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The secrets to better, cheaper broadband

Never before has so much data passed through our home broadband routers: streaming, working, homeschooling, banana bread recipes, streaming, fun memes of lawyers unable to remove cat filters when on Zoom and even more streaming.


There is no denying that the last 12 months have been a year of almost constant internet use. According to Ofcom’s annual Online Nation report, UK adults spent a daily average of four hours and two minutes online in April 2020 during the height of lockdown, up from just under three and a half hours in September 2019.

But it’s not always been a smooth transaction: speeds and quality, particularly with wireless devices, don’t always match our expectations and can struggle when multiple members of your household are online at the same time.

If you’re fed up with The Queen’s Gambit cutting out while your kids are playing Xbox, it’s time to take action.

Is your broadband fast enough?

Luckily, we have come a long way since dial up. Now, it’s possible to get super fast 350 megabits per second (Mbps) speeds from cable providers - but in reality, most of us don’t need that.

Ofcom reports that on average we’re getting 71Mbps in the UK, but the more simultaneous streaming you do, the more the supply will be shared and slow down.

For some households, this isn’t an issue, but if you are one of the 9% of homes getting under 10Mbps, you will really feel it.

A simple way to give your broadband a bit of a boost is to increase your current speed. If you’re out of contract you can switch suppliers to get a faster connection for a competitive price or call up your current provider to haggle an upgrade.

Bear in mind that you might still be restricted by the cables and wires entering your home - around 4% of homes are currently unable to receive speeds of 24Mbps, while superfast cable from Virgin Media is only available to 44% of homes.

The broadband speeds we see advertised on websites must be the speeds received by just 50% of a broadband provider's customers during peak time - it doesn't mean you will.

Are you getting what you paid for?

You might find that your current speed might be more than enough – but that is only if you are actually getting it.

The broadband speeds we see advertised on websites, TV ads and elsewhere must be the speeds at least 50% of a broadband provider's customers can receive at peak time (between 8pm and 10pm).

Yet just because 50% of customers receive those speeds, it doesn't mean a particular household will.

This is because there are plenty of factors affecting our broadband speeds including where we live and the amount of network congestion there is.

Compare the Market’s broadband speed checker is a free, quick and easy way to check your internet speed and see how fast your broadband connection is.

Before you check your broadband speed, make sure you’re connected to the wifi network you want to test. Enter your postcode and select whether you want to test a home or business connection. Then, find your current provider from the drop-down list and hit the ‘Test my broadband’ button.

Several providers have signed up to Ofcom’s Better Broadband Speeds, Voluntary Code of Practice which lays out clear rules around keeping promises on advertised speeds. If you’re not receiving the broadband speed you expected, you can contact your broadband provider who can test your speed and take steps to improve it, if it’s fallen below your guaranteed minimum download speed. If they can’t fix it, you’ll have the right to exit your contract without paying an exit penalty.

Is your router the problem?

Chances are, you never give your router a second thought but if yours is older, it really can slow things down.

If this is the case, contact your provider so see if you can get an upgrade to the latest option.

Alternatively, to enable more devices to connect at the same time without affecting download speeds, your internet service provider might be able to split your wifi signal into different frequencies (2.4Ghz or 5Ghz) or change the frequency altogether as it could be that your neighbours are on the same one and affecting its performance.

Is the issue with wifi?

If those superfast speeds are coming into your router but disappearing around the home, then the problem isn’t with the broadband company - it’s with the wifi itself.

It could be there’s interference - it’s always advised that you don’t have your router near other electrical items, such as TVs, lamps, microwaves and dimmer switches.

That’s all well and good, but if like me your aerial is right next to your phone socket you can’t really avoid it.

There’s also a good chance your home is causing issues. Thick walls, large furniture and distances from the router can all diminish your signal strength.

You’ve got a few options worth looking at here - but you will have to pay.

You can opt for cheaper “powerline” options which utilise the electrical cabling in your home to push the data to other points in the house.

Or wifi extenders, which, as the name suggests, extend wifi signal around the house.

A more expensive option is a Mesh wifi system which is made up of multiple devices that you can place around the area of planned coverage, making them more efficient at delivering coverage than standalone wireless routers that rely on one device.

Some broadband companies will try to sell each of these to you directly, but you’ll probably get them for less by shopping around.

Do you have too many devices?

It’s the age of the smart home: phones, TVs, games consoles, light bulbs, speakers, alarms, thermostats, fridges… you name it, it can probably be connected to the internet.

But all these devices online at the same time is extra pressure on your wifi.

If you can, plug any technology – your smart TV for instance - into the router directly and turn off gadgets when not in use as these can be draining the connection.

It’s particularly the case with the apps on our phones updating and pulling data through in the background.

But it might be that you need to upgrade to accommodate everything and everyone at the same time.

Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.

3 things to do
right now

1

Check the speed that you’re getting with Compare the Market’s broadband speed checker . Make sure you’re connected to the wifi network you want to test. Enter your postcode and select whether you want to test a home or business connection. Then, find your current provider from the drop-down list and hit the ‘Test my broadband’ button.

2

Check your router because if yours is older, it really can slow things down so contact your provider so see if you can get an upgrade to the latest option.

3

If you’re not receiving the broadband speed you expected, you can contact your broadband provider who can test your speed and take steps to improve it, if it’s fallen below your guaranteed minimum download speed. If they can’t fix it, you’ll have the right to exit your contract without paying an exit penalty.

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