How to improve your broadband speeds

julia kukiewicz
By Julia Kukiewicz

wireless network scheme©iStock.com/vetkit

"MY broadband is really slow. What can I do to speed it up?"

This is a question that a lot of people find themselves asking all the time. Slow broadband is a real problem for many households and can be really frustrating.

Hear we offer advice on how to improve home broadband speeds, from quick and easy things that can be done right now to more long term solutions.

However, if you're looking for information on why and how much factors, including distance and fair use policies, affect speeds see our guide to broadband speeds.

Four very quick tips to improve your broadband speed now

1. Check your router setup

Time needed: 30 minutes to an hour

Often, it's the signal provided by your wireless router - rather than line or provider problems - that can slow down broadband speeds.

First, try physically moving the router to get a better signal. The signal can be disrupted by other devices that operate in the same 2.4GHz range as most routers, so try moving it away from microwave ovens, Bluetooth devices, baby monitors and cordless phones.

It's now possible for wireless routers to operate in a 2.4GHz and 5Ghz range. The 5Ghz range is less crowded and should have less interference so could be another good option to try.

Walls and objects can also weaken a signal, so if possible a direct line of sight with the router is the best option, but not exactly achievable throughout a home. Minimising the impact of walls and objects is the next best thing.

Check the instructions that came with the router (if they are lost many are available online) to troubleshoot other common problems that could affect the broadband speeds being received through the router.

It is worth noting that the computer or laptop that receives the wi-fi signal could also be part of the problem.

Apple laptops are common culprits because the aluminium frame of the laptop itself can cause signal deflection, which results in poor wi-fi reception.

However, external aerials are available for laptops and these can pick up signals that embedded receivers sometimes struggle with.

Note also that it's worth double-checking that the router's security settings are encrypted and password protected to make sure neighbours aren't piggy backing on the broadband connection. Not only does this have implications for speed but also security, so it's worth a check. See more in this guide.

2. Plug your router in

Time needed: 10 minutes

Ultimately, plugging an Ethernet cable from your router into your computer or laptop is the only way to dodge wireless signal degradation entirely.

Wireless signal is poor by its very nature. Not only does it have to contend with the obstacles noted earlier, but the fact that wi-fi travels from a router to a device causes a slight delay.

This delay is very much reduced with an Ethernet cable, which offers better, more consistent speed and a much more reliable connection.

3. Compare your broadband package and usage

Time needed: 10 to 30 minutes

For many of us, who've had our current broadband package for a number of years, 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.

The Government states that a broadband speed of no less than 10Mb is the point at which most consumers rate their broadband as good, but more than one in three UK homes have now purchased broadband packages with superfast speeds advertised speeds.

Depending on what you use the internet for you may need a slower or faster package. Ofcom estimate the average speeds needed for the most common internet activities as follows:

Internet activity Average speed required
Basic web browsing 0.5Mb
Video call plus web browsing 1.5Mb
Streaming catch up TV 2Mb
Film streaming in HD 6Mb

However, it is worth noting that some broadband providers prioritise certain types of internet usage over others, which can impact speed.

Households that download a lot from the internet, especially around the peak times of 6pm and 9pm, sometimes find that their broadband becomes very slow, because providers can throttle a connection under the terms of their fair use policy.

Visit our guide here on broadband fair use policies to see if this might apply to you.

It's also worth being aware that broadband speeds can be impacted by the number of people signed up to the same provider in one particular area, even for light internet users. This is known as high contention and it effectively means customers share bandwidth, which leads to bottlenecks at peak times.

The easiest way for us to spot this is if we know for certain that our usage is low but our broadband grinds to a halt around 6pm.

Those who've found their current package isn't meeting their needs and are thinking of switching to a provider with higher speed packages and/or better fair use policies should skip ahead to find out more.

4. Check your microfilter/splitter

Time needed: 30+ minutes

For those with ADSL connections broadband providers should offer a microfilter (also known as a broadband filter or splitter) when they sign up.

It's a little white box that plugs into a phone socket and makes sure that the ADSL and phone signals are completely separate. If a microfilter is missing, broken, or has not been installed correctly, interference over the phone line and reduced broadband performance can be expected.

Here are the four main things to check:

If possible, it's also worth plugging the microfilter for the broadband router into the BT master socket - the first socket in the house where the telephone line comes in from outside.

If the microfilter works in the BT master socket this is an indication that any secondary sockets with additional internal wiring and connections could have faults.

Two ways to improve internet speeds in the long term

1. Buy a better router

Time needed: 2hrs+

It's worth considering that an effective way of getting faster broadband is often with a better quality router.

Most of the wireless routers that are given away free with broadband packages are very basic.

A lot of broadband packages that advertise higher speeds do so, at least in part, because they are giving away better quality equipment that can support faster broadband speeds.

Therefore, if a household has a high-speed broadband connection but an old router, the router might not be powerful enough for the broadband connection.

It's a bit complicated, but because the wireless standard is universally referred to as 802.11, all wireless routers carry this name. A letter marker is used after this to show what bandwidth a router can support.

A 'b' router supports speeds up to 11Mb, a 'g' router supports 54Mb and an 'n' router supports superfast speeds of 100Mb.

So to get the fastest broadband a router which is 802.11n compatible is required. Most importantly these routers have an increased range of 70 metres (compared to 45 metres for 802.11b/g).

For example, the Sky Q Hub and Virgin Hub 3.0 broadband packages, as well as TalkTalk's Super Router and BT's Smart Hub, are all 802.11n-compatible. We've covered them in more detail here.

These are all 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.

However, it's worth bearing in mind that an 802.11n router will only show improvement if the receiving wireless card in computers and laptops is also upgraded - 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 are needed for customers to use the router, many will find it difficult to provide technical support to customers who have purchased a different router, as staff are trained to provide advice on the routers that come free with their broadband packages.

2. Switch your broadband provider

Time needed: 2 days

Although it can seem like a hassle, moving to a different broadband provider can often massively improve broadband speeds for customers.

Use one of our broadband comparison tables or check out our reviews and guides on this subject (some of which are listed on the right below) to see who's offering the fastest speeds and best deals.

Broadband reviews and guides:

See the 'switch your broadband' guide, available here, for more information on the practical aspects of moving, especially for those customers that are in the middle of a contract.

Finally, it's good to talk, email, text and tweet, especially for those who are considering moving to a new broadband provider. For many people with broadband speed problems, it's a good idea to get in touch with their broadband provider and ask the company directly what they can do to make broadband speeds faster.

Comments

1
17 January 2016
Steve

Too many links in the chain. Question: if I only get a 2meg speed to the cottage (I am rural) will a better router "boost" that? (Like"upscaling" on a dvd player) I use tp link plugs, rated at 500 mpbs. BUT given I only get 2mbps in the first place could I have used the 300 mpbs Tp link plugs? Or IS it better to have 500, so that at least the signals from router to computer are 500mbps??

2
11 March 2015
Angry Sky user

I don't pay for my internet every week to "fiddle" with my router. I pay and I demand what was promised to be granted for this money. Damn you Sky.

7 October 2016
techienumber1

I know the feeling, Sky is a rip off

17 October 2015
Dude

How about uhm I don't know switch provider

3
17 December 2014
Javed Badshah

Is there a device like an antennae or something which can attract better signals?

4
25 July 2014
Camerondickstheconomy

Interesting, but shiny make up affects signal? Surely shome mishtake!

15 November 2014
Bughkfyfnnf

He means the make up is bad because there would be less mirrors to do your makeup in.

5
31 May 2013
polo

Thanks for giving the information.

6
25 February 2013
davidhain

Thanks for the information, modems and routers should be switched off regularly after use.

7 October 2016
techienumber1

No I am qualified in IT, networking is a sinch for me too. Modems and routers should remain on, its the supplier that should be looked into turning a modem off or a router stop's the direct flow of transmission to the terminal. What you should be looking at is the setting on your machine for the adapter flow control should be disabled, you will see rx and tx service in here as this is the receive and transmission settings.

25 February 2013
Choose team

Hi David,

Actually many ISPs now advise against turning the router off wherever possible as it can cause a signal to the broadband provider that the line is unstable and they sometimes reduce speeds on the line as a result. So you should leave the router turned on as much as possible.


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