Will upgrading my DSL modem improve my broadband experience?
July 7, 2020 10:59 PM   Subscribe

I have a place with lousy ADSL broadband provided by Ziply (used to be Frontier). It's slow (the best speed test I've had is 6Mbps), it drops out frequently requiring a modem restart. Nearby neighbors report the same issues. Would an upgraded ADSL modem help?

The current modem is a six-year old Westell 7500 that was provided by Frontier. Someone on a community Facebook page recommended the Motorola AC1600 ($129).

Would a new DSL modem help out at all? I'm not expecting a higher speed connection; Frontier didn't build the infrastructure for enough bandwidth for the broadband in this rural community (Glacier, WA), but I'm hoping it would be able to maintain a more consistent connection.

(There's no other ISP choice. Maybe in the future StarLink satellite internet will be a good option).
posted by ShooBoo to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Maybe! It depends what the root cause of the problem is.

* if your copper line back to the exchange is in pretty good shape, and your modem is faulty, replacing the modem with one that works better could help. but the anecdote about your neighbours with similar issues suggests it isn't this.
* if your copper line back to the exchange is degraded / made of wet twine / runs through a lot of pits that are full of water etc, and your modem is currently in working order and is configured to optimise for a robust connection rather than optimising for speed, replacing the modem probably wont help at all. the physical lines would need to be repaired or replaced to improve the situation
* if it is a pretty long distance back to the exchange as the copper lies, you wont get a fast connection even if all the equipment (owned by the telco and you) is high quality and brand new. If you can figure out how far you are from the exchange you should be able to find some calculator to estimate some ADSL theoretical speed based on the distance. If you only know straight line distance from your house back to the exchange, a rule of thumb is to multiply that by 1.3 or 1.4 ish to estimate the distance that the copper will traverse. No cheap fixes for this one. Move house or switch to a different method of getting internet.
* if the copper line to your house (and your neighbours houses) are afflicted with pair-gain system then that'll ruin achievable data speeds https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pair_gain

In the various problems with ADSL connections I've had at various premises, the causes of faults have been: (most frequent) the telco/ISP stuffs up at the exchange and disconnects me completely while connecting some other customer by making an error, (somewhat frequent) there's something wrong with the copper lines that the utility has to detect and fix, (least frequent) my modem doesnt work very well and replacing it with a more robust model improves the situation.

A cheap and easy idea that you may not have tried: some (all?) modems can be configured with different ADSL profiles to tune them to optimise for reliability or optimise for speed. If you haven't tried fiddling with it, try dialing it to optimise for maximum reliability and see if that reduces the frequency you are disconnected.
posted by are-coral-made at 11:39 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]

I'm skeptical this will help. If your neighbors are having the same issues, it sounds like a network problem.

It might help, though. I'd maybe buy the new modem and test it out within its return window.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:41 PM on July 7

> It might help, though. I'd maybe buy the new modem and test it out within its return window.

another option could be to borrow a modem from a friend / neighbour / colleague
posted by are-coral-made at 11:53 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]

Back when we had DSL we had problems with dimming lamps. Cheap dimming lamps with high wattage have extremely fast voltage chopping that leaks back to the mains voltage of your house. These "transients" disrupted my DSL modem to the point it couldn't make a connection at certain resonant dimming settings.

Mind you, this was 20 years ago, when high-wattage pole lamps with dimmers were 100W halogen bulbs. We used to fry bugs in the darn thing. Boy did that stink.

Our solution at the time was to cease using the dimming settings, as leaving the lamp at either 100% or 0% wouldn't cause the interference.

I would suspect any lamp dimmers of causing the interference. See if the interference persists when they're all off.
posted by sydnius at 8:17 AM on July 8

I'm not sure about Ziply, but I have extensive experience with Frontier DSL connections. They are notoriously slow and unreliable. And Frontier's customer service is beyond horrible. If I were you, I would cancel the service and get your Internet connection from another provider.
posted by alex1965 at 8:18 AM on July 8

If you can figure out how far you are from the exchange

Some modems even have a line length guesstimator; if they do it's quite likely in some advanced / expert / diagnostic / troubleshooting menu option. In my case it says 164m; that distance is to the DSLAM half a block away, not the actual exchange, but that part is fiber and doesn't count against the line length.
posted by Stoneshop at 8:50 AM on July 8

We had numerous problems with intermittent ADSL performance. Long story short, after over a year of investigation, it took a well-timed engineer visit a few days after a downpour to discover that rain water was draining into an inspection chamber and submerging the cable, causing interference.

Whilst we were still having the problems, the solution we ended up with to make the performance bearable was to separate the modem from the router. This meant that the modem had just one job to do (maintaining the ADSL link) and the router could concentrate on the internal network. It also meant that if the modem needed to be restarted to regain the link, it wouldn't cause all our devices to be kicked off the internal network. (There was another advantage when we eventually were able to switch to cable, where we could just swap out the ADSL modem for a cable modem and all the internal setup remained exactly the same.)
  • Netgear DM200 DSL Modem (without WIFI, but you could also buy a WIFI one and put it into modem mode if you're struggling to get hold of a plain modem — basically you can buy the best basic modem you can find without having to pay for unwanted features which come with top-end all-in-one-models)
  • TP-LINK TL-R600VPN Router
  • TP-LINK AC1750 Wireless Access Point (business grade wireless access points have all sorts of exciting features, like guest access, QoS and you can also add additional ones to the router to increase coverage)
The price for all three wasn't much different to buying a high-end all-in-one wireless modem router, although there was a bit more configuration involved in getting it set up...
posted by matsho at 10:21 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

As far as signal quality, I think you're more than covered above, but as far as bandwidth, I have one other possible suggestion:

When we switched DSL providers a couple of years back, the tech who came around discovered that our ancient wiring included some kind of specialized carbon...something...probably for lightning protection, that was literally halving our bandwidth.

If you have old enough telephone wiring inside the house, it's worth having somebody take a look at it to make sure that the problem isn't coming from inside the house.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 4:25 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I had a Frontier ADSL connection in the Delaware River Valley in New York State. It topped out at 3 Mbps for a few years, then the company offered me the option to tether a second ADSL modem to the first, which somehow upped my speeds to 8-ish Mbps. I don't know if that's an option in your area, but it made my life much better. Suddenly, streaming video was a real option.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:55 PM on July 8

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