By Martin Edwards
Many factors affect how quickly you can browse websites, or whether videos keep pausing to
buffer — and most people are unsure where to begin troubleshooting. There’s no denying that
broadband speed is a complex topic.
I would advise anyone who thinks their broadband might be underperforming to
contact me about it. Here are some of the things we’ll check.
Broadband contracts typically offer speeds of up to 8, 17, 38 or 76 megabits
per second (Mbps).
The slower two are kinds of ADSL and are available almost everywhere.
Note that slow is a relative term, and 8 Mbps should be more than enough to watch iPlayer
The faster two are common in built-up areas, and increasingly available in rural areas. They
are often referred to as ‘fibre’ or by the BT brand name ‘Infinity’, but are more correctly
called VDSL or fibre to the cabinet (FTTC).
You probably won’t get upgraded automatically — you’ll need to ask your
Internet service provider (ISP) who will make a change at your local
telephone exchange and send you a new router.
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 geographic location makes it so.
Your ISP 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. 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 move the
router to another socket, nor run a telephone extension wire. Instead, use
Ethernet, Wi‑Fi or
powerline equipment to bridge the distance.
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.
If you’re using a computer, tablet or phone 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 that is.
Sometimes the signal from the router alone is not enough to cover a larger house. In this case
you can add extra wireless access points connected via Ethernet or
powerline. I don’t usually recommend the products marketed as range
extenders — please ask me for buying advice.
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 aren’t capable of playing modern videos smoothly, even
if your broadband can deliver them.