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Why is my internet so slow?

Slow internet can be caused by a number of things, from too many devices connected to your Wi-Fi to a basic broadband subscription that doesn’t suit your household’s demand.
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Why is my broadband so slow all of a sudden?

If you’ve noticed your broadband is suddenly much slower than usual, then there may be a change in the usage habits of your household or even your neighbours.

Internet speeds can drop if your local internet connection is congested. In the same way that traffic congestion makes your daily commute slower during peak times, broadband speeds can drop noticeably when there are lots of other users active on your local network.

This was always the case in the evenings after normal working hours when users would get home and log on to streaming platforms, social networks and power up games consoles.

However, during lockdown, usage habits changed dramatically, and many of us were using the internet all day as we work or study from home. This may mean you’ll experience slow broadband and different times of the day, particularly at 8am - 9am when many of us log on for work.

Slow broadband subscriptions = slow download speed

There are plenty of cheap broadband subscriptions available for a low monthly price, but the downside is that cheap broadband is often so cheap because it’s slow.

Broadband deals that are less than £20 a month will typically use ADSL copper phone lines to connect the provider to your home, which doesn’t compete with the superfast speeds of a fibre-optic connection.

These simple broadband packages are ideal for those households that want to have the internet but don’t really need to use it much. ADSL broadband is fine for occasional browsing, online shopping and scrolling through social media.

However, the maximum average download speed ADSL can offer is only 10-11 Mbps, which is increasingly becoming not enough for UK households. If you want to use the internet for any kind of media, streaming video, making video calls and playing online games or if your home has more than two users, you’ll need a more robust broadband package in order to avoid the frustration of slow internet.

Check out our latest fibre broadband deals to see just how affordable a faster broadband connection is.

Why is my download speed so slow when I have fast internet?

If you’re subscribed to superfast broadband but are still struggling with slow internet speeds, there might be something you can do to fix it at home. Simple things like moving your router could have a big impact on the strength of your signal.

How do I fix a slow broadband speed?

If there’s no problem with your provider's network, but you’re still experiencing a slow broadband speed compared to what you should be getting, here are a few things you can try to improve your connection:

1. Reboot your router

While most Wi-Fi hubs should update automatically, it’s worth giving yours a little help just in case. Do the usual switch off, leave for 30 seconds, then switch back on to see if your connection then improves.

If you’re still experiencing issues and suspect it’s a problem with your internet connection, read more in our internet connection problems guide.

2. Move your router

If your router is operating as normal, it might just that the signal is blocked by large furniture or other electronic devices. Try moving your router around your home to see if this improves your Wi-Fi connection. Try and locate it off the ground, unobstructed and as close to the centre of your home as possible.

3. Disconnect unnecessary devices

Having multiple devices connected to the internet will be increasing the demands on your broadband connection.

If you have devices that can connect to the internet, but you don’t necessarily need them to, a short-term answer would be to disable their Wi-Fi settings so that they don’t passively use up your bandwidth. This could include everything from phones and tablets to smart speakers and other smart devices.

4. Plan your heavy usage times

With everyone at home all the time, it can place a strain on your home broadband. Schedule times of the day when you and others in your household can undertake tasks that make heavier demands on your internet.

For example, if you know you’ll need to make video calls at the beginning of your workday, ask others not to stream high-quality video or games during those key times.

5. Check the other side of the connection

If you’re struggling with a slow download it’s worth bearing in mind that your internet might not be the problem and the server you’re accessing could be slow or busy.

Check back in later to see how the performance of the site changes as you may be able to save time by coming back during less busy hours.

6. Boost your Wi-Fi signal

If your Wi-Fi signal drops out or fails to connect in certain parts of your home, purchasing a Wi-Fi extender could help create a stronger, faster connection in rooms that are further away from your router.

Understanding broadband speed

Sometimes the download speed you see on your device isn’t what was advertised by your provider, and before we launch into a list of ways to increase your slow internet speed, we need to quickly cover the topic of bits vs bytes.

Basically, the units of measurement for file sizes and download speeds sound similar but are actually very different. A byte is equal to eight bits, and the slightly different spelling can make things really confusing.

For example, you may have a broadband connection that is capable of 60Mbps (megabits per second), but your device –– your laptop, computer, tablet, or smartphone –– measures data in megabytes.

So if you saw a download speed of 7.5MB/s on your device or speed test, this means 7.5 megabytes per second, which is equal to 60 megabits per second. The capital or lowercase b completely changes the number you’re looking at.

You can run a quick speed test here to test your current connection and see if these numbers now add up.

And if you’re still not sure about it, you can read more in our bits and bytes explained guide.

What are my rights if I’m stuck with slow internet?

If you started your broadband contract after October 2015, you will probably be protected by the Ofcom voluntary code. While this is a voluntary requirement from Ofcom, many of the biggest suppliers have signed up, which means you should be protected.

When you purchase a broadband deal, your new supplier should provide you with a range of maximum speeds for your line. If they are unable to help you maintain broadband speeds within this range and your download speed drops below your minimum guaranteed, you might be able to break your contract penalty-free.

This right to exit would also apply to bundled products within your contract, such as landline or pay-TV services purchases at the same time as your broadband.

Be sure to raise these concerns with your provider as soon as they occur. If the service you receive is consistently below what was promised, there will be an official record and you will be free to switch to a better service.

Read our guide on how to claim compensation for more information.

Can I still switch broadband provider?

The coronavirus has made all aspects of life difficult, and you might be worried that you can’t switch broadband right now. Fortunately, the vast majority of switches and upgrades don’t require an engineer visit and can take place as normal.

If you’re switching between providers that use the same Openreach network –– this includes BT, Sky, Plusnet, and TalkTalk to name a few –– a switch is still quick and easy without resulting in any loss of service.

If you’re looking to switch to or from Virgin Media you might experience a bit of a delay when looking to book engineer visits. However, don’t let that discourage you as broadband is still deemed a vital service and providers are doing all they can to make sure you can get and stay connected.

Compare the latest broadband deals with Uswitch.