Boost your broadband speed for free

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This article appeared in the April, 2008 issue of CRN magazine.

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Boost your broadband speed for free
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Your choice of ADSL router can make a huge difference to the actual speed of your connection. We recently saw different routers connected to exactly the same 8Mb/s ADSL line that varied in speed by as much as 3Mb/s – nearly half the available bandwidth of the line.

Most ISPs will sell or recommend specific models, and in some cases, even specify the firmware revision that offers the best speeds on their network. If you don’t have a recommended model, and you’re wondering whether your router is to blame for slovenly speeds, there’s still a few things you can do.

It’s critical that you keep your modem/router up-to-date with the latest ADSL standards. Many people have had problems with their modems when their ISP upgraded their DSLAM to ADSL2+, because they needed new firmware to achieve the maximum speeds.

With Telstra expanding its ADSL2+ coverage, you should check your router’s spec to ensure it’s compatible with the standard. When people move from 8Mb/s to ADSL2+, a non-compliant modem will only work at a reduced speed.

Most routers introduced within the last year or two should be capable of ADSL2+, but it’s clearly a good idea to consider upgrading your hardware every time you upgrade your connection. It’s also worth upgrading your router firmware regularly – check your router manufacturer’s site for updates.

A lot of the difference between routers comes down to the chipset – Whirlpool maintains a wiki of router and modem information that can help troubleshoot speed issues that arise from modem/router causes.

One of the more technical obstacles to broadband clipping along at its expected rate is a setting called the maximum transmission unit (MTU).

When your PC requests data from certain websites, they use Path MTU Discovery to check what size packets to send back to your computer. If the site can’t check what size packets to send, it reverts to the default of 1500, but if any of the gateways or routers along the path have a smaller MTU the data packet will be dropped.

You can tweak the MTU settings on both your PC and your router, but you must ensure you use the same figure on both. iPrimus offers what they call an MTU eyechart that can help you identify whether you have MTU issues – check their instructions here. DSL Reports provides a clear guide on how to adjust MTU at Whirlpool is another source of advice – you can ask people using the same ISP and/or modem about the settings that work best.

The free Speed Guide TCP Optimizer will determine the optimal MTU and other settings for your XP machine. Make sure you back up the Registry before changing anything.

If you can’t solve an electrical interference problem, asking your ISP to switch on interleaving might improve the performance of your connection.
Excessive noise on your line can cause packets of data sent over your connection to corrupt, leading your router to re-request the data, which affects your overall data throughput.

Interleaving takes those data packets and hacks them into smaller pieces, leaving your router to reassemble them. “Interleaving can significantly improve stability and speed by correcting errors that would normally cause a loss of sync and reduction in speed,” said Zen’s Phil Long.

But while iinet and Internode, for example, offer interleaving for their customers as a customisation option, other major ISPs such as Telstra and Optus don’t. If interleaving is such a great idea, why don’t all ISP’s offer it?

“The downside is that latency is sacrificed, which may be seen as a problem for some online games,” explained Long. Interleaving can reduce the maximum throughput of the line, and slow down data transfers, although anecdotal evidence on internet forums suggests many people find their connections still achieve the same speeds after interleaving is applied.

If you’re suffering from an erratic connection, talk to your ISP to see if it can switch on interleaving on your line.

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