For a few days Bleeding Edge had been in the grip of that curious state of weather-worn resignation so often induced by failing technology.
Our iiNet ADSL 2 connection was slowly breaking down, and we didn’t have the energy to deal with it. Every second click on a web link sparked a prolonged delay, followed by an error message informing us “The requested web page is not available. The address may not be correct, or there may be a temporary problem with this site.”
Each of these problems was temporary, as temporary, in fact, as the space of a second click, although second time around, the pages loaded only very slowly. And yet we remained in the grip of IT ennui.
The will to deal with the issue arrived only when Bleeding Edge started a LogMeIn IT Reach session to add a new voice recording to the Asterisk PBX box at the spouse’s practice and activate it as the Easter voicemail message.
The remote control, file transfer and diagnostic tools of LogMeIn IT Reach have been remarkably responsive using fast ADSL 2 services of iiNet and at the other end, Internode, and we recommend it highly. But with a flawed connection, it kept dropping out. If the spouse practice was to have an Easter voicemail message, we’d have to make a trip. It was more sensible to end our procrastination, and deal with the problem.
In hindsight, our reluctance may have been triggered by a premonition that this was going to involve a good deal more hassle than we wanted.
It began promisingly enough. As usual, the response time for iiNet’s tech support was gratifyingly fast. Unfortunately, things quickly went downhill. We struck an unusually officious support person who completely dismissed our suggestion that the problem possibly related to our Belkin modem.
He insisted there was nothing wrong with the modem or the iiNet system, and the problem “is something to do with the way your computer is handling data”.
We still favoured the modem as the source of the problem, but we were prepared to try his solution. That involved using the ping diagnostic tool, which in its most basic form, allows users to establish whether two hosts on a network or the internet are connected.
You can add some additional ping commands which give you a good deal more information on the state of the connection, and that’s what our tech support person was looking for.
The command he wanted us to use was ping -f -l 1492 iinet.net.au. The response it produced was “packet needs to be fragmented but DF set”. The explanation he offered us was that our modem’s Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) was set up to send data in packets of 1492 bytes. These were too large, he claimed and the packets were being fragmented, forcing the modem to re-transmit the data. That was the cause of our problem. We might have accepted all this if we’d been running Windows XP, but we’re using Windows Vista, and it’s much smarter about managing broadband networking. We weren’t sure that forcing a data packet size on the network with ping was an accurate reflection of what was happening on our system.
Nevertheless we followed his advice to reset the MTU setting in the modem’s browser configuration page. While it did seem to improve our problem, we weren’t convinced it had solved it. We still suspected something was wrong either with the modem, or with iiNet, but we’d had enough for one day, and decided to sleep on it.
The next morning, thing were as bad as ever. We rang iiNet tech support again, and found ourselves talking to another tech support person, again within a few minutes. His tests detected some minor interference on the line, but not enough to cause our problems.
He suggested slowing the ADSL speed from 18Mbps (an enviable speed, we realise, that results from living quite close to the exchange). We suggested instead that we’d like to try resetting the modem. Fortunately, he was much more willing to listen than his colleague, and he agreed that was a reasonable first step. When we completed the reset – a process that involves sticking a paper clip into the modem’s reset hole then re-entering the connection details – we saw a dramatic improvement in the ping times.
We then did something we should have done in the first place: check the modem manufacturer’s site for a firmware update. It turned out there had been two since we’d installed the modem about a year earlier. When we downloaded and installed the latest firmware, our problems ended.
We were getting ping times of 16 to 18 ms and at speedtest.net – a great site to keep track of your broadband performance – downloads were coming through at 8.9 Mbps. By the next day they’d improved to 12.9Mbps, which is perfectly acceptable to Bleeding Edge.
We do recommend that if your broadband speed seems to have declined, it might be a good idea to do a factory reset of the modem. And if you haven’t checked the firmware version recently, it might be a good idea to do so.