Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Why your high-speed internet is so slow

Why your high-speed internet is so slow

Your connection may offer you dozens of megabits per second, but it’s unlikely that you’ll ever touch that target. Robert Irvine explains why and how to fix it.

A recent ‘State of the internet’ report by content-delivery network Akamai ( ranked the UK thirteenth in the world for internetconnection speeds, with an average of 13Mbps. That sounds pretty respectable (hey, we beat Belgium!), but many of those surveyed pay for “up to” 17Mbps, 38Mbps and even 76Mbps, and rarely – if ever – come close to that figure. This discrepancy in the speed you pay for and the one you get is often blamed on your distance from the broadband exchange, but there are other factors involved, too. So you can either move your house closer to the exchange (not easy unless you live in a motorhome) or you can try our secret tricks to tackle the causes of your slow connection.


You may get on like a house on fire with your neighbours, but if they are insatiable internet guzzlers, their powerful Wi-Fi signals may be weakening yours. We’re sure they’re not doing it deliberately, but if lots of people in the same area are using the same wireless channel on the same frequency, then speeds will inevitably suffer. For this reason, it’s worth switching your router to the 5GHz band, which offers up to 23 non-overlapping channels and is less prone to interference from other wireless networks, so your neighbours are less likely to slow you down.

Alternatively, you can change to a less busy channel. To find the quietest option, run the tiny free tool WifiInfoView (, click Options and select Channels Mode to find out which channels nearby networks are broadcasting on. The most commonly used channels are 1, 6 and 11, so, if you’re sharing one of these with lots of other people, it’s a good idea to switch to another channel via your router settings.


Last December, Ofcom warned that Christmas tree lights could potentially slow your Wi-Fi through electromagnetic interference. Experts later refuted this claim – “you would have to be lighting up your tree like a small sun” ( – but agreed that other electronic equipment including microwaves, baby monitors and security cameras can adversely affect wireless signals. For this reason, you should place your router away from these devices or – if that’s not possible – change the Wi-Fi band to 5GHz.

Interior walls also pose a problem, especially in older properties where they tend to be thicker. Before you start knocking them down with a sledgehammer, consider investing in a Wi-Fi extender, which should solve the problem. Netgear, TP-Link and Linksys are the most reliable and respected brands.


Also known as bandwidth throttling, traffic shaping involves your ISP slowing your connection speed during peak times or prioritising certain types of traffic over others. Some ISPs believe that traffic shaping is a fair way to combat a minority of customers who constantly upload or download large files, and hog the available bandwidth. It’s also because internet providers don’t actually have enough capacity for every customer to reach their maximum possible speed at the same time.

Among UK ISPs, Sky has never throttled its customers’ bandwidth and BT and TalkTalk have abandoned the practice in recent years. However, Virgin Media applies traffic management to a “small minority of customers during peak times” ( If you’re on a 30Mbps or higher package, your upload speed will be restricted when you exceed a specific data threshold during peak hours. If you’re on a 20Mbps or lower tier, both download and upload speeds are shaped, for a maximum of five hours, seven days a week. However, Virgin says that 95% of its customers will never be affected by its bandwidth throttling.

EE also shapes traffic for activities including music and video streaming, file downloads and web browsing, between 4.30pm and 1am on weekdays, and from 1.30pm to 1am at weekends. See for more info.

If you’re unhappy with the limits imposed by your ISP, consider upgrading to a more flexible package or switching to a less restrictive provider. On the whole, though, unless you’re a very heavy downloader or are only paying for the cheapest broadband option, you shouldn’t really notice that you’re being shaped. If you do, try scheduling large downloads and uploads for less busy times.

If you suspect that your ISP may be secretly throttling your bandwidth because, for example, you’re using peer-to-peer software such as BitTorrent, download the free tool Neubot ( This runs in the background and runs periodic checks to determine whether your connection is being slowed, displaying the results online. There’s also a popular web-based tool called Glasnost (, which checks whether specific applications are being restricted by your ISP, but you need to use the outdated Java plugin for it to work.


ISPs aren’t always to blame for sluggish streaming and page-loading times; sometimes the cause is your browser. Resource-hogging add-ons such as Adblock Plus and problematic plugins such as Flash can significantly slow you down, so it’s worth disabling any that you don’t need. In Chrome, you can uncover the greediest tools that are running in the background by pressing Shift+Esc to open the Task Manager, then clicking the Memory column. Entries at the top are the ones most likely to be causing problems.

In Firefox, you can type about:memory into the address bar and press Enter to find out what’s going on in the background, although the info isn’t presented clearly as in Chrome.


If your connection has slowed to a crawl, it’s highly likely that there other people in your area who are also suffering from slow speeds, especially if they use the same ISP. You can find out your current download and upload speeds by running Ookla’s brilliant free tool Speedtest (, which is available both as a website and as a mobile app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone. Perform the test at different times of the day to get a fair average and, once you’ve got the results, visit uSwitch’s StreetStats site ( and enter your postcode to view recent speeds measured in your area. This will give you some indication as to whether you’re getting better or worse performance than your neighbours, although you should bear in mind that they may be paying more for their broadband than you are!


Tweaking the options on your wireless router’s configuration page, such as the wireless channel you’re using, is often the best way to improve your connection speed. To do this, open the browser on your computer and go to the URL provided by your router manufacturer: this is usually or The username and password should either both be admin or the password should be password or blank – check the label on your router for details. Once the page has loaded, click Wireless Network Settings or similar to access the required options (note down the original settings if you’re worried about making things worse).