How to improve your broadband speed

If you have a broadband connection, the package you have bought from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) probably advertises faster speeds than you can generally receive – “up to 4Mbps download” for example. “Up to” is the catch-all phrase if you’re only receiving 2 Mbps. The 4Mbps advertised speed is what would be achievable under the perfect conditions – if you were very close to the exchange and the cables were in perfect condition.

Most broadband connections currently are “Asymmetric”. This means that the connection speed to you is normally much higher than the speed from you. This split makes sense for most web users. Most users browse the web, download files etc., but tend to only send emails and perhaps attach the occasional file, or upload images to a website.

Some business users may need a “Symmetric” broadband line if they need to send large files such as technical drawings, or use video conferencing. As the name implies, download and upload speeds are the same in SDSL lines.

Whichever system you use, it’s unlikely that you will be able to achieve the maximum speeds quoted. Some ISPs do achieve better results than others though.

You should also note that your broadband connection circuit is normally shared with other users. This is called the “contention ratio”. These ratios vary between suppliers – a domestic broadband contention ratio may be 50:1. This means you share the circuit with up to 49 other users. If there are many users on your circuit at the same time, overall speeds are likely to fall. A typical time when many users are on the internet is the evening. Many users experience a drop in speed at this time, both because of “contention” and general web traffic. These times are called peak usage times.

There have even been reports that weather conditions can also have an effect on broadband speed too.

However, there are some simple steps that you can take to improve the speed of your existing connection.

What speed are you actually getting?

Before you can start trying to improve your internet speed it is useful to know what speeds you currently receive for both downloads and uploads.

There are many free speed testers on the web and results may vary slightly between them. There are a couple of things to bear in mind before you start:

  • You will get a more accurate result if you use a computer that is physically connected to your broadband router – not through Wi-Fi. If this isn’t possible, it is still worth running the test.
  • It’s better if no one else is using the internet connection from another device in your premises at the same time.
  • It’s also useful to test at different times of the day. General web traffic can be congested at peak times, and the “contention” issue we mentioned earlier also can slow down connection speed.
  • Very heavy web users may find that their connection speed may be “throttled”. This means that at some times, they may have their speed restricted, to allow other users fair access. This will normally be detailed in the “Fair Usage” section of your ISP contract.

You can check the speed of your internet connection using this link:

Please be aware of advertisements on these websites which may prompt you to download software and which promote “special offers”. Note that you do not need to download any software to run the broadband speed tests – you just need to click on the option to begin or start the test. WCC is not responsible for the content on external Internet sites.

Once you know what speed your connection averages, we have some suggestions as to how you might improve this.

  • If your broadband is via a telephone connection (an ADSL connection) all the below sections of advice should work for you.
  • If you receive broadband via cable (e.g. from Virgin Media), sections 2-7 apply to you.

Make sure your computer is up to date

Are you using the latest versions of web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Google Chrome? If not, download them to bring your computer up-to-date.

Then, use the “Tools”” menu and then “Internet Options” to clear temporary internet files and cookies. A large backlog of these files can slow your computer and internet browsing speeds down.

Make sure your anti-virus program is up to date

Viruses and other malicious software programs can cause difficulties to your computer as a whole and affect the speed of your internet browsing. Always make sure that you have good anti-virus protection that is kept up-to-date, preferably using automatic updates to make sure it stays up-to-date. This is absolutely essential. Computers connected to the internet via broadband without anti-virus protection can become infected very rapidly. There are many excellent anti-virus programs available at a low cost, such as Norton or McAfee.

Switch off your Wi-Fi

With the growth of devices that connect to the web via Wi-Fi, many homes have this simple connectivity set up. However, if the wireless router isn’t in use by any other devices apart from your computer, you might want to consider connecting the computer to the router directly using a network cable. A direct line from your computer to your router could increase the speed of your computer’s internet connection. If you need Wi-Fi in the future to provide internet to multiple devices, you can always switch it back on again when needed.

Make sure your Wi-Fi has a password

Although Wi-Fi is great for sharing access to the internet across a home or business, it does have risks. The range of most Wi-Fi systems is up to 100 metres – so you may be sharing your internet access with a neighbour, or even a hacker. If your Wi-Fi does not have a password, anyone could access your internet connection at any time.

As well as a neighbour “piggybacking” off your internet connection (and reducing your overall connection speed), you may be giving intruders access to information on your computers or laptops. It is easy to stop this – just give your Wi-Fi a password that all devices that connect to it need to automatically provide to gain access.

It’s not as complex as it sounds – the following link explains how to do this easily: Secure your Wi-Fi

Stick to your ISP’s “Fair Usage” policy

As we mentioned earlier, many ISPs will “throttle” connection speeds for who they consider to be very heavy users. This means that they will deliberately reduce your broadband connection speed. This is to make sure that other users get their fair share of access to the internet. This is called a “Fair Usage” policy, and will be incorporated into your contract with them.

Although you may have subscribed to an “unlimited download” package, Fair Usage policies will still apply. There are very few totally unlimited packages available in practice. For example, many ISPs may reduce your connection speed between 4pm and midnight if you consistently download large files between those times.

Typical users who may run across this problem are those who:

  • Download lots of films or music
  • Play online games
  • Work from home and connect remotely to their office
  • Any other heavy downloaders

If you run into this problem, your ISP may email you and suggest that you move packages and subscribe to one offering a larger download capacity.

Make sure there’s no electrical interference

Making sure that your broadband connection is kept free from electrical interference may help connection speeds. To avoid electrical interference it is best to keep your modem and wiring away from mains power cables.

Use micro-filters

Micro-filters are small devices which plug into the telephone socket and split the signals for the broadband connection and your telephone. They prevent the voice and broadband signals interfering with each other. If you have extension telephone points, it’s important that each has a micro-filter fitted too. If you have a fax machine or a burglar alarm that is connected to the phone system, don’t forget to filter these too. Finally, if you have more than 4 inputs (telephones/faxes/alarms) attached to a single telephone line, your broadband may not work at all.

Click here for clear instructions about using micro-filters correctly.

Use a third-party DNS server

An internet service called DNS (Domain Name System/Server) translates a web address into its corresponding IP address. IP addresses are numeric and look like this:

The DNS your ISP uses may be slow and make your browsing experience feel more laboured as it struggles to translate every web address you visit. There are third-party DNS servers available which are free to use. By using a faster DNS server, internet browsing will feel faster and pages will load quicker. The server may also offer a higher level of internet security than the one offered by your ISP.

Open DNS is a great example of a third-party DNS server and it is free to use. Visit Open DNS’s website for a step-by-step guide on how to use their service.

Raise the issue with your ISP

If the above measures have not significantly improved your broadband connection speed, you should raise the issue with your ISP. There may be other issues outside of your control which are affecting possible speeds to your property, for example, the wiring from the telephone exchange to your building. You may also need to discuss moving to a higher-priced package if you are consistently running into the “Fair Usage” policy limits.

Change ISP

You may find that other operators in your area have better speeds – but do be aware that the “up to” issue we mentioned earlier still applies. If available in your area, you may wish to move service from telephone-based broadband to other suppliers such as Virgin Media cable.

Get a satellite connection

Under Contract 1 BDUK has committed to make available over 2Mbps to all properties by 2016. This is through a subsidy scheme that will cover the costs of satellite installation. Rental and ongoing costs will fall to the user. For more information on this scheme visit Satellite Broadband Subsidy Scheme.

Other information in this section:

The contents for this page have been adapted from the following source: