Tip o' the Week #199 – Checking your home network speed
As winter bites, as roadworks cause pandemonium, there may be a trend for staff to work at home more. Microsofties all know Lync powers the ability to effectively work and be contactable when you’re sitting in your shreddies in your home office.
If you have a less than perfect broadband connection, though, Lync may be a cause of frustration as it reverts to warning of a “pretty bad” connection, and remote participants might complain about not being able to hear you, even if you can more-or-less hear them.
This is a symptom of a poor internet connection at home – very likely nothing to do with whether you’re on WIFI or wired, as the connection to the internet is likely the bottleneck in both cases. If in any doubt, there are a few tests you can run to see if your network is under pressure, and maybe even figure out why.
Test, test and test again
It’s always difficult to get an accurate idea of your own broadband speed – it’s quite variable so from one minute to the next, you can get wildly different results. If there is a bottleneck, it could be anywhere between you and the resource you’re trying to connect to – and any *** in the chain could be causing the issue.
Speedtest.net is a popular site for testing your connection speed over a minute or two (making sure you don’t click on any of the adverts to speed up your PC, clean the Registry, install Google Chrome etc).
It will first test your “PING” (the time in milliseconds it takes to send a request and get a response, ideally in single or low double figures) , then tries a download followed by a short upload test. Typical ADSL speeds could be 2-6mbps (megabits/sec, so 6mbps would equate to 0.75 Mb per second) download, and a few hundred kbps upload (kilobits/sec, so a 250kbps rating equates to only 31.25 Kb per second) . Fancy-pants cable or fibre broadband types need not worry – generally – though sometimes may see varying spikes and troughs in the connection fidelity. The very rural who insist on living miles from the nearest telephone exchange may be stuck with 1mbps down though your upload speed may still be in the few hundred kbps.
If you imagine being on a Lync call, the upload speed is the bottleneck to decent quality - where you might be made sound like a fast/slow/quick-quick/slow Dalek to other participants if you have too low bandwidth, or too high latency, or PING results (a symptom of the latency in the network being too high to effectively support real-time communications such as a voice call or an Xbox Live game) .
To find out what your theoretical maximum speeds should be, you might be able to check in the configuration of your router, or else (assuming you’re on BT provided broadband) , try using the BT Wholesale Speed Tester. Run the first test, then click on Further Diagnostics, provide your landline phone number and you’ll get more info.
Pingtest.net needs Java (oooh, how quaint) installed on your PC to get the most out of it, but still kinda-works without it. It will test the quality of your connection (as opposed to the speed of it) and can be a useful barometer of troubles elsewhere. One issue that can cause very high reported latency could be that your connection is being maxed out by something else – kids in the house streaming movies, downloading large files etc.
Uploads can kill the capacity of your connection, however – if you’re uploading files to a SharePoint site over DirectAccess, for example, you’ll see a drop in perceived download speed too and your reported latency will likely shoot up.
There’s a nice utility called WinMTR which can be used to track the latency between you and the internet (or in fact, of your broadband supplier’s network – who knows, maybe the problem is upstream and in the telephone exchange?). Drop in a URL or IP address and you’ll get the equivalent of a TRACERT performed repeatedly, showing average, best & worst response times for each hop between you and the eventual resource – if you’re seeing averages that are reasonable but the odd very high spike, then you’ve got a problem.
What’s causing the bottleneck?
If you’ve managed to rule out errant family members as possible causes of your poor connection, it’s worth checking your own PC before chewing out the broadband supplier – you never know, it could be a background process on your own machine that’s doing the damage.
With Windows 8.1 and the deep SkyDrive integration, as well as SkyDrive Pro and the ability to take files offline with SharePoint 2013, it’s quite possible that your own PC is busy uploading Gbs worth of content back to the office, all the time hammering your home network uplink, and causing massive latency for Lync and other applications. To perform a quick check on what is using the network on your machine, then Resource Monitor is your friend.
To start the tool, go to Task Manager (right click on the Taskbar and choose Task Manager, or else press CTRL-SHIFT-ESC, a simple three-finger gesture all along the left on your keyboard). Once in Task Manager, you can get some basic info on what’s hogging your machine’s resources, both now and (for Modern Apps) historically, and you can also see some pretty detailed stats on how the machine is performing all-up.
In the Performance tab, there’s an Open Resource Monitor button. If you know you want to go straight there, you could just type resmon at the Start menu to jump straight to the app.
Once you have the Resource Monitor up and running, a simple check is to look in the Network tab – click to sort by Send B/sec and you can see if something is bogging down the machine’s performance trhough upload…
If you tick one of the check boxes next to a particular process, you’ll see (under Network Activity, TCP Connections and Listening Ports) what activity that particular application is doing. Watch out for GROOVE.EXE and SKYDRIVE.EXE as potential file synchronisation villains…
You could try right-clicking on the SkyDrive Pro applet in the system tray, and choose to Pause syncing. That’s GROOVE taken care of (you thought you’d seen the last of that application? Think again…) . If you’ve other processes causing problems, try right-clicking on the process name and Search Online to find out what it might be, and get you one step closer to figuring out how to return normality.