How to fix internet connection problems

In today’s always-online culture, there’s never a good time to lose internet connectivity. Whether you’re working from home, partway through placing an online order or taking part in a collaborative gaming challenge, even a momentary outage can put a stop to any work, rest or play. Below, we consider common reasons for losing a broadband connection, advice on troubleshooting the cause, and steps on how to get your connection back up and running.

Man frustrated with bad internet connection

#1: Find out why you’ve lost internet connection 

A drop in connection can be caused by all sorts of things. Before you assume the internet service provider (ISP) network has gone down or your broadband’s been cut off, check to see if the cause is easy to fix:

  • Ensure the outage is throughout your home, not just due to one device dropping out

  • Make sure no cables or wires have been dislodged from the router

  • Make sure your router isn’t rebooting due to an update or a momentary fault

  • If you’re on a wired connection, make sure the Ethernet cable is securely in place

  • If you’re using a dongle, try moving it to a different USB port.

Setting up a new router

Setting up a new router is usually simple, and most ISP Wi-Fi routers will work almost as soon as they’re unboxed and plugged in. Sadly, things don’t always work out this smoothly. If your router isn’t getting you online, try the following:

  • Unplug all the cables from your router, including the power cable

  • Wait at least one minute

  • Set up the connection and try again.

It might take a new router a while to bed in, just as a new smartphone or laptop can take a day or so to work dependably. If you’re still not seeing any signs of connection (usually solid blue or green lights on the router), you may need to get in touch with your ISP’s technical support team to determine whether it’s faulty.

#2: Lost internet connection because of software

If you’re confident the outage isn’t hardware-related, check your software next. Different issues that can make your internet stop working include:

  • A new or updated web browser which is incompatible with certain websites

  • If you use a program to connect to the internet (as with most dongles), it may need updating

  • Your dongle might require a new driver

  • Your router set-up may be incomplete

  • Your router password could be incorrect

  • Parental controls often prevent access to innocuous sites if they’re not added to a whitelist

  • The website is blocked from displaying at your location, based on your IP address

  • If you’re on a Wi-Fi connection, make sure your device hasn’t turned Wi-Fi off or gone onto airplane mode.

#3: Confirm lost internet connection online

Google is everyone’s go-to URL to check the internet isn’t working, and that’s because Google rarely crashes. However, check a second website just in case – BBC homepages are unlikely to be offline, and the same is true of Wikipedia.

Bear in mind that lots of brands are connected and may rely on the same server architecture, so a single issue can impact multiple domains. In December 2020, an outage at Amazon Web Services took an array of devices offline, from Ring doorbells to Roomba vacuum cleaners. Try to check unrelated websites in case a shared server or network has failed. 

Use a mobile device’s 4G/5G connection to look at websites like downdetector.co.uk, which will determine if connectivity issues are exclusive to your connection, or if a particular service or ISP is experiencing technical issues. You could even ask neighbours if their internet connection is down.

Sending a ping

If your regular browser isn’t connecting, you can try sending a ping. This is a slightly more advanced way of running the Google test outlined above, giving you the opportunity to see whether the website has recognised your device’s connection request. 

How do you ping from a Mac?

  • Go to Applications 

  • Open Utilities

  • Click on Terminal

  • Type “ping www.google.com” and press Enter.

How do you ping from Windows?

  • Search CMD

  • In the black command box that opens up, type “ping www.google.com” and press Enter.

A successful ping test will display a series of ping statistics detailing the round-trip time in milliseconds and the number of packets sent. If the ping test fails, you’ll simply see a message like “Host not reached”.

#4: Could antivirus software be blocking your internet connection? 

A firewall or antivirus program may be falsely detecting a threat and stopping your internet from working. This can often occur when a newly installed program clashes with existing software, resulting in access to websites being blocked as a potential threat.

Try pausing or uninstalling recently-added programs, to see if this makes a difference to your lost internet connection. Connection issues often arise immediately after changes have been made to a web-enabled computer or tablet. Even an operating system update could cause interference with previously dependable antivirus software. 

#5: Is your Wi-Fi too weak?

A lost or unreliable internet connection could simply be due to your Wi-Fi connection not reaching the room you are in. There can be many causes:

  • The room you’re in is too far from the router for a steady signal to be maintained

  • The router isn’t in an optimum position – instead of being in the centre of the home, it’s in a corner, distributing bandwidth into the garden or a neighbour’s home

  • The router is placed near signal-blocking furnishings like a fish tank

  • Your home might have very thick walls

  • Other electronic devices may be causing interference, from microwaves to car alarms – in your own home or even properties that neighbour yours.

If you’ve checked these aspects but still can’t get connected, it may be worth trying mesh Wi-Fi extenders or Powerline adaptors to deliver bandwidth to places your ISP’s router can’t consistently reach. If you’re wanting to work in an outbuilding or on the move, a mobile broadband solution would be worth considering. Our guide to mobile broadband explains how these options work.

#6: Are broadband payments up to date?

Home broadband deals come in a wide variety of payment plans and contract lengths, but late payments might lead to connection problems. Are all your bills paid? Do you have outstanding debts caused by going over data limits in previous months? Have you been using your connection inappropriately?

Your ISP should notify you about any changes being applied to your connection, but this doesn’t always happen. If you don’t have a letter or email from them and want to check if there’s a problem, get in touch to find out what the issue is and how you can help to resolve it.

#7: DIY repairs for lost internet connections 

Being able to fix broken internet connections is a great skill to have, but you might want to get in touch with your ISP first. Engineer callouts will be expensive if the fault’s not due to the ISP, but attempting repairs may cost even more if they’re bungled – and you’ll need to call your provider out anyway.

If you really want to give DIY a go, please remember to take all necessary safety precautions before doing so. The safest process involves the test socket:

  • Remove the faceplate of your master broadband wall socket (this will have a horizontal line across it)

  • A test socket will be located to the right hand side, where you can plug in the microfilter (the small box which plugs into the phone socket)

  • Try to reconnect your router cable to the microfilter, and see if a connection is restored.

If this doesn’t work, it could mean the issue is in the wider network rather than your home. Call your ISP to investigate further.

What can I do if I urgently need a dropped internet connection?

There are several things you can do to get online when your home broadband isn’t working, including:

  • Use 4G or 5G mobile data on your smartphone

  • Purchase additional mobile data and use your phone to create a mobile data hotspot

  • Buy a separate data-only SIM that you can use with a dongle or plug into a laptop

  • Use public Wi-Fi at libraries, cafes or shopping centres for non-sensitive data transfers

  • Use public hotspots exclusive to your ISP, such as The Cloud by Sky

  • Ask a neighbour if you can access their Wi-Fi, which might even reach your home.

Do some ISPs have better connections than others?

No broadband plan can guarantee connectivity all the time, but if having high-speed internet for things like gaming and working from home is a priority, your choice of connection can make a major difference:

ADSL

Standard broadband, also known as ADSL, is the most widely available type of home broadband as it’s carried along phone line cables. For this reason, it tends to be one of the slowest internet connections. Cable wires in your area may not have been maintained very well, and even well-preserved copper infrastructure isn’t capable of carrying data at speeds to rival modern fibre broadband.

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)

This connection improves on ADSL by using fibre-optic cables for most of the journey from the telephone exchange to your home. These fibre cables terminate at your street cabinet (a grey or green pavement-mounted box), before reverting to copper phone lines for the final leg of the journey. This is a big improvement on ADSL in terms of speed, but it’s still not quite as reliable as the third and final option...

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)

This is also referred to as full fibre, as it extends directly into your home. Virgin Media runs a full-fibre broadband service into many residential properties, while suppliers like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear are dedicated to FTTP connectivity.

Signing up with one of the aforementioned providers accesses their proprietary underground cable networks, ensuring a reliable service across a network which isn’t supporting as many users as Openreach. FTTP speeds are rarely beaten, but costs are far higher than other options.

Last updated: 9 December 2020