How is speed measured?

Bits v. bytes

Megabits are used to measure broadband speed.

Megabytes are used to measure the size of a digital file.

Broadband speed is the measure of time it takes for you to download information from the internet to your computer or laptop. It is sometimes called bandwidth.

It is usually shown in megabits per second (Mbps) and it affects everything you do online, from sending emails to downloading music.

Your broadband speed is affected by:

  • How close you are to the telephone exchange

  • The types of broadband available where you live

  • The maximum speed of your service

What is your maximum speed?

Broadband suppliers have to give 50% of users the average speed they advertise.

This is why your broadband speed may be slower than the speed advertised on your supplier's website. For example, your broadband company may advertise average speeds of 20 Mbps, but you may only get 15 Mbps.

You may be able to cancel your service without charge if it falls below the minimum guaranteed access line speed (MGALS).

Find out why your broadband is slow

Slow broadband can be caused by several things, so consider:

  • How many devices are connected at once

  • How secure your connection is

  • Whether your antivirus software is up to date

  • If your broadband is slow at certain times of day

  • How much data you are using

Finding the cause of your slow connectivity will make it much easier to fix the problem.

Ways to improve your speed

Disconnect devices

If you live in a large household, there could be several people connected to your broadband at once. Consider how many internet enabled devices you have in your house, including:

  • Laptops

  • iPads or tablets

  • Smartphones

  • Kindles or eReaders

  • Smart TVs

  • Smart watches

The more devices you have connected to your broadband the slower it will be, so disconnect any devices where WiFi is not essential.

You can check how many devices are connected to your broadband by going to your router setup page. Our guide to securing your broadband explains how to do this.

Secure your broadband

You could be experiencing slow internet because of poor WiFi security. Viruses, cookies and neighbours hijacking your broadband are all reasons for slow or intermittent service.

You can find out how to make you WiFi more secure in our guide to broadband security.

Avoid online traffic

Broadband speed is affected by how many users are online at once. This is called a contention ratio and you should ask your supplier for the lowest ratio available.

You will probably enjoy a faster internet connection if you do the majority of your browsing or downloading during the day or late at night.

You could also try switching your WiFi channel to minimise the number of people sharing the same one locally.

Many broadband companies set up your router to automatically find the best channel but you can also do this yourself.

PC Advisor have a step by step guide to changing your router channel.

Upgrade your browser

If you are using an outdated browser, it could be slowing down your broadband speed. Check for updates to ensure you are using the most recent technology.

You could also try using a different browser. If you use Internet Explorer or Safari for Mac try switching to one of the following:

Close background applications

You may not be aware of programmes running in the background on your computer but they could be the cause of your slow broadband.

Video streaming services like BBC iPlayer drain bandwidth and use up data if they are left running when you are not using them.

You can close background applications through Task Manager:

  1. 1.

    Right click your taskbar and select Start Task Manager

  2. 2.

    Select the programme you want to stop running

  3. 3.

    Select End Task

Boost your connection

There are several other ways to improve your broadband speed:

  • Use a wired connection: If you are happy for your laptop or computer to stay in one place, consider spending a few pounds on an ethernet cable. Wireless internet is convenient but you can get faster speeds with a wired connection.

  • Use microfilters and broadband accelerators: Your broadband company should supply you with a microfilter which limits interference from your phone line. You could also buy a broadband accelerator, which works in a similar way.

  • Keep your router switched on: Your router will work better if you keep it switched on and avoid regularly turning it off. Keeping it out in the open will prevent it from overheating and will also improve your connectivity.

Upgrade your package

You could speak with your supplier about upgrading to a faster service, particularly if you have had the same package for a long time.

This might mean paying more each month for your broadband but if you can afford the increase, you should be able to enjoy faster internet.

What is throttling?

If you are regularly exceeding your data limit your supplier could be capping your broadband speed rather than charging you extra for your data.

This is called throttling and could be a sign that you need to increase your monthly data allowance.

If you are looking for superfast broadband, you could also consider fibre if it is available where you live.

Switch to a new supplier

If you have exhausted all other options, consider switching your broadband service.

Slow connectivity and frequent disruptions to your broadband may let you cancel your existing service before your contract ends, without paying an exit charge.

Visit the Communications Ombudsman or the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) for more details.