Forget a bandwidth upgrade! Try these 4 things to make the home internet experience better

I work exclusively from home as a telecommunications consultant. And I have the smallest bandwidth package my ISP offers: 25 Mbps download & 2.5 Mbps upload.  I did have to upgrade at one point though. I initially had 0.5 Mbps upload. This is insufficient for video conferencing.

The house has two smart TVs, two workhorse desktop PCs & three tablets/smartphones. There can be concurrent sessions of Netflix running (Netflix running on HD only uses about 1 Mbps, Ultra-HD or 4K will require 15 Mbps – but that’s the future). I often use the internet for voice & video conferencing for work; connecting to the USA and abroad.

For all the techies out there, I should mention I live in western Canada, meaning all our internet traffic routes down to the USA (Seattle I think). All the Netflix and Google caching servers then are pretty far away. And if we need to reach eastern Canada the traffic routes down to the USA and then back up.

The principles I lay out here should work with any ISP and any geographic location. I need to stress this – Since I work from home my internet connection (and WiFi) must be highly functional. But only 25 Mbps? Here’s how I did it.

  1. Have the internet provider check the home’s internet’s *signal* levels. NOT bandwidth. They are required to repair any signal deficiencies, likely for free. This will help prevent packet re-transmissions and is particularly important for voice & video. This kind of problem is unlikely to show up on internet speed tests.
  2. Make sure the home computer is connected via wired Ethernet for performance reasons; especially if you feel that you don’t know what you are doing. This is because wired is a closed system where variables can be controlled. Wireless is an open system and the environment (and performance) is constantly changing.
  3. Make sure home routing/switching gear is top notch. $20 gigabit switches are fine, but routers under $200 will likely not function well. This is because routers are essentially PCs withpurpose built software. They make them cheaper by putting in less expensiveCPUs and less memory. A router above $200 will actually weigh more. This is a good thing. More CPU and memory takes more metal.
    1. WiFi – If integrating WiFi into the router, purchase an 802.11ac (latest standard) even though the consumer electronics cannot use the better bandwidth. Do not use the WiFi from the internet provider, if it was included with the ISP modem. The new technology in 802.11ac makes sure there is better signal to the device. Also make sure the WiFi router has 6 antennas (meaning 3 internal radios). Expect 2.4 Ghz to work better than 5.4/5.8 Ghz. This is due to physics and also, I believe that developers have spent less time ensuring 5.4/5.8 Ghz work as well.
  4. Have a good computer (good hardware). The processor and memory affect how fast bits & bytes can be converted and put on the internet. The rule of thumb is that if the consumer pays less than $1000 for the computer (desktop / laptop, not tablet), it probably is not that good and will need to be replaced in 2-3 years. With a computer over a $1000 expect it to last 3-5 years.

Prior to these changes I had problems all the time with Netflix. Now it is noticeably less frequent. I also had problems with video conferencing. Now when there are problems, I diagnose the problem as coming from the alternate party’s connection. That is, my audio/video is good on their end but their audio/video is bad on my end. It’s usually upload that is the problem and that is likely a result of each user’s upload rate with their ISP (asynchronous service).

Library Rethink!

Lots of things are online now. At the Calgary Public Library (and probably most libraries in North America), you can get movies (hoopla), books (OverDrive) and music (Freegal), all without ever visiting a library. And now, a library card is free! (really, was $12/year such a burden? You park downtown once and you’ve paid for a library card 3 times over) My family loves our library!

Very Important Home Repairs – Attic Ventilation

A well running attic is critical for your home’s comfort… and to prevent water damage!  If your home was built circa mid-1980s it is likely that all your attics are broken (unless someone fixed them already). My father, a building inspector, tells me this was because it was fashionable to blow in insulation in the 70’s/80’s but no baffles were pre-installed to keep the soffits from being blocked. This is an inexpensive repair and well worth the effort. Check that soffits are not blocked and that there are gable vents. An active vent may indicate a work-around as all you need is inactive vents if the soffits are not blocked. What happens if your attic is broken? Interior is extremely hot in hot weather, extremely cold in cold weather. Air conditioners work overtime. Ice dams occur. You will get water damage (with mold & rotting wood) at extremely cold temperatures (-30C / -22F) due to the temperature differentials (ask me how I know).