When I wander about the house these days, I tend to use my iPad (and sometimes iPhone) rather than pick up the laptop if I just want to check the web or mail. I have an AirPort Extreme (or, as the sportscasters say these days, EXTREEEEEEEEEEM!) to get to my network. Nothing too interesting about any of that, right? Right. But the past few days, I noticed that Internet access was verrrrrrrrry sloooooowwwwww. Annoyingly so, in fact. In addition to having trouble getting mail and web pages, I was having trouble with my iScore app timing out while syncing with the cloud.
I went to my favorite speed test, at Speakeasy, from my desktop (since the test is Flash-based) and everything looked fine – I was getting pretty much what I was paying for. Then I tried one of my favorite speed tests on my iPad and iPhone, named, oddly enough, Speedtest, available free from the App Store. It was consistent across both devices – I was getting about 1/5th the speed I had gotten in past tests. (One of the things I like about Speedtest is that it keeps a history of previous tests.) So why?
Since the problem was on both the phone and the iPad, I tried rebooting the Airport Extreme. Nothing changed – still horrible speeds. Then I tried rebooting each device – still no help. Then I happened to look at the switch that the Airport was plugged into – it was connected at 100 Mb, even though both the Airport and the switch support gigabit connections. Now, 100 Mb is still much faster than my Internet connection, so at first I didn't think much of it. But then I took a look at the cable – it was obviously pretty old, and looked like one I had gotten with a portable Ethernet card a long time ago. So was sure it wasn't Cat 6 (gigabit-rated) – but still, 100 Mb should have been fine.
I decided to replace it anyway with a Cat 6 cable (I have plenty of spares so it's not like I needed to run out and get one). Not only did the connection go to gigabit, but my connection speed returned to normal on the iPad and iPhone.
Now that cable had been in place for years – it was on my older Extreme that I used for several years before I upgraded. It had obviously been fine before, because the old speed tests showed I was getting what I would expect. The last check was a few months back, and I've had the new Extreme longer than that – so the only conclusion I can come to is that the cable went bad. It's a rare occurrence, but it does happen – maybe one of the times I moved it out of the way (it sits next to some other equipment) to work on something I stressed it enough to make it unreliable. Who knows? The point I'm making today is that cables do go bad, so don't overlook that as a reason for a problem.