How to speed up your broadband

Every ISP in the UK promises its customers fast and reliable access to the internet. Despite this, many of us are still putting up with connections without enough bandwidth to power iPlayer, and with so much lag that online gaming is impossible.

Other web users tolerate draconian deals where downloads are monitored and restricted to particular times of day. If you're angry about your sluggish broadband speed, you don't have to take it any more.

We know how you can get the best from your connection. We want to give you targeted advice specific to your needs, whether you're an online TV viewer, gamer, downloader, mobile broadband user or on a budget. But there are some tweaks that everyone can benefit from.

If your broadband speeds are slow, it could be down to a host of issues. Some could be to do with problems at your telephone exchange. These can be fixed by BT through your ISP. Other issues could be related to problems on your side of the line, so it's best to get those sorted out before calling your ISP to complain.

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Rule number one - don't use extension cables to connect your router to the ADSL filter. Use the cable supplied with your router, and make sure the filter is plugged directly into the socket in the wall. The more cabling you add, the more line noise and packet errors you introduce - so the shorter the cable, the better.

While you're looking at your phone sockets, make sure that any extension sockets have ADSL filters fitted too. Every extension in your building needs a filter attached, whether you use it for broadband or not. That's why routers are often supplied with several.

If your download speeds haven't improved after a few days, it's time to get friendly with your neighbours. Do they have problems with slow broadband speeds too? It could be that they're suffering alongside you. If that's the case, get online and find out what the optimum line speed is for your area.

The superb broadband resource Sam Knows has an online broadband checker that will tell you what the best line speed for your area should be. To find it, go to Armed with this, you're ready to get into some more serious tweaks depending on your specific needs.

Speed up media streaming

When watching streaming media, you have a right to expect stutter-free film and TV. With current broadband speeds, you should even be able to watch at resolutions of 720p or even 1080p.

Whether you'll get this depends on three factors. Your hardware is one of them - and we'll come back to that in a moment. The actual speed of your broadband is a crucial factor too. Less obvious is the overall stability of your connection, which can contribute as much to the perception of speed as your actual bandwidth. Dropped packets result in jerky performance and buffering loops that pause playback.

The tips we've already given you for stabilising your connection are a good place to start. You may also want to try some of these more advanced hardware tweaks.

The right router


ADSL has advanced a great deal since broadband was introduced, so a newer, better router that supports current protocols may help stabilise your connection.

When your router tries to sync with your broadband connection, it does so using multimode - a protocol that listens for a range of ADSL variants and then connects using the best method it can find. An older router may well be connecting to broadband successfully, but using a legacy method. It also means that as a first step, you could try getting a better connection using that age-old method: turning your router off and on again.

As long as the connection isn't in its primary training period and you don't make a habit of it, this won't adversely affect the stability and speed of your broadband, but it may help you resync using a steadier, more stable protocol.

Before you splash out on new hardware - especially when a top-of-the-range router can cost around £60 - try visiting your router manufacturer's website to search for new firmware. The software that runs your router is upgraded periodically, and if you've never updated it, you could be missing out on features and protocol support that your hardware is capable of delivering.

Remember, a router is basically a small computer - so adding features in firmware is fairly straightforward. You just update the device's operating system.

Over the years we've been trying and testing routers, it's surprising how often a different router can affect the speed and stability of a broadband connection. It's an odd fact of complex systems that some chipsets work better with certain exchanges (and the equipment they have installed) than others.

If you currently have a router that generates errors or drops periodically, especially when under high bandwidth loads, it'll be worth borrowing a couple from friends to see if you can get a steadier, faster connection from another brand. Netgear routers are among the best at syncing and hanging on to flaky connections in our experience.

Get wired

Another way to reduce errors and dropped signals is to simplify your system. First, if streaming speeds are unsatisfactory, try a wired Ethernet connection rather than Wi-Fi.

Remove other machines from the network to reduce the competition for bandwidth, and while you're at it, make sure that your media player - whether it's BBC iPlayer running in a browser, YouTube or an ISP-provided service like BT Vision - is the only thing sucking bandwidth from your net connection. That includes updaters, antivirus programs that call home, and VoIP tools like Skype.

If tweaking your connection doesn't improve your viewing sufficiently, streaming may not be the best option for you. Few people notice that you can download programmes on BBC iPlayer, but you can. Click 'Download options' when you've selected the program you want to watch.

You have a choice - a version that plays on iPlayer Desktop, a DRM-crippled download for Windows Media Player, or a lean version for portable devices. iPlayer desktop gives you the best quality, and is the choice to make if your computer's up to speed. If you're watching TV on an older machine, there's no shame in picking the version for portable playback to speed things up.

Test your phone socket

To eliminate client-side socket and filter problems from the broadband chain, begin by connecting your router directly to the master socket without a filter. Monitor your connection speed and stability.

If there's no improvement, you can rule out your microfilters. It could be a problem with the socket itself, so you can try plugging your router into the test socket. You can find this by removing the BT faceplate - it's the same size as the master socket at the bottom right of the recess.

If you see an improvement this time, you can make the improvement permanent by fitting a BT I-Plate. This is an add-on that sits in between your existing telephone socket and the faceplate, routing your connection directly through the test socket.

The device costs under £10, and we've seen impressive results in testing.