Internet service providers have a difficult task in terms of delivering seamless and dependable online connectivity.
The instructions accompanying your new broadband router might use reassuring statements like ‘easy peasy’ and ‘online in no time’, but getting connected is often only half the battle.
As anyone who’s endured an unreliable internet connection will ruefully attest, staying connected may be the hard part…
The weakest link
If your broadband goes down, there could be numerous reasons – including the possibility it actually hasn’t.
It’s tempting to assume the device we’re currently using is a comprehensive barometer of connectivity, yet going offline might be machine specific.
Broadband tech support staff have heard it all – Ethernet cables getting dislodged, broadband outages ‘coinciding’ with power cuts, wireless routers turned off by children, and so forth.
Your correspondent once discovered his car alarm’s ultrasonic sensors were knocking out two neighbouring houses’ WiFi whenever the vehicle was locked.
Having eliminated user error, power cuts or nearby 2.4GHz wireless devices as possible explanations, the next scenario to consider is an ISP-wide (or region-specific) connectivity issue.
This happens relatively infrequently, but tends to make headlines when it does. ISPs will throw all their resources at fixing whichever problem has forced their systems offline.
However, it’s not always obvious where the problem lies.
That’s because there can be truly obscure reasons for broadband outages, which only become evident during physical site inspections.
We’ve previously outlined the five most common causes of domestic internet connections going offline, but what about less probable causes?
Virgin Media customers in the Ayrshire town of Kilbirnie awoke one morning last December to discover their network was down.
At 4:30am, a milk van had ploughed into a telecommunications box at a T-junction. The ensuing repair took twelve hours to complete.
That was still quicker than the repairs needed to the SHEFA-2 subterranean cable linking the Shetland Isles with the Scottish mainland.
This vital subsea cable was severed by a fishing dredger, taking the entire Shetlands offline for over a week.
What’s especially galling for Shetlanders is that the same cable was damaged by trawlers twice in 2013, so the risk of future outages should have been mitigated against.
In terms of other obscure reasons for broadband outages, mice and squirrels might seem improbable candidates.
Yet small animals are notorious for getting inside pavement exchange boxes and either nesting in or chewing through the cables that link local connections to the wider internet.
Location location location
Certain events affect some locations more than others.
Nottingham endured far more outages in the year to June 2022 than any other city, due to an unfortunate blend of power cuts, maintenance and technical failures.
Some American cities have seen broadband outages caused by natural occurrences from mud slides and ice storms to hurricanes.
Yet the problem may be closer to home.
One Welsh village endured 18 months of outages and slowdowns earlier this decade, before the cause was identified as an old TV set.
This was emitting frequency bursts which interfered with the village of Aberhosan’s antiquated ADSL broadband, causing circuits to repeatedly fail.
There’s only so much your ISP can do to mitigate against such obscure reasons for broadband outages.
As a result, call centre staff would appreciate a degree of patience when customers phone up to report a loss of connectivity…