Everyone has internet connection problems some days. I am a network administrator and have been using the internet since the 1970s and still have connection problems!
Here are some simple tips to cure these headaches.
Check your local network
Before checking your internet connection, check your local network. Many “Internet” problems are actually local area network (LAN) problems.
Of all these, wiring is perhaps the most common. It may sound silly, but I can’t begin to count the number of times a major network problem has turned out to be an unplugged network cord.
This is true even if you are not using Cat-5 cable to connect your network. For example, if your Wi-Fi access point (AP), cable, or DSL modem is unplugged, you won’t connect to anything.
My all time favorite failure of this kind was when a friend called with a dead network connection. Turns out he had unplugged his AP while he was vacuuming and forgot to plug it back in. You should always look for simple answers first.
For example, if your Wi-Fi connection isn’t working, check that your PC is trying to connect to the correct access point. If your device tries to connect to your old removed hotspot, you won’t get anywhere.
Also, remember that if you change your hotspot’s user authentication password, you’ll also need to change it on all of your devices. I’ve seen people get ticked off for hours before remembering that they haven’t used a particular laptop in a few weeks and in the meantime changed their password.
So what if everything is powered on and connected but you still can’t access the internet? Well, check all the basics again. Chances are you forgot something simple again. God knows this has happened to me over the years!
If you rely entirely on Wi-Fi for your local network, make sure your access points are working. One of the best tools for this is Jiri Techet’s Android app. Network Analyzer Pro. Although it’s aimed at networking experts, it’s easy to use and you can quickly see if your Wi-Fi hotspot is working. You should also check out these stories: How to End Wi-Fi Frustrations and Five Ways to Improve Your Wi-Fi Performance. There are many ways Wi-Fi can go haywire and we cover most of them in these two articles.
So what if everything looks fine but you still can’t access the net? Check if you can connect to your access point using an Ethernet cable connection. Most access points come with a web administration panel. If you can do that, it’s time to stop fiddling with your local network and check your internet connection.
The first thing you should try with your internet connection is the same thing your ISP will tell you if you call them. Unplug your cable or DSL modem, whatever, wait a minute, then plug it back in. Give it another minute, then see if your internet is back on.
Nope? Then do the exact same thing with your router. Always nothing?
Then grit your teeth and call your ISP. It’s usually a useless exercise, but once in a while you can get useful information. It may not just be you, but your entire neighborhood that is in trouble because a backhoe has pulled out a cable. And, once in a blue moon, they’ll have a helpful suggestion. Not really! I saw it happen!
If the worst comes to the worst, they will eventually agree to send someone over to look at your setup. Who knows, instead of one of your cables being disconnected, maybe one of their cables is broken. Physical problems are often the cause of network problems.
That was the good news. The bad news is that I never saw an FAI technician arrive on time. Be prepared for a long, long wait. Eventually, if the problem is on their end – and the key word is ultimately – they will solve it.
Let’s say, however, that your internet is up and running, but it’s a bit flaky. Here’s what you do.
Let’s first see if you’re getting the bandwidth you’re paying for. The best site to check your current real speed is speed test. This site is managed by Ok so, a network performance company. It gives you your download speed, upload speed, and ping to the nearest test.
Ping is a network utility that measures the time in milliseconds (ms) between your computer and the test server. The lower your ping, the better. If you see a ping over 50ms, you have a problem.
There are other performance test sites. One of the most recent, Google Internet Speed, is the result of a partnership between Google and Measurement laboratory (M-Lab). In addition to speed, this test measures your network latency. Latency is a measure of how quickly you get a response from the server. Short response times are important for real-time applications, such as video calls and online games. This is measured in ms. Latency is similar to ping, but it’s a measure of the constant delays between your system and the servers.
With certain types of internet connections, including dial-up and satellite, you will still experience poor ping and latency performance. There’s nothing you can do about it. These technologies are simply not capable of working well. In practical terms, this means, for example, that online action games and video conferences are almost impossible with either type of Internet connection.
ISPs also have their own performance tests. Generally speaking, these tests will show you getting the fastest speeds possible. What a surprise!
You may notice my results are 60-70 megabits per second (Mbps) down. It’s pretty good, but I’m paying for 100 Mbps. In the real world, ISPs typically overpromise and underprovide enough bandwidth.
Sometimes, however, I get 120-130 Mbps. Is it because I’m some kind of networking genius? No.
This is because cable Internet bandwidth is shared between users on the same cable segment. So while I can see high speeds in the morning and afternoon, when evening comes and everyone starts watch netflix, my speed decreases. This is not a joke. Netflix currently uses 35.2% of all fixed internet traffic in North America, and most air during prime time.
Even with low ping and fast bandwidth. your connection may still not be as good. Indeed, ping, latency and bandwidth only tell part of the story. You may be losing packets or experiencing jitter.
Jitter, or more precisely packet delay variation, is a measure of the time it takes for Internet packets to arrive on your system. So, for example, if you ping a site once and it takes 1ms to report it, and then the next ping packet takes 10ms to report it, you have a horrible case of jitter. Sometimes the jitter is so severe that packets are lost.
It is exactly what it sounds like. Your PC sends packets of information to websites and they fail to arrive, or vice versa. Many factors can cause jitter: interference, overloaded network hardware, or a bad connection.
This means to you that the more jitter you have, the less stable your connection. With older programs like email and regular web browsers, you may never notice that your internet is less than stable, but with high jitter, video, VoIP, and games will start behaving badly again.
You can check if you have jitter by using the DSLReport jitter test. This measures jitter by querying sites around the world from your system. If you’re seeing a lot of jitter, your internet connection is probably suffering from network congestion somewhere upstream.
Internet being what it is, you will usually see a little packet loss. Ideally, you want no packet loss, but for ordinary Internet use, you can live with 1-2% loss. If you constantly see jitter, bother your ISP.
If the packet loss or jitter seems to be coming from inside your network, there are other options. Start by checking your connections again – yes again. Update your router firmware and try changing equipment on your network to see if you have noisy network equipment. Misbehaving network equipment can seriously slow down any LAN.
Are you still having problems? It’s time to call a network technician to find and solve your problem. Anyone with a Network+ certification can help. If you are familiar with a network, you can find the problems yourself through the use of advanced tools such as WireShark, Logic Monitoror Spiceworks Network Monitor.
Good luck getting your connection working properly. It’s often not easy, but almost any network problem can be fixed with enough effort and expertise.