How to speed up your broadband

Updated on 31 July 2009 | 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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More: Save £110 with a broadband bundle | Britain's best broadband providers


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