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Top tips for slow broadband

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Whether it's slow, intermittent, or not working at all, there are few things more frustrating than a dodgy internet connection! It can make life very difficult, and even cost money if you rely on the internet for work.

In this guide, we’ll look at ways of speeding up slow internet. We'll take you through the common faults which can affect broadband and phone lines, and help you troubleshoot these issues, so you don’t have to wait in a queue for tech support.

Troubleshooting slow broadband: the key points

  • Test your speed and compare it with what you should be getting.
  • Improve Wi-Fi speeds with boosters or mesh kits to increase coverage.
  • Use a network cable when possible for the best speeds and reliability.
  • Make use of online tools to check network status and discover known faults.

How to test your internet speed

The first step to fixing slow broadband is to test your broadband speed, and compare it against the download speed you should be receiving. 

You should have received an estimated speed when you signed up for your broadband service. Rather than the average speed figures used in broadband ads, this should be a far more accurate representation of real-world performance. For various reasons, the estimate might be better or worse than the advertised rate.

If you can’t find a record of this, or you were never given one, get in touch with your internet service provider and ask them what speed you should be receiving. 

Broadband speed test tips:

  • Shutting down other devices connected to the router.
  • Closing any unnecessary software applications.
  • Connecting to the router with a network cable or, sitting as close as you can to the Wi-Fi router.
  • Running several tests throughout the day to get an average figure.

Why is my broadband so slow? How to improve broadband speed

Slow broadband can have all kinds of causes. Here are the most common:

  • Other software and devices
    If the broadband is slower than usual, the cause may be software or other devices connected to the network. Some applications, especially file-sharing software, can use a lot of bandwidth.
     
  • Traffic management
    Traffic management is used by internet service providers to control performance by prioritising specific tasks, or slowing down very demanding activities.

    If you find your broadband is only slow when you use specific applications, especially file-sharing, then traffic management may be the cause.

    Not all ISPs use traffic management. If this is a concern, you might want to consider switching to a different internet provider. We recommend that you go for a fibre broadband package that advertises itself as being 'truly unlimited'.
     
  • Problems with sites and services
    If a particular site or service is unusually sluggish, but everything else is normal, then the issue probably isn't with your broadband connection. In that situation, you may just have to wait until it’s fixed.

    If you want to double-check, you can use a site such as Downdetector, to see if any faults have been flagged. It can be reassuring to know other people are having the same problem. If it’s scheduled maintenance, you’ll know when it should be over.
     
  • Broadband line faults
    Sometimes, the broadband will be slow or won’t work due to a problem with the provider, the telephone/fibre/cable line, or the wireless network. Some providers display service status on a website, so you can check. You'll find links to a few at the end of this page.
     
  • Slow Wi-Fi
    Wi-Fi is undoubtedly useful, but it can often be the cause of slow broadband. Wi-Fi routers can experience glitches, or you may experience problems with signal strength.
     
  • Applications and updates
    If the broadband is significantly slower than usual, it may be due to the software or other devices connected to the network. Some applications, especially file-sharing software, can use a lot of bandwidth.
     
  • Web browser problems
    Web browsers could be the cause of sites failing to load or displaying incorrectly. Web browser extensions can interfere with a site, the browser may be outdated and require patching, or the site may be incompatible or poorly coded. 

    If you think your web browser might be causing the problem, there are a few things you can try. You can check the website in a different browser. If it then works, you can try to disable any add-ons and see if that helps. If this doesn't help, try clearing your web browser cache.

    To clear the cache you need to go into your browser settings and choose the amount of time you want to clear everything. Just remember this will also log you out, you’ll get the cookie request pop-ups again and things like that.
     
  • Malware
    Malicious software (malware) such as viruses and spyware can have an impact on system performance and internet speed. Use an anti-virus or anti-malware tool to scan for harmful software.
     
  • Router security
    Poor router security could allow unauthorised use of your broadband connection, slowing it down for everyone else.
     
  • Peak time traffic
    Like a road, a broadband connection is subject to rush hour traffic. At peak times, you could find that the service is noticeably slower because lots of people are trying to use the internet at the same time. Peak time is typically from morning through to mid-evening.. 

    If you have any particularly demanding tasks and slow broadband, you could try leaving for them for quieter times, such as the early morning or night.

How to speed up your internet: quick fixes for common problems

Is your broadband network or line faulty?

The problem could lie with your broadband line, wireless connection or the ISP. Speak to the provider or check their online service status. It may be an issue with your connection that they can fix, but if it’s a wider network problem, there’s sadly nothing you can do but wait.

Turn it off and on again

This is an IT cliché for a reason. Power cycling hardware or restarting software is often a quick and easy fix. Routers and other networking gear, particularly powerline adapters and Wi-Fi boosters, can frequently be coaxed back to life by just switching them off and on again.

However, do try other solutions before jumping straight to rebooting the router. Routers can take a little while to restart, and you’ll disrupt the network for everyone who uses it.

Remove unused devices and apps

Get rid of any old hardware and software once it’s no longer needed. Or at least make sure it’s not active and connected to the internet. It could be taking up some of your data without you realising it.

Stop bandwidth hogs

Certain software applications can use up a huge amount of broadband bandwidth. Streaming services such as Netflix, iPlayer are very demanding, as is file sharing. 

Software updates, particularly operating system patches, can also generate a lot of network traffic and will often run automatically. You can usually pause them, but keeping software up to date is important, so don’t forget to resume when it’s convenient.

Reposition your router

A weak Wi-Fi signal can be improved by repositioning your Wi-Fi router. Ideally, it should be in a central point in your home, away from walls and other electronics which could interfere, such as cordless phones and large appliances.

Change your DNS

A Domain Name System or DNS server is used to translate website URLs to IP addresses. So, when you type google.com, the web browser retrieves the server IP via DNS and loads the page.

By default, your router will use the ISPs DNS server, but these aren’t always the quickest or most reliable. Instead, you can switch to a public DNS which can help pages load a little faster. Some DNS services also offer additional security features and parental controls.

Switch your Wi-Fi channel or frequency

Slow Wi-Fi speeds can be caused by nearby Wi-Fi networks sharing the same channel as your router.

Use the router’s admin controls to switch to a quieter channel. A Wi-Fi toolbox app for smartphones, such as Wifi Analyzer, can show which channels are busiest.

Wi-Fi routers can also operate on different frequencies:

  • 2.4GHz offers the best range and signal penetration, but has slower speeds.
  • 5GHz is faster and less prone to interference, but has a shorter range and may not be supported by older devices.

Many modern home broadband routers are dual-band, which means they support both frequencies. Select the most appropriate frequency for your home – 2.4GHz for coverage and range, 5GHz for speed.

It's possible to operate both a 2.4GHz and 5GHz network at the same time, so you can choose the best connection for each device.

Boost your Wi-Fi signal

Sometimes, a Wi-Fi outage will occur for no clear reason. Often, it can be fixed by simply disconnecting and reconnecting Wi-Fi on the device, or by restarting the router.

If it’s an ongoing issue, it might be due to poor signal strength. Wi-Fi boosters are an easy and affordable way to increase the range. You could even use a spare, old router, or you can spend a bit more on a whole home mesh Wi-Fi kit. A powerline wireless signal booster can also be used to extend the signal far beyond its usual range by transmitting data over the electrical circuits.

The router could also be old, and lack support for faster data transfer speeds. If that’s the case, upgrading to a newer model can provide improved speed and broadband signal strength. If your router is supplied by the broadband provider, speak to them about an upgrade.

  • Can mesh Wi-Fi fix slow broadband?

    Mesh Wi-Fi is very good, but if your broadband is slow, mesh Wi-Fi will also be slow. It's designed to provide wireless coverage within your home but relies on your broadband to provide connectivity.

    If you're struggling with slow internet, you can get help on where's the best place to put a Wi-Fi router. Or, it might be time to switch broadband providers and get a faster deal!

  • Which broadband deals include mesh Wi-Fi?

    Broadband providers are starting to offer mesh Wi-Fi kits with broadband deals, and this is definitely worth looking out for if you're interested in whole home Wi-Fi. It's guaranteed to work with your broadband, and you can call on technical support if you run into issues.

    Home broadband and mesh Wi-Fi deals also often include Wi-Fi guarantees that promise minimum speeds in every room of your home.

    Here are some of the broadband deals which include mesh Wi-Fi that you'll find on Broadband Genie.

Keep anti-virus up to date and scan regularly

Your anti-virus software should be set up to automatically update, and scheduled to perform regular scans. 

It’s not necessary to pay for anti-virus software. Free AV applications (such as Avast or AVG) are usually all anyone needs.

Secure your Wi-Fi router

Because Wi-Fi can be accessed outside your home, it’s very important to secure the Wi-Fi router properly. 

Here are a few ways to improve Wi-Fi router security:

  • Change the default admin password.
  • Regularly update the router firmware.
  • Disable remote admin access.
  • Disable the ‘WPS’ feature.

For more information, read our full guide to securing Wi-Fi routers.

Use a wired network connection

Wired ethernet cables can provide a faster and more reliable connection than Wi-Fi. It’s not so convenient for portable devices, but for desktop computers, games consoles or anything else that doesn’t move around much, a wired connection is often best.

Powerline adapters offer an easy way to create a wired network without having cables strung around your home. Let's take a look at them in more detail...

What's a powerline adapter and how can it help with slow broadband?

Powerline network adapters, aka HomePlugs, are devices that transmit data over your home's electrical wires.

They transform an electrical circuit into a data network. This allows you to create a wired network with minimum effort and without requiring miles of cabling snaking throughout your home or office.

To get started with powerline networking, you only need two powerline adapters and a couple of network cables.

One adapter is plugged in next to the main wireless access point, which will be your home Wi-Fi router, and linked with a network cable. The other adapter can go anywhere on the same electrical circuit, which for most of us will be anywhere in our home.

The other end could provide wired connectivity to a device, such as a computer or games console, in another room or extend a Wi-Fi network using a powerline Wi-Fi booster.

Powerline adapters usually connect automatically and don’t require software or any configuration. Once you’ve got that second adapter powered up, you can bring internet connectivity and home networking to any devices on the other end right away.

Frequently asked questions about powerline adapters

  • Can I use a powerline adapter on an extension socket?

    Powerline adapters may work with an extension lead or power strip, but this can impact speed and reliability. Surge-protected extensions, in particular, can result in a very noticeable hit to performance and might not work at all. 

    If you’re not transferring lots of big files, streaming HD movies, or trying to get the maximum broadband speed at the other end, then it might not matter. Otherwise, they should go straight into the wall for the best performance.

  • Why is my powerline connection so slow?

    Distance from your router, other electrical items and the quality of your power lines can all affect performance.

    If the speed is poor, you should try other sockets and run a speed test at each point to find the best position.

    Some adapters have indicator lights that give a rough idea of the speed.

    Also, keep in mind what we said above about the speed of powerline adapters. The advertised speeds aren’t realistic. In practice, the data transfer speed will be far lower than the claims printed on the box.

  • Are Powerline adapters secure?

    If your wireless network is already secure, you shouldn’t have much to worry about. In order for someone to gain access to devices on your network, they would need to either connect to your Wi-Fi or plug in to the network.

    If your powerline adapters have any kind of management options you’ll be provided with a username and password in the box to access these settings. Assuming this is not a generic login for every adapter from the same manufacturer it should be relatively safe. But if it’s shared, you’ll definitely want to change it to something unique.

    For further help with home network security, visit our guide on changing your router settings.

  • Are Powerline adapters better than using Wi-Fi?

    Depending on what you’re using the internet for, both powerline adaptors and Wi-Fi can provide similar speeds. Powerline adaptors can give you a stronger connection at a further distance than your standard Wi-Fi range can, but both can be limiting.

    If you’re going to be doing a lot of large downloads or gaming, we’d always recommend using a wired connection directly into the router for the best speeds. But if you’re happy with your Wi-Fi speeds, you won’t need to invest in a powerline adaptor.

Phone line faults

No dial tone
First, check the obvious stuff. Is the telephone cable securely in the socket? If you’re using a cordless phone, do the batteries need replacing?

Next, remove all devices from all phone sockets, then plug a phone directly into the master socket. That’s the main socket where the line enters your home).

If there’s still no dial tone, you can try accessing the test socket. On some sockets, the lower half of the faceplate can be unscrewed to get direct access to the test socket.

If there’s still no dial tone, or you don’t have an accessible test socket, contact the phone service provider.

If you do get a dial tone while connected to the test socket, the fault is with your internal wiring or equipment. You’ll likely need to call an electrician if your equipment needs fixing.
 

Noise on the line
Ensure all devices connected to the landline have a micro-filter fitted if the phone point itself isn’t pre-filtered. Check that the problem isn’t occurring only with one phone, as that suggests a problem with the phone rather than the line. If it only happens when calling a particular number, it’s probably not a fault on your line.

As with dial tone issues, remove all other devices connected to the phone points and plug into the test socket. If the line noise is still present, speak to your phone service provider. If it’s gone, the problem is with the equipment or lines inside your home.

How to get faster broadband

If you’ve eliminated technical faults as the cause of slow broadband, it may be time to think about an upgrade.

  • Call your provider
    Speak to your current provider before doing anything else. They may be able to upgrade your service to fibre or any faster connection or package.

    Our guide to customer and technical support has the contact details for many providers.
     
  • Switch providers
    If your ISP can’t offer anything better, it’s time to look at what else is out there. To get started, enter your address into our broadband deal comparison table to find out what’s available in your area.

    Here are some of the best fast broadband deals around at the moment:
Dynamic deal panel

Tools and links for troubleshooting broadband

If you need to check whether your broadband speeds are what you were promised, you can use our Broadband Genie speed test. If this is showing your broadband connection is failing you on speed, it might be time to change providers.

ISP service status links

Sometimes the problem can specifically be with your network provider. If you need to check the service status for your provider, you can follow these links.

Expert Summary

We all run into issues with slow internet from time to time. Fortunately, this doesn’t need to be a permanent problem. Run a speed test first, to see if you’re getting the speeds that your provider has promised. If you’re getting slower speeds, then there’s clearly a problem. You can try resetting your router, unplugging the phone line and plugging it back in, or changing the frequency that your Wi-Fi is on.

If none of this makes a difference, you can try buying some boosting hardware. You can get powerline adaptors or Wi-Fi boosters. These will ensure that you get the same speeds all over your home. You can also move where your Wi-Fi router is.

Hopefully, one of these options will work. But if it doesn’t, it might be time to change your broadband provider. Fortunately, we’re here to help you find the best provider for you.

Meet the author:

Contributor

Matt has been working with Broadband Genie since 2009. A lifelong tech enthusiast, he has 20 years of experience writing about technology for print and online.


Specialist subject: The technicalities of broadband

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