People often think slow internet must be down to their broadband provider. But computer settings, wireless hardware or an old PC can all have an impact...
If you're frustrated with your slow broadband, there are lots of things you can try which may be able to help. A good place to start is our Complete Guide to Speeding Up Your Broadband, available as a free download. Created in partnership with BT, it's packed full of useful tips and advice on how to boost your connection.
Alternatively, the following sections should give you a basic idea of steps you can take to improve your home broadband:
1. Adjust your browser settings
Upgrading to the latest version of your web browser - or using a different browser, such as Mozilla Firefox - could reduce the time it takes to download a page. However, you should always be careful when making any changes to the settings on your computer.
2. Talk to your provider
Many people think that the headline speed they sign up to is the actual speed they will get, but distance from the exchange, congestion and traffic shaping all slow your connection down and very few people will ever hit the top advertised speed.
Ofcom speed tests show that the average connection speed in the UK in November 2012 was 12.7Mb, however many customers are still receiving speeds sufficiently slower than this. Use our speed tester to see how fast your broadband connection really is.
If the speed is exceptionally slow, you might be able to boost your connection simply by asking your ISP if there's anything they can do to speed things up.
If you've been on the same package for a long time - 12 months or more - it might be outdated. Ask your provider if you can be upgraded if you agree to renew your subscription. You could find yourself moved to a faster package for more or less the same price.
3. Tweak your router settings
With so many different routers available, it would be impossible to tell you how to adjust all of them. However, most routers are like your mobile phone and can be tweaked and adjusted to increase speeds. For example, check that you are using a different wireless network channel to your neighbours - sharing a channel will affect your signal.
Read your router's manual for details on how to improve performance.
4. Hate thy neighbour
Make sure that you're not leaving your wireless internet connection open to other people on your street or in nearby flats. Set up a WPA encryption if your hardware is compatible, but at the very least you should have a WEP password to stop unauthorised users connecting to your internet.
5. Reduce your bandwidth overhead
There are a whole range of applications that will discretely use your internet connection. Most of these are set to automatically start up when you log into your computer, so while you might just be checking your emails, these programs will still be running in the background and slowing you down.
Applications such as Windows updates, security suite updates, Real Player pop-ups, MSN, Skype and the BBC iPlayer could all be running at the same time without you even knowing, making a noticeable difference to your speed.
While some of these are silent, others do ask permission before using up your bandwidth, and almost all can be set so that they don't start up automatically.
You can find out which applications are running via your task manager (press CTRL, ALT and Delete) and click on the Processes tab.
You should always opt to give permission before an application runs, or set things to run at more convenient times - like only downloading podcasts at night.
6. Get an iPlate
BT's iPlate also known as a BT broadband accelerator basically gets rid of the bell wire that was used to make old telephones ring.
Now that the bell wire isn't needed, it often just acts as a conductor for electrical interference, so anything from a microwave to a dodgy light fitting can mess with your broadband connection.
Research has shown that the device could boost speeds by up to 60% in some cases, a typical speed increase of up to 1.5Mb - though this isn't guaranteed.
Although all users won't necessarily see the same level of improvements, many homes with an ADSL connection could benefit from an iPlate. They're easy to install and cost from around £5.
7. Get a better router
If you're using the router that you got free from your ISP, particularly if it's an older model, you could benefit from getting a higher range one that will give you a stronger signal if you're connecting wirelessly.
A better modem or router will also have better features, such as allowing you to select ports for gaming, or giving you a better firewall.
You should also bear in mind that the fewer things blocking the signal from your router to your computer, such as doors and walls or items such as bookcases, the better.
Router signals can also be negatively affected by interference from other electrical equipment, such as fridges and fluorescent lighting, and any appliances that emit a wireless signal - position your router at least a metre away from them. Older routers in particular are more susceptible to signal blockage than newer models.
Wireless N is the latest wireless technology to be released and manufacturers claim it offers "futureproof speeds" of up to 248Mb. As well as faster speeds, a wireless N router will offer better range, sending your signal further.
8. Speed up your Wi-Fi
If you use wireless and are having problems with the signal, rather than moving your PC closer to the router, you could just replace the aerial.
Most modern routers now have built-in antenna, however you can buy an additional antenna which you can connect to your router via the external antenna port to boost your signal by up to five times.
Alternatively, to give your wireless signal a kick, you could invest in a wireless repeater which will make your wireless range larger. Or, you could buy a wireless access point, which acts as a second router, sending your signal further.
You simply connect the access point to your router using a Wireless Distribution System (WDS), extending the reach of your wireless signal without reducing its strength. Check the specifications of your router to see if it has WDS.
There is also the option of adding a powerline adapter or 'home plugs'. A powerline adapter uses the wiring already in the walls of your property to send a Wi-Fi signal to parts of the house which otherwise may have had poor coverage. They're usually more expensive than signal repeaters, but can prove more effective. A powerline adapter creates a Wi-Fi hotspot wherever you've got a free electrical socket. They're ideal for getting wireless up to a loft conversion, for example.
9. Ditch your wireless
Whether you use a wireless router or connect via a cable makes a difference to your speed too. For people who have generally reliable, fast connections, this shouldn't be a big issue.
However, if you're having speed problems and are using a wireless router you should try connecting directly via a cable to see if it speeds things up. Even the type of cable that you use to connect can make a speed difference - connecting to your router via an ethernet cable will be more efficient than using a USB cable.
Using a cable will help you ascertain whether the speed being delivered by your provider is slow, or if it is degrading once it reaches your modem.
10. Get closer to the master socket
The further your modem is from the master socket the weaker your connection will be. This is because the standard wires used for extensions are usually quite poor.
To reduce quality loss, your modem should be as close to the broadband entry point in your home as possible. Moving your modem closer to the faceplate can increase your internet speed by several Mbs.
Additionally, if your computer is on another floor or in a different room, you should invest in a good quality ethernet cable to connect your wireless router or PC to the modem.
11. Monitor download programmes
Apps for streaming television content such as the BBC iPlayer and Channel 4's 4oD continue to run in the background of your PC even after you've closed them.
Because they continually upload and download data using a legal peer-to-peer system, they are constantly using your internet connection and will not only slow you down - they'll also use up your download allowance. Make sure you quit them fully when you close them.
With programmes like BBC's iPlayer on your computer, remember to check the settings. Make sure that the boxes marked "peer-to-peer network participation" and "run Download Manager on Windows startup" are both unchecked so that it doesn't remain on the peer-to-peer network once you've exited the programme and doesn't automatically start up when you turn your PC on.
12. Boosting mobile broadband
Ofcom speed tests found that the average download speed for mobile broadband in the UK was 2.1Mb, significantly slower than the top hypothetical speeds possible. However, there are also ways to improve your mobile broadband.
- Antenna extension - many mobile broadband dongles allow you to attach an antenna extension to boost your signal.
- USB extension leads - mobile broadband signals tend to be stronger outdoors. By plugging your dongle into a standard USB extension lead will extend its range allowing you to position your dongle nearer to a window - where there will be a better signal - while you sit somewhere else.
- Vodafone Sure Signal - the Vodafone Sure Signal is a small device that plugs into a fixed-line home broadband connection to boost the 3G signal around your house.
- Ditch the mobile broadband router - a router will only worsen an already poor mobile broadband connection. Try plugging your dongle in directly.
- OnSpeed - OnSpeed compresses each element of a web page or email enabling you to load and download content up to 10 times faster using your existing mobile broadband connection. OnSpeed costs £24.99 a year with no contract.
- Check for background programs - as with your home connection, broadband speeds can be slowed by programs such as Skype running in the background. Check, and switch off any applications you don't need a permanent connection to.
If you still find that your connection is slow, it might mean that your package just doesn't support your needs. Use our broadband comparison service to compare prices and to find a more suitable package.