Why Some ISPs Are Faster Than Others
And what you can do to speed up your internet
There are many reasons your internet connection might be slow. Other members of your household could be hijacking your bandwidth with various devices. There also could be a problem with your modem, router or Wi-Fi signal. Sometimes, however, these problems come from the signal strength and traffic load from your internet service provider (ISP).
When we sold our house and moved away from Arvig’s network, we faced periodic network slowdowns for the first time. When COVID-19 hit, we had actual outages. As someone who works from home, this has been hugely frustrating.
A call to our ISP confirmed—their network was overloaded.
Even if your internet speed and reliability problems are with your ISP, there may be solutions to get you back to satisfactory streaming and surfing. First, let’s look at a few basics of how networks operate, then we will move on to solutions.
Why is one ISP better than another?
To better understand how an internet network is set up, I went to Arvig’s Director of IP Strategy and Engineering, Ben Wiechman. In Arvig’s case, said Wiechman, their extensive system backbone is built with more than 10,000 route miles of fiber optics. Fiber-optic internet is the fastest type of internet available today. There is also redundancy, with a self-healing network on top of the fiber. When there is a problem, such as a cut line, the network automatically reroutes and heals itself.
Network configurations vary by service provider, however. Also, many homes and businesses do not have a fiber connection to an ISP’s main network. Instead, there is often a cable or phone (DSL) line with less bandwidth capacity between the network and your home or office. In the industry this is called the “last mile.”
Pre-pandemic, Arvig worked on aggressive upgrades to existing cable and DSL technologies along with new fiber-to-the home deployments. This provides more bandwidth and better stability for customers no matter what “last-mile” technology is used. Now, 1 Gbps service is available to all Arvig cable modem customers. The company has also expanded DSL coverage in many rural communities and surrounding areas to increase available speeds.
So how has Arvig fared during COVID-19, with more people at home, including telecommuters?
“Arvig’s typical traffic increases 60% year over year,” Wiechman said. “Due to COVID, we noted a 40% increase over two weeks in late March, or about two-thirds of the predicted traffic increase for the entire year in just that short period of time.”
Business application traffic doubled, but that makes up only a small percentage of overall traffic, Wiechman says. It was video streaming services consuming two-thirds of daily usage. But since Arvig’s system was built to handle seasonal fluctuations, the system was able to handle the surge in traffic with no issues.
To be proactive, Wiechman reports that Arvig accelerated planned capacity upgrades in some areas to ensure high customer service levels. The company also connected more than 650 customers with school-age children at no cost through the end of the school year in June through their Education Assistance Program.
While Arvig is in a good position, some ISPs are still scrambling to update networks. Increased demand has also created a shortage of supplies and equipment for the industry.
What to do before you contact your ISP
My related article 10 Ways to Speed Up Your Internet Now will walk you through all the things to check on your end before calling your internet provider, including:
- Resetting hardware
- Determining if it’s time to replace your modem and router
- Fixing your Wi-Fi signal
- Addressing bandwidth issues on your own website
- Avoiding peak times
- Working more efficiently
- Neutralizing bandwidth-hogging apps
- Trying a new DNS server
- Optimizing your web browser
The last step before you call is to run a speed test and check your signal strength. If you have gone through all of the troubleshooting steps above, it is important to see the speed you are actually getting when directly connected to your modem.
Also see this article, How to Optimize Your Bandwidth.
When it’s time to call your ISP
If you are still having internet problems, it’s time to contact your internet service provider. If your speed test shows a much lower rate than indicated in your account plan, discuss that with your provider. There may be other things to try. Alternatively, your equipment or service package may need an upgrade.
Often, people do not think about updating their modem, but not only do these devices wear out, the technology also gets outdated. See if your ISP has an updated modem available. Wi-Fi routers may or may not be provided by your ISP. I have used my own “whole-home” unit for years, and update it at least every five years to get the best Wi-Fi coverage.
If you have higher usage or more devices connected at home, it may be time to consider upgrading your plan. Wiechman said that customers may not know that a higher-level plan is available to them. By entering your address at arvig.com, you can easily see the maximum speeds available to you. For reference, 25 Mbps or more is considered high-speed internet by the FCC.
There may be a problem with the line running from your ISP connection to your house, or the inside wiring. I had intermittent internet service in the past. It would work great sometimes, but frequently go out for short periods of time. Turns out a rat had built a nest and had babies in the outside box where the service from the street met the house. The technician that opened the box got quite a surprise! It just goes to show that technology failure isn’t always caused by the technology itself.
Consider a managed service plan
A managed Wi-Fi service plan—where your ISP takes on assisting you with internet-related configurations and connections—could save you time and headaches. As you may have gleaned from this article, a reliable network depends on many factors to deliver a strong signal and ideal speeds while browsing online.
Arvig offers Managed Wi-Fi to take the work and frustration out of managing your own system. A managed Wi-Fi plan can offer:
- Assistance in connecting new and existing devices.
- Configuring your network for a consistent signal throughout your home.
- Technical assistance and troubleshooting
- Replacing an outdated router when needed
- Easier mobile connectivity to your Wi-Fi network
Simply put, if you would like someone else to remedy problems and keep your internet at optimum performance, managed service may be for you.