Why is my broadband slow?

Question

I’m with BT broadband and the package I’ve got is advertised as offering downloads speeds of up to 6Mb. However, after testing my connection speed several times using your speed test tool, I’ve found that I’m only actually getting between 0.5Mb and 1Mb - why is my broadband so slow?

Eugênio Almeida, Vauxhall, via email

Our expert Dominic says...

Thanks for your question Eugênio - you won't be surprised when I say it's one we get asked a lot!

The first thing to say is the 'up to' speeds advertised by broadband providers are just that - there is no guarantee you will get that speed.

Providers are required to ensure the 'up to' or headline speeds they advertise are those at least 10% of their customers get, but no more than that, under current advertising guidelines.

Secondly, bear in mind there are many factors that can make your broadband slow, so before you complain to your provider or think about switching broadband, consider the following:

1. Your Wi-Fi signal is weak

It is common now to use wireless broadband to connect to the internet at home via a laptop, tablet or smartphone, but what many people don't realise is that wireless broadband is usually slower than connecting to the internet via a cable.

There are also a lot of factors that vary from home to home, from where the router is put to how thick the walls are, that can affect the speed of a wireless connection, but fear not - there are plenty of ways to boost your Wi-Fi signal.

2. How far you live from your telephone exchange

The vast majority of broadband connections in the UK at present use the copper wire telephone network, and broadband speeds get slower the further they have to travel along copper wires.

This means the distance you live from your telephone exchange will have an effect on the broadband speed you get - this is why broadband is often slower in the countryside, where the distance from the nearest exchange is greater.

However, the government is currently in the process of making fibre broadband widely available outside towns and cities, which will go some way to making the distance you live from the exchange less of a problem as more data can be carried over greater distances by fibre.

3. When you are using the internet

What time of day you go online can have a huge affect on your broadband speed. This is because each broadband provider will assign a certain amount of bandwidth - internet space in very basic terms - to a certain number of users. The relationship between the two is known as contention ratio.

This means that if you use the internet at times when it is most common for people to go online at home  in the evening and at the weekend - your connection is likely to be slower because a lot of other people are using it at the same time, especially if you're trying to do something bandwidth-hungry like streaming TV or playing computer games.

4. Fair usage

If you are a particularly heavy internet user at peak times, for example you upload videos or do a lot of filesharing using BitTorrent as soon as you get home from work, this could be why your broadband is slow.

Most broadband providers have a fair usage policy, the aim of which is to ensure all their customers get a decent broadband service even at the busiest times.

This means that if you are a very heavy internet user at peak times your provider may throttle your connection to limit what you can do online at that time and provide more bandwidth for other users - this is known as traffic management.

5. How many people are using your broadband

If you live with your family or share a house or a flat, you might have several people using your broadband at the same time. This will slow your connection down, particularly if, say, you're watching BBC iPlayer on your iPad, someone else is playing a game online on their Xbox 360 and another is downloading a high-definition (HD) film.

If this is the case then it might be worth switching to a broadband package suited to heavy use.

6. How old your house is

It is fairly common that poor internal wiring in a property is the cause of poor broadband speeds, and this is more likely to be the issue the older your house is, as its wiring is more likely to be outdated or damaged.

Don't go pulling up floorboards and pulling apart walls if you do own or rent an older property though - there are a number steps you can take to find out if your that are less messy.

7. Wi-Fi security

If you use wireless broadband and you're suffering from slow speeds, it could be because you haven't secured your connection. Without a Wi-Fi password anyone - from your neighbours to anyone passing by your property - could be using your broadband, thus slowing it down for you. could solve the problem in a jiffy.

8. Malware and viruses

Malware - software designed to disrupt a computer or collect sensitive information for fraudsters - and computer viruses - a program that spreads from computer to computer, often with similar aims - will not directly slow your broadband down, but they can slow down your PC or laptop if you accidentally download them.

To protect yourself from malware and viruses, and to detect and remove them from your machine if it has been infected, get yourself an internet security package.

9. Your computer

As with malware and viruses, while your computer won't be directly responsible for slowing down your broadband, it can make using the internet sluggish.

This can happen if you haven't updated your web browser, you are use a lot of applications that use the internet, you don't regularly empty your cache - the area of your computer that keeps a record of all web pages you've visited for future use - and if you're running bandwidth-hogging peer-to-peer (P2P) applications, such as Spotify or Skye.

You can find out how to deal with these issues in our guide to boosting your broadband speed.

10. Broadband provider

As I mentioned previously, the broadband speed you actually get may be far slower than the 'up to' speed of your package, as only 10% of a providers customers need to be able to get that speed for it to be used in advertising.

However, Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, measures the average speed delivered by different packages and providers. By conducting a you can check whether your connection is faster or slower than the average.

If it's the latter it's worth contacting your provider as they can check whether there are any faults with your connection and may also be able to give you some further advice on what you can do to make it faster.

If none of the above helps consider switching provider by comparing broadband packages in your area and what speeds they offer.

And finally...

For more information on boosting your slow internet connection, read our complete guide to speeding up your broadband.

 

Video: 5 easy tips - Speed up your broadband

 

Topics: Speed Fibre optic

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