Having launched this Broadband Speed Map idea I've been a bit worried that it will be of little if any use beyond confirming that we are all having a rotten time down at the Internet Café, and we knew that already. While the big towns boast of speeds up in the stratosphere we trundle along in the low digit range with some of us hardly scratching a decent Megabit-per-second. A mere confirmation of known misery is hardly helpful, but to my surprise it has achieved a little more than that.
So, what does it tell us? Actually quite a lot, perhaps that we are not completely at the mercy of Connecting Cumbria, BT and their government sponsors, but more of that later.
The first thing it does is to confirm that there is a distinct line signal degradation the farther we are away from the Coniston exchange and a marked drop in broadband speed from one end of Torver to the other, more than I would have expected, from around 2 Mbps down to 0.5, although we should note that the readings villagers' kindly sent in will have been taken at different times of the day and be indicative rather than accurate.
So what was the point? Oddly enough, the revealing thing for me is the anomalies rather than the broad pattern, the occasional reading that bucks the expected smooth degradation trend, either very high or atypically low. They suggest that other factors influence the speed and one particular observation reinforces that idea. I have noticed that the highest speeds, or at least those high speeds in odd places, are pretty well all from people I recognise as being avid Internet users, the sort who are more likely to invest in better equipment, improve their internal connections, play around with their computers and such. How many of us sign up to a package, receive our equipment and think little more about it, accepting that we get what we get?
The point is that what they can do, anyone can do if they know how. I can say from my own experience that it's not about finding the one definitive answer, but about small improvements with the odd Kbps gained here and there until it mounts to something worth having, in our case building to an improvement of over a Megabit-per-second.
An old computer will work slowly, of course, slow performance slowing your broadband, but the next in line is the router. Internet Service Suppliers (ISPs) who sign you up buy the cheapest available in bulk, usually adequate for towns and cities with 50+ Mbps coming in so if they lose half of that they're still more than 10 times better off than we are, but when you're struggling for every Meg the quality of the router matters. There's a risk, of course, that you'll lash out £100 or more but the lousy phone line still won't let the Megs through and you're no better off, but look at the download numbers around you on the map and ask yourself, why are those scumbags getting what I ain't?
But there are a number of cheaper improvements you can make, some that cost you nothing, just a little time to de-clutter your machine and give it the best chance. I've listed all those I can think of on the Self Help Speed-up page, and if you know of any more please let me know.
When we all share what we know, life gets better for all.
Choice of Internet Service Provider (ISP)
Many of you told me your ISPs and most of you are with BT with 3 Plusnet, 1 Post Office Broadband and 1 Zen Internet. There is no discernible pattern here to suggest one is better than another. You might find the ISPreview website useful.
And one more thing... I've had two recent contacts with people who had complained to BT about line faults, got them checked and repaired, and seen their broadband speeds increase as a result. So I wonder how many line faults there are in the system, faults which still allow the phone signal through, but knock the broadband speed down. "Hello! Can you speak up a bit, I think there may be a problem at my end!" Ring any bells? Do keep that possibility in mind, especially if you live out on the edge or on branch lines. It only takes one dodgy connection to knock your megabits for six without unduly affecting your phone.
Distances from the Cabinet
The TPC Connecting Cumbria briefing note prepared by Peter and Carole on 22nd November contains this line:
"Because the speed of connection declines quite fast over copper wire, the planning is based on being able to guarantee download speeds of up to 70-80 mbps within 1km of the cabinet and up to 24 mbps within 1-2km of the cabinet."
"Up to" covers a multitude of failures, but even a half or a third of the boasted speeds would represent a massive improvement on what we have now.
It also suggests that under Phase 2 we have a good chance of getting a fibre cabinet in the village centre.
So I thought it might be useful to list the distances of homes from the centre (the junction), easily measured using Google Earth.
Here they are in Kilometres:
These are all 'as the crow flies' measurements but most phone lines cross country rather than follow the roads so it should be fairly accurate.