The Hidden Broadband Paradox, Part Two.

colin byrne
11 min readApr 12, 2023

Need some help getting the most from your broadband connection ?

Home broadband in need of a little help ? (Image by freepick.com)

Part One of this article outlined the concept of the broadband paradox.

After upgrading to the fastest available home broadband package, you fail to see a significant increase in internet speeds!.

Part Two now looks to understand “What” factors impact home broadband performance and “How” to address/mitigate them.

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! 🤓

Common causes of poor broadband performance.

There’s plenty of material related to this topic, e.g.( USA-Today¹, MUO² , DigitalTrends³ ) etc. However, this article mainly focuses on how Wi-Fi & wired LAN technologies impact Internet performance.

Wi-Fi.

Part One used a plumbing analogy to describe network bandwidth and internet speed. Keeping with the same theme, let’s try to explain some key Wi-Fi terms.

Wireless Water:

I might be guilty of “mixing my plumbing & networking metaphors” with this Wireless Water analogy” but bear with me.😉.

Wireless Water, Wi-Fi anology (Image by Author)

Consider the volume of water;

  • Capable of being boiled (transmitted) and condensed (received) as the (bandwidth) of the Wi-Fi connection.

The water vapour;

  • As (data), and the path the vapour travels along as the Wi-Fi (channel).

The example of boiling liquid water into steam is analogous to the conversion of electronic information into radio signals, which helps conceptualize the reasons why Wi-Fi performance may be affected.

Once the water enters the ether it’s easy to contemplate how various conditions can affect the vapour, resulting in less water being received than transmitted;

  • Air movement,
  • Distance from boiler(transmitter) to bucket(receiver),
  • Water from other sources,

could all play a part in disrupting vapour flow.

If you boil one liter of water, you’d have to be extremely fortunate to capture 100% of it from the resulting vapour.

Similarly, if your home Wi-Fi transmits data at 300Mbp/s you would need almost perfect conditions to receive this data at the same speed from another point in your home.

Common factors affecting Wi-Fi signals such as;

  • Line of sight,
  • Thickness of walls,
  • Competing radio devices,
  • Capability of receivers/transmitters

are detailed in Table 1 below.

Wi-Fi performance.

Common factors affecting Wi-Fi performance. (Table 1 by Author)

Wi-Fi Terms.

Let’s discuss some key Wi-Fi terms.

Broadband & Wi-Fi devices. (Image by Author)

Modem;

  • Although some Internet service providers (ISPs) may combine their modem and router functions within a single device, they are not the same.
  • A Modem converts signals e.g. (Fiber, DSL, Satellite)from an ISP connection into a network standard that essentially plumbs your home into the Internet.

Wireless Router;

  • It enables multiple wireless capable devices to use the same internet connection.
  • Generally, wireless routersare used domestically or in small businesses where all users can be supported by a single network device.
  • Anecdotally from my experience ~ 80% of domestic broadband consumers rely solely on the wireless router provided by their ISP for their Internet connectivity.

Access Point (A.P.);

  • Network device that transmits/receives data over a wireless network. Provides connection point(s) back to the broadband router. The number of A.P.s will depend on the topology of your home.
    – “Great option to extend Wi-Fi coverage!”.
  • Traditionally A.P’s connect to the broadband router via a physical LAN cable, though newer technology enables this connection over Wi-Fi.
Mesh network topology. (Image by Author)

Mesh Technology;

  • Similar to the AP concept, the Mesh solution simplifies the management of APs (Satellite Nodes) and (Base Node).
  • Single SSID. Single Wi-Fi network name for both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks enables simplified Wi-Fi roaming throughout the home.
  • Cloud Account. Some Mesh manufacturers require registering for a cloud account, which has the added benefit of allowing remote management for your Mesh instance or even friends/family instances.Handy for troubleshooting!”.
Mesh management via Andorid App. (Image by Author)
  • Satellite Nodes extend Wi-Fi connectivity throughout your home
    Backhaul. Communication channel for satellite nodes to base node. This can be over Wi-Fi or wired LAN connection. Note that some products dedicate a separate radio frequency, e.g., (6Ghz) to backhaul functions. The above image shows two satellite nodes (Hallway, Landing) with wired LAN (1) and Wi-Fi (2) backhaul connections to base node (Study)
  • Smart Assistants & TV Set top boxes. Some of these products like Google Nest and Sky’s Q Boxes offer Mesh functionality by acting as satellite nodes extending your homes' Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • Mesh technology is relatively recent and offers newer Wi-Fi capabilities such as Wi-Fi 6 and soon to arrive (~ 2024) Wi-Fi 7.
    See Article “Should you wait for Wi-Fi 7?
Wi-Fi 6 Icon. (Image by shutterstock)
  • Mesh or Hub and Spoke?. I’m puzzled by Mesh documentation, depicting satellite nodes that don’t appear to talk to each other, with each node directly connecting back to their base node. This seems less Mesh and more a Spoke type configuration 🤔. “I stand to be corrected on this interpretation”. ✍
  • Bandwidth Picture. There is no doubt that using the latest Wi-Fi 6 enabled Mesh technology offers vastly improved potential performance than previous generations. The image below for a modern LapTop highlights this point 👉
    See ~ 2 Gbp/s Linkspeed/Bandwidth for a Wi-Fi 6 connection.
Wi-Fi 6 enabled Mesh connection. (Image by Author)

Wi-Fi Standards.

This article by MUO.com highlights common Wi-Fi standards. The term Wi-Fi tends to be used as a catch-all phrase, but as the following table reveals, there are significant differences between Wi-Fi standards.

Wireless standards are a set of services and protocols that dictate how your Wi-Fi network operates.

Table of Wi-Fi standards. (Table two by MUO.com Gavin Phillips)

Points to be aware of when choosing Wi-Fi technology. If you buy a “shiny” new Wi-Fi 6 enabled wireless router, it doesn’t mean your existing devices can start to use this standard. You may receive some benefits, e.g., potentially more range, but individual Wi-Fi connections will only operate at the speed of the slowest connected device, i.e.

That ten year old Lap Top with the Wi-Fi 4 connection will dictate the performance.

Buying the latest Wi-Fi Router/AP will mainly benefit devices that support the latest standards.

Wired LAN.

Part One shows that wired LANs generally offers better and more consistent performance than Wi-Fi. This is not to say wire is always better, and there are a number of performance items to be aware of.

Types of Ethernet Cables.

Ethernet Cable types. (Table three by Author)
  • Table 3 above highlights the major performance differences between Cat 5 and Cat 6 cables, which isn’t immediately obvious by looking at them.
  • This article by Cloris Cai explains the differences. Rule of thumb, ~ 100 meters is max distance limit for these cable types.
  • Ethernet cables should have markings identifying the Cat categories but not always!

My advice if you happen to have Cat 5 cables knocking around your home, bring them to the recycle centre immediately.

They cause more trouble than they are worth.

⚠️ Most important network cables in your home.

Broadband home network with wired LAN connections. (Image by Author)

Cat 5 “A Real Story!”. 🎬

During the Covid pandemic, an acquaintance of mine upgraded to a 1 Gbp/s fibre connection. Everything worked fine for a couple of months until…. A family member happened to visit and noticed that cable (2 above) going from the ISP router to the homes Base Mesh node was exactly the length of cable they were looking for.

They replaced this cable with one they found lying around the home and thought nothing of it.

Due to the poor range and performance of the ISP provided Wi-Fi router, the home relied mainly on the Mesh network for almost all Wi-Fi connections.

With a 1Gbp/s coming in and patched through a ~50Mbp/s Cat 5 cable (2 above) the homes Wi-Fi performance fell off a cliff!

Two ISP router replacements later and four months of frustration, the root cause of a Cat 5 “bottleneck came to light ! 🤐

Do yourself a favour and avoid “Cat cable hell” !

If you can’t run Ethernet cables around your home try to utilize your existing Coax or Power cables ?

Multimedia over Coax⁸-¹ is a great method to offer wired internet to hard to reach areas of your home by utilizing Coax (TV) cables, with speeds ~ 2.5Gbp/s. This article⁸-² “How to hardwire your home without ethernet in the walls” has some great insights for Coax and Powerline networks.

Example MoCA device (Hitron Technologies). Image by Amazon.

Ethernet Switches.

Most domestic Wi-Fi routers have a limited number of wired LAN ports, e.g., (3–4 ports). The addition of a network switch can expand this to (8, 16) ports, for example.

Types of switches

Managed or Unmanaged ?.

  • The advantage of unmanaged switches is that you can plug and play immediately with your network. There’s no need to set anything up, which suits most domestic needs.
  • If budget permits, try to go for a switch with PoE (Power Over Ethernet) capabilities. This allows compatible PoE devices such as IP cameras, APs, etc, to communicate and receive power from the same network cable.
  • Managed switches offer more flexibility but are way more difficult to configure/operate.

Latency. 📡

A slow” note on l.a.. t… e…. n….. c…… y 🤭. This topic can be quite technical, but the best way to understand it is to think of the “echo affect” after shouting at the top of a mountain valley. The lag or delay it takes the echo to return is very similar to Internet latency. Typically measured in milliseconds (ms).

Interactive Internet sessions such as conference calls, Zoom / Teams calls (voice/mic) upload, (sound/ speaker) download, and gaming! are very sensitive to latency (round trip delays).

  • This article¹⁰ by Satellite Internet.com highlights the limitations of various broadband technologies and, in particular, how unsuitable satellite broadband is for gaming due to the geographic distance involved.
    – Gaming experience can be hampered by “Character movements appearing jittery or laggy”.🎮

Note see trouble shooting appendix below for tips for measuring latency.

How much bandwidth do you need?

We’ve reached the final topic on the “Broadband Paradox” and I can’t resist returning to a final plumbing analogy. 😉

Remember bandwidth is typically referred to as the volume of information per unit of time a connection can handle.

  • The larger the connection/bandwidth, the faster you can move data around.
  • The exact same principle applies to this analogy. 👉
  • Consider your homes entire data requirement as a Bathtub. Your Bathtub has a fixed volume, and the size/diameter of the attached pipe/taps/faucet governs “how fast it can be filled” !.
Broadband requirements Vs Bathtub filling capacity. (Image by Author)
  • Broadband providers typically offer several packages based on the bandwidth of the connection entering your home. e.g. (100Mbp/s, 500Mbp/s or 1Gbp/s). This defines the maximum speed your home can receive or in plumbing terms “how quickly you can fill your bathtub !”
  • In reality, your homes data requirements are dynamic, requiring more data at certain times of the day or days of the week, etc.
  • Knowing the ~ size of these data requirements helps you make an informed choice when it comes to selecting the most suitable broadband package for your needs.

This guide¹¹ from All Connect, based on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) broadband report¹² highlights Internet bandwidth requirements for the number of domestic users categorized by online activity.

FCC Broadband Speed Guide. (Image by AllConnect.com Joe Supan)

Summary

Its a some what futile effort trying to keep up with the technology treadmill. That being said, if your planning on upgrading your homes broadband infrastructure, try your best to future proof your investment by choosing the appropriate technology. Remember;

  • 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 !
  • If your broadband package exceeds 500 Mbp/s its likely your homes Wi-Fi network will struggle to provide this level of performance.
  • Don’t waste your money on highest speed broadband package if your homes infrastructure can’t take advantage of it.
    – Bank the money you save!
    – Maybe use the savings to upgrade your homes network infrastructure?

The intent of the “Broadband Paradox” article was to try to demystify Internet and Networking terms for the regular domestic customer. Apologies for perhaps the overuse of some corny plumbing analogies, but I hope they at least helped conceptualize these technical topics.

As the Internet plays an ever increasing role in our daily lives, I leave you with an interesting thought that occurred to me while writing this article….

Finding someone to fix your Internet/broadband will become easier in the future while finding someone to fix your plumbing may become more difficult!.

Notes & Citations.

About the Author:

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

References

[1] 2023 “5 common mistakes that are slowing down your Wi-Fi” https://eu.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/komando/2023/01/12/avoid-these-five-mistakes-slowing-down-your-wi-fi/11022621002/ , USA ToDay Kim Komando

[2] 2022 “Does Your Wi-Fi Speed Drop? Here’s Why and 7 Tips to Fix It” https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/wifi-speed-drop-fix/ , James Frew makeuseof.com

[3] 2022 “How to fix slow upload speeds” https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/how-to-fix-slow-upload-speeds/ , Zak Islam digitaltrends.com

[4]2023 “What’s the difference between a modem and a router?” https://www.allconnect.com/blog/difference-between-modem-and-router , Taylor Gadsden allconnect.com

[5] “Wireless Access Point” https://www.techtarget.com/searchmobilecomputing/definition/access-point#:~:text=A%20wireless%20access%20point%20%28wireless,and%20a%20fixed%20wire%20network Will Kelly techtarget.com

[6] 2023 “Should You Wait for Wi-Fi 7 Before Upgrading Your Router?” https://www.wired.com/story/should-you-wait-for-wi-fi-7/ , Simon Hill wired.com

[7] 2022 “The Most Common Wi-Fi Standards and Types, Explained” https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/understanding-common-wifi-standards-technology-explained/

[8] 2016 “What Is The Difference Between Cat5, Cat5e, and Cat6 Cable?” https://medium.com/@cloris326192312/what-is-the-difference-between-cat5-cat5e-and-cat6-cable-530e4e0ab12b , Cloris Cai.

[8.1] 2023 “Multi Media Over Coax Alliance” https://mocalliance.org/index.php, Org.

[8.2] 2023 “How to hardwire your home without ethernet in the walls” https://www.theverge.com/23715458/ethernet-hardwire-home-wireless-internet-powerline-networking-how-to , Nathan Edwards.

[9] 2022 “Network Switch: Managed vs Unmanaged” https://www.fieldengineer.com/blogs/network-switch-managed-vs-unmanaged#:~:text=The%20advantage%20to%20unmanaged%20switches,to%20ensure%20its%20working%20well , Gary McCauley fieldengineer.com

[10] 2023 “Your Guide to Gaming with Satellite Internet” https://www.satelliteinternet.com/resources/gaming-on-satellite-internet/#:~:text=The%20issues%20you%27ll%20face,if%20you%20have%20low%20latency. , Catherine McNally satelliteinternet.com

[11] 2022 “What are Mbps and how many do I need?” https://www.allconnect.com/blog/faqs-internet-speeds-what-speed-do-you-need#:~:text=To%20stream%20on%20a%20mobile,are%20best%20for%20high-definition , Joe Supan allconnect.com

[12] 2020 “Broadband Speed Guide” https://www.fcc.gov/sites/default/files/broadband_speed_guide.pdf Federal Communication Commission

Appendix:

Troubleshooting Tools.

Wi-Fi Analyzer, Mobile app.

  • Analyze and optimize your WiFi, Turn your device into WiFi Analyzer!. Android, Apple, Windows. By olgor.com
Wi-Fi Analyzer (Image by olgor.com)

Network Tools.

Top Tools for Network Troubleshooting. (Windows & Linux) by totaluptime.com

  • (Ping, Traceroute, MTR, pathping, ipconfig/ ifconfig, Where is Up)
Ping from Windows to Googles DNS server. (Image by Author)
  • Note the round trip latency of ~ 16ms
    – You don’t have to enter an IP address, you can enter www.google.com too!

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colin byrne

IT professional, MSc. post grad in Artificial Intelligence.