Broadband speed

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.

Your subscription

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 or Netflix.

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.

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 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.

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 aren’t capable of playing modern videos smoothly, even if your broadband can deliver them.