Why is my internet so slow? – The layout

We’ve all been there: very politely asked on the internet for a video of a cat doing crazy antics. And then… the internet pauses and seems to consider the request.

What’s the problem here? Maybe it’s you (sorry). It could be the infrastructure you work with. It could be your internet service provider. Let’s explore some causes and solutions together.

Step one is to perform a so-called speed test. Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy advisor at Consumer Reports, who works on the Fight for Fair Internet Initiativethat collects consumers’ internet bills and the results of speed tests as part of its advocacy, suggests using a few tests, one of Ookla and another one of MLab† Each uses slightly different methods, so Schwantes recommends trying both to make sure they’re consistent.

The tests show two main results: download speed (how fast you receive data from the internet) and upload speed (how fast you send data to the internet), measured in megabits per second. A bit of data is a single unit of information, expressed in binary code that computers can understand as a one or a zero. A megabit is one million bits of data. If a speed test shows your download speed is 100 megabits per second, your connection will pump 100,000,000 ones and zeros to your device every second, and short antics videos should stream well

However, what qualifies as “good” internet speed depends on what you’re using it for. If you have multiple users and need stable connections (think kids getting an online education while you work in the next room), the Common Sense Media education advocacy group recommends speeds of 200 mbps download and 10 mbps upload. Those recommended speeds can be high relative to the levels available in much of the United States. For February of this year, Ookla pinned down median speeds in the US for wired broadband connections at 146 mbps download and 20 mbps upload; speeds on mobile internet – 63 mbps download and 9 upload – were much slower. Amina Fazlullah, the organization’s director of equity policy, emphasizes that stable video conferencing connections are critical to things like virtual school.

“What does it mean when a 7-year-old has a break?” Fazlullah said, pointing out that 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload will technically work, but likely with frequent service outages. “How long can you wait for them to get up to speed again? Will they be able to get back on track after those interruptions?”

Netflix on the other hand recommends a download speed of just 15 mbps for streaming content in 4K/Ultra HD.

The speed you have available at home depends on the available infrastructure: the tubes through which your desired digital data flows. That infrastructure may seem elusive, but it exists both within the walls of your home and in a physical series of tubes that transmit data around the world.

Understanding those factors and how they work together is crucial to understanding how the modern internet works — and how to get that cat video faster.


Does the delay come from within?

When Schwantes gets a low-speed test result, his first suspicion is usually along the lines of “Something is wrong with my router.”

If you’re reading this on a device connected to Wi-Fi, the first connection you have to the wider Internet is your modem and wireless router or your modem/wireless router combo that beams Wi-Fi to the immediate area.

The first two things to try if your internet is slow is to restart the router and move your device closer to the router. Like a computer, routers store information in their memory and sometimes an error is accidentally saved. Rebooting is one way to shake out the cobwebs. And Wi-Fi signals get worse the further they travel.

If distance is slowing down your speed, consider your options: Your Wi-Fi router may offer a choice between a 2.4 GHz connection and a 5 GHz connection; 5 GHz provides faster speeds over shorter distances and 2.4 GHz provides slower speeds over longer distances. The 2.4GHz frequency can also be congested by traffic from other wireless networks in the area, so sometimes switching to 5GHz makes for a less obstructed path for your cat video.

If your device has an ethernet port, you can also connect directly to the router and avoid the wifi problem altogether.

Around the start of the pandemic, Schwantes noticed that his internet was slowing down. In this case, he was the problem. He used a ten-year-old wireless router. After replacing it, he said, his speeds have improved dramatically.


What’s happening on the other side of the wall?

The biggest speed differences come from the different ways data flows through the pipes right outside your home. Data can travel through different types of conduit — fiber optic, coaxial cable and copper wire, and even on wireless cellular networks — each offering very different upload and download speeds.

Fiber optic cables consist of a core of ultra-thin glass surrounded by a reflective coating that transmits information as pulses of light at the speed of, well, light passing through glass. The fastest internet connections available today are called “fiber to the home” because the fiber optic cables start where you live and run all the way to where they join the larger maze of fiber optic tubes that make up the internet. (There are also systems called “fiber to the node” or “fiber to the curb,” where fiber runs to a connection hub somewhere near you, and then the signal goes the rest of the way to slower wires.)

If the internet is a road, fiber optic is like a freeway with five lanes in each direction and a 75 mph speed limit. Not everyone in the United States even has access to fiber internet. According to a study published in January by the Fiber Broadband Association, less than half of American homes have that option.

At the other end of the spectrum, copper wire is like a one-lane road where you can’t go higher than 25.

Fiber Expressway not only gets you home faster than Copper Lane, but it can also handle much more traffic without congestion, which is important because your data runs through the same conduits as your neighbors using the same ISP. The longer you can stay on fiber before having to switch off to something that isn’t fiber, the faster your connection.

What is copper wire? DSL, which stands for Digital Subscriber Line, works on the same copper wires that telephone companies use for traditional telephone services – called landlines – albeit on a higher frequency range that is not needed to capture a phone line as dial-up does. †Children, ask your parents.) Phone lines are built to transmit voice, which doesn’t require a whole lot of data, so they’re mostly silent.

DSL speeds depend on how far they are connected to the fiber optic links that lead to the backbone of the Internet. They need to be boosted regularly to transmit data over longer distances.

Copper wire is like a one-lane road where you can’t get over 25.

In the middle is cable internet, which is generally slower than fiber, but can offer relatively high speeds.

Cable Internet is run by coaxial cables that carry signals over a copper conductor, surrounded by layers of plastic and metal coating to protect it from interference (an improvement over DSL). Since the coaxial cables were originally developed to transmit cable TV, which is fairly data-intensive video and audio information, they can move a lot of data. Since cable TV is traditionally a one-way broadcast medium, cable connections generally have faster downloads than uploads.

A relative newcomer to the residential broadband market is fixed wireless. As the name implies, with this type of connection there is no pipe directly into your home. Getting a wired wireless connection usually involves installing a receiver that pulls in cellular service which is then converted to Wi-Fi. Fixed wireless home service is not available everywhere across the country, but some services advertise speeds that can give cable connections a run for their money.

For remote locations, where it is not feasible for ISPs to install a wired connection between the fiber optic backbone of the Internet and your home, satellite Internet, which allows data to be sent to a satellite and then routed to an antenna in your home. blasting is an option. Satellite internet is generally not as fast as fiber optic or cable internet. Ookla found that the median speed for SpaceX’s Starlink, the fastest satellite internet available in the US, was about 100 mbps download and 13 mbps upload.


Can I just switch to another provider and use the internet faster?

You can definitely give it a shot! However, a lack of competition in the broadband market in the United States can make that difficult.

“The U.S. Internet services market is dominated by just four companies: AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon,” reads the Open Technology Institute’s 2020 edition of Cost of Connectivity. report on the state of the US broadband market compared to other developed countries.

“In most cities there were only two providers, and there are large numbers of addresses that only had one provider,” said Claire Park, one of the authors of the report.

a 2020 report of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that 83.3 million Americans can only purchase broadband Internet from a single provider.

But that definitely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go shopping to find another internet provider that can serve you faster and/or cheaper.

You can check your options by entering your address in the FCC’s National Broadband Cardalthough what is listed as available for each address is not always accurate.

Maybe, just maybe, you can get an upgrade that will get you that cat video a lot faster.

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