Broadband speed

By Martin Edwards

Published December 2016

Broadband speed and reliability are two things I’m often asked to help with.

Many things affect how quickly you can browse websites or whether videos keep pausing to buffer, and most people are unsure where to begin troubleshooting. Whether it’s because there is so much jargon, or because Wi-Fi and the Internet are invisible and mysterious, there’s no denying that broadband speed is a complex topic.

I would advise anyone in North Oxford, Kidlington, Woodstock or the surrounding villages who thinks their broadband might be underperforming to have me visit. Here are some of the things I’ll check:

Your subscription

Broadband contracts typically offer speeds of ‘up to’ 8, 38 or 76 megabits per second.

The slowest of these, ADSL, is available almost everywhere (note that slow is a relative term, and 8 Mbps is more than twice what you actually need to watch iPlayer or Netflix).

The faster two are more widespread in built-up areas, but usually mean paying more and installing new equipment. You may see these services referred to as ‘fibre’ or ‘Infinity’ (BT’s brand name) but they are more correctly called VDSL.

Your estimated line speed

Contracts include the words ‘up to’ because your actual maximum speed will be lower, determined primarily by the distance between your house and the telephone exchange or roadside cabinet.

Subscribing to an ‘up to 8 Mbps’ package but getting only 3 Mbps is perfectly normal if your distance from the exchange makes it so.

Your provider will give you an estimate of the speed you can expect.

The location of your router

You probably have several telephone sockets in your house. In most cases your router should plug into the ‘master socket’, the one where the phone line enters from outside, with a short cable.

If this doesn’t suit the location of your computer, it’s not a good idea to run a long telephone extension wire or move the router to another socket. Instead use Ethernet, Wi-Fi or Homeplug equipment to bridge the distance.

Microfilters

Unless your master socket has a built-in filter, i.e. separate sockets for phone and router, you need a ‘microfilter’ on every telephone and fax machine to prevent it interfering with the broadband.

Wi-Fi strength

If you’re using a phone, tablet or computer connected via Wi-Fi, it needs to be close enough to the router to work well. Thick walls and metal obstacles can greatly reduce how far is ‘close enough’.

Often the signal from the router alone is not enough to cover a house. In this case you can add extra wireless access points connected via Ethernet or Homeplug. I don’t usually recommend the products marketed as ‘range extenders’ — ask me about the difference and for buying advice.

Your computer

Many people confuse a slow computer with slow broadband. The time it takes your computer to start up, for example, is not determined by your broadband.

Some very basic or very old computers just aren’t capable of showing videos smoothly, even though the broadband can deliver them.

And occasionally, software can go wrong and interfere with your browser or cause it to crash.

Need help?

I’m a computer technician and tutor serving North Oxford, Kidlington, Woodstock and the surrounding villages. Visit my home page to find out more and get in touch.