OK, there’s something I need to get out in the open; I used to work in a call centre. There, I said it. Happy now?
Inevitably you’ll now have me pegged as a brain-dead arsehole who can’t find a ‘proper’ job but, in my defence, I spent the majority of my three-and-a-half years (Christ, that’s depressing) doing altogether more productive stuff; y’know, spreadsheets and that.
Better still, despite being a “call-dodging bastard”, I escaped with a modicum of useful knowledge. I’m here to ram it down your throat Ron Jeremy-style, thus lessening the amount of time you spend on the blower to actual brain-dead arseholes.
Don’t call us…
Most broadband support is split into two or more tiers, with the majority of queries successfully resolved by the ‘first line’. Yet really they have the ability to do, well, fuck all, to put it bluntly. In actuality, they spend most of their time simply talking customers through stuff in a monotone shoot-me-now voice; there’s very little they can physically do to fix problems. In short - their role is largely redundant.
Broadband suppliers are all too aware of this and keenly promote self-diagnosis. Unfortunately for ISPs, we live in a country largely comprised of X Factor-watching zombies who don’t want to learn or help themselves; as a Bitterwallet reader, I’ll assume you’re more of a Romero-esque zombie who might appreciate some friendly advice.
Slow speeds and disconnections are the most common bugbears of broadband users. The two are often synonymous, but can usually be dealt a swift blow to the Ballsheviks by adjusting your home setup. Ideally you want to:
1 . Connect to your main phone socket
That’s usually the socket nearest your front door. Any internal wiring at that point will be fairly minimal, so that’s where you’ll get the strongest signal. ‘Secondary’ sockets are often shoddier, and can dramatically reduce your speed and stability.
2 . Pop a filter on every socket
The filter is the small, white, plasticy thing that splits your broadband and phone signals. You’ll need to use one on every socket, not just the one with the broadband connected; if you don’t, your broadband will invariably cut out every time your mum phones.
Tip: if you have SKY and a telephone going into the same socket, you’ll need a splitter too. Confusingly, a splitter looks just like a filter, 'cept it has two phone- sized input thingies. Just pop it in the phone side of the filter (erm, the only side it’ll fit into), connect the phone and SKY, and you’re good to go.
3 . Avoid extension cables
Extension cables are cheap and crappy and don’t like broadband. People often use them to carry their broadband signal upstairs, but you might as well use empty yoghurt cartons and a piece of string.
Tip: if your computer is miles away from your router, you can use a massive Ethernet cable to connect them. Ethernet cables are far superior to cheapola extensions, and won’t degrade the signal at all. Or, if you don’t want to trail a massive cable across your house (completely understandable), you could go wireless.
Don't worry, avid tech-savvy readers, there's way more to come yet...
What else can I try?
Setup ok? Still getting dialup speeds? Fear not, there are still a few other things that might help:
1 . Turn your router off/on
Christ, yes, of course. A few weeks ago, my girlfriend’s mum spent several hours on the phone to her provider, who categorically failed to resolve her lack of connectivity. As a cursory measure, having seemingly exhausted all other angles, they scheduled a call-back to arrange delivery of a replacement router. In the meantime, I paid a visit and had the broadband up and running within 30 seconds. What did I do? I switched the bloomin’ power off and back on.
Temporary glitches can cause your router to throw a wobbly and sync at a lower speed (or disconnect entirely); even if your supplier is firing 16Mb down your line, your router might be stuck in a 0.5Mb huff. A quick power cycle will force it to re-sync with your ISP’s equipment, hopefully (fingers crossed) at the speed you’d normally expect.
Tip: most routers have a little pinhole button somewhere on the back. Holding the button down for 10-15 seconds should restore the settings to factory default. This is usually a last resort, but handy if your router has decided to play dead. Oh, something to be aware of if you do revert to default; your wireless settings will be reset too, including network name (‘SSID’), password (‘WEP/WPA key’), and channel (see below).
2 . Clear out your crap
Browsers have a habit of storing random junk that you don’t really need. It’s a good idea to dejunkify on a regular basis, or you’ll eventually find that your browser takes three months to open google. Cache, cookies, history and temporary files should all be given a regular beat down.
3 . Close other stuff
Modern computers are designed to bask in multitasking glory, but it’s generally a good idea to close any programs you don’t specifically need open. Peer-to-peer applications (you know, the programs you don’t use to illegally download movies) in particular love to eat up bandwidth, and should definitely be closed if not in use.
Virus scans, too, have a habit of consuming vital processing juice. Many of them will run daily by default, but realistically once a week is more than enough.
Tip (Windows): you can use MSConfig to choose which programs launch automatically when you fire up your computer. Just open the command prompt (click Start, Run/Search, then type cmd), and enter MSConfig. A little console will pop up allowing you to customise your startup programs. Don’t worry about causing irreparable damage; Windows will give you fair warning if you attempt
something overly audacious.
Tip (Mac): Mac users can access a similar function via System Preferences > Accounts > Login Items. Although generally they needn’t concern themselves with such trivialities. Smug bastards.
4 . Wireless or wired?
Staying wired invariably yields a better connection, but laptop users are steadfast in their need to laze around in their pants unhindered whilst browsing. Fair enough. But these days everyone has bloody broadband, so your connection can suffer if you live in a busy wireless area. It’s typical to see around half a dozen networks when you scan; any more than that and you might have trouble staying connected.
Changing your wireless frequency (or ‘channel’) usually works a treat. You can do so through your router settings page. The aim is to find a frequency that isn’t being horsed by your neighbours; unfortunately, finding the best one is a case of trial and error.
Tip: your router’s settings can be accessed through its internal IP – most commonly 192.168.1.1. The default username and password are usually ‘admin’. If that doesn’t work, just pop the router model into Google and have a look for the
5 . Cable or ADSL?
Cable, although more expensive, is usually the preferred option. It uses fancy- pants fibre-optics to deliver faster speeds, but it’s only available to around 50% of the UK. Virgin Media, the country’s leading cable provider, currently offers speeds of up to 50Mb. ADSL, meanwhile, is languishing behind on 24Mb, and that’s only if you’re really lucky. Ofcom estimates the average speed in the UK at just 5.2Mb.
Cable also boasts the ability to provide the maximum speed (or thereabouts) regardless of location. ADSL, on the other hand, is limited by a number of factors, including the length and quality of your phone line; if you live out in the sticks, for example, you ain’t gonna get 20Mb.
6 . Get your tool out
If you’re lucky enough to have a BT ‘master’ socket, you’ll have what’s called a ‘test’ socket behind the faceplate. To access it, just grab a screwdriver, loosen the two tiny screws either side, and ease off the panel. Connecting to the test socket will sometimes improve your connection, but BT doesn’t recommend leaving the faceplate off indefinitely; the socket is primarily intended for testing
Tip: if your service is massively improved in the test socket, that’d suggest there’s a problem with your internal wiring. That’s something a BT engineer will be happy to fix. Once repaired, you’ll get the same results with the faceplate back on.
Exhausted the obvious? Here are a few more tips that might come in handy:
1 . DNS flush
When your computer first visits a website, it stores a bunch of low-level crap that’s supposed to speed up future access. The thing is - if the website changes any of the aforementioned crap, your computer will become massively confused, and you’ll start getting Page Cannot Be Displayed errors. Performing a ‘DNS flush’ deletes the stored information, so your computer thinks it’s accessing the
site for the first time again, and happily loads the page. Here’s how to flush:
Windows: open the command prompt and type: ipconfig /flushdns
Mac: open a terminal window and type: lookupd –flushcache (or, for 10.5 Leopard: dscacheutil –flushcache)
2 . Winsock (Windows socket) reset
Struggling to load webpages? Everything ok with the broadband side of things? Windows ‘socket’ settings can occasionally become corrupted by malware, or the installation of new networking software. Technically you’ll still be connected to t’internet, but you won’t be able to access your favourite porn emporium (or anything else for that matter).
To repair those dastardly sockets, just open the command prompt and type: netsh winsock reset
3 . Open DNS
Every ISP has its own DNS (Domain Name Server) service. Think of it as a giant phonebook for the internet; you type in a URL (e.g. www.google.co.uk) and the DNS service converts it to an IP address (e.g. 22.214.171.124 for google), ultimately allowing you to connect and load the page. Sometimes, if your ISP is really shit and can’t handle its swollen customer base, it makes sense to switch to a less busy, third party DNS provider. All going well, you’ll find that webpages load a bit quicker.
One of the most popular third party providers is Open DNS. Here’s how to make the switch:
Windows: right click your network icon (in the bottom right of the screen) and select Open Network Connections (XP) or Network and Sharing Centre (Vista). Right click Local or Wireless Area Connection (depending on which you’re using) and choose Properties; in the middle of the window that pops up, highlight Internet Protocol and choose Properties again. Change ‘Obtain DNS server address automatically’ to ‘Use the following DNS server addresses’ and enter: 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52 (for preferred and alternative, respectively).
Mac: choose System Preferences, Network, double click Airport (wireless) or Ethernet, click the DNS tab, and finally enter the DNS servers as above. Easy!
Well, I reckon I’ve rambled on for long enough. If you’re one of the lucky people who enjoy a trouble-free broadband service, you’re probably about ready to stab your (or possibly my) eyes out with a fork. But hopefully there’s something of use in there for everyone. Granted, there are occasions when it’s not possible to fix your broadband from home, but in any case – any tech support department worth their salt will insist that you try the above first.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do battle with fork-wielding maniacs.