How to check up on your ISP

I’m sure most of us here in the UK have worked out that 5pm in Britain is the same as 9am in Silicon Valley and that’s why the web sometimes just seems to plod along at that chosen hour. Millions of British school kids have started to play online games at the same time as the Californians have barely blown the foam off of their iced-latte cappuccino mocha wotnots and check their e-mail.

I’m sure most of us here in the UK have worked out that 5pm in Britain is the same as 9am in Silicon Valley and that’s why the web sometimes just seems to plod along at that chosen hour. Millions of British school kids have started to play online games at the same time as the Californians have barely blown the foam off of their iced-latte cappuccino mocha wotnots and check their e-mail.

OK, so most of us know that – why then, do I never hear about suggestions for a solution to this situation? If there are intelligent global load balancing theories, then I’m sorry, but I’ve missed them.

This predicament was brought home to me this week as my TalkTalk ISP service engineer Adrian (his name as well as mine) and I were playing around with the decibel level down my local line to try and improve my broadband connection. We got talking about it and he pointed me to a great site to test your connection speed called http://speedtest.net/ - lo and behold, my eight megabyte broadband was hovering somewhere around the 2.5 mark. To his credit, Adrian managed to up it to 3.6 and I was a happy customer.

I asked a contact at Microsoft about this and he (Ian Moulster, Product Manager for .NET Platform, Developer & Platform Evangelism) said, “There are plenty of the ‘test your connection speed’ sites and they can be a useful way to see what kind of speed you actually get compared to the advertised speed. Of course, there are many factors that can affect connection speed – but what speed-test sites can't really tell you is where the bottlenecks are.”

“If you're having trouble with a specific site you can try a tracert: spin up a ‘cmd’ window and type ‘tracert’ followed by the URL of the web site you're trying to contact eg "tracert www.bbc.co.uk". You'll get a blow-by-blow list of the servers being negotiated and the amount of time spent getting through each, from your machine to the web site you're trying to contact which can sometimes point to specific delays. Try it for a UK-hosted site vs a US-hosted one for example,” added Moulster.

It's also interesting just to see how many servers your information packet goes through on it's way to the destination. This is the reason you should never send confidential information unencrypted across the net, whether by email or a web page. You never know where that information might pass through on its way to the destination.

This is clearly a problem here in the UK, back in August the BBC.co.uk web site reported on a Which? study on this very topic saying, “There is a huge gap between advertised broadband speeds and the actual speeds users can achieve, research has shown. A survey by consumer group Which? found that broadband packages promising speeds of up to 8Mbps (megabits per second) actually achieved far less. Tests of 300 customers' net connections revealed that the average download speed they were getting was 2.7Mbps. Which? has called on regulator Ofcom and Trading Standards to launch a fresh investigation into UK broadband.”

So what point am I making here? Maybe I’m saying that the web is far from perfect yet and there’s still so much to be done. Maybe I’m just letting off steam. Ah yes, well, that’s what a tech blog is for now and again after all.

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