Simple changes including moving the wireless router, using a wired connection, and the placement of other electrical items could help to improve speeds.
Bigger changes including upgrading to a full fibre to the home line, or switching broadband providers for a faster deal should also be considered.
In this guide we'll also look at what affects broadband speeds, and therefore what we can to do improve them, including how our connection and wireless router work to send signal around our home.
At a glance: improve Internet speed top tips
Here are some top tips to improving your broadband speed, which we explore in greater depth below.
Six ways to improve internet speed for free:
- Check your broadband speeds to know what you're dealing with; minimum speed guarantees mean you may be able to exit your contract early if your speeds aren't as expected.
- Try a wired connection; the go-to of broadband technical support teams, plug directly into the router and check your speed again to see if the wireless signal is the culprit.
- Check your router set-up; it's location, wireless band and frequency settings, and firmware can all affect performance.
- Check for wireless signal disruptors; some home electrical items can interfere with a home wireless signal.
- Limit unnecessary connections; check for connected devices that could be using up bandwidth, including smart devices, smartphones and tablets.
- Update device software; out of date operating systems, old browsers, background apps, and a lack of anti-virus software can all contribute to slower broadband.
While improving broadband speed for free is the ideal, sometimes spending a little money can have the biggest impact on achieving faster speeds.
- Check the microfilter; customers on ADSL and Fibre to the Cabinet connections are likely to have a microfilter installed between the telephone socket and the router. Try a spare one, or try replacing for a new one for less than £10.
- Upgrade the router; sometimes people just have older, slower, routers, especially where they've been provided free by a budget broadband provider. Upgrading to a newer model often helps to improve Internet speeds.
- Upgrade to a WiFi guarantee add-on; many broadband providers offer whole home wireless guarantees that provide wireless extenders for a monthly fee, usually around £10.
- Extend the network; if a Wifi guarantee isn't available it's still possible to extend a wireless network with boosters, powerline adaptors, or mesh systems.
- Get a better broadband deal; whether you upgrade to a full fibre to the home connection, or simply switch providers for a faster package, changing your broadband deal can often result in faster Internet. What's more, this step can often save money too.
How to improve broadband speeds
There are numerous factors that can contribute to slower broadband, including some which may be out of our control, such as network factors or external cabling.
Yet, there are a few things we can do to help improve our Internet speed, and certainly to get a better idea of what might be slowing our connection down.
1. Check your broadband speed
Sometimes slow broadband can be caused by a particular website or service being slow, rather than our own connection. So, it's worth checking our broadband speed with an independent tool to get a better idea of what we're dealing with.
It's worth completing at least three tests, and taking the average, and ensure you're not using your connection for anything else at the same time.
Aside from getting a better idea of where you stand and how slow your broadband is, some providers offer minimum speed guarantees when you sign up. Where a connection drops below that minimum speed, if the provider can't resolve the issue within 30 days, a customer has a right to exit their contract early and without penalty.
This is because of the Broadband Speed Code of Practice, introduced by Ofcom, which is subscribed to by: BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, NOW Broadband, TalkTalk, Utility Warehouse, Virgin Media, and Zen Internet.
While advertised broadband speeds are based on what 50% of a provider's customer base actually receive during peak hours, it's possible not everyone will get this speed. Yet, minimum speed guarantees help to ensure customers get the speed expected.
Read more about what broadband speed you need in this guide.
2. Try a wired connection
Contact technical support with slow broadband woes and you'll likely be asked to connect your device directly to your router using a wired Ethernet LAN connection, if you can.
Ethernet cables are often included with the bundled router, so check old boxes for a spare cable.
Once connected, try a broadband speed test tool again, and compare the average of three tests, with the test completed over the wireless network.
This is the best way to determine if slow broadband speeds are caused by your router or home wireless network, or are the result of a bigger issue with the Internet connection itself.
3. Check your router set-up
Routers are generally easy to set-up, working out of the box, yet there are various things we can do to help improve how they perform.
One of these is where we put them, which can have a big impact on performance, particularly in larger homes, or where multiple devices are using the connection from different rooms.
While the router is often place next to the main telephone socket, it can also be connected to internal sockets to improve the location.
If possible, consider these steps:
- Move the router to somewhere more central to help spread the signal further around the home
- Put the router on a table or shelf rather than the floor to improve the signal
- Make sure there are limited obstacles around the router to avoid impeding the signal
Wi-fi signals are disrupted by thick walls and large objects, so simply moving the router into a better position could make a difference.
Where possible, a direct line of sight from router to device is the best way to get a good signal, although that likely isn't achievable for all the devices the modern home uses.
Most modern routers offer dual band connectivity, which means devices can connect on either a 2.4GHz frequency, or a 5GHz frequency. Different devices prefer different frequencies, and sometimes using the 5GHz frequency can reduce interference from nearby networks.
In addition, while newer routers will usually find the best and quietest channel for you, automatically switching to the best one, sometimes it can helpful to select a channel manually.
This means you can pick a wireless channel with the least interference, either from other connected devices, or nearby networks such as from neighbours.
Finally, it's worth checking if your router has updated firmware to install. Router systems can usually be access by going to 192.168.1.1 in a web browser and logging in with the details supplied (admin or administrator is a typical default username).
This system should say whether a firmware update is available and the steps to install it.
When you're here you can also check the security settings to make sure they're set up correctly, as well as whether any rogue devices, like smart tumble dryers, are connected to the router and eating up bandwidth.
4. Check for wireless signal disruptors
Home electrical devices can often disrupt a wi-fi signal, so making sure the area around the router is clear of other items should make a difference to its performance.
Check for the following common culprits:
- Cordless phones
- Fairy lights
- Electrical dimmer switches
- AC power cords
- Baby monitors
- Halogen lamps
In many homes, it's not practical to move everything out of the way of the router to get a better signal but doing a little testing to check which electrical items might be causing a disruption can be worthwhile.
Keep a device with poor speeds in the same position and do a speed test before moving electronics and seeing if that makes a difference on another speed test. It could make for faster broadband and a better connection.
5. Limit unnecessary connections
Many homes now have smart devices that are connected to the router without necessarily needing to be.
While smart tech can be useful, the increase in the number of smart devices may be more than we're really using. For example, even tumble dryers come with WiFi connections these days.
Each device connected to the wi-fi can slow it down, so it's worth checking around to see if all the devices connected are actually being used.
Consider the following list:
- Smart appliances
- Smart speakers
- Smart lighting
- Smart picture frames
- TV sticks
Combined with laptops, phones and tablets, we may quickly find our home wi-fi network is being clogged up by too many devices.
We're not suggesting turning off all the devices that make a home environment more welcoming and enjoyable, but check that the router isn't being overloaded by devices that don't need to be constantly connected to the internet.
For example, some homes have multiple smart speakers including in rooms they barely use or have smart lighting on standby in areas of the house that are mainly used at one particular time of year.
Switching wi-fi off on unused devices can quickly boost the signal around the home because the router is having to do less work. Again, this is something we can check by running speed tests with all devices online and then after switching wi-fi off some devices.
6. Update device software
Whether you're connecting to the Internet with a Mac, PC, tablet, Android or Apple smartphone, checking for software updates may help to boost your broadband speed.
Updates to operating systems, and especially web browsers, can often make them run faster, so it's worth checking your device to see if there are any outstanding updates to download and install.
Checking to see if any background apps are running and using up bandwidth can also help, and this could include automatic back-up software that uploads data to the cloud whenever you update any files on your computer.
Lastly, making sure you're using an up to date anti-virus program can help ensure malware, trojans and viruses aren't running on your device and sending data back to rogue servers.
7. Check the microfilter
Older ADSL and Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) broadband connections rely on a microfilter connected to the telephone socket to split the Internet signal to remove interference on the phone line.
However, microfilters don't always last that long, and so if you've had the same one for a while it might be worth investigating if it needs replacing.
You can connect your router directly to the BT Master Socket and test your broadband speed, you might also want to try and use the test socket hidden beneath the faceplate but accessible by unscrewing two screws. This circumnavigates any internal wiring in case that's also an issue.
Try a spare microfilter if you have one, or you can buy replacements for under £10, sometimes as little as £4, from major high street shops, including Argos and Amazon.
8. Upgrade the router
If you've been with your broadband provider for a while it might be worth asking if they'll send you a newer router, or their latest model. Many will do this for free if they have a newer version available.
If you already have the newest model, or they won't send you an upgrade, you can also look at purchasing a better one, as the majority of providers are fine with customers using their own router.
In addition, many of the more budget providers offer fairly basic routers with limited features, which can be easily improved upon.
We've a guide to the best wireless routers to improve broadband speed, which covers devices for both Fibre to the Cabinet and Full Fibre or Virgin Media connections.
In fact, with Virgin Media, it's possible to turn the router to modem-only mode and then connect a different router for improved broadband speeds.
9. Upgrade to a WiFi guarantee add-on
Many broadband providers now offer whole home WiFi guarantees, which using mesh technology and extenders in addition to the main router, help to seamlessly extend a WiFi network around a home.
The biggest benefit of many of these WiFi guarantees is they promise a minimum download speed in every room in a customer's home. If a customer fails to reach that speed in every room, the provider will often refund their money.
WiFi guarantees cost between £5 and £10 per month, and while the services vary considerably between providers, the underlying feature of being provided with mesh extenders and a mesh-enabled router apply across the board.
Read more about whole home WiFi guarantees and the providers that offer them in this guide.
10. Extend the network
While most people should be able to get a mesh router and extenders, as in step 9 above, which is arguably the best way to extend a wireless network, those who can't can also get WiFi boosters or powerline adaptors.
WiFi boosters work by repeating a wireless signal, although older devices will create separate wireless networks, which means needing to changing the network your device is connected to as you move around your home.
Powerline adaptors work by plugging a device into an electrical power socket, and sending the Internet signal around a home through the electric wiring. This can be a good way to extend an Internet connection around a larger property.
WiFi boosters or adaptors can be useful if, after assessing what affects broadband speeds around our home in the steps above, we've realised that we need to improve the way a signal travels around the house.
While we can't get rid of thick walls in many cases, we can try to mitigate the effects and boost the signal to get through them.
11. Get a better broadband deal
Finally, if you've tried all previous ten ideas to improve your Internet speed and you're still struggling with slow broadband it might be time to switch broadband providers.
Upgrading your connection to the latest full fibre to the home technology is the most sure-fire way to improve broadband speeds.
Gigabit-capable broadband is now available to over 70% of UK homes, and full fibre broadband is available to over 42% and growing.
And as we covered above, providers signed up to Ofcom's Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds will provide you with a personalised speed estimate based on your individual property at the time of sign up, along with a minimum speed guarantee.
The guarantee promises to let you exit your contract and move to another provider if you don't get the minimum speed promised.
What affects download speeds?
While the steps we've covered above should help customers improve their Internet speed, it's also worth knowing what affects speeds and what causes slow broadband in the first place.
It's worth noting broadband connection problems can cause slow broadband and are worth checking if you're struggling to improve your broadband speeds, in case there is something wrong with the external cabling to your home, or your street cabinet setup.
Older broadband connections
Copper phone lines are still used in pure copper broadband connections (ADSL2+) and in many fibre connections that only use fibre as far as the street cabinet (FTTC).
Using copper in any part of the broadband connection can reduce the speed significantly because it can't carry data as effectively and loses speed along the way.
Upgrading to ultrafast broadband (when it reaches your area) will improve speeds.
Distance from the street cabinet
Customers on ADSL2+ and FTTC connections will find that their signal slows down the further they are away from the street cabinet. This is because the phone lines suffer from attenuation, which means the strength of the signal will weaken over long distances.
Virgin Media customers generally find this isn't a problem because coaxial cable (or FTTP in some cases) goes straight into the home and so attenuation is limited.
Budget broadband routers
Routers are provided free with most broadband packages, yet many budget broadband providers will bundle routers that have poor wi-fi strength and few signal-boosting features.
For example, customers should look out for routers with channel management technology that can help when multiple wi-fi networks are operating in the same space (e.g. neighbouring properties).
Find out more about the best routers offered by broadband providers and what to look out for.
Wireless signal disruption
The wi-fi signal around the home can be affected by walls, objects, electronics or neighbouring wi-fi signals. In turn, this affects the speeds devices around the home can receive.
Again, a more advanced router can help with these issues and it's always a good idea to test the speed to the router by plugging a device in directly with an Ethernet cable - this can help you work out whether the problem is the speed to the router or the speed to the rest of the home.
Phone line interference
Radio interference can cause wireless broadband speeds to fluctuate or even to cut out entirely for a few seconds.
If possible, keep the router away from lots of other cables or other pieces of electronic equipment such as TVs or even signal boosters. If there are unused telephone extensions in the home, get rid of those wires too since they can act as unwanted radio aerials and disrupt the signal around the home.
Too many devices
It's common for homes to have plenty of devices connected at all times of the day, whether that's computers, phones or smart home devices. However, too many devices can cause home network congestion and that slows broadband speeds down.
While more modern routers are built to handle multiple device connections, older or more basic routers may struggle.
Check if this is an issue by turning off all other devices and just seeing how one or two perform when they are the only ones active. If speeds pick up, there may have been too much going on.
Internet demand at peak times
General network congestion is caused when lots of people log in and use the internet at peak times in the same area.
A provider only has a certain amount of bandwidth to share out between their customers, meaning the more people who are online at one time, the more stretched that bandwidth is.
The most congested times are between 4pm and 10pm, and that's shown in official Ofcom speed testing where the speed dips at peak times.
Overall, the reality is that several factors can make a key difference to how fast the broadband is and changing a few things could provide faster broadband and a better connection with little effort.
Others may be stuck in locations where FTTC connections have a fair distance to travel before they reach the home, reducing the speeds on offer even before they get into the house. It's worth keeping an eye on full fibre availability as the networks extend their rollouts to see if you can upgrade.
One final point: while fair use policies used to limit a household's internet connection, that's generally no longer the case and packages are generally now truly unlimited.
However, traffic management can still be employed to handle high levels of traffic and that's another element out of the control of customers when they're looking to improve their broadband speeds.
Summary: many ways to improve broadband speeds
Slow broadband is a frustration for millions across the UK and it's possible some of the smaller steps we've discussed in this guide will help customers boost their Internet speeds.
For example, moving things around in the home is a free way of improving the wi-fi signal and some boosters can be purchased fairly cheaply to help get through thick walls or other obstacles.
Yet other customers will have to take more drastic action such as upgrading to newer technology or switching broadband provider to get a more reliable connection.
When signing up for a new broadband deal, be sure to read the small print on speeds and check whether there is any mechanism to leave if broadband speeds are too slow. Read more in our guide to paying less for slow broadband speeds.
Finally, regular speed tests can help us work out what's actually going on around the home, so make use of the free reputable tools on offer across the internet.