How to: Upgrade Your DSL Connection Using Filters

Amber Bouman

With the majority of users connecting to the Internet on some form of DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), we thought it was time to give you some tips to help you streamline your DSL connection using filters. If you’re connecting to the internet using cable or satellite or, god forbid, dial-up, these instructions might even help you to get rid of a bit of noise in your phone line.

Most DSL connections are actually ADSL (Asynchronous DSL), meaning that your upload speed probably sucks but your download speed is likely decent. For example, if you can download at 5 Mbps (megabits per second), you can usually upload at around 1 Mbps. Most of the time, these speeds are attained via POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service)which utilizes  basic copper wire. Although some telcos feed fiber cables to a place near your home, and use copper for the rest of the journey. If you’re lucky enough(and well-off enough)to have a fiber ADSL connection, then, well, none of this really applies to you. Your speeds should be much higher.

In the United States and Canada, it’s pretty standard for the telcos to connect a line to your house leaving the rest of the wiring beyond that point under your control. That point is called a Demarcation Point or a NID (Network Interface Device) and the telcos responsibility ends there. Anything you do  with the wires past the demarc is your concern, not theirs. Look for this box by following your phone line up to your house. Ideally, everything that you’re going to work on should be easily accessible on the inside of that wall.

Older Example of a Demarc Point

However, with a project like this, it’s pretty difficult to set  standard instructions. (We worked on a post-war home that was built in the early ‘50s.) While most post-war homes in North America have telephone access through one pair of wires, meaning one telephone number at the house, you may have two lines coming in, which would mean two pairs of wires. The instructions below will still be the same, but you’ll have a couple of extra wires to sort out. No need to panic, if you can assemble a computer, you can figure this out.

One small note: because every situation is different, this article is a guide only. If your DSL speed is as advertised and your phone lines are crystal clear, there’s no need to get your hands dirty. On the other hand, if you love to tweak things, and could use an increased in your DSL speed, this is a fun weekend project.

Step One – Getting Prepared

Before you begin, here’s a list of some tools and supplies you’ll need. Start your basic arsenal with:  a screwdriver, pliers, an X-ACTO knife (or a similar blade), something to strip protective coating off wires, a couple of DSL filters, some telephone junction boxes, assorted wood screws and, once you get the distances figured out, some type of cabling – preferably Cat5E or Cat6. We also used a piece of board to lay all the cables out (see: Inside Wiring, After below). Additionally, you’ll also need  some RJ11 male connectors, keeping in mind that phones use RJ11 while Ethernet uses RJ45, and, if you’ll be tinkering with Ethernet or telephone cables then you’ll also need a crimping tool so you can custom fit everything.

Step Two – Finding the Right Wires

Let’s start by guarantying that your phone will work after the job is done, okay? That way, if you get into a jam, you can still make a frantic phone call for help.

Telephone wiring is color coded to make life simpler for the repair guys. Usually, you’ll have a blue wire and a white/blue wire coming up to your house from the telcos mainlines. If you have two phone numbers at your house, the second line uses an orange and white/orange pair.

Our Demarc "Before"

Past the demarcation point, the standard wiring for your phone lines switches to one pair of red and green wires and a pair of black and yellow wires. If you only have one phone line in your house, then only the red and green are ‘live’. There are two ways to remember this. Red and green are Christmas colors while black and yellow are  Halloween. (Alternatively you can say BuRGundY, as in Ron, which is the way they suggest to remember how the RJ11 phone jacks are wired. The two outside colors, black and yellow are one pair and the two in the middle, red and green are the other.) Keep in mind that you only need one pair to make your phone work. Switching the wire colors from one side to another won’t matter because there’s not a positive and a negative. Basically, all you have to do is to maintain the integrity of the color coding.

Since your DSL runs on the same lines as your phone, the matching incoming pair must be used to connect to your DSL modem. Your telcos  have brought four wires to your home but unless you have more than one telephone number, only one pair works-usually the blue and white pair. (Again, remember that you only need one pair to make your phone work.)

DSL will work on your phone line as long as you have filters in place somewhere on the pathway that the phone lines take through your house. The filters screen out the noise, allowing clean sound on the telephone as well as a solid DSL connection. You can put one filter at the point where the wires come in or you can plug each telephone in your home into separate filters before you use them. We went with filtering the line at the entrance point, hoping that this would help speed up our connection.

Our Demarc "After"

Step Three – Installing the Filter

On the inside of the wall that the demarcation point is on, run a length of Cat6 out through the hole in the side of the house up to the box. After removing the old wiring, connect two pairs of the Cat6 wires to the single pair from the telephone company line, aka the standard blue and white/blue line which carries the telephone signal. Why two pairs on one pair? Since DSL and the telephone use the same line, two pairs means that you can eliminate splitting the signal once  the Cat6 is attached inside the house. Since Cat6 has four twisted pairs inside it,  it seemed natural to split the line into two before it came into the house, one pair for the telephones and the other to run to our DSL modem. Simply snip off the other two pairs that aren’t used.

Inside Wiring, Before

Once back inside, connect each pair to separate sides of a connection box. One pair will carry the DSL signal while the other will connect to the phone lines. Splitting the lines at the demarcation point simplifies this substantially.
From one side of the eight place connection box,  use a length of Cat6 to connect to a modular box for the DSL, doing the same from the other side for the phone lines. For the DSL connection, use the Cat6 to patch cord to the modem, using RJ11 connectors on each end. (It would be nice to find a ready-made Cat6 cable with RJ11’s on each end but they don’t seem to exist.) The connection between the DSL modem and the signal lines from the telcos is an important link in the chain. Using Cat6 for this, instead of the dime store wire that comes with a modem, makes sense. On the telephone side, put two DSL filters in series before connecting a pair of wires to the modular box. Why not use a POTS splitter (whole house filter) instead of two small filters in series? Well, because  a good POTS splitter runs about fifty to a hundred dollars.

Inside Wiring, After

From the end of the last DSL filter, use the crimper to install an RJ11 male connector onto a short section of Cat6. Use this length of Cat6 to hook up to another 8 way box for distribution of the telephone signals throughout the house. You can jumpereach side of the eight way box to neaten up the connections a bit. Now, let’s test it out!

Step Four – Testing the Results

Successive tests using different servers, before and after the tweaking, showed an increase of about three percent. The figures reflected increases for both sides of the test, downloading and uploading. Real speeds approach 5 Mb/s, sometimes going over, but usually  around 4.7-4.9 Mb/s. Uploads hovered around .66 to .69 Mb/s. It’s possible that a POTS splitter would have helped more than the two filters, but that’s another project for another time.

There are many more variables with DSL than just the wiring inside the house. Your ISP can go to bat for you if your speeds are not as advertised but they won’t work on your inside lines for free. Once you are certain that everything is squeaky clean and perfect on your side of the demarcation point, let the phone company worry about their side.

As with everything, opinions abound with anything about DSL. Do some research and you’ll see some pretty intense arguments both for and against techniques you should or could use to make your DSL as fast as possible. Consider this article as a jumping off point for further input. Is Cat6 overkill? Is there a minimum length for a run of cable? Should you consider running Cat6 throughout your house to minimize interference? Share your ideas with everyone else. At some point, we might update this project using your input. For now, we’re happy with the look and feel of a snappy new DSL/phone layout.

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