The mystery of the wandering broadband: is it the router? Is it the tree? (Tree?)

So here’s a mystery. Our broadband, according to the BT Broadband checker, “is only suitable for limited connectivity at up to 256kbps”. The house across the road from us, slightly further from the exchange “can connect at up to 8MBPS”, it says excitedly.

Why is it saying this? Because our broadband connection has been up and down like a, like a – I could use a pretty rubbish simile, but anyway – like, a lot. On Sunday night we waited for nearly an hour for the connection to come back up.

But what’s the cause? Sometimes it works fine – we can easily get 4MBps or more. Sometimes it’s rubbish and we’re relieved that it connects us at 160kbps. Why does it do this? It can’t be an ISP issue. It must be something in the chain between us and the exchange. We’ve changed nothing in our house. ADSL splitters all over the place.

So here’s what I narrowed it down to. The router (Netgear DG834G v2 router, two years old). The phone line. Er, that’s it.

One odd thing the router does is occasionally to spontaneously reboot: I look at the logs and it’s just restarted itself for no obvious reason. Google can offer no obvious reason. I’ve given it the latest firmware (but even so, think there’s been a reboot off its own back). The Netgear pages on “intermittent internet connection” are useless – they don’t deal with intermittent connections at all.

So I called the ISP and explained it and said that obviously we’d need BT’s Openreach people to come along and look at it. And looked back through my email records, because we’d had something very similar last year.

Waitaminute. Exactly a year ago I was emailing them with the precise same problem – lots of dropouts, slow connection. How weird that it would go away and then come back exactly a year later. Isn’t it?

Which got me thinking. What’s the same now that’s different at other times of the year? That involves things outside the house?

Plants. Trees. They have this habit of growing. And then, in autumn and winter, falling back. Go outside and look at the phone wire from our house to the telephone pole: hmm, great big apple tree resting on the line. And a holly tree. (Quite a high one, of course.) And no obvious way to cut down the thin branch that’s grown there in the past year – or got longer – to rest on it. With every blow of the wind, the line waggles. Is that it? Is it? I don’t know – I’m not a telephone engineer. But I’d have thought it must put some strain on it and cause problems.

Still, the engineer comes on Thursday. Hope he’s got his long clippers with him.

10 Comments

  1. Aw man. I really hope it’s the tree. For one, I love it when the answer isn’t technically complicated. And for two, you’d be able to fix it.

  2. I had something similar a while back and the tree definitely was the problem – BT guy cut the branch down and line problems disappeared. Good luck

  3. Ummm… Had you ever considered getting out of the house more, Charles?

    Just wondering…

    >;0)

  4. You mention you’ve got filters all over the place, this suggests lots of extension which can all act as radio antennas and pick up interference, and if things are worse when dark this is very often the case.

    Testing the line connection and looking at the noise margin/line sync speeds when using the BT line master test socket (a socket underneath the removable faceplate on the master) can help.

    http://www.kitz.co.uk/adsl/lowSNR.htm gives a longer version and
    http://www2.farina1.com/faceplate/index.htm some better pictures and showing a potential solution

  5. And just hope that nobody complains about you lopping the tree without permission…….

  6. My mum used to tell me that when birds sitting on a telegraph wire flew off, it meant someone was making a telephone call, because it tickled their feet. Similarly, then, perhaps the apple tree is squashing the line and making it too tight for all the bits to get through.

  7. Charles

    Tuesday 4 September 2007 at 3:52 pm

    @L – it’s our tree and it’s not a protected type (apple trees aren’t, eh?). So can’t see the problem there…

    @Andrew – well, the filters have to be there, or so I think. (They’re on the two Sky boxes. And the phone.) I know how to plug into the master socket. Like I said, the thing that’s peculiar here and which seems like a Big Clue is the seasonality of this. Other times we’ve been a-rockin’ and a-rollin’ with our download speeds at 4Megs or so. Then summmer comes and by the end it’s nothing. Doesn’t that suggest a pattern to you?

  8. Are there any apples on that tree? There are on ours.
    Could it be all you need to do is harvest a few? Maybe shake the branch, if not the tree?
    Just a thought.

  9. Or perhaps just go back to the old ‘getting out more’ idea…

  10. Owning the tree makes no difference, however fruit trees are generally OK (“pruning” you know) as you say, but don’t think that there is a special set of “protected” trees : I had to have permission from the tree officer to cut down a holly and a laburnum in my back garden. (Note, I am not complaining about officialdom and regulations : if these regs weren’t in place there are people near me who would have cut down dozens of perfectly healthy, mature trees and built on the ground….)

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