How to improve your broadband speeds
"My broadband is really slow. What can I do to speed it up?"
When loading a page feels like the final scene of Chariots of Fire, you probably have a broadband speed problem.
If you're sick of hearing that the easiest way to improve your broadband speeds would be to just pack up and move then this guide is for you.
We've complied a list of the simple (and the not so simple) things you can do to improve your broadband speeds.
If you're looking for more information on why and how much factors including distance from the exchange and fair use policies affect the speeds you receive please see our guide to broadband speeds.
But for practical help, from quick tips to longer projects, carry on reading.
Five very quick tips
1. Fiddle with your router
Time needed: 30 minutes to an hour
Often, it's the signal provided by your wireless router - rather than line or provider problems - that are slowing your broadband down.
Fiddling about with your wireless router could improve the signal that you're getting and make your broadband faster.
First, try physically moving your wireless router to get a better signal. The signal can be disrupted by other devices which operate in the same 2.4GHz range as your router so moving the router away from microwave ovens, Bluetooth devices, baby monitors and cordless phones could make your broadband faster.
Signal can also bounce off shiny surfaces, which is why people with faster broadband tend to have poorly applied makeup.
Also be aware that signal will be weaker after it has gone through walls and objects, a direct line of sight is best but not exactly achievable throughout a home. Minimising walls/objects as much as possible is the next best thing.
It may also be worth checking the instructions that came with your router (if you've lost them many are available online, try Googling the model name and number) to troubleshoot common problems that could be affecting your broadband speeds.
Finally, it is worth noting though that both the router sending the signal and the device inside the computer or laptop receiving the signal play a part.
Often you can get external aerials for laptops for example which can pick up weaker signals in comparison to embedded receivers.
Apple laptops for example are common culprits as the aluminium frame of the laptop itself can cause signal deflection which results in poorer reception (similar to the well known iPhone 4 reception issue).
Note also that at this stage it's worth double checking the security settings of your wireless router to make sure your broadband connection isn't being piggy backed. See more on how to do that in this guide.
2. Plug it in
Time needed: 10 minutes
Ultimately, plugging in an Ethernet cable is the only way to dodge wireless signal degradation entirely.
Wireless signal is poor by its very nature: network analyst Epitiro, conducted over 1 million tests which showed that on average broadband connections shared using home wi-fi networks were 30% slower than the speeds measured at the main phone socket in the same property.
That equates to around 15-20Mb for someone paying for a 50Mb broadband connection.
3. Compare your broadband package
Time needed: 10 to 30 minutes
It could be that your broadband package is no longer suited to how you're using the internet.
If you've had your current broadband package for a number of years, for example, it might just be that speeds that were adequate to load basic web pages a few years ago are no longer good enough to cope with your new BBC iPlayer and WoW addiction.
Our fastest broadband guide has more information on the fastest broadband providers available to individual households through a postcode or phone number search with the fastest advertised speeds at the top of the table.
4. Look into your usage
Time needed: 30+ minutes
Some broadband providers prioritise certain types of internet use so look into how you're using your broadband connection.
If you download a lot from the internet and you're finding that your broadband is very slow your provider may be throttling your connection under the terms of their fair use policy. See our guide here on broadband fair use policies to see if this might apply to you.
If you often use the internet at peak times - around 6pm - 9pm - try testing the speed at off-peak times, for example in the morning, to see if that makes a significant difference.
Unfortunately, if you find that the way that you use your broadband is having a negative effect on your speeds there is little you can do except switch to another broadband provider with a fair use policy better suited to your needs - this table is a good place to start.
It's also worth being aware however, that it's possible that too many people can be signed up in one area to the same provider, which can affect your broadband speeds even if you consider yourself to be a very light Internet user.
Too many users like this is known as high contention, where customers are effectively sharing bandwidth and causing bottlenecks at peak times when everyone starts trying to catch up on EastEnders at the same time.
The easiest way to spot this is if you know for sure your usage is low and your broadband grinds to a daily halt around tea time.
Although if it is high contention causing your slow broadband, there's little you can do but pick up sticks and try another ISP.
5. Check your microfilter/splitter
Time needed: 30+ minutes
If you have an ADSL connection your broadband provider should have provided you with a microfilter (also known as a broadband filter or splitter) when you signed up.
It's a little white box which plugs into your phone socket and makes sure that the ADSL and phone signals are completely separate. If you don't have a microfilter, or it's not installed correctly or is broken, you'll probably get interference on your phone line and reduced broadband performance.
Here are the four main things to check:
- Is your microfilter the first thing to be plugged into your phone line, before any other line splitters?
- Is there a microfilter in all the phone sockets in your home that you're using? It's not enough to just have one where your modem is plugged in.
- Have you connected multiple filters like an extension lead? Creating a longer cable is all very well but it'll stop the filter from working properly.
- Can you switch microfilters? If you've got a spare see if a switch makes a difference, if not your ISP can usually send you a new filter to test.
If you can, it's also worth plugging the microfilter for your broadband router into the BT master socket - the first socket in your house where the telephone line comes in from outside.
The reason for doing this is any secondary sockets will be using additional internal wiring and connections which could have their own faults.
Two longer projects
1. Buy a better router
Time needed: 2hrs+
If you have fiddled with your router and haven't seen a significant improvement then you might get faster broadband with a better quality router.
Most of the wireless routers that are given away free with broadband packages are very basic and many of the broadband packages that advertise higher speeds do so, at least in part, because they are giving away better equipment.
If you have a high-speed broadband connection but an old router your router might not be powerful enough for your broadband connection.
A wireless router that uses an 802.11b/g network protocol (the most common type) will support speeds up to 11Mbps if it only supports 802.11b and up to 54Mbps if it supports 802.11g. However, even if it supports up to 54Mbps - this speed will reduce on distance and even more so for every wall or object it has to pass through to reach your computer or laptop.
To get the fastest broadband you'll need a router which is 802.11n compatible - it supports speeds up to 300Mbps and most importantly has an increased range of 70 meters (compared to 45 for 802.11b/g).
For example, Virgin Media's XXL broadband and TalkTalk's Pro package both come with a good quality Netgear wireless 'N' router which is 802.11n-compatible.
However, it's worth bearing in mind that an 802.11n router will only show any improvement if you also upgrade the receiving wireless card in your computer or laptop - otherwise the 'n' router will fall back to using 802.11b/g.
Warning! Although most ISPs are more than happy to let you know your broadband username and password, which you'll need to use your router, Sky Broadband won't give you any technical support unless you're using the router that they provided you with at the start of your contract and could suspend your service if they find you using your own router.
It's also worth noting that other ISPs will find it difficult to provide technical support to you if you have you own router, since their staff will be trained on the routers that come free with their broadband packages.
Customers of BT, Sky, TalkTalk or Virgin Media may want to look into the newer hub routers that are now being provided.
We've covered them in more detail here, but they are promoted as offering better wireless signal and coverage, for example some can even automatically detect interference and switch to a different channel to keep speeds from degrading.
2. Switch your broadband provider
Time needed: 2 days
By moving to a different broadband provider you can often improve your speeds massively.
Use one of our broadband comparison tables to see which companies are offering the fastest speeds in your area and read our reviews or guide to this subject for an idea on how realistic that headline speed is.
See the 'switch your broadband' guide, available here, for more information on the practical aspects of moving, especially if you're in the middle of a contract.
Finally, it's good to talk, email, text and tweet, especially when you're thinking of moving: if you think that you're not getting a reasonable broadband speed then get in touch with your broadband provider and ask them what they can do to make your broadband faster.
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