Limited network speed could be due to a range of factors—from VLAN misconfigurations and outdated equipment to poor network design or issues with the cable plant. The first step is to diagnose and try to fix the problem, but once you’ve exhausted those efforts, it may be time to upgrade.
Troubleshooting is the First Step
Slow speed is the number one complaint among LAN users. The first step is to investigate the source. If it’s just one user experiencing the issue, you need to identify if it’s the user’s device itself that is slowing things down—maybe the processor isn’t adequate for the workload, there’s insufficient RAM, or the device has a virus. If all looks good, you can then do a simple speed and PING test from various work area outlets to verify that it’s the actual connection and not a bad network interface card (NIC) or other issue integral to the device.
If it’s the connection is the problem, the next step is to consider the type of connection. Is the user connecting via Wi-Fi or are they connected with a wired connection. If it’s Wi-Fi, check the settings and permissions. If the device has a wired connection, use a LAN cable tester to verify speed at the original outlet and look for split pairs, short circuits, or damaged wires. If everything looks good, try replacing the patch cord with a new one—patch cords are often the weakest link and can easily become damaged. If testing indicates a break or bend loss somewhere in the link, you may need to use a tone generator and probe to locate the problem so it can be repaired, or you may need to simply reterminate the cable and/or replace the outlet.
If you have multiple users complaining about slow speeds, you’re going to have to bring your troubleshooting up a notch. That means taking a look at your Wi-Fi access points, switches, and routers to make sure that VLANs are correctly configured to help segment traffic, permissions are accurate, Layer 2 switching prioritizes the right applications, and the latest firmware has been installed. While there’s a lot of upfront troubleshooting to determine the cause of slow speeds, and the problem may be a fairly easy fix, there’s also the potential that your switch uplink speeds simply aren’t up to snuff and an upgrade is inevitable. But even if you upgrade your LAN switches to gigabit speeds or higher and get your uplink speeds where they need to be, you’ve to make sure your cable plant is going to support it.
Beefing up the Backbone
Whether you’ve got a multimode or singlemode fiber backbone, upgrades are typically as easy as swapping out switches for faster ones—but not always. If your LAN backbone consists of legacy 62.5-micron OM1 multimode fiber and you’re upgrading to 10 Gig, there’s a pretty good chance the cable plant won’t support it. OM1 multimode only supports 10 Gig to about 30 meters, so if you’ve got longer lengths, it’s probably time to replace the fiber with laser-optimized OM3 or higher multimode that supports much greater distances and speeds—OM3 supports 10 Gig to 300 meters and 40 Gig to 100 meters, while OM4 supports 10 Gig to at least 400 meters and 40 Gig to 150 meters. If your distances are beyond that, you’ll need to go with singlemode. One thing to consider when looking at your backbone is that industry standards recommend a minimum 25 Gig backbone to support the latest Wi-Fi 6 uplink capacity.
It's important to remember that it’s not always about the type of fiber, the speed, and the distance—it could also be the count! Parallel optics applications like 40GBASE-SR4 or 100GBASE-SR4 requires 8 multimode fibers, so if your backbone previously consisted of just 2 or 4 multimode strands to each telecom room, you’re going to need to add more or consider a duplex application like 25GBASE-SR or 50GBASE-SR. In fact, most LAN fiber backbones today are going with singlemode since it can support much higher speeds over greater distances with just one pair. You also may need to add more fiber to support additional uplinks and prevent bottlenecks if your network has expanded to support more users since it’s original deployment.
Taking a Closer Look at the Horizontal
If you’ve got plenty of capacity in your backbone, there’s the chance that the problem could be the horizontal cable plant. If you’re only pushing 100 Megabits per second to the desktop, it’s likely time to upgrade to at least a Gig or more. Yet another consideration is that Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) requires up to a 5 Gig connection speed, while Wi-Fi 6 requires a minimum of 10 Gig. If you’ve got an existing quality Category 5e or Category 6 cable plant, you can perform qualification testing to see if it will support 2.5GBASE-T or 5GBASE-T. In other words, you may be able to squeak a little more out of what you’ve already got. However, while that might be an adequate solution in the interim, if you every plan to move to Wi-Fi 6 or increase speeds to 10 Gig to the desktop, you’re going to need to replace the existing infrastructure with Category 6A—which is the industry standard-based recommendation for all new LAN installations.
The good news is that CablesPlus offers a comprehensive line of test equipment to help you with your initial troubleshooting. And if you’re due for an upgrade, we’ve got the fiber and copper cabling and connectivity and the installation tools to get the job done. Click HERE to view our breadth of network solutions or contact us at email@example.com or 866-678-5852 to discuss your upgrade.