The Hidden Broadband Paradox.

colin byrne
11 min readMar 20, 2023

Part One

Home broadband at the center of your life? (Image by freepik.com)

After upgrading to the fastest available broadband, why hasn’t my internet speeds improved?

Confused by your internet speeds? (Image by freeicons.io)

My broadband history.

I’ve recently upgraded to fibre broadband for my home as part of the Irish National Broadband programme¹. Bringing to an end a long technological journey for my rural home, starting with a copper DSL phone line circa 2010, moving to 4G broadband circa 2016, transitioning to a fixed wireless service circa 2019 and finally to full fibre broadband 2023. In the space of ~ 12 years, my home now receives 166 times greater internet speeds than it did originally from (~3Mbp/s to 500Mbp/s). A 1Gbp/s service is also available. That’s a pretty big increase by any standards. 😊

The Broadband Paradox.

Faster internet speeds are always better! so opting for the highest available is tempting, right?

The reality is a little more complicated, though! Lots of factors come into play when choosing a suitable broadband package.

For example,

  • Length of contract,
  • Data limits,
  • Customer service,
  • Not to mention the cost, etc…

My 500Mb/s broadband package works out ~ 30% cheaper than the 1Gbp/s service.

But perhaps the single most important factor to consider when selecting your broadband package to be aware of ….

Is whether your homes network equipment is capable of matching the speeds your broadband package provides!!!

Broadband Router (Image by: freepik.com)

“The internet speed that enters your home isn’t necessarily the speed you’re likely to receive around it”

Expect to receive way less speeds (perhaps 10 times less !) on devices around your home, compared to the capability of your broadband connection.

The significance of this difference hadn’t crossed my mind for previous broadband technologies (DSL, Fixed 4G etc) where the speed constraint lay outside the home, but with fibre the constraint is more likely to reside inside the home.

So, are you getting what you pay for when it comes to your home broadband package?

To answer the questions in a light-hearted & not too technical way, this article is broken into two parts.

Please note that I play loose with some terms to aid understanding. The intended audience here is the regular domestic broadband customer and not the would-be networking geek! 🤓

Part One explains the “The broadband paradox” by introducing a couple of technical terms (Bandwidth & Speed) and uses a “Plumbing” analogy to explain their significance. Real world examples from around my home show the “paradox” in action. It highlights how average internet speeds are impacted by the choice of broadband equipment.

Part Two focuses on addressing the issues identified in Part 1. It suggests some simple remedies for poor internet speeds due to home network setups.

Part Two is a little more technical though, but not too much, “I promise!”.😉

The problem of slow speeds may lay inside your home not outside!

Example broadband connection. (Image by Author)

Regardless of broadband technologies entering your home; DSL, Satellite, Cable, Fibre etc, they all typically provide internet access via a piece of network equipment called a “Router/Modem”.

When incoming broadband speeds begin to exceed ~ 500Mbp/s, there is a higher likelihood that your router may become the significant speed limiter!.

So, does the “Broadband Paradox” apply to your situation?

Here comes some sudo nerdy networking and plumbing terms!

To evaluate your broadband package, we need a basic understanding of two networking terms, Bandwidth, and Speed. What is bandwidth anyway?👉

An easy way to understand these terms is to view them with a plumbing analogy. Apologies if I mangle some plumbing concepts! 😊.

It helps to think of Bandwidth as the Size of a Pipe and Data as the Water it contains. The larger the Pipe, the greater the amount of Water can flow through it for a given amount of time.

The larger the Bandwidth, the greater the amount of Data that can be transferred!, in a given amount of time.

Think of Bandwidth as the size/diameter of a “Data Pipe”. (Image by Author)

So, bandwidth and speed are related, but not equivalent²!

Remember, bandwidth is fixed, but internet speed is dynamic! Bandwidth is the measurement of the fixed size of the pipe, not the speed of the water flowing through it.

Why Bandwidth is important to understand. (lifewire.com Image by:Nusha Ashjaee)

Let’s apply this plumbing analogy to a typical home, with multiple pipes and taps/faucets. With one tap open the “water pressure/flow” will be high but when all the taps are opened, “water pressure/water flow” will decrease.

Home Data/Plumbing Network. (Image by Author)

It’s the same principle for home broadband. Initially, one user may be able to stream an online video with a great user experience, but as other devices begin to consume bandwidth, the speed and quality of the internet service of the whole home may suffer³.

So, how does bandwidth relate to the “Broadband Paradox”?

If your broadband router is capable of matching incoming bandwidth of you external connection e.g.100Mbp/s, 500Mbp/s or 1Gbp/s, there’s NO issue!.

BUT and it’s a big BUT!!!

If not, you’re only likely to receive a fraction of the broadband you’re paying for.

In a very real sense, you’re overpaying for your broadband right here!

An article from the Washington Posthighlights research showing that most people in the US are only using a fraction of the internet speeds they paid for.It also details four mistakes people may be making that contributes to poor home internet performance. Two of these mistakes ( Don’t buy that super-fast internet, You don’t have to get your router from your internet company) are also key themes of the “Broadband Paradox”.

Anecdotally, from my experience, the majority of Irish homes consume internet via a Wi-Fi connection from their broadband router, with ~ 80% of these using the router supplied by their Internet service providers (I.S.P).

Having tested five of the currently available ISP routers in the Irish market leads me to conclude;

“They all struggle to offer average Wi-Fi connections >350 Mbp/s with the majority offering average bandwidths of ~ 150–250 Mbp/s”.

So how do you figure out if the “Broadband Paradox” applies to your home?

Checking internet speeds around your home may reveal internet performance issues, but it won’t necessarily help identify the cause of the problem. Knowing the bandwidth of your broadband connections on the other hand helps pinpoint the cause of potential problems by defining the maximum capabilities of your home setup.

Bandwidth is the key and it governs your internet performance! ...

So are you getting what your paying for from your broadband?

To answer that question, we need to identify the bandwidth of three connections specified in the “Home broadband Table”;

  • External Broadband(A),
  • Internal (Wi-Fi (B),
  • Wired LAN (C) )
Home broadband table.(Image by Author)

How to check bandwidth.

External Bandwidth (A):

Internet service providers usually categorize their domestic packages according to broadband bandwidth. E.g. (1Gbp/s, 500Mbp/s, 100Mbp/s).

ISP provided routers may offer the ability to view simple router statistics, including the bandwidth of your incoming broadband connection similar to below.

Broadband Router: Showing Bandwidth (550 Mbp/s) for External Connection.(Image by Author)

Internal Bandwidth (B): (Wi-Fi)

Broadband Router: Wi-Fi (Image by freeicons.io)

The following method provides a pretty good approximation for measuring the average bandwidth of your homes Wi-Fi connections. This a simple method avoiding the complicated “geek science”.🤓

Measure Wi-Fi Bandwidth on your Cell Phone.

Note The method to view the bandwidth of a Wi-Fi connection for Windows device is similar to the Wired LAN (C) example below.

Android Device:

  • Take a smart phone & connect to your Wi-Fi network in your home. Let’s assume this is the ISP Wi-Fi router.
  • On Android Settings -> Connections -> Wi-Fi -> Current Network
Android Device Wi-Fi Connection: (Image by Author)
  • Gear Icon -> Setting
Bandwidth/Link Speed of Wi-Fi Connection: (Image by Author)

Note the “Network Speed” can effectively be taken as the bandwidth for the connection.

  • Take several readings from different locations in your home.
  • Recommend using several devices e.g., laptop, phones etc.
  • Calculate the average/median bandwidth of these Wi-Fi connections.
  • This forms the ballpark figure (B) for the internal Wi-Fi bandwidth available for your home.

In other words, the Maximum(avg) bandwidth your Wi-Fi router is capable of delivering around a home.

In reality, the average internet speed achieved by your home Wi-Fi devices will be way less than the average Wi-Fi bandwidth (B). In my experience ,Wi-Fi speeds are ~30–50% less than available Wi-Fi average bandwidth).

Home Broadband Table example Two.(Image by Author)

Table two shows an External bandwidth (A) of 1 Gbp/s and average Internal Wi-Fi bandwidth (B) of 250 Mbp/s, results in average Internet speed of 100 Mbp/s for connected devices or 1/10 of the potential available bandwidth.

  • Table Two illustrates the fact that you’re only using a fraction of the internet speeds you’ve paid for.!
  • This is due to the limited capabilities of the Wi-Fi router

Effectively “Pouring available broadband down the proverbial drain!” 🫢

Several factors & remedies relating to broadband Wi-Fi speeds are covered in Part 2 of the article.

Internal Bandwidth (C): (Wired LAN)

Router Connection: Wired (LAN) Cable:(Image by pngwing.com)

Measure LAN Bandwidth on Windows Device.

  • Take a Windows device & connect to your LAN network in your home. Connect the Ethernet port of e.g. Lap Top to the LAN port of your broadband router. Let’s assume this is the ISP Wi-Fi router.
  • In Windows search for “Ethernet”
Windows 10: Ethernet Settings:(Image by Author)
Windows: Search for Ethernet:(Image by Author)
  • Select the Connected device -> Properties -> Link Speed (Receive/Transmit):
Windows: Link/Speed “Bandwidth” 1000 Mbp/s connection:(Image by Author)
  • Take several readings from different LAN locations/ports in your home. Generally, the bandwidth for all these LAN connections should all be similar!
  • LAN bandwidth is primarily defined by the physical cables, connectors, and the LAN devices.

In other words, the Maximum LAN bandwidth your broadband router is capable of delivering around your home.

In my experience, the link speed of any Internal LAN (C ) connection should approximately match the LAN bandwidth capability of your broadband router.

Home Broadband Table example three:(Image by Author)

Table three shows with an External bandwidth of (A) of 1 Gbp/s and average Internal LAN bandwidth (C) of 1 Gbp/s, results in average Internet speeds approaching the Maximum of 1 Gbp/s for connected devices.

Generally there are less factors affecting wired LAN performance compared to Wi-Fi networks. Several factors & remedies relating to broadband LAN speeds are covered in Part 2 of the article.

Let’s compare some real-world broadband speed examples from around my home.

The following analysis, shows the average bandwidth and download speeds for two types of broadband routers, (ISP, & Specialized one).

ISP provided router.

  • Broadband router provided by your ISP typically offering an internal network over Wi-Fi and limited number of wired ports.

Specialized router.

  • Specialized network equipment capable of operating as broadband router or access point that is optimized for Wi-Fi performance. In my case the bandwidth offered by this device exceeds the incoming bandwidth of my broadband package.
Home Broadband Table four: Real World figures from my home:(Image by Author)

Table four shows real world figures from around my home.

  • External Bandwidth (A) actually exceeds the ISP broadband package (500 Mbp/s). i.e. 556 Mbp/s.
  • Bandwidth and speeds are average* figures calculated as per above (several devices, at several locations from around my home).
  • Wired LAN (C ) connection for both ISP and my specialized router offer the maximum and most consistent Internet performance.

Table four graphics below shows Wi-Fi performance varies significantly for each router.

Table Four Graphic: ISP Router:(Image by Author)
  • The ISP router (Graph 2) offers an avg internal Wi-Fi speed of ~ 170 Mbp/s or just 3/10 of the potential available incoming speed.
Table Four Graphic: Specialized Router:(Image by Author)
  • My router (Graph 3) show average internal bandwidth for a Wi-Fi connection of ~ 600 Mbp/s exceeding the available external bandwidth of my ISP broadband package(500 Mbp/s).
  • My router (Graph 4) offers an avg Wi-Fi internet speed of ~ 368 Mbp/s or 7/10 of the potential available incoming speeds.
    Although not shown in the above graphic, Lap Top devices fared even better then overall average Wi-Fi speeds with these devices offering average internet speeds of 512 Mbp/s or ~ 9/10 of the potential available incoming speed.

Key take away for my homes Wi-Fi connections;

Is on average the ISP provided router is only capable of providing ~ 30% of the incoming speed whereas my specialized router can provide ~70% ~ 90% for some devices.

Summary

Thank you for sticking with me on this somewhat dry topic. 🥱When it comes to the Internet the reality is your home probably will never have enough. More is generally better and if you can afford it why not?.

This article looks to highlight the following;

  • If your broadband package exceeds 500 Mbp/s its likely your homes Wi-Fi network will struggle to provide this level of performance.
  • You don’t have to use the router from your internet company. Specialized routers may be better suited to your needs, especially for Wi-Fi connections.
  • Doing lots of random internet speed tests is of limited value when it comes to trying to identify where issues reside.
  • Understanding Bandwidth and the role it plays in defining the speed of your home internet connection is very important.
  • Bandwidth is “The speed governor” that ultimately defines the Maximum speed of any connection, external or internal, wired, or wireless. Speed is simply a “function” of your available bandwidth !

The reality of broadband technologies is a little more complicated than the simple plumbing analogies previously mentioned. e.g. Data is flowing both up and down the network pipe and at the same time, etc. 😲 !!!!

More detailed analysis, including upload & download speeds, latency, etc, is provided in Part 2 .

With that all said, by noting three simple pieces of information from the broadband table, the bandwidth of;

  • External Broadband(A),
  • Internal (Wi-Fi (B),
  • Wired LAN (C) )

paints the performance picture for your home, and this will ultimately answer the question,

Are you getting full value from your existing broadband package?

I leave you with a final paradoxical thought, “Striving to improve your homes Internet performance will likely increase your appetite for even more data and thus the cycle repeats!”, but that’s a topic for another day! 🤔

Notes & Citations.

About the Author:

Colin Byrne is an IT professional with over 28 years industry experience.

References

[1] 2023 “National Broadband Irelandhttps://nbi

[2] 2018 “Broadband Internet: Bandwidth vs Speedhttps://www.beehive.net/blog/choosing-the-right-internet-speed-for-you/#:~:text=An%20easier%20way%20to%20understand,process%20at%20a%20faster%20rate. Beehive Broadband.

[3] 2022 “What you need to know about bandwidth and how to figure out what you need.https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-bandwidth-2625809, Tom Fisher.

[4] 2023 “Don’t do that. Four mistakes you’re making with home internet.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/03/03/internet-mistakes-fix-wifi-problems/ , Shira Ovide

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colin byrne

IT professional, MSc. post grad in Artificial Intelligence.