Boost Broadband Speed
Tips to improve broadband incl free speed test
Broadband ads only have to show average speeds received at peak times – so only use them as an indication of what you MAY get. Yet if your connection is frustratingly slow, we've a round-up of tricks to give your speed a boost.
Top tips to boost your broadband speed
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Do a two-minute broadband speed test
If you're reading this guide, you probably think your connection's slower than it should be. But just how slow is it? Do a free test for an indication of 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.
Broadband Choices' broadband speed tester* is tried and tested, and MSE forumites love Ookla's Speedtest.net. Others to try are those from uSwitch and MoneySupermarket*. Try a couple to get a range of results and perform tests at different times to get an idea of how speeds fluctuate.
If speeds are faster during the day, it could be a sign a lot of people in your area with the same provider are online, and possibly means your supplier is using traffic management or traffic prioritisation, which is when certain types of traffic, such as heavy downloading and uploading, is restricted to ensure everyone on the network gets a decent speed at busy times.
Check your average speed against what you're paying for. If your provider advertised your package at 11Mb, yet you're struggling to get 3Mb, there's clearly work to be done.
Remember advertised speeds are just that though – advertised.
Broadband ads only have to show the average speed received by at least 50% of a provider's current customer base between 8pm and 10pm – when most people are online.This should therefore be used as an indication of the speeds you may get.
Before you sign up, many large providers will show you an estimated speed range your line will likely receive - based on similar lines to yours. This is part of Ofcom's code of practice – you can check who has signed up on Ofcom's website.
All providers signed up to the code include a postcode checker on their site so you can see what broadband speed you'd get in your area.
Got a usage limit?
If you've a monthly download and upload allowance, install a usage checker (try TbbMeter) to keep on top of it. It won't boost your broadband speed, but it will save you money as most providers will upgrade you to a pricier package if you continually exceed your limit, or charge you for the extra you use.
Ditch & switch to a speedier provider – try our Broadband Unbundled tool
If you're out of contract, you're free to switch to a different provider or a faster service. Remember though that advertised speeds are just an indication of the speed you may get.
Even if you're in contract, there could be a way to ditch and switch penalty-free. Since 1 March 2019, providers signed up to Ofcom's voluntary code – including BT, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk 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 phone, 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 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. Try the quick fixes below too to see if they help.
Ready to compare deals? Our Broadband Unbundled tool compares all the deals from major providers, plus offers we've chosen, often including our own blagged deals and exclusive offers from other sites. It's personal to you as it searches deals available in your postcode, and can check if using different providers is cheaper. Check out our Cheap Broadband Deals guide for full switching info.
Quick tips to boost your line's power
To maximise the broadband speed your phone line offers, you need to ensure you have the clearest connection possible. Sadly there's little that can be done about the quality of the line once it's outside your home (short of loads of digging and lawsuits), but there are ways to improve clarity indoors.
Here's what you should look at:
Check your microfilters. Your provider should give you adapters that split your voice and broadband signals. It's imperative 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).
Find the best socket. While the distance between your router and PC(s) should be kept to a minimum, it's worth trying multiple phone sockets to see if you can get better speeds.
Keep your router close to the phone socket. Your modem/router should be as close to the phone socket as possible, as poor-quality phone wires supplied with your equipment can seriously impact speeds. If you must have a longer wire, invest in the best-quality cabling you can and keep it as short as possible.
Reposition your router
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.
So, where you place your router can make a massive difference to the speeds you get. Choose a central location to help the signal reach every area of your home – or at least the places where you are mostly likely to want to connect to the internet.
Ideally, position it high up with no obstacles around it – while they're not the best-looking gadgets, don't be tempted to hide your router away in a cupboard or drawer, or camouflage it with picture frames and ornaments.
Get a special widget to cut interference
A faceplate filter is a bit of plastic which isolates the unnecessary-yet-interference-prone wire in older phone sockets. At the time of writing, these ones cost £8.95 each from Amazon*.
It'll work with most BT-based landlines, whether you're with BT, Plusnet, Sky or TalkTalk, but won't work for newer Openreach-branded sockets or Virgin lines.
If you don't mind fiddling about with sockets yourself (although you do so at your own risk), it's possible to achieve the same effect without a faceplate filter – there's an online tutorial on how to do this, but do your research first.
Fine tune your Wi-Fi signal
Using a wireless router to connect to the web is increasingly the rule rather than exception. Most providers supply them 'free' when you sign a contract.
Though wireless routers are far more convenient than being connected via ethernet cables, they're not as efficient or reliable. If you use Wi-Fi, here are some things to watch out for:
- Needy neighbours. Failing to encrypt and password-protect your wireless network makes it available to anybody nearby to use, so don't be surprised if they take up the offer. Not only will this slow your connection, there are also the security issues to consider.
- Electrical interference. Like all wireless devices, routers are prone to interference, so placement is important. Nearby electrical equipment is the first thing to sort. Try switching everything bar the router off, then do another speed test to see if it makes a difference.
Cordless phones, baby monitors, home security equipment and even microwaves can interfere, so try to place these away from your router.
- Frequency disruption. Most older Wi-Fi routers operate on the 2.4Ghz frequency spectrum, which itself is split into channels.
As they use the same channel by default, it's worth switching to another if your Wi-Fi is patchy or slow. Your router's manual should show you how to do it, or you can try this Tech Advisor guide.
- Get a better antenna for your router. If your computer's situated some distance away from your router, or you've an older home with thick walls, it might be worth considering adding a better antenna to your router to boost signal range.
- Get a better router. Since most routers are given away with contracts, you can bet they aren't the best quality. If yours is a few years old it's worth considering a new one, preferably with the fastest current standard, which is named 'AC'.
If you're not sure which type of router you have, your provider can tell you.
Opt for wires, not Wi-Fi
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.
Use your home electrics to extend your router's range
If you want to avoid lengthy cables being strewn across your home, you can buy a special 'powerline adapter' kit to use your electric wiring to send the router signal to other parts of your home.
The kit uses your existing electrical wiring to transfer data (alternatively you could try a wireless booster). It works by:
Connecting your router to the nearest plug socket using a special device.
This then sends the router signal to another point in your home via the electrical wiring.
- In another part of your home, plug the other half of the kit into a socket to send the router signal to your laptop or another device either by ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. Cable kits tend to be cheaper, eg, the Technomate 600 Mbps powerline adapter starter kit (two pack) is £28 from Amazon* at the time of writing.
Try a wireless booster
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 broadband speed or bandwidth. A decent cheap option is this Netgear booster* available from Amazon for £16, and a more beefed up BT-branded booster* is available for £40.
These transmit the signal at a faster speed (though again, this won't help if your broadband's slow to start with), and provide a wired connection to nearby devices with an ethernet port.
Boosters generally work with any provider, so you don't have to be with one in particular to use them. Check before buying though.
Virgin Media recommends powerline adapters over boosters, specifically the Netgear
Powerline range which costs £42 to £58 (incl postage) direct from from Virgin. (They can also be bought from other retailers that stock computer equipment, such as
Amazon* and Argos).
Give your PC a spring clean
Always be careful to check any software you put on your computer is suitable and compatible with your existing set-up. No liability can be accepted for any problems caused by acting upon the info given below.
You may be surprised by the effect changing settings and having a spring clean has. The things to check are:
Is your antivirus up-to-date? 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 the Free Antivirus Software guide.
Do you have the latest browser? If you're still using the web browsing software that came with your computer years ago, switching is a must.
Have you cleared your cache? 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 PC 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.
Stop automatic software updates. Some automatic program updates steal bandwidth without asking, and some (ahem, Apple) 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 bandwith and security, you could turn off automatic updates and then manually update programs when you need to at a time that suits you.
- Check which programs are set to run at startup. Too many will make the computer slow – how to find the offenders depends on which version of Windows you're using.
How-to Geek has a good article explaining how to check what's set to launch at startup and how to stop it. Only deselect the programs you recognise though.
Stop background apps in their tracks
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.
Consider a software boost
If your connection's so slow that even simple browsing takes forever, it might be worth considering a software solution.
First off, free web browser Opera sports a 'turbo mode', which compresses content before it gets to your computer, using less data and hopefully making it faster in the process. Unfortunately, since the info has to travel to Opera's servers in the US, it can actually be slower.
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How to complain about your broadband provider
The broadband industry doesn't have the best reputation for customer service and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include installation dates being missed, limited service, incorrect billing and, indeed, slow speeds.
It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but if that doesn't do the trick…
Free tool if you're having a problem
This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It's totally free and offered by a firm called Resolver, which we like so much that we work with it to help people get complaints justice.