Faster broadband – The ultimate guide

Regardless of whether the rollout of fibre across the UK has reached your area, you may find that your broadband speeds are falling short of those promised by your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or are unable to meet your specific requirements.

You can find out your broadband upload and download speeds using our speed test. It’s worth carrying out tests at different times of the day (typically congestion occurs in the evening – you’ll get the best speeds during the day), and if the speeds you’re getting don’t cut it, follow these steps to optimise your broadband experience.

1. Go wired

If you’re testing your broadband speed through a Wi-Fi connection, there’s a chance that it could be the wireless network that’s causing the speed issues. Fortunately, you can easily rule this out by directly connecting your computer to the router with an ethernet cable and running the test again. If the speeds are more in line with your expectations, then you know you should look at ways to speed up your Wi-Fi connection.

2. Check your cables

It’s important to remember to change the cable that connects your modem/router to the phone jack in the wall. Sometimes older cables are incapable of handling the speed of your connection.

3. Check for viruses

It’s best practice to run anti-virus software to ensure your computer is safe, but if you’re not getting the speeds you hoped for, it might be worth running a scan again to make sure your machine hasn’t been infected. Viruses can often use up precious bandwidth in the background, and affect the time taken to complete other tasks.

4. Turn it off and on again

No, we’re not joking. Modems/routers have a cache that can affect performance, so power cycling the hardware can clear out any processes that are causing it to slow down.

5. Try a different modem/router

Not all modems are created equal. Some are designed specifically for ADSL2+ connections, while others are optimised for a full fibre connection. Quite often, the modem supplied by your ISP isn’t the best quality, so trying an alternative device may solve your problem. Remember to try both wired and wireless tests with the new modem to rule out the wireless factor. Read our jargon-busting guide to find out more about routers and modems, and to compare popular models. Here’s a quick look at the specs of three of the most popular routers currently offered by ISPs:

AntennasModemSpeedWi-Fi bandsWi-Fi standardPortsSecurityQoSReviews round-up*

BT Smart Hub
7ADSL2+/VDSL2Up to 1,700MbpsDual (2.4GHz and 5GHz)802.11ac4x Gigabit LAN
1x Gigabit WAN
1x USB 3.0
WPA2-PSK, WPA2-AESNo9.5/10

Virgin Media Hub 3.0
5DOCSIS 3.0Up to 1,300MbpsDual (2.4GHz and 5GHz)802.11ac4x Gigabit LAN
2x Telephone
WPA2, WEP-128No8.5/10

Sky Q Hub
5ADSL2+/VDSL2Up to 1,600MbpsDual (2.4GHz and 5GHz)802.11ac4x Gigabit LANWPA2-PSK, WPA2-AES, WPA2-TKIPNo9/10

If you’re looking for an alternative or an upgrade to your traditional ISP routers, you may consider purchasing a Wi-Fi system. Wi-Fi systems are a new, smarter type of wireless router which connect to your modem like a normal router, but offer much stronger internet connectivity and eliminate ‘dead spots’. Wi-Fi systems typically are much easier to set up, and come with an app for you to manage your network from your smartphone. Take a look at three of the top Wi-Fi systems on the market right now:

RRPAntennasSpeedWi-Fi bandsWi-Fi standardPortsSecurityQoSReviews round-up*

Google Wi-Fi
£129 for 1
£229 for 2
51200MbpsDual (2.4GHz and 5GHz)802.11a/b/g/n/ac1x Gigabit LAN
1x Gigabit WAN
1x USB-C
WPA2-PSK, Infineon SLB 9615Yes9.2/10

Netgear Orbi AC3000
£4006Up to 3000MbpsDual (2.4GHz and 5GHz)802.11ac3x Gigabit LAN
1x Gigabit WAN
1x USB 2.0

Apple AirPort Extreme
£1996Up to 1,300MbpsDual (2.4GHz and 5GHz)802.11ac3x Gigabit LAN
1x Gigabit WAN
1x USB 2.0
* To calculate the figures for “Reviews round-up”, we aggregated the ratings given in expert reviews from a number of reputable tech sites including TechRadar, TechAdvisor and Trusted Reviews.

Sometimes, even buying a fancy new router isn’t enough to solve your Wi-Fi coverage woes. Fortunately, you’re not out of options just yet. By installing additional access points throughout your premises, you can extend your network coverage far beyond its original limits. Routers, range extenders and Wi-Fi repeaters can all serve as secondary access points, connecting to your main router with an Ethernet cable or over Wi-Fi and rebroadcasting the signal much like signal fires carrying messages over long distances.

6. Try a different DNS server

A DNS server is like the yellow pages for websites, letting you connect to the website you want. Most ISPs use their own DNS server, and sometimes that server isn’t very fast. Fortunately, it’s possible to configure your modem to access free, open DNS servers, which could speed up your broadband connection.

7. Contact your ISP

If you’re still unhappy after testing all of the above tips, it’s time to contact your ISP. They may send a technician to your address to investigate as well as run diagnostics on your line. Alternatively, if you’ve noticed that your 100Mbps connection slows down at 8pm, it could be that the ISP hasn’t bought enough capacity to deal with the demand. If that’s the case, you may want to switch to a different provider with more backhaul to avoid congestion issues.

8. Compare broadband deals for a faster connection

If you don’t switch, your ISP might happily leave you on an older, slower tariff. You could even be paying more for a slower connection. Most providers can now estimate the speeds they would be capable of providing, based on your postcode.

Compare broadband plans and find the best deal.

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9. Consider different types of connection

If you live in an area which is part of an FTTC/FTTN (read more about types of fibre connections in our guide) fibre network, then fibre broadband is almost certainly going to be your best bet. Companies like Hyperoptic have made a niche for themselves by building a network where superfast fibre broadband cables connect direct to multi-dwelling buildings such as apartments and offices, rather than just to the street cabinet like most broadband providers. If your building is within the catchment area, and enough people register interest, Hyperoptic will connect your building to its network.

If however, you live in a particularly rural or remote area, don’t resign yourself to snail-paced broadband just yet – there are other options available to you. If your speeds are typically below 2Mbps, you may even be eligible for a government subsidy for alternative types of connection such as those listed below. To find out, check with your local council.

  • Mobile broadband.

    Mobile broadband uses 3G and 4G mobile networks, without the calls/texts part of that technology to deliver broadband via a connection device such as a dongle (and has the advantage that you can use it anywhere, provided you can get signal).

  • Fixed wireless broadband.

    Fixed wireless broadband uses a network of transmitters that send and receive information via a receiver on your property. Installation costs for fixed wireless broadband can be expensive as a technician will probably need to get up on your roof, but on the other hand you won’t have to pay line rental, as there is no fixed line.

  • Satellite broadband.

    Satellite broadband uses a satellite in geo-stationary orbit to send and receive information via a dish on your property. Much like fixed wireless, the installation costs can be steep. Additionally, satellite connections are subject to latency – a delay caused by the sheer distances over which information must travel, so if you’re an online gamer it’s probably not going to be suitable. Satellite broadband’s redeeming feature is that it works just about anywhere in the world.

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