ofcom, the industry regulator, suggests that 10Mb/s should be seen as a realistic minimum. Why 10Mb/s? Because that’s the minimum needed to enable users to stream films from websites like Netflix and the BBC’s iPlayer and to make face-to-face telephone calls via services like Skype.
Seven ways to speed up your router
Different suppliers have different priorities and they have a lot of discretion as to how high they are prepared to turn up your speed.
When I was still with my previous supplier I was consistently getting sub-5Mb/s speeds and simply changing to a different company gave me another 8Mb/s straight away. Of course, I had tried to cajole them into cranking the line speed up before I left them but the improvements were inconsistent and patchy.
Nonetheless, I’d always advise asking before you go to the trouble and effort of changing suppliers, even if having to pay a bit more for them to simply wind the dial up a bit seems unfair.
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Limit the number of Wi-Fi ‘extenders’
In my search for improved broadband speeds I next turned my attention to the number of Wi-Fi extenders I was using. Because every extender slows down the speed by a small amount simply unplugging two of them - and accepting that I wouldn’t be able to access the Internet in the garden - upped my speed by another couple of Mb/s.
Does the Wi-Fi router you choose matter?
Use a password
If having an unnecessarily large number of extenders will slow down your speed by a small amount, having large numbers of people using it will slow it down by an even greater amount.
Given that most routers have a range of 100 metres or more, leaving it open enables a lot of other people to potentially ‘piggyback’ your connection, which can have a hugely adverse effect on your connection speeds. The lesson is to always use a strong password to keep unauthorised users out!
Seven password mistakes to avoid
Consider a satellite broadband service
There are a number of options available for rural dwellers who cannot receive a decent broadband speed any other way. Latency, the delay caused by the physical distance the signal has to travel between you and the satellite, can be a problem for those playing high-speed computer games but for everyone else the benefits of a satellite broadband connection are likely to far outweigh the drawbacks.
The first step is to investigate whether the Government’s BDUK Better Broadband scheme covers your home and circumstances. Find out if you are eligible.
Wales, and Devon and Somerset are running their own schemes, while those who live in Scotland can register their interest here.
If you aren’t covered by one of these schemes then paying for your own satellite broadband service might still be worthwhile. Costs are falling all the time but you should budget for around £300 for the equipment and its installation, depending on where you live.
The monthly fees will also vary depending on how fast you need your download speeds to be and how much data you are using but prices start at around £10 a month.
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