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Why is Internet running slow and how to speed it up

Sometimes the speeds of our Internet connections are not what they could be. If you’re feeling a bit frustrated at your connectivity speed read on for a few tips on how to get things moving a little faster. Back in the day, when connecting to the Internet via a dial up modem was accompanied by an odd medley of electronic tweeting and whistling sounds, connections used to slow down in the late afternoon. It was often attributed to the fact that America was waking up and people on the other side of the Atlantic were yawning their way onto the Internet. This meant that the pipes that Internet traffic travelled down became more congested hence connections predictably became slower in the afternoon. But in today’s world of undersea fibre optic cables with enormous traffic capacity, Internet traffic tends to move rapidly. It’s fascinating to see how Internet traffic pings across continents at the speed of light.  If you’re sitting in London and make a website search your request sometimes heads north of the capital bounces across to the US, pings between the east and west coasts and then comes back to you, often in fractions of a second. So why do we sometimes still get slow Internet connections that leave us drumming fingers in impatience and rolling eyes in mock despair?  Well, given that Internet highways are generally fast and reliable there can be reasons that have more to do with your machine and your Internet set up.  And if you are experiencing slow Internet connectivity we list some of the most common reasons below and offer advice on how you can speed things up.

An ISP that doesn’t deliver?

If you’re not happy with your Internet speed the first thing you need to check is what plan you are on from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) so you can determine the speed you’re supposed to be getting. You can then check this website which will tell you what Internet speeds you actually have as opposed to the speed you might be experiencing. If there’s a significant discrepancy you can contact your ISP and ask them why.

Is your Wi-Fi connection doing its thing?

Why is Internet running slow and how to speed it upIf you’re using a Wi-Fi connection slow Internet access can sometimes be the result of a weak wireless signal. To get the best signal your Wi-Fi router needs to be in a place where it’s not obstructed by thick walls and other dense objects.  Make sure the antenna is pointing vertically and also make sure that your router is up-to-date.   Other appliances can also interfere with the signal such as microwaves and cordless phones, so trying moving the router away from appliances. It also pays to reset your router by simply turning it off and on.

How old is your router?

Why is Internet running slow and how to speed it upAnother point to consider is whether your router is old or not.  Old hardware is precisely that and not configured for optimal performance, simply because performance benchmarks change over time. You can also try updating the router firmware. You do this by searching the manufacturer’s website for firmware updates and installing it using the router’s administrative interface.


Bandwidth hogging

Internet connections can often slow down when programmes hog the bandwidth.  Some ads for example, based on video and animations, can eat up the connection.  There are some services that can block ads and unwanted videos such as Flashblock.  They can help overcome the problem of a slow connection and at least give you some speed back. And if you’re using a file downloading service for streaming films and videos, it’s highly likely you’re going to experience a slow down if you’re also surfing the web at the same time. Getting a sense of which programmes and applications eat up your bandwidth can help you determine whether you’ve really got a slow connection or whether you’re just using bandwidth hungry applications.

Make sure you’ve got good antivirus software

Viruses can seriously reduce your connection speed by clogging up all sorts of things in your computer. And this includes adware and spyware that can eat up your processing power while also constantly connecting to other servers. This means that even if you’ve got a fast Internet connection it can be potentially reduced to a crawl. To guard against this you need good antivirus software to keep you computer virus free. You can run a free virus scan by simply clicking here.

DSL filters not filtering very well

Most Internet connections are based on DSL. When you activate these connections you hook a small rectangular box into your phone line. The box has two outputs, one for your modem/router the other for your phone. The box is a DSL filter.  If you’re using a landline phone via a DSL filter you need to make sure that you have a high quality DSL filter so you get an optimal signal speed

Choosing a new ISP

If you’ve accepted that your ISP is not delivering the speed you want then maybe it’s time to switch. You may have noticed that there’s a lot of competition among ISP’s to offer you a blazing fast service. Make the most of this. There are connectivity options to keep in mind when choosing a new ISP.  Internet connectivity is delivered via DSL, satellite, cable and fibre optic. Each one has its pros and cons. DSL (digital subscriber line) - delivered via a telephone line and is one of the most common today.  There are two types; Asymmetric DSL (ADSL) and Symmetric DSL (SDSL).  ADSL is usually the cheaper of the two but doesn’t offer the same download and upload speeds as SDSL.  Both types of DSL tend to be cheaper than other options and you get a dedicated line. That said, the further away you are from the provider’s office the slower and less reliable the service. Cable broadband  - offered by cable TV providers and doesn’t depend on distance like DSL. It’s usually much faster too. However, that said, the available bandwidth is usually shared with other users in the area so the more people using the service at any given time, the slower the service becomes. Fibre Optic - the mother of all services, in that it delivers superfast speeds leaving DSL and cable in the shade. But it’s early days yet in terms of widespread geographical coverage, as it’s often restricted to large metropolitan areas. Satellite - there is also a satellite option but generally this is only viable if you’re living half way up a mountain in a remote area, because it’s often slower and more expensive than other options. We all need good Internet connectivity these days – it’s like the blood that courses through our digital veins. And when fibre optic cables become the norm rather than the exception, we’ll all have lightening fast connectivity, but until then we may have to tinker and tweak our connections, simply live with what we’ve got, or change ISPs if we’re not happy.
Filed under: Tips & Tricks

Written by Steve Bell

Steve has a background in IT and business journalism and has written extensively for both the UK national and trade press including The Guardian, Independent-on-Sunday, The Times, The Register, MicroScope and Computer Weekly. He's also worked for most of the world's largest IT companies producing content producing. He has a particular focus on IT security and has produced several magazines in this area.

More articles by Steve Bell


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    19 Jun 2014, 00:18

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