Dr Omprakash Kaiwartya and Dr Mufti Mahmud of Nottingham Trent University explain the tech behind fibre broadband issues.
Internet use has increased significantly over recent years, and through the pandemic we have become even more dependent on online services.
To meet this demand, service providers have fast-tracked the expansion of the high-speed internet infrastructure known as ‘fibre to the premises’ (FTTP).
FTTP connects homes and offices directly to fibre optic cables which, using light pulses as signals, can carry data very quickly.
This compares to traditional broadband internet, which relies on ‘fibre to the cabinet’, meaning the high-speed fibre optic connection is delivered to local cabinets. From there, electromagnetic signals carry the data along copper wires into homes and workplaces.
But FTTP’s light signals enable faster data transmission.
Though internet speeds are increased significantly with FTTP, people are still reporting they are facing a slow or unstable internet connection. So given FTTP promises to be the fastest internet infrastructure yet, if it has recently been installed in your area, you might be wondering why you’re still experiencing an inconsistent connection.
Four possible reasons
The bandwidth, which refers to the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted over an internet connection within a given period, is shared by all internet users in a particular area. This is true even with FTTP.
So if your neighbours are using the internet in ways that consume a lot of data – such as streaming movies, playing video games, having Zoom meetings, and so on – this can affect the stability of the internet speed in your area.
Although FTTP-enabled internet transmits data to your Wi-Fi router using light signals, your devices, such as computers and smartphones, still use electromagnetic signals to communicate with your router.
These electromagnetic signals operate in wireless transmission channels, sometimes called bands, or frequencies. Notably, many internet-connected devices in your home or office will use the same wireless transmission channels or channels quite close to one another. This causes interference, resulting in unstable internet speed on your devices.
Switching to an FTTP-enabled internet connection without a compatible router means you won’t experience the full benefits of the upgraded internet infrastructure.
Most traditional routers support FTTP-enabled internet connection, but cannot efficiently handle the high-speed data transmission of fibre-optic technology. You can request a compatible router from your internet service provider.
Your device’s computing capability is one of the major criteria for realising the high-speed benefits of an FTTP-enabled internet connection. Devices with average computing power, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, cannot process fibre’s high-speed internet data. So you may not experience speeds as high as you’d hoped on your devices, despite using an FTTP-enabled internet connection.
Some newer computers with enough memory (16 to 32GB of RAM) will allow you to experience the speed benefits of FTTP-enabled internet connection at optimal levels.
Five tips to improve things
Close unnecessary apps
Before you begin investigating the reasons for your unstable connection, start by closing any unused software or apps on your computer. These are likely to be eating up the internet connection speed in the background.
Disable automatic updates
When you need a stable internet connection, disable automatic updates of the software on your computer. These updates can also occupy a considerable amount of internet speed in the background, leading to a slower internet connection.
Disconnect unused devices
Disconnect from Wi-Fi any internet-connected devices in your home, such as your smart TV, if they are not in active use. This will improve the internet speed for active devices such as your computer while reducing any possible interference.
Change your Wi-Fi channel
A Wi-Fi router has a limited number of channels for transmitting and receiving internet data. When you’re experiencing slow internet, you can try changing your Wi-Fi channel by restarting your router.
This can be very useful if the internet connection is slower due to the competition for Wi-Fi channels among other Wi-Fi routers in your neighbourhood. A Wi-Fi router automatically selects a less congested Wi-Fi channel when it restarts.
Add a Wi-Fi repeater
You can buy and install a Wi-Fi repeater to increase the coverage and stability of your Wi-Fi connection. This will provide you with faster and more reliable internet in places where the reception of the signal may not be as good.
Omprakash Kaiwartya is a senior lecturer in connected systems and Mufti Mahmud is associate professor of cognitive computing, both at Nottingham Trent University.
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