by Scott Baughman
In the computing world, a stable, fast connection to the Internet at an affordable rate is almost as necessary as the rest of your home’s utilities. You couldn’t imagine living without electricity or running water and for most people today it would be hard to imagine life in the modern world without such an Internet connection.
But for Meda and I that was just such the case a few months ago when we decided to start cutting costs and making changes to our service providers. It all began when I got a letter in the mail from Spectrum Internet claiming I could get TV and Internet service with them (the erstwhile Time Warner Cable) for a mere $39 a month. If that sounds too good to be true, it technically is. The solicitation had some fine print and like any good nerd I read it all before giving them a call. ‘Turns out that price is for EACH of those services and not a bundle. But, they advertised 400 Mbps (MegaBits Per Second) speed for the Internet side of the deal and $39 a month wasn’t too bad for such speeds in our neighborhood. So, we went for it.
As some of you know, I do some podcasting every so often and the day after the Internet switch was one of the nights I was set to record with my fellow Geeks for our podcast “The Culture Clash” on the Fandom Podcast Network. In the past, when we were using or previous ISP, the video conference recording for the shows would go rather smoothly and we sounded like a million bucks, if I do say so myself. But on this – the inaugural night of the Spectrum Internet era at casa de Baughman – the Internet connection was ABYSSMAL! I kept getting disconnected, buffering was always a problem and people’s faces in the video chat window weren’t lining up with what their voices were saying in the audio. Had I made a terrible mistake in switching to Spectrum? Was this was 400 Mbps speed really looked like?
After my video conference failed out for the 5th or 6th time, I simply gave up being on the show that night. I texted the other hosts and apologized and said I’d try again next week. I did a quick Internet speed test and got a paltry 60 Mbps speed. What was going on?
The next day I ventured outside and decided to glance at the utility pole where we connect to Spectrum’s network. The main cable running toward our home had significant damage to it – squirrels or something similar had been chewing on the outside sheath and had exposed some of the metal cord underneath! I called Spectrum and they helpfully and quickly sent a technician out the next day to take a look. After a few minutes outside he came into the house to explain that not only did that cable need replacing, but the conduit leading into our house was filled with water. He reconnected us, dried out the conduit and we did another speed test.
Still – 60 Mbps.
“This is very strange,” he said. “We don’t even broadcast at less than 100 Mbps nowadays. How old is your Internet router?”
Hmmm…it was a great question. I started racking my brain for when we got the little box with all the antennas on it. The router is the device that connects all of your devices to your home network and then handles their requests to get information from the Internet. Usually, you’ll connect to the Internet via something like a cable modem. That device is your home’s “gateway” to the World Wide Web. But without a sufficiently powerful router to handle all those requests – it’s like a busy intersection with a busted stoplight and a very overworked traffic cop trying to direct thousands of cars and trucks by hand.
Our router was about five years old. In computer terms, that’s a dinosaur. The Spectrum technician took one look at it and said, “Oh, that’s the problem, your router is too old for this kind of connection, it has a maximum speed of 100 Mbps no matter what.”
He then went on to explain, the WiFi signals in our house – because this home was built in the 1960s – get really eaten up by the old walls and bricks and materials we have in the construction of our home. He then suggested I get a Mesh WiFi Router system to upgrade the home’s connection.
A quick trip to Best Buy later and I installed a Google-brand WiFi Mesh Router system with 5G connection capabilities. There are two white Google pods spread across our house now covering the domicile with WiFi signal. And the speed? Well, the latest test I did showed 450 Mbps from the main pod and about 200 Mbps from the secondary pod. The secondary pod usually is only able to transmit about half of the maximum speed from the main pod so this means the system is working at peak efficiency!
And my little traffic cop buddy finally has some back up as he directs the flow of information to and from our house. So if you’re always left wondering why your Internet speed is never close to the rate you’re paying for, check your router!
Until next time, download complete!