How to speed up your broadband

Alison Hunt
by Lovemoney Staff Alison Hunt on 31 July 2009  |  Comments 32 comments

Many of us are getting less than half the broadband speed we're paying for. Don't let your ISP get away with it.

If you've ever switched on your computer in the evening to find your internet connection is sluggish, there could be a good reason. Broadband has been in the news yet again - this time concerning the fact Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are being economical with the truth regarding average speeds.

According to the Office of National Statistics, a whopping 56% of all UK households had a broadband connection in 2008. But according to Ofcom's latest study, around half of us are receiving less than half the speed we're paying for.

Average speed just 4.1Mbps

According to the Ofcom study, the average broadband speed in the UK in April 2009 was found to be 4.1Mbps while it was advertised as being up to 8Mbps.

In the study group, fewer than one in ten (9%) of users on 8Mbps packages received anything over 6Mbps. What's more, rather shockingly, 19% were receiving 2Mbps or less. Yikes.

Isn't 2Mbps fast enough?

Now you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Anyone still on dial-up can tell you that 2Mbps is certainly fast enough for a bit of surfing and emailing.

But this isn't the point - if you pay for a service you expect to receive that service - and an up to 8Mbps deal should not leave one in five of us languishing with a 2Mbps connection. With increasing numbers of us using our computers for bandwidth-sapping applications such as downloading music and video files, a fast connection is vital.

Who is getting this mythical 8Mbps broadband speed?

Well, in a word, no-one. Bafflingly, OfCom revealed that it is impossible for users to receive the top speed as some capacity is reserved for technical reasons. The maximum achievable in practice is therefore 7.2Mbps, not 8Mbps.

So why don't they just say that then?

Heroes and Villains

So which ISPs sped ahead and which dawdled behind in Ofcom's tests?

ISP and package

Average speed

AOL Broadband (up to 8Mbits)

3.3 to 3.9Mbit/s

BT (up to 8Mbits)

3.8 to 4.2Mbit/s

O2 (up to 8Mbits)

4.1 to 5.1Mbit/s

Orange (up to 8Mbits)

3.8 to 4.5Mbit/s

Plusnet (up to 8Mbits)

3.8 to 4.9Mbit/s

Sky (up to 8Mbits)

4.0 to 4.7Mbit/s

Talk Talk (up to 8Mbits)

3.8 to 4.6Mbit/s

Tiscali (up to 8Mbits)

3.2 to 3.7Mbit/s

Virgin Media (up to 10Mbits)

8.1 to 8.7Mbit/

As you can see Virgin Media's cable broadband won hands down, with its customers achieving speeds of 81-87% of that advertised.

Tiscali, on the other hand proved to be one of the most dismal performers, with customers tested having received a meagre 40-46% of what they paid for.

And interestingly, the top performing non-cable ISPs included O2 and Sky, who also won awards in Broadbandchoices,'s customer satisfaction survey.

Personally, I find this all quite annoying. Broadband may not be the biggest bill households have to cover, but it's still significant and we deserve to get good value for money. If a service says "up to 8Mbps", that's what we should receive - or we should be classed as being on a slower speed and put on a cheaper package.

So what can we do to improve our broadband speed?

The study found that there are a number of factors that influence the connection speed we will achieve that unfortunately we have no control over.

People who live in rural areas, for example, will typically suffer slower speeds compared to urban customers. And customers living further away from the telephone exchange will also receive slower connection speeds compared with those living close by.

If uprooting your home doesn't appeal, one solution is to look into whether you can get a cable connection. Around half of UK households apparently have access to cable broadband which can offer a faster and more reliable service.

But there are a few things we can do for ourselves - check out these tips from Broadbandchoices,

  • Test your speed

First things first, find out the speed you are actually getting by using this speed checker.

  • Call your ISP

If you're not happy, give your ISP a call and tell them - there may be something they can do to help.

  • Reposition your router

If you've got your wireless router hidden away in a cupboard upstairs you could be in for a treat. The signal they give out is significantly affected by obstructions such as doors and walls, as well as sources of interference - wireless devices like cordless phones being top culprits. Move it to a location with as few obstructions between it and the computer as possible, and you may find a boost in connection speed.

  • Disable iPlayer and 4OnDemand

If you've ever used P2P software such as the BBC's iPlayer, ensure you disable them when not in use - or they'll run in the background slowing the computer, as well as using up any download allowances.

  • Don't surf at rush hour

If you want a quicker connection don't surf when everyone else is. Traffic tends to peak between 8pm-10pm. Daytime or late at night are best.

  • Switch provider

Finally, if you're still not happy it may be time to switch to a different provider. Even if you can't be offered a faster connection (due to your proximity to the telephone exchange etc) you could be paying less for the speed you're getting. Try out this comparison calculator and find out more from Ofcom's Advice guide.

So find out the speed you're getting from your ISP and, if you can't improve it, call them up and find out what they'll do regarding connection and crucially, the price. There's enough competition in the broadband market - it's about time providers started fighting for our business.

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Comments (32)

  • noomsybaby
    Love rating 0
    noomsybaby said

    My 2p some practical advise for getting the best connection speeds if you have ADSL broadband (ie not virgin)

    Things to uderstand about ADSL technology.

    It was developed to use higher frequencies down your copper phone line so that it can co-exist with your analogue phone; this is why you need those filters. The length of the line between your house and the exchange is the main factor in limiting your speed. Being copper cable pairs which are bundled in 100/300 pair cables there is cross interference from external factors as well as the other cables. This is most noticable late at night when more people are using it hence you may notice you connection become less reliable / slower at night. (note this is in addition to the fact more people using the bandwith at the exchange / ISP connection will also slow your internet experience)

    Helpful hints

    1 - Filters, without these in the correct place you will suffer a bit drop in connection speed. Depending on your wiring will affect how and where to place these.

    Scenario 1 - Phone line + router + phone in same socket (no fixed extension wiring in back of NTE socket). Put filter in phone socket and connect router and phone to filter.

    Scenario 2 - Phone line + router + phone +extension wiring / sky box in same socket (no fixed extension wiring in back of NTE socket). Put filter into NTE socket, phone /extension lead into filter and router into filter. Ensure that any other phones/extension leads are connected into the filter and they will not need filters on them(this will drop your signal)

    Scenario 3 - Phone Line + router + phone + hard wired extensions in the NTE socket. You will need a filter on every extension socket in use (i.e. has the router or a phone attached). For best performance try to have the router attached to the master socket (the one with the split faceplate) as there will be less signal loss. Ensure that all the extensions have been wired correctly and use good quality cable as these can drag the signal down.

    I have seen a friends internet from bt dropped to 0.5m due to an incorrectly placed filter, I repositioned filters and line speed increaded to 5M


    Choose your channel wisley !

    You've spotted that the world and there wife in your neighbourhood are all using the same default channel as you (how ? download netstumbler and see what chanels wireless are being used.) and have decided to change yours to another to reduce interference. Your default is set at 6 (for example) and you have a choice of 1-11, what do you pick ? you think 5 sounds good ? nope bad choice. Due to the bizzare way the wirless channels are spread out there is an overlap !!! The channel nuber is the centre channel, so it is best to to stick to one of three non overlapping settings, 1, 6, 11

    Check what you are getting.

    Logon to your router and check the statistics of your line. The default password and login are normally supplied with the router either on the router or int the documantation. Check for your line speed and noise margin. line speed tells you what speed the router negotiated and noise margin tells you how much interference tolereance is currently available. the lower the noise margin the more suceptible to interuptions. 7.0 + is ok, 6-7 you will start experiencing interuptions, 5.9 or lower you internet connection will stall/become unuseable.

    If your noise is low rebooting you router either through web interface or power cycle will cause it to resync at the best rate for the current line conditions *NOTE* current, that is why you may find a router you turn on first thing in the morning and is fast crawls by night time, check those stats and reboot if necessary, some routers will automatically resync, others will not (sky ) I have rebooted my sky late at night and leave router on permanently, have only had to reboot since discovering this about three times in the 18 months i have had sky (when the router has locked up for antoher reason)

    Hope this helps


    BTW i have sky max package, was quote 2m, get 6m stable (7m if rebooted in morning see above) 

    Cust service ok

    Report on 05 August 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • noomsybaby
    Love rating 0
    noomsybaby said

    some usefull websites for more info tips

    Note no affiliation just sites i have found helpful

    Wealth of info including exchange searches, check who provides services, estimated speed for postcode.

    Wealth of info for sky broadbad users and other sky stuff as well.

    Use this program to check all wireless routers in you area to help select best channel, diagnose wireless signal quality.



    Report on 05 August 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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