Diagnosing Internet Issues for the Home Office
Residential internet connections can be a source of frustration for home office users. To a user, phone calls, email, and other internet activity appear seamless and automatic. But behind the scenes, each of these are broken down into packets of information delivered individually over a complicated tangle of interconnected computer networks – the internet.
The internet is a “best effort” network; it does not guarantee that a packet of data will get to its destination in a particular time frame – or even in the right order. When working at home, residential internet connections can quickly run into use cases they just weren’t built for. A residential connection’s best effort might not be good enough for business applications.
The result will be slowing or loss of packets at the bottlenecks. Best effort is usually fine for file downloads where a momentary bottleneck won’t even be noticed, but more time-sensitive tasks like video conferencing and screen sharing will definitely feel the impact. This slowing will manifest as lag, jitter, frozen screens, and even dropped connections.
Locating the Source of the Problem
When there’s a problem with a home office’s internet connection, the first instinct might be to call the ISP. But before you get to that point, there are a lot of things you can do to isolate and treat problems within these networks.
The first step is to determine whether the problem is in the local area network (LAN) or actually with the internet service’s wide area network (WAN). This will help you narrow down whether you focus on issues within the home network or if you have to call the ISP.
One way to do this is by testing the network connectivity with the classic network diagnostic tool, ping. Ping tracks the time it takes for a short message to reach a destination and return. For this test, pinging the default gateway address on your LAN and a location on the internet will let you see whether the issues start inside or outside the LAN.
1. Open a terminal
To use ping, have the user open a terminal or command prompt on their computer.
- Click the magnifying glass in the top right of the screen or press the Command button + Spacebar.
- The Spotlight Search bar appears. Type terminal and then press Enter.
- Click the Windows button and then type CMD.
- In the results, click Command Prompt.
2. Determine the gateway or router
The quickest way is to find the gateway address is to type tracert bigleaf.net (or on a Mac traceroute bigleaf.net) in the terminal window and press Enter. The first address that appears is the LAN gateway.
3. Ping two different addresses
Open two different terminal windows. In the first window, ping the default gateway address by typing, for example, ping 192.168.0.1 and pressing Enter.
In the second window, ping a location on the internet by typing ping bigleaf.net and pressing Enter.
4. Examine the results
When you examine the output of the ping commands, look for three things.
- Is latency over 100 milliseconds on a regular basis?
If you are seeing regular results over 100 ms, you have found a problem that will affect video and other apps. Most networks should have a much lower average ping than that.
- Are the two pings in sync?
- If the two pings change in tandem, there are problems on the LAN which are creating delays in the internet ping. Focus your troubleshooting on local problems.
- If the WAN ping is fluctuating, slow, or having timeouts but the LAN results are consistent and fast, the problem is on the WAN.
- Is there a lot of variation from the mean (jitter)?
If the WAN ping times vary a lot, by at least 50ms from the mean, you are seeing jitter. Jitter creates a lot of challenges for real time services like video because packets get lost or arrive out of order.
For more detailed information on network routes and the health of LAN and WAN connections, we recommend using PingPlotter.
Quick Solutions for Common Performance Problems
Before calling the ISP, there are a number of steps you can take to improve business application performance in the home office.
Turn off all non-business-related applications
Stop all traffic on the LAN except that which is associated with business applications. Get the kids to close their tablets and make sure there’s no streaming video running on the TV or in the background of the computer while running key business apps.
If this resolves the technical problem but creates problems among the people in the house, configuring the LAN quality of service (QoS) might allow everybody to run their apps at the same time but prioritize the business applications.
Set up QoS on your residential router
Some residential routers have a QoS feature. QoS allows the home user to prioritize traffic by application, destination, port, or other signifier. Configured properly, it can identify and prioritize particular traffic, such as the Zoom meeting with the boss, over others, such as downloading the latest video game.
Be aware the QoS features on the residential router only control LAN traffic in the house, so they can’t do anything about oversubscription or bottlenecks beyond the house. If the latency or jitter is beyond the gateway, QoS on the router will not solve the problem.
Every home router will have its own capabilities and configuration options. Some of them will have simple QoS settings that are as straightforward as selecting which applications should have priority. Others will have much more granular configuration options with much more control. Check the manual for your particular router model for information on supported QoS features. For advice on configuring QoS in the router, check out this article from How-To Geek. If you are configuring QoS for Zoom video conferencing, you will also want to read their helpful setup guide.
Upgrade speed and capacity through your ISP
ISPs sell speed, so it is natural that consumers believe this is the only solution to solve their problems. However, many business applications don’t actually require that much bandwidth to use. For example, Zoom only requires 2-3 Mbps. A typical broadband connection should have more than enough capacity for a Zoom call.
Getting a faster subscription might solve some internet traffic woes, but the additional capacity won’t help if the internet connection is experiencing jitter, latency, or packet loss. The “bigger pipe” will cost more money but won’t resolve the problem of making sure business applications are prioritized.
Traffic prioritization across the WAN
An automated QoS solution that works from the LAN into the WAN is the best of both worlds. By optimizing the available bandwidth for important traffic not just in the LAN but to peered networks on the WAN, a residential software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solution can proactively make the best of what residential internet connectivity has to offer.
Bigleaf Home Office is an SD-WAN solution that optimizes the traditional home internet setup to auto-detect the needs of your business applications and existing network conditions. It will intelligently adapt traffic in real time to ensure uninterrupted uptime and continued productivity, providing solutions for home office connectivity across both LAN and WAN.
Don’t let bad internet frustrate you!
Your home office’s internet connection can be a source of frustration, but you don’t have to let that frustration continue. Some knowledge and tools can diagnose and even repair many problems before resorting to a call to the ISP.
If you’re interested in learning more about Bigleaf Home Office, contact us for a demo.