Easy ways to spot broadband problems

Saturday, 6 October, 2018

Like intermittent faults on a car, or periodic glitches on a smartphone, broadband problems aren’t always consistent.

This makes identifying them a challenge.

The frustration of a malfunctioning internet connection is amplified by an inability to explain or convey the issue to your broadband provider’s tech support or customer service team.

Clearly, if every device is offline and your router’s warning lights are flashing, something is very amiss.

But how can you tell if there are intermittent, minor or more specific broadband problems?

How to identify broadband problems

These tips are intended to cover every home broadband account, so we haven’t focused on variables like specific routers or mesh repeaters.

Do your homework

  • Check your contract. Your broadband provider should have provided a theoretical maximum line speed when you signed up.

    If you’re not getting anywhere near this, it suggests there’s a problem. To check your line speed, do the following…

  • Run a broadband speed test. Various free websites will conduct upload and download tests, to determine the broadband speed you’re actually receiving.

    Do this from two devices – one of which ought to be hardwired into your broadband router, while another is connected over WiFi

  • Speak to neighbours. The people in your building or street will probably have comparable network infrastructure.

    If they’re not reporting any reliability or line speed issues, it could suggest the problem is specific to your property. Either that, or they’re not online very much

  • Keep a diary. Intermittent faults have a common cause, no matter how obscure. Keeping detailed notes helps you (or an engineer) pinpoint the triggers.

    Note down whenever your line speed plummets or starts cutting out – it might involve specific times of day/week, or coincide with certain events inside or outside the home

  • Try alternative URLs. If a device is struggling to boot up Netflix, see how quickly a webpage will load. The BBC News homepage is always readily accessible, as is Google.

    Apps use the same bandwidth as email and webpages, but a particular site may be temporarily offline. Certain apps and programs periodically stop working, too.

Test your hardware

  • Check your microfilters. These are the small white boxes which plug into your phone sockets, with separate Ethernet and phone line cables plugged into them.

    Microfilters are fragile, and a frayed or faulty connection inside the filter might be causing issues. Try installing a spare filter (they’re cheap to buy), using substitute cables as well

  • Hardwire devices. If you ring your broadband firm’s tech support team, they’ll ask you to hardwire a computer to your router via an Ethernet cable.

    If your stuttering laptop bursts into life, the problem is a WiFi issue. If possible, plug in a second wireless device, to see if it has a similarly transformative effect on performance

  • Look for potential causes of WiFi interference. Specifically, look for anything emitting wireless signals, from baby monitors and smart devices to car alarms and microwave ovens.

    Moving or turning off a device may help – so could repositioning your router. If broadband problems are new, have any wireless devices been brought into your home lately?

  • Run a ping test. This is a simple call-and-response used to pinpoint delays in your internet connection.

    The results might reveal potential challenges with video calling or online gaming, even though the line isn’t faulty. Maybe your connection is just on the slow side

  • Reboot devices. Turn off computers and wireless devices, and reboot your router while they’re loading back up.

    A simple reboot often cures technology problems, especially since wireless routers are usually running constantly with no time to cool down or update their software.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!