Case Study 1: Slow ADSL Internet, Algarve Portugal

Unfortunately slow ADSL internet connections are not uncommon in Portugal due to a number of infrastructure factors - fortunately for Algarve residents and Portuguese Expats, 3G and 4G mobile internet IS fast and coverage/speeds are increasing all the time. This acceleration in mobile internet infrastructure is likely to increase in the next few years due to various economies - for a service provider, is it cheaper to erect 2 more 4G cell base stations to cover a town of 3000-6000 people (plus x number of roaming handsets) or connect/service/repair 6000 phones lines to individual houses and 100 sub-exchanges? They can then focus on improving the back-haul network speed that connect the cell stations to each other that ultimately provides the potential 100-150Mbps 4G internet speeds. Perhaps in big cities they can role out fiber to your house but in the majority of Portugal this isn't feasible given the low population density.

Hopefully we will see the service providers in Portugal begin and continue to try and "push" users off fixed line services onto mobile internet services by offering cheaper and more competitive contracts. This is where purchasing an unlocked router will come into its own as potentially a customer can change contracts every 12/18months to get the best deal (see our 3g/4G router buying guide here for more info).

We must also consider, with any increase in subscribers to a service, the possibility of slower network speeds at peak times due to contention. We can hope that service providers increase network capacities and cell base station numbers but we can also ensure our reception is the best possible with the use of a 3G or 4G antenna (check out our mobile internet antenna/aerial buying guide here)

For some of our customers, they are experiencing this lack of investment in fixed line infrastructure as poor ADSL broadband speeds. This problem is exacerbated for Algarve/Portuguese properties located outside of main towns: the physical line length and quality of the phone lines can cause poor ADSL sync speeds - meaning slow internet upload and downloads. A call to SAPO or Portugal Telecom might lead to an engineer coming out (eventually after being told the internet is fine and it must be your computer etc etc) - he might change a DSL filter or maybe swap the router, after 5 months of trying you might even be able to persuade them to rewire the fixed line using a spare "pair" in your overhead phone line if one is available. Unfortunately if the issue is cause by other more fundamental factors (DSL exchange is a long way away, poor internal wiring, poor wiring on the telephone infrastructure) you will likely not see much improvement in internet speeds. You may also see your internet speed drop considerably in the summer due to the increased numbers of users (known as contention) overloading the already poorly spec'd ADSL system.

In our opinion, one of the best things about 3G and 4G mobile internet is having a lot more control over the potential internet speed and stability you can achieve - OK, so you cant move your house, however being able to change mobile internet provider to get the latest tech in your nearest base station or installing a 3G or 4G antenna to increase signal strength are all things YOU can do without spending 53 hours on the phone to Portugal Telecom...

A nice case study for a more "rural" Algarve customer or anyone with a slow fixed line ADSL broadband connection was a recent Algarve Connect installation just north of Burgau (located 10 mins drive west of Lagos in the Western Algarve).


The above map gives you a rough idea of the setup - hardly super rural relative to some people in "the campo"... This customers ADSL phone line terminates in Budens - a line length of approx 3km (a rough MAX length to provision ADSL over a telephone line is just over 5km so this isn't really pushing the limits).

The customers ADSL modem from Portugal Telecom was syncing at a maximum speed of around 1Mbps download and 512K upload. OK for a bit of browsing (some websites taking ages to load) and emails however unusable for watching videos over the internet and unthinkable for getting IPTV services. This internet speed dropped even lower in the summer - presumably due to the increase number of internet users on the Budens exchange (see the nearby Parque da Floresta resort).

Max sync speed:

slow ADSL download and upload speeds

A couple of speed tests (see our "word on internet speed tests article for more info"

SLOW ADSL Portugal Telecom

slow broadband portugal telecom

A quick check of the customers postcode on a number of service providers' sites indicated only single channel 3G speeds would be achievable - around 14.4Mbps (theoretical maximum - so real speeds likely to be less). Given the current connection speed of 1Mbps at best, this would still represent a useable improvement in download speeds, IPTV, VPN TV possibilities.

So we hooked up a D-Link 4G router (DWR-923) with standard aerials with a MEO SIM card. The router connected onto the 3G network as expected from the postcode/network check:

 MEO 3G connection

A couple of speed checks - already 5 or 6 times faster internet even on the "legacy" 3G network (note slow PING - this latency has been removed by the 4G network design so we always try and get customers connecting to the newer 4G network).

3G internet speed algarve

algarve 3g internet speeds

From the roof of the property we did not have direct line of sight to the nearest cell base station (confirmed with directional finder OpenSignal - see here for more details) approx 2.5KM away as the crow flies. The direct line of sight was blocked by a couple of buildings and a tree lined small hill - pretty standard Algarve terrain - this would mean the signal at the property being received was likely being bounced around in various directions from the obstructions. Algarve Connect were able to suggest the installation of an Omnidirectional antenna mounted on the roof which should pick up all the available signals from multiple directions.

We installed a Poynting XPOL-A0001 antenna with 5m of low loss cable to allow the router to be positioned in the kitchen/living room area for best wireless coverage.

We have now managed to connect to the 4G network.

4G MEO connection

Here are the speed test results....

 algarve 4g speedtest

4G MEO speed test

Real world internet speeds of 15Mbps download and 7Mbps upload - an amazing 15x times faster than the ADSL broadband being provided by the Portugal Telecom fixed line!

The customer is now able to consider the installation of an IPTV system (usually minimum requirements of 10Mbps dowNload speeds). Result!