improve broadband speed

How to improve your broadband speed & free speed test tools

Tips to improve and check broadband speeds

As many of us continue to work from home, a reliable broadband connection has never been more important. So if your connection is frustratingly slow, we've a round-up of tricks to give your speed a boost. If you're just looking for a new deal, see our Broadband Unbundled tool.

Check your speeds with free tools

check your download speed

Try a free test for an indication of both your download speed (the rate at which you get data from the web) and upload speed (the rate at which you can send data to the web).

Use a couple from the list below to get a range of results, and perform the tests at different times to get an idea of how speeds fluctuate:

Top tips to boost your internet speeds

If the speed you're currently getting is way off what you need, you may have to move to a new deal or provider (see below for switching help).

But if you're generally comfortable with the average speed, there are a few things you can do to marginally increase it.

  • When using Wi-Fi, obviously the nearer you are to the router, the better your signal will be, and therefore the faster your broadband. Because Wi-Fi signals can't travel through large objects such as thick walls, it's crucial you have a clear path for the signal to travel to your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

    The position you place your router can therefore make a massive difference to the speeds you get. Where possible, try to:

    • Choose a central location.
    • Position it high up with no obstacles around it.
    • Don't hide your router away in a cupboard or drawer.
    • Don't camouflage it with picture frames or ornaments.

    It's also worth making sure it's plugged into the best socket. Try using multiple phone sockets to see if you can get better speeds, though plugging your router directly into your main phone socket will generally work best. Just remember the distance between your router and devices should be kept to a minimum where possible.

    Other things to check

    • Your provider should give you adapters that split your phone and broadband signals. It's advisable that these are plugged into every phone socket you use, not just the one you use for broadband.

      If after plugging the filter in your regular phone line becomes noisier, try plugging in a second filter or investing in a better quality filter (you can find them online for as little as £2).

      • Most Wi-Fi routers operate on a 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz frequency spectrum, which are then split into 'channels'.

        As most routers use the same channel by default, it's worth switching to another if your Wi-Fi is patchy or slow – as it's likely your neighbours will all be using a single channel at the same time. Your router's manual should show you how to do it, or you can try this Tech Advisor guide.
  • Ethernet cable

    It may not be an immediately appealing option, but if you're desperate, reverting to good ol' cables should boost your speed. An Ethernet cable is able to transfer data at a faster rate than Wi-Fi can because it doesn't encrypt data as wireless routers do.

    Other benefits include much less interference, so you don't have to worry what frequency your neighbour is on, and a more reliable connection for devices such as games consoles and PCs, which don't need to be moved around the room.

  • Like all wireless devices, routers are prone to interference, including from nearby electrical equipment. Try switching everything bar the router off, then do another speed test to see if it makes a difference.

    Cordless phones, baby monitors, halogen lamps, dimmer switches, stereos, speakers, TVs and monitors can all affect your signal if they're too close to your router, so try to place these as far away as possible.

    What's more, surprisingly microwave ovens can also reduce Wi-Fi signals according to regulator Ofcom, so it's best not to heat up your lunch at the same time as an important video call...

  • Wireless boosters are designed for folks with big homes or those with signal blackspots where the signal isn't strong enough. However, the gadget just extends the wireless signal – it won't improve your general broadband speed or bandwidth. Boosters generally work with any provider, so you don't have to be with one in particular to use them.

    Check before buying though as your supplier may send you one out for free if you're having difficulties connecting in certain rooms. Also, if you've signed up to either Sky Boost (after 4 Sep 2019) or the BT Complete package, these guarantee Wi-Fi coverage throughout your home, which means you can request an unlimited amount of wireless boosters.

    If not, here are a couple of examples to consider:

  • The more devices attached to your Wi-Fi, the lower the speed you'll get. Even if you have a decent fibre or cable connection, you may think you're not prone to slow speeds, but devices such as tablets and smartphones often work in the background, so try switching Wi-Fi reception off on these when you're not using them.

  • If you're carrying out video calls or meetings and you're having problems, turning the video off and only using audio will require much less of your internet connection. But if things are working fine, for your general wellbeing you may opt to keep your video on so you can better interact with colleagues – particularly important now as many of us are working from home for the first time.

    Another trick is to try starting conference calls at less common times, rather than on the hour or half-hour.

    You might also want to manage your family's online activity, so that different people aren't carrying out data-heavy tasks (such as HD streaming, gaming or video calls) all at the same time. Downloading video in advance, instead of streaming it, can also help.

  • Virgin Media recommends powerline adapters over boosters, which use your electric wiring to send the router signal to other parts of your home. This is how it works:

    1. Connect your router to the nearest plug socket using the adapter.
    2. Your internet connection is then routed around your home through the electrical wiring.
    3. Plug another adapter into a socket, ideally where you are experiencing weak signal, and you should see a noticeable improvement in the connection strength.
    4. You can then connect your laptop or another device either by Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi, depending on the kit you choose.

    Here are a couple of options we've found:

    • The Netgear Powerline* range of adaptors cost £42 to £58 (incl postage) direct from Virgin. They can also be bought from other retailers that stock computer equipment, such as Amazon* and Argos*.
    • The TP-Link* powerline adaptor starter kit (two pack) is £24 from Amazon at the time of writing.
  • You may be surprised by the effect changing settings and having a 'spring clean' has. A few simple things to check and try are:

    • Some viruses, adware, spyware and other nasties can use your broadband connection to report back to their masters in cyberspace, taking up precious bandwidth as they gather information on you and slow down your computer – the cheek!

      It's therefore important to check you've got decent antivirus protection switched on, and to do a full system scan each week.

      You needn't pay for it, either – check out our Free Antivirus Software guide.

    • If you're still using – or haven't updated – the web browsing software that came with your device years ago, switching is a must.

      The newest generation of browsers are faster, more secure and totally free. Try upgrading Microsoft Edge or installing a different one for free, such as ChromeFirefoxOpera or Safari.

    • Your computer's cache stores images and web page info from recently-visited sites, which makes them load quicker when you return. Yet when it becomes full, your computer has to delete files to make space for new ones, and this can slow things.

      To empty it, use your web browser's options menu – it's often found in the 'advanced' tab.

    • Some automatic program updates steal bandwidth without asking, and some can be massive.

      You can switch off automatic updates in most programs' settings, but where there's a security risk, eg, with web browsers and antivirus, leave them enabled.

      Rather than choose between bandwidth and security, you could turn off automatic updates and then manually update programs when you need to at a time that suits you.

    • If you use downloaded apps, such as Dropbox or Spotify, check your settings to ensure they don't automatically run in the background. This can have a big impact on your connection speeds.

      Via your main settings menu, you can usually control which apps you're happy to run in the background or simply turn off this option entirely, which will stop all from connecting when not in use.

Can you ditch & switch to a speedier provider?

If you've tried all the tips above and you still see no improvement – or your connection just can't keep up with your internet needs – then you may want to consider a new deal, or a new provider entirely.

To keep costs down, don't go for a faster connection than you need. If you just use the web for basic tasks such as emails and the odd bit of browsing, then standard speed (averages of 11Mb) should be fine, yet if you have a busy household or do a lot of streaming or gaming, you may need to opt for a faster fibre deal.

Whether or not you're in or out of contract will determine how easy it is to switch, so we've the different steps below.

If you're out of contract, you're free to leave

When your initial promo deal is over, it's highly likely you'll already be overpaying, as most providers hike costs. Yet have no fear, you're actually then free to switch away to a different provider, or to haggle a new deal if you'd prefer to stick with your current one.

Simply give your provider notice that you're leaving (usually 30 days) and start comparing deals that are available to you. Though always remember that advertised speeds are just an indication of the speed you may get – they're based on the average speed received by at least 50% of a provider's current customer base between 8pm and 10pm.

It's trickier if you're still within your minimum contract period – but there are ways

Even if you're in contract – which means you are tied in for a set period (often 12 or 18 months) and would be charged to leave early – there could be a way to ditch and switch penalty-free, depending on when you signed up to your current broadband deal.

  • Since 1 March 2019, providers signed up to Ofcom's voluntary code – including BT, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, Utility Warehouse and Virgin Media – will give an estimate of the speeds you will likely receive, plus a minimum speed that they guarantee you'll get before you sign up.

    If your speeds drop below this minimum for three consecutive days, you can ask your provider to check for a fault – and get it fixed if so. If it remains unresolved for 30 days, you should be able to leave your contract penalty-free.

    This code applies to purchases since 1 March 2019, and to broadband-only deals AND packaged deals that include TV and landline phones, provided you bought them at the same time as the broadband. If unhappy with your provider, try free complaints handling tool Resolver.

  • If you signed up before 1 March 2019, you may still be able to get out of your contract penalty-free – though there's no time limit for providers to fix your speed issues, and you wouldn't be able to get out of a bundled TV deal. If it won't fix the problem, try the free complaints handling tool Resolver to formally tell it you're unhappy.

If you're in contract and experiencing slow speeds – but above the guaranteed minimum – your provider may allow you to upgrade or send better equipment to boost your speed. 

Boost broadband speed FAQs

  • The closer to your router you are, the better your signal will be, so put it as close to the devices using it as possible. Also key is to make sure thick walls are not in the way and the signal has a clear path to get to the devices. 

    Wireless routers are also prone to interference from other electrical items, so try switching off nearby appliances to see if that makes a difference. 

    You can also try turning off Wi-Fi on devices you're not using, such as your phone if you're working on a laptop. The more devices using a network, the slower it'll be. 

    Or you can buy a Wi-Fi booster to extend the range of the signal from your router, but if none of these solutions improve the situation, you may just need faster broadband. Use our Broadband Unbundled tool to compare the best deals.

  • Wi-Fi boosters don't increase Internet speed per se, but they do boost the range of the signal you already have. They're designed for big homes or homes with blackspots where the signal is weak.

    You can buy a cheap booster for around £20, but many broadband firms will send you one for free, so make sure to check with your provider. 

  • Your broadband signal could be slow for a number of reasons. These include your device being too far from the router, too many different devices using the signal and your home having Wi-Fi 'blackspots'. Most of these could be solved by putting your router in a better place or buying a booster. 

    If none of these solutions work, you may just need to get faster broadband. Use our Broadband Unbundled tool to compare the best deals.

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