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Serviceman's Log

Lots of reasons for internet problems

by the Serviceman

Items Covered This Month

• Lots of reasons for internet problems

• Resurrecting a copier/printer

• A gremlin in the church laptop

• The pain of staying beautiful

*Dave Thompson, runs PC Anytime in Christchurch, NZ.

There’s no doubt that the internet is an amazing resource. However, ask many users, especially here in New Zealand, and they’ll tell you that their internet connection is too slow.

In fact, one of the most common computer-related questions we hear at our workshop is whether we can “add more memory to the computer or do something to it to speed up the internet?”. That’s a tricky one because many people don’t understand that their computer doesn’t have much to do with how fast their internet connection is. Pedants will no doubt suggest that processing speed can have an effect on internet speed, however most modern machines run fast enough for this not to be a factor.

That said, perceived internet speed isn’t solely about data transfer rate; many computer users lump in their web browser’s opening and page-loading times as part of their overall internet experience and CPU speed and memory availability definitely have an effect there. Slow browser performance (and security) is why so-called “alternative” browsers are proving so popular these days. Many people consider Opera, Chrome and Firefox to be better than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, while others prefer Safari which comes with MacOS.

Users of alternative browsers often point out that while “their” browser renders pages faster than Internet Explorer, IE still seems to launch a lot faster. However, Internet Explorer only appears to open faster because most of it is already preloaded into memory on Windows start-up; in other words, it has a head start. However, like many other programs, once a competing browser is opened and loaded into memory, it also re-opens more quickly.

Getting back to our original theme, if computer speed has no real effect on line/data transfer speed, then what does? Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer here; each case must be taken individually.

In days gone by

In days gone by, when dial-up internet was the norm, 95% of connection problems could be put down to telephone lines, whether on the pole outside or with extension cables and/or adapters within the home. Indeed, many older lines and their associated connections had trouble coping with voice traffic, let alone the new-fangled Internet data as well.

Because modems quickly proved themselves to be reliable, we usually tried to get clients to check a few things out themselves before we got involved and started charging. This involved asking if they were using any telephone extension cables and/or adapters and if so, changing or removing them and trying again. We also asked if they had other devices loading/affecting their lines (fax machines were known to upset certain modems).

Once we’d ruled out that it was anything local causing the problems, we’d then advise the client to call their ISP or telephone line provider to make sure there were no known issues affecting the internet and, if necessary, to get their line tested. After years of dealing with these companies, I’ve observed that their standard operating procedure is the reverse of ours, ie, assume initially that the line is fine and that any problems must therefore lie with the client’s computer or modem.

A loss of faith

Unfortunately, my own experience with a flaky Internet connection caused me to lose faith in telephone companies and their line tests many years ago. It started when the tele­phone started playing up. The symptoms were lots of static/noise on the line and the dial-up modem I was using at the time was constantly dropping the connection.

Click for larger image

Those who remember having to queue to connect to one of the limited number of dial-up connections available at their ISP will know just how frustrating this can be, especially after 20 minutes of failed attempts. On that particular night, I just couldn’t reconnect and in desperation called my ISP for help.

After the usual 45-minute wait, a bored help-desk pilot informed me there were no known issues and advised calling the telephone people, which I did. And so, after another 45-minute wait, I finally got through to another bored tech-support “professional” who curtly told me that it must be the cordless phone I was using.

After much arguing that it was not the cordless phone, he reluctantly said he would run a line test and call me back. He did and the result was that my lines were showing up as “excellent”. I then asked him whether the noise he could hear on the line was acceptable. He agreed it wasn’t and arranged for a technician to come and take a look “sometime within the next few days”.

The next morning I couldn’t even get a dial tone and so I used my mobile to call and ask for a technician to come out sooner. To their credit, he arrived within a couple of hours and after working his way through everything told me that the connections on the pole had completely corroded away and it was amazing it had worked at all. He also said that they had last been serviced at least 30 years previously.

Once they had been re-terminated, voice traffic was crystal clear and the modem connection rock solid. All of which is just a long-winded way of saying that I now put zero faith in line tests.

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