Quick note from Martin of Ship Shape PC Repair: This week, instead of my own usual post to help you with your PC, we have a guest post from Matt Powell, the editor of Broadband Genie, the broadband comparison website. Take it away, Matt!


Broadband providers have a reputation for overstating the speed of broadband connections but in the last few years this situation has improved. They’re no longer allowed to advertise speeds which can’t be achieved by a percentage of their customers, must provide a somewhat accurate estimate ahead of time, and in any case if you sign up for a fibre optic or cable broadband service you should usually receive a speed that’s very close to the quoted rate, unlike the less reliable ADSL broadband where speeds can be highly variable.

But this doesn’t account for problems which can crop up down the line and have a significant effect on your broadband line. Sometimes these are simple issues caused by settings, software or basic faults, but they can on occasion be a little harder to track down.

If you’re suffering from a slow broadband connection here are a few tips to help you diagnose and fix the issues and get back to full working order.

Test your speed

Before anything else, use speed check tools to confirm the performance of your broadband connection. This will tell you whether it’s just a particular service or site that’s running slowly or if there’s a more widespread problem. Make a note of the results in case you need to call technical support.

Check the ISP fault status

Many providers operate an online status page which will contain information about problems in their network, so if your broadband has suddenly gotten slower this could tell you why. Unfortunately if this is the case you can’t do much about it other than wait for the issue to be resolved, but if it’s been a few hours without any change you might want to follow up with a phone call to find out more.

Downloading?

Check to make sure your connection isn’t being saturated with a large download. This is more of an issue on ADSL where the limited bandwidth can easily be consumed by a single task, particularly something like a BitTorrent download, but it may be caused by something running in the background without knowledge of the user. Operating system and software updates can sometimes be very large.

Switch it off and on again

Sometimes just rebooting your home broadband router is all that’s needed to give the connection a kick in the behind. Be patient as it can take a good few minutes for the router to renegotiate the link.

Boost your Wi-Fi signal

If you only connect over Wi-Fi it’s worth taking the time to see if the problem lies between you and your router, rather than the broadband line itself. Weak wireless signals can result in a severe drop in performance so check the connection while standing next to your router or, ideally, use a network cable instead to bypass it completely. If there’s a noticeable improvement you can look at ways of improving wireless connectivity.

Try repositioning your router (it should be off the floor, away from walls and located centrally in your home) or use an inexpensive Wi-Fi signal booster gadget to help the signal reach further.

Another thing to check is that you’re not suffering interference from other networks. Delve into the router settings and you’ll see an option to select a channel for the Wi-Fi; if your neighbours have their routers on the same channel it can reduce the efficiency of your connection so try selecting a different number. If you want to get more technical there are smartphone apps which will indicate the signal strength and channel of nearby Wi-Fi networks.

Secure your Wi-Fi network

Wireless networking is convenient but it is open to abuse from people nearby using it without your knowledge or authorisation, which can impact your broadband speed. Make sure your Wi-Fi is password protected with the WPA standard, and change it on a regular basis.

Check the phone sockets and wires

Poor wiring or faulty and outdated sockets can result in big drops in broadband speed. As a basic rule you should avoid the use of extension cables for the broadband line, but if you do need one make sure it’s a high quality round cable and not a cheap flat wire, and don’t allow the cable to become tangled and compressed.

Only connect your broadband to the master socket (where the line comes in), and for ADSL broadband make sure you have a microfilter on every socket that’s in use around your home.

If you unscrew the master socket faceplate you’ll find an engineer socket which can be used to test the broadband without extension wires causing interference: if the speed improves you can fit an ‘I-plate’ or ‘BT Accelerator’ device which helps alleviate this issue. Newer sockets with BT Openreach printed on the front do not require this however as the technology is already built in.

Time to call an engineer?

If all else fails and you’ve eliminated your own computers, router and wiring as the problem it might be time to call out the experts. Speak to your ISP’s technical support line and explain the issues, they’ll probably have you run through many of the same troubleshooting methods but if the problem continues they should agree to send out an engineer to investigate further. The engineer will check both inside your home and the line outside to pin down the issue, and if the problem is not inside your property there should be no charge.