Whether it's slow, intermittent, or not working at all, there are few things more frustrating than a dodgy broadband internet connection! They can make life very difficult and even cost money if you rely on internet for work.
In this guide, we’ll look at ways of speeding up slow internet, examine 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.
How to test your internet speed
The first step to fixing slow broadband is testing your current broadband speed, and comparing it against the speed you should be receiving.
If you signed up for a broadband service within the last few years, you should have received an estimated speed. Rather than the average speed figures used in broadband advertisements, this is a far more accurate representation of real-world performance.
If you can’t find a record of this or were never given one, get in touch with the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and ask them what speed you should be receiving.
Armed with this information, you can then use our broadband speed test to see how your connection is actually performing.
Before running a speed test shut down other devices connected to the router, and close any unnecessary software applications. You also ideally want to connect to the router with a network cable, but if that is not possible, then sit as close as you can to the Wi-Fi router. Run several tests throughout the day to get an average figure.
Why is your internet slow?
Slow broadband can have all kinds of causes, from technical faults to limitations of the service to problems outside the ISPs control.
Other software and devices
If the broadband is significantly 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 shaping, or traffic management, is used by internet service providers to control performance by prioritising specific tasks or slowing down very demanding activities.
If you find that the broadband is only slow with specific applications (especially file-sharing), then traffic management may be the cause.
Problems with sites and services
If a particular web site or service is being unusually sluggish, but everything else is normal, then the problem almost certainly lies outside your broadband connection. In that situation, the only thing to do is wait until it’s fixed.
Broadband line faults
Sometimes the broadband will be slow or inoperative due to a problem with the provider, the telephone/fibre/cable line, or the wireless network. Some ISPs display service status on a web site so you can check; you'll find links to a few at the end of this page.
Wi-Fi is undoubtedly useful, but it can often be the cause of slow broadband. Sometimes routers stop functioning for no apparent reason, or you may experience problems with signal strength.
Applications and updates
If the broadband is significantly 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.
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.
Malicious software (malware) such as viruses and spyware can have an impact on system performance and internet speed.
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. Peak time is typically from morning to mid-evening, though each ISP has its own definition.
How to speed up your internet: quick fixes for common problems
- Is your broadband service faulty?
The problem may lie with either your broadband line or wireless connection or the ISP. Speak to the provider or check their online service status. This might be an issue with your connection that they can remedy, but if it’s a wider network problem there will be nothing to 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 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 will disrupt the network for everyone who uses it.
- Remove unused devices and apps
Get rid of old hardware and software once it’s no longer needed, or at least make sure it’s not active and connected to the internet.
- Stop bandwidth hogs
Certain software applications can use up a huge amount of broadband bandwidth. Streaming video (Netflix, iPlayer, and so on) is 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
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 Server (DNS) is used to translate web site 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. Instead, you can switch to a public DNS such as Google 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 Wi-Fi Analyzer) can show which channels are busiest.
Wi-Fi routers can also operate on different frequencies - 2.4GHz and 5GHz. 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 is 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, but 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. A powerline Wi-Fi 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, in which case upgrading to a newer model can provide improved speed and signal strength. If your router is supplied by the broadband provider, speak to them about an upgrade.
- Keep anti-virus up to date and scan regularly
Anti-virus software should be setup to automatically update, and scheduled to perform regular scans.
- Secure your Wi-Fi router
Because Wi-Fi can be accessed outside your home, it’s essential 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 network 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.
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.
If there’s still no dial tone, you can try accessing the test socket which is available on some phone points. If your faceplate looks like the one pictured here, the lower half of the faceplate can be unscrewed to get direct access to the test socket.
If there is still no dial tone, or you do not 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.
Noise on the line
Ensure all devices connected to the phone line have a micro-filter fitted (if the phone point is not pre-filtered). Check that the problem is not occurring only with one phone - this is 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 device 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, which is going to be a lot quicker and easier than switching to another ISP.
Our guide to customer and technical support has the contact details for many 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 postcode into our broadband deal comparison table to find out what’s available in your area.