Boost Broadband Speed

Tips to improve broadband incl free speed test

improve broadband speed

Broadband ads only have to show average speeds received at peak times – so you should 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. If you're just looking for a new deal, see our Broadband Unbundled tool.

In this guide

Check what speed you're currently getting

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 speed

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 ideally the distance between your router and devices should be kept to a minimum.

    Other things to check

      • 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.
    • 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, home security equipment and even microwaves can interfere, so try to place these away from your router.

    • Your provider should give you adapters that split your voice 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).

  • 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.

  • 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. Boosters generally work with any provider, so you don't have to be with one in particular to use them. Check before buying though.

    Here are a couple of examples to consider:

  • 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 adapters 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.
    • Technomate* powerline adapter starter kit (two pack) is £34 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 the 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 Internet Explorer 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 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.

    • 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 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 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 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.