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How to speed up your internet

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Difficulty: Basic | Intermediate | Advanced - (We've labelled this How-to as Advanced, but that varies throughout. Some of the tips, those about the cable especially, could be considered Basic)

Want to speed up your internet? We've got the guide for that

Who would have thought fifteen years ago that good access to the internet would be valued alongside your gas, electric and water? And that when looking to move house, one of the most important search factors is broadband coverage over schools, colleges and even crime statistics.

The internet has become such a powerful driving force in our modern lives that do without it would ‘feel’ like a crippling loss. Naturally if you’re working from home then a high degree of access and speed is necessary. However, for most people simply not being able to get to their Facebook page is enough to send them foamy about the jowls.

Video: How to improve your home's Wi-Fi network

This probably explains then why we, as a modern society, get a little hot under the collar when our internet speed grins to a near halt. We instantly forget the days of 14.4K modems, and instead curse the ISP and try everything we can possibly think of, short of invoking some eldritch horror from the pit, to get it back up to speed.

Related: What is Li-Fi? The tech that could make your internet 100 times faster

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We’re here to help – not the raising an ancient behemoth part – you to try and see what can be done to speed up a flagging internet. Regardless of whether it’s on a go-slow for some reason, or you simply want to try and get the most from your already decent broadband line, there’s a surprising amount you can do to help speed things up.

The most common cause of a slowdown though isn’t always the fault of the actual broadband line coming into your home, it’s the internet network side of things. Where poor cabling, improper WiFi signals, and even some software issues can have an effect on the speed in which you access the internet.

We’ll begin then by looking at the more common internet causes, and what can be done to fix them.

Internal networking solutions

A network bottleneck will severely lessen the amount of bandwidth that goes to and from your computer and the router. We’ve seen exceptionally fast fiber broadband lines that access a house to a top of the range router, only to come across some of the craziest cabling imaginable to a single PC upstairs. The end result in that instance was a dead slow access to the router, and as such a problematic access to the internet.

It’s not always the case, we’ll grant you. But it’s always a good idea to know that your home network is in tip-top condition.

Reposition your router

This isn’t an obvious one to begin with, as most people are quite happy with the router staying put in the living room and branching out from there. However, you’d be surprised to see how effective simply repositioning your router actually is.

Take for example the wireless signal from the router. WiFi diminishes greatly with distance and when it has to travel through walls. Ideally the best connected WiFi device is the one that has a direct line of sight to the wireless source, in other words the router.

This isn’t always possible in the average home, an open space flat perhaps, yes, but not so much a three-bed terrace.

You can plan your repositioning to eliminate as many obstructions as possible, with it being a little higher placed on a wall and maybe in the centre of your home, you may find an improvement in the wireless signal and as such better speeds.

Experimentation is the key here, and you may find that if all the WiFi devices are used upstairs, with the wired equipment like a NAS box and Smart TV downstairs, then placing the router upstairs would be a better placement for an improved WiFi reception.

Signal optimisation

Related: Best VPNs

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Interference from other devices, even microwave ovens, can have an adverse effect on the broadcast signal of your router.

A poor signal means a poor connection, which in turn will lower the speed and reliability of your home network. Again look to position the router away from anything that will interfere with the signal, generally the cluttered 2.4GHz range.

Change channels

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Most, if not all routers, will automatically pick a particular channel to broadcast its signal on, regardless of whether it’s a 2.4GHz or 5GHz channel.

If you have a neighbour in close proximity, such as in the flat above or below, or in the case of a terrace house, next door, who is using the same signal, then there’s a good chance that the signals can end up interfering with each other.

This interference can cause some severe speed drops in an otherwise well-oiled network setup. It’ll take some experimentation again, but try the router’s WiFi with different channels settings to see if you can find one that offers the best possible connection without any or little chance of interference.

Check your cables

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For wired setups the network speeds are often fairly rapid, and as such you won’t notice an issue unless you experience another network with the same setup.

If though you think you’re not getting your maximum speed via the Ethernet cable, plus it’s generally good practise to do this anyway, it might be worth checking the state of your cables.

Although a cable can still transmit and receive data, it might not be doing it to its best abilities. Check the cable ends, and make sure that the coloured wire pairs match up to an Ethernet diagram, like the one above. Also check that the cable isn’t being twisted or hasn’t been part sliced by furniture, or when you originally fed it through the hole in the floor to reach downstairs.

As an extra piece of advice, check that the Ethernet cable isn’t wrapped around a power cable, as this can cause interference with the data and slow down the overall speed of transmission. If at all possible, avoid running the Ethernet cable near a power cable.

Cable length

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The length of an Ethernet cable is one of most common causes for a slow wired network. There are some differences of opinion regarding the maximum length, but on average an Ethernet cable can transmit data to a maximum of around 300 feet before the signal starts to degrade quite rapidly.

Although three hundred feet is quite a distance for a house, you’d be surprised by what you’d see in some homes. A good example was when we traced a problematic cable into a loft space to find it was coiled up to around two hundred and fifty feet before being dropped back down into another bedroom. In that case, snipping the coiled section off and joining the two ends together solved the problem.

To keep your wired network trim and speedy, keep your cables as short as possible without putting strain on the cable ends to the device.

Better quality cables

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Although Ethernet cables, regardless of their cost, pretty much do the same thing and work at the same speeds, there is a slight difference in the quality of the signal.

Some cables offer better shielding, others, like Cat5e, cut down on crosstalk interference. And Cat6 cables are an improvement again with strict specifications and even less interference.

So rather than buying a box of ultra-cheap Ethernet cable, perhaps go for the next cable type up, Cat5e will do for most home networks.

Run a cable where possible

A quick and obvious one this, but one that’s often avoided.

Cabling your house isn’t an easy job, most of the time, and we try and avoid it where possible. Using a powerline adapter is an ideal solution to running a cable, but it’s slower and more unreliable.

So for the best possible speeds on your home network, spend a bit of time planning out your cabling and neatly run one from one room to the next.

Software solutions

Another aspect of the internet section is the actual software side of your network and internet access. Although a software tweak is often more of a temporary solution, many users have sworn that playing around with various settings within Windows does have an effect on the speed of their internal and internet access.

Some of these may work, or they may not. It’s up to you to experiment, but always make sure you’ve got a good working backup before playing around with any Windows settings.

Disable TCP Auto-Tuning

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From Windows Vista onward Microsoft included a feature called TCP Auto-tuning, to help improve performance for programs that receive TCP data.

It’s a good idea, to some degree, but many users have since reported that by turning the feature off they have noticed an increase in the speed across their home network.

To turn off this feature, drop into an administrator command prompt and enter:

netsh interface tcp set global autotuning=disabled

Press Enter and restart your computer. If you don’t see a marked improvement, you can turn it back on with:

netsh interface tcp set global autotuning=normal

Disable Large Send Offload Settings

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LSO, or Large Send Offload, is a feature that is supposed to improve the sending of files over a network while managing a reasonable CPU load.

It’s an inherent feature from the days of lesser powered processors, and it could help improve data transfers and speeds across your home network.

To disable it, enter the Network and Sharing Centre, and open the Network Connection followed by right-clicking the active network connection and selecting Properties from the list.

Next click on Configure under the name of the network connection, and select the Advanced tab in the next window.

Scroll down the list until you see both Large Send Offload v2 (IPv4) and the entry for IPv6. Highlight each, and set the value drop-down box to Disabled.

Restart the computer, and do the same for all the other computers on your network. With luck, you should see an improvement.

Up your Receive Buffers

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Within the same Advanced tab as the above tip, and further up the list, you should see an option for Receive Buffers.

Generally speaking they are usually set to a default of 512 to help balance the amount of memory and resources the network connection takes from the system. But there is a theory that a modern PC, with gigabytes of memory, can easily handle more buffers.

That being the case feel free to knock it up to 1024 to see if it makes a difference. In some cases you might not be able to, but it’s worth a try.

Remove Remote Differential Compression

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This is a tricky tip this one, as there’s a split between those who swear that it can improve your home network, and those who say it does nothing at all.

It’s up to you, of course, so to see if it’ll work on your network, simply click the Start button and enter: Turn Windows features on or off, and you should be provided with a link to the Windows Features section within the Control Panel.

Scroll down a bit and you’ll see an entry for Remote Differential Compression API Support. If the box it ticked, untick it and reboot your PC after

Windows has removed the items.

Remove IPv6 from the network connection

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As has been recently announced, the last public IPv4 address was recently taken and IPv6 is still on the verge of being adopted globally.

This of course doesn’t affect our internal home network, which will use IPv4 by default – as dealt with the router’s DHCP. However, network adapters still have an IPv6 enabled by default, and if you’re absolutely sure that your routers doesn’t use IPv6 internally, then go ahead and disable it to help speed things up a tad.

Clear your DNS cache

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This is another tip that may, or may not, work for you. Some claim it’s done wonders, other don’t.

The idea is to clear the DNS cache on your PC, so the next time a network request is issued it’ll resolve an updated DNS entry as opposed to an older, broken one. It’s a long shot, we’ll grant you, but it might speed up your internal look ups to other computers.

To clear your DNS, drop to an administrator command prompt and enter:

ipconfig /flushdns

Press enter, restart your PC – although that’s not always necessary – and see if there’s a difference.

Change your browser

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While the new Microsoft Edge (former Internet Explorer) is a much improved browser, there are other examples out there that are a little more streamlined and effective.

A browser can use a lot of system resources, but considering the modern webpage has quite a lot going on in it there’s good reason. However, some browsers do a better job of handling those resources. So instead of using the default Microsoft selection, try out:

Firefox – Although Firefox is quite heavy on resources at times, it does have a wide selection of add-ons that can block JavaScript, adverts, Flash instances and other such elements that can drain your internet speed away from the page you’re trying to view.

Google Chrome – Often considered as the fastest browser currently available, Chrome does a fantastic job of loading up most websites faster than the competition. There’s also a wealth of blocking tools available to help cut down on bandwidth leakage due to adverts and so on.

Opera – Opera is often a forgotten browser, which is a shame as it’s really quite a powerful application with a Turbo Mode to help speed up slow connections. Sometimes the Turbo function works magnificently, other times it doesn’t feel any different to using Firefox or Chrome. It’s worth try, at least.

CyberGhost VPN

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The new version of CyberGhost VPN, version 5.5, offers the user the ability to subscribe to added features that will block adverts, block malware, prevent online tracking, and compress images and web content to save on data transmissions.

As well as offering all these enhancements, the added bonus is complete anonymity while using the internet while also simulating a variety of different counties around the globe.

For more information regarding the subscriptions and services CyberGhost offer, visit the company site at goo.gl/8IP5wz.

External solutions

Admittedly there’s not a huge amount you’ll be able to do with regards to your external broadband and internet connection; that’s at the mercy of your ISP, and you shouldn’t go fiddling around with anything that belongs to them or BT for that matter.

You can have an active part in trying to speed things up though, and these tips should help.

Check your ISP

A slow internet connection could be the cause of many circumstances. Your ISP may be having a problem with one of its servers, there could be maintenance work scheduled, or there could have been an accident or incident further down the road at the distribution hub that serves your row of houses.

If you have a continually slow, or intermittently slow internet access it’s often best to call up your ISP and ask if there’s anything going on in your area, such as maintenance work. The operator will usually have access to any scheduled work and will be able to check the status for you.

By calling them and reporting your access difficulties, you can also open up an instance where your line can be checked for any errors between the ISP and your router. If something untoward is found, then the ISP will issue a fix and an engineer can be booked, for example. Either way, you’ll both be informed of what’s going on and the ball can start rolling for any issues to be fixed.

One more thing to check – if it’s possible that is – but the ISP Twitter account will often report any outages for a particular area. So if you can, take a quick look to see if you’re part of that area.

Know your limits

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One of the many issues with users claiming a problem with their internet speeds is the misunderstanding of how a maximum broadband speed is advertised.

Just browsing through the various ISPs reveals statements such as ‘up to 100MBps!’.For a lot of users, this literally means they’ll be getting that speed from the word go. However, it’s quite misleading.

It’s the Up To part of the statement you need to take into consideration. If, for example, you live in the middle of London then there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have the infrastructure around you to achieve that magical speed. But if you’re living on top of a mountain in Cumbria, there’s only going to be so much the ISP can do to reach you.

So while your London based colleague may be paying the same amount for 100Mbps, you’re paying the same for a mere 2Mbps. It seems a little unfair, we’ll grant you, but that’s the way it is. Until the entire country can access the same speed lines we’ll just have to accept the hand that’s dealt to us.

The point being here, don’t expect blistering speeds if where you live is only capable of achieving a small percentage of the advertised maximum.

Watch what you download

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Despite claiming a policy of no limits, many ISPs do in fact monitor your connection to help meter the traffic and better manage it.

During peak times, usually between 7PM and 11PM, you may notice a slowdown in your internet. A high percentage of the time you won’t notice a thing, but there are instances where your bandwidth could be throttled.

If you’ve downloaded a large file, usually from a known Torrent site, during those hours, then your ISP may well decide to limit your access to allow better bandwidth to those around you – after all, you’re all more or less sharing the same connection to the ISP and ultimately the internet.

The torrent may be perfectly legal, but in the eyes of the ISP our causing a traffic bottleneck, so you’ll be limited for a period of time. So if you’re going to download anything like this, do it during off-peak times.

A new router

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Although you can class this solution as an internet networking tip, the router is essentially the key access point where the two networks meet. So we’ll take it in this instance as being an element of the external side of the inertent.

One way in which to speed up your internet access is to buy an upgraded router, one that can deliver a faster base switching speed, in other words gigabit Ethernet as opposed to 100Mbps, one that can greatly improve the wireless connectivity, and one that can support faster broadband connections.

For around £105 you can buy a Netgear DGND3700 N600, a fine router that comes with four gigabit Ethernet ports, gigabit WAN port, and utilises a 2.4GHz and 5GHz dual band WiFi setup as well as being able to support the latest DSL technology and internet speeds from your ISP.

It’s an excellent router, and well worth spending over a hundred pound for. Alternatively, if you want to avoid any setting up hassles that may come with a new non-ISP provided router, you could always contact your ISP and ask them if it’s possible for you to receive an upgraded router.

The advantage of this is, providing your contract is capable, you can usually get one for a minimal cost – or even free in some cases, and that it often comes pre-setup for your ISPs unique broadband and package setup.

More speed

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Giving the above Know your limits solution above, the one sure fire way to get access to a faster internet connection is to simple buy a better deal from an ISP.

Your current ISP many only be able to offer 2Mbps to your home, whereas an ISP such as BT or Virgin, for example, may be able to offer up to 75Mbps. It all depends on coverage and how much influence the ISP has in the market.

It’s an expensive route to take, most of the time, but you’ll certainly notice the speed increase with a better package.

Power off once in a while

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Lastly we have one of the more obvious, but often unused, solutions to getting a flagging router back to speed. Most people will leave their router and other means of accessing the internet powered on all the time. While this is perfectly fine, there comes a time when a router can glitch, or the IP address given to it by the ISP isn’t refreshed correctly.

When this happens you’ll usually notice connection issues, and a significant slowdown. Before you go and contact anyone, the first thing you should do is simply power everything off for about thirty seconds, then power it all back up again and test the connection.

Nine times out of ten, a simple power cycle of your router kit will solve any slowdown issues.

Final thoughts

There is quite a lot we can do to help maintain and speed up our access to the internet. Regardless of whether the solution is internal or external, there are steps that can be taken to solve any problems, and help fine tune what we already have available.

If you have any other suggestions, please let us know in the comments section below.

John

December 27, 2015, 12:01 pm

Useful article.

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