No Internet? Troubleshoot NBN issues with our guide

No internet or slow internet? Essential NBN troubleshooting tips tackled
Photograph of Repair Man - NBN Internet Not Working

A straightforward guide for identifying problems, troubleshooting steps, and who to speak to when internet things go wrong.

There’s no need to get down if your internet is down, because there may well be a straightforward solution to your problem. As someone who’s previously provided over-the-phone, remote-access and in-person tech support for a range of internet woes, connectivity issues can prove troublesome, but there’s generally a straightforward solution to getting back online.

Please note that even if you don’t have an NBN connection, a lot of these steps will still be relevant to helping you troubleshoot no-internet or slow-internet scenarios.

No internet or slow internet: Identifying the problem

This is the first and most important step, and it doesn’t always require a database of tech knowledge to crack. One of the common themes I came across during tech support was people thinking in terms of the task instead of the actual problem. For instance, they wanted to send an email, so they’d report that their email wasn’t working when, in reality, it was because their entire internet connection was down.

It’s true that, without internet access, you can’t send or receive emails, but you also can’t do anything else online, so focusing on fixing potential specific email problems is the wrong first step because the internet isn’t online.

No matter what you want to do online, check that your internet connection is working first. Try to visit a popular search engine like Google, then search for anything. If results come up, even slowly, then an internet outage isn’t the problem. If the issue is related to speed, run a speed test using our tool below. .

Are they up to snuff with the speeds advertised by your provider? If not, there are steps to try before contacting them.

Slow speeds? Take a look at the speeds you can expect on Australia’s fastest providers in the table below.

Troubleshooting priorities

Troubleshooting steps should start with the individual device you’re having issues with.

Assuming it is an individual device you’re having issues with, though, start with that. The next step is to focus on networking equipment, which may be a modem-router, or separate modem and router devices. If they’re all okay, it’s time to check for in-home interference or signal dampening, as well as checking the state of your cabling.

With all of this in-home troubleshooting out of the way, the problem may be with an outside network, which means it’s time to reach out for external support.

Troubleshooting devices

If you’re on a WiFi device, check to make sure you’ve got the wireless bars showing on your computer or device (without a cross or exclamation mark). A cross or no WiFi bars at all indicates no WiFi connection, while an exclamation mark means there’s a connectivity problem. An exclamation mark is an indication that the connection to your router (your local network) is working but there’s an issue with your internet (external network), which means troubleshooting efforts can likely be focused on your modem. If you have a modem-router, it means this device is likely having internet woes.

If you’re connected via Ethernet on a computer, check your system tray (bottom right-hand corner of your main screen) for a square TV-like networking icon to indicate that everything is connected. Hover over this and it should tell you about the status of your network: something along the lines of “internet access” or “no internet access” if things have gone awry. If it has a globe symbol with a smaller ‘no sign’ icon, it means you’re connected to your local network but not connected to the internet. As with the above WiFi example, this globe plus no sign likely means your router is working fine, but the modem part is having issues.

WiFI icon on desktop

These device troubleshooting steps are the best course of action if one device is having trouble connecting to the internet when others are connecting without issues. Conversely, if no devices are able to connect to the internet or all of them are suffering from the same internet problem like slow speeds, it’s likely the problem is outside of your devices. Either way, try restarting or power cycling – power off, then power back on – the device or devices in question.

If the problem persists, move onto the steps below.

Local network troubleshooting

As with problematic devices, the best place to start is by power cycling your networking equipment. When I worked in over-the-phone internet tech support, something like 90 percent of issues were solved by following The IT Crowd mantra, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

Power cycling is different to restarting in that it’s advised that you leave the device off for a short time before turning it on again. Some places recommend as little as 15 seconds, some upwards of two minutes, but anywhere from 30 seconds to 60 seconds should work for most gear. If you’d rather be specific, check the manual of your networking equipment for the recommended power-cycle time. You’ll know a complete power cycle has finished once all of the operating lights to turn back on before proceeding.

The trick with power cycling networking equipment is to start from the outside of your network and work inwards. If you only have a modem-router – which you can tell with the steps in this modem vs router guide – this makes life easier because you only have to power cycle (and troubleshoot) one networking device. If you have a separate router, though, fully power cycle your modem, then your router. If you also have a networking switch, the order is modem first, router second, switch last.

While it may fix your issue if you power cycle all networking devices simultaneously, you’re looking to isolate a problem, and every step deeper into your local network is reliant on the device before it. For example, a PC connects to a switch via Ethernet cable, which then connects to a router to handle internet and WiFi traffic routing, and the router connects to a modem that’s the gatekeeper to the internet.

Troubleshooting networking equipment

It’s worth familiarising yourself with the lights on your networking equipment when everything is running smoothly. The chances are good that your networking equipment will have a mix of green, blue or white lights to indicate business-as-usual network activity (check your device’s manual for specific colours). Red or a lack of lights is generally a sign of issues or no activity.

The type of NBN access technology will determine whether you’re using a modem or a modem-router. If you’re unsure of your NBN access technology, punch your address into the search box below.

You’ll be taken to a results page. At the top you will see a message reading “Great News! Your area has NBN” – hover your mouse over that section to find out what NBN technology you have.

No lights on networking equipment means there’s no power or there’s an equipment failure. For a modem, there should be green, blue or white lights for at least power, connection status, and local area network (LAN), which will have different identifying names (outside of power) for different modems and modem-routers.

Try to keep all of your networking equipment up to date in terms of its firmware, too. Sometimes this is handled automatically, but consult the manual from your vendor to see if there’s a way to manually check for an update.

Understanding networking equipment lights

No lights for power means you should try to power on the device. If it is powered on, hasn’t responded to a power cycle, and there are still no lights or a red light for the power indicator, call your provider.

If there’s no light for the connection status or any presence of red lights, there’s an issue with your connection. If power cycling doesn’t fix this, call your provider.

For modems specifically, if there’s no light on the LAN status, or a red light, this indicates a problem with the connection to your router. This might be an issue with the Ethernet cable or it might be an issue with the router itself. Ensure that the Ethernet cable is correctly connected at both ends, and if that doesn’t fix things, try a different Ethernet cable.

Fingers plugging ethernet cable into back of laptop

It’s a similar light situation for routers, too. Follow the steps for power and connection status above. Just note that flashing lights (instead of solid lights) are more prevalent on routers and modem-routers to indicate activity. Depending on the features of your router or modem-router, there may be additional lights for WiFi, 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi frequencies, guest WiFi channel, USB ports and LAN ports. Flashing lights on these ports in particular are normal. No lights means either the function is disabled, inactive, disconnected or something has gone wrong with the connected device or the router.

Power cycle your router or modem-router and, if problems persist, contact your provider or hardware vendor for further troubleshooting. Newer-model routers or modem-routers may also have smartphone apps that let you run additional tests and make changes (such as switching your WiFi channel), so check to see if your model supports this. The easiest way to find the model of your networking gear is to check the sticker underneath.

For switches, check for power and LAN activity lights. If anything goes wrong, power cycle. Networking switches aren’t as complex as modems, routers or modem-routers, which means unless they have a hardware fault, power cycling will fix most connection problems.

Troubleshooting in-home connectivity

Whether wired or wireless, how you connect to your networking equipment can have a massive impact on speed, whether you’re able to connect at all, or how reliable your connection is. For any wires – which includes power, Ethernet, telephone and/or coaxial cables – ensure that they’re not pinched, kinked or bent. If you suspect a cable is causing connection issues, use a replacement cable to confirm whether that’s the case.

Try to keep cables clear of potential trips and snags, too. It’s possible to buy incredibly lengthy Ethernet cables if you want to run them over doorways, under or around the corners of your carpet, or across wall cornices. There are also flat Ethernet cables (instead of the traditional round ones) that are easier to keep tidier and are less noticeable underfoot.

Why is my internet so slow - image of Ethernet cable

Where supported by your router (or modem-router) and devices, Cat6 Ethernet cables are capable of reaching gigabit speeds, compared to the older Cat5 Ethernet cables (which support up to 100Mbps). Note that these speeds are in reference to your local network, not the internet, but newer Ethernet cables can get you closer to your internet connection’s top speed.

Wireless connectivity, on the other hand, is a lot more convenient than running Ethernet cables around the home, but it’s also a lot more prone to signal interference and dampening. Usual culprits include microwaves, TVs, fridges, washing machines, dishwashers, ovens, fish tanks, cordless phones and radios.

Thick walls and floors are also WiFi signal killers that are trickier to bypass, which is where it’s worth using Ethernet or investing in either a WiFi extender or mesh network.

Modem or router positioning

Routers can be finicky when it comes to signal strength, so for the best chance of having great WiFi connectivity in your home, place your router or modem-router around two metres off the ground and keep it clear of any of those interfering or dampening items listed above. Try to keep routers and modem-routers outside of cupboards or shelving. Also check that your router or modem-router’s antennae are properly attached and aren’t damaged as this can impact WiFi

Placement of standalone modems doesn’t matter as much as they connect to a router to share the internet via Ethernet or WiFi. The same is true of networking switches, which don’t suffer from the same interference issues as WiFi routers or WiFi modem-routers.

Where possible, position your router or modem-router relative to where WiFi signal is needed most. If the answer to that hypothetical is, “All around the home”, then keep the router or modem-router central. If, however, you tend to use WiFi devices on one side of your home, position your router or modem-router near that connectivity hotspot. Just be aware that the signal quality will deteriorate the farther away you are from the router and the more interfering or dampening items stand in the way of the router/modem-router and your WiFi connected devices.

No internet vs slow internet

All of the troubleshooting steps above should be taken for no-internet scenarios, whether that’s for an individual device or your entire network. Some of the factors listed previously can also impact internet speeds, most notably the WiFi interference and dampening considerations.

The best way to test raw internet download and upload speed is to use an Ethernet connection directly to your modem or modem-router. For those with a modem-router, try to power off all of your usual connected devices before trying these steps as automatic downloads and uploads can invisibly hog internet bandwidth that will impact these results.

Once this is done, run a speedtest that will measure latency, download speed and upload speed. Download speed tends to be the big focus which, by law, providers have to list in terms of average typical evening speeds. Compare your download speed result to what your provider is advertising, relative to the speed tier you’re on.

NBN 12 Basic speeds are up to 12Mbps download and 1Mbps upload. NBN 25 Standard speeds are up to 25Mbps download and 5Mbps upload. NBN 50 Standard Plus speeds are up to 50Mbps download and 20Mbps upload. NBN 100 Premium speeds are up to 100Mbps download and either 40Mbps upload or 20Mbps upload, depending on what your provider offers and, where available, which version you opt for.

If your download speed results with a dedicated Ethernet connection to your modem or modem-router are below those advertised by your provider, or noticeably below those max upload speeds above, speak to your provider. It’s worth noting that the internet is always slower between 7pm and 11pm every night, but these should be close to what’s advertised by your provider.

Like a lot of networking problems, though, slower speeds are likely caused within the home, especially if the internet is fast one moment and slower the next. This is because those maximum download and upload speeds outline above are the total shared bandwidth that’s available to everyone and every device in your home. If you have many connected devices (wired or wireless) that are constantly downloading or uploading – especially those that do it invisibly in the background, like automatic camera backup once a device connects to WiFi – you will notice speed slowdowns.

To avoid this, keep track of and manage the number of devices connected at one time, which can stack up between computers, smart TVs, game consoles, tablets, smartphones and a range of other smart devices. A good idea is to schedule updates during hours when people in your home aren’t competing for bandwidth. You can also disable automatic updates and manually update outside of these popular times.

Alternatively, consider upgrading to a higher speed tier and/or investing in a newer-model router that includes features like Quality of Service, which is designed to intelligently prioritise real-time communication (e.g. gaming and video calls) over bandwidth-hogging tasks like downloading and uploading massive files.

It’s worth noting that overall internet speed is dependent on a few main factors. First, the NBN plan or speed tier you’re using as well as your connection technology type. Second, your provider, which have different average speeds. And third, congestion either during typical evening times or on your local network.

External network troubleshooting

As frustrating as it might be to have internet issues outside of your control, the good news is the answer is simple: contact your provider. To check where the fault lies, it’s worth checking NBN’s network outages page first, which also includes information about planned maintenance for the next 10 days. Use your phone internet if you can’t get online with your home internet.

If there are no alerts there, check your provider’s website for network outages. Any listed outages should, ideally, have a repair time frame associated with them. If there’s no listed outage or no listed time frame, contact your provider.

In the event that you do have to talk to a provider, they will advise you of the next steps. One of the benefits of performing those basic home network troubleshooting steps above is there’s a good chance your provider will ask you to do some or all of them during the call. You can tell your provider what you’ve already done to rectify the issue, which should help advance the troubleshooting process.

Final steps

The reason I’ve listed troubleshooting steps in terms of focusing on the home first and external networks last is to highlight how much is within your control. When a fault occurs with a network outside of your control, you’re at the mercy of that external provider to fix it.

If you’re unhappy with the service (speed, reliability or support) that you’re receiving from a provider, consider switching. We update our best NBN internet plans monthly.

Outside of switching providers or moving house, you’re stuck with the technology type that’s servicing your home, too. That is unless you want to drop $330 on an application to NBN’s Technology Choice Program, wherein NBN will appraise the eligibility of your home for a shift to Fibre-to-the-Premises – the best and most future-proofed NBN technology – and outline the additional costs required to convert your connection. These costs can stretch to tens of thousands of dollars, though.

Consider switching plans or providers

At the end of the day, if it’s not a local network or device issue and you’re having problems consistently with no sufficient support, it might be time to consider switching providers. Below are a list of the most popular broadband plans this month.