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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Click Tips
Rob Freeman
By Rob Freeman
Click tip-ster

Rob Freeman, Click Online's very own Mr Fixit, troubleshoots your PC problems.

A lot of people want to know how to get a better connection to the internet if they cannot get broadband, otherwise known as "trying to get a free lunch".

John Hansen in Belgium contacted us to say:

Like a lot of retired people, I can't afford broadband so on my slow modem trying to download a few photos of our grandchild can take half an hour. The highest speed we ever get is about 37kbps. Please give us some info on how to speed up downloading. There must be millions of us in the same boat.

We first covered this a few years ago on this programme and we still have people asking today: "So, has technology improved? Is there something new for analogue modem users?"

Nope!

Sorry, 56kbps was the highest speed you could get in 1998 and it is still the highest speed you can get today. If you do not yet have a 56k modem by the way, they are very cheap nowadays so think about getting one. You may even get one second hand even cheaper.


Stephen H in Australia e-mailed us to ask:

I've seen adverts for internet speed up services, do you know anything about them? Surely they can't work and, if they do, how?

I have seen them and so far I have not seen one that gets broadband speeds down an analogue modem on a dial-up line. Modems compress the data they send automatically, so compressing them even more, which is just about the only way you can speed up data, is very difficult.


Shaun Webb in the UK contacted with this query:

I have 56k modem but I can only get a speed of around 40,000kbps. I should be getting more and I think it is my phone line.

40k sounds like a pretty respectable connection speed to me. Here is the one you need to be worried about:

Mitesh Doshi in India contacted us to ask:

I have 56k external voice modem, which is supposed to be a good modem in the hardware market. But I get speeds of a mere 3k-4k maximum while downloading. Please provide some tricks or tips to increase the speed.

And Richard Mabbitt e-mailed to remind us of a very important fact and one that is not made enough of, in my opinion:

The quality of the local telephone system is the ultimate determinant of speed and reliability.

That means that, if your phone sounds scratchy, crackly and distorted on a normal phone call, then the prospects for a high quality modem connection are not good. 4kbps is appalling. It may be your ISP is restricting bandwidth as well as your phone line being poor. Do not forget that in some countries the copper telephone lines can be over 60 years old.

There are legitimate applications out there which use various tricks to make it feel like your connection is faster, things like saving frequently viewed web pages on your computer rather than going out to the internet for a fresh copy and degrading the picture quality in web pages to make them display more quickly.

The thing to remember is that they are not doing anything with your line to make the connection faster. The connection speed you get currently with an analogue modem is always going to be your connection speed.

Leechget looks a bit like Outlook, and lets you schedule big downloads at set times, perhaps for when the dialling charges are lower or when you are not using the internet because you are off down the cinema.

Miliki's Dial-up Accelerator is one of the "crush the life out of web images" pieces of software but gets good reviews, although a 6-fold difference in speed is at the edge of my credulity. I would not have thought that you would get a 6-fold increase in a text page. What are you going to crush? Point to note: this product is not free, there is an ongoing charge, though there is a trial period for the curious.

For Mac users only, there is Yazsoft Speed Download 3. I think the word "speed" here only ever appears in the name. It is $20US with a 15-day trial period.

Tweakmaster looks complicated, even if you know what you are doing. Plus it comes with a bunch of features I cannot see you ever using.

Fast Cache is a piece of software I would actually use. It simply remembers the IP addresses of the websites you browse, so your computer does not have to keep looking them up online. This one will save you time.

You can probably tell that few of these offerings get me excited. In my experience the installation is not worth the hassle, unless your connection is really, really slow. The most useful feature of the download manager programs for dial-up users is that, if you get disconnected, you can resume downloading from where you left off, rather than having to go back to the beginning again.

There are other ways to be more efficient with bandwidth. For instance, if you are surfing with Firefox, you can open a handful of pages at once in tabs and, while you are reading the first, the others are downloading in the background. By the time you get to the next tab, it should have loaded.


If you have any questions or queries, please visit "Contact us" (link on the top right-hand side of this page) to get in touch.


Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0745 . Also BBC World.



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