How to share broadband in student flats

Tuesday, 30 October, 2018

Historically, two of the biggest sources of conflict in student flats involved whose turn it was to do the washing up, and who got to use the phone line.

In today’s smartphone age, common sources of conflict tend to be whose turn it is to do the washing up (again), and who’s hogging all the broadband.

The problem

The UK average download speed as of May 2018 was 46.2Mbps – more than 25 per cent higher than the same figure for 2017.

However, internet usage is evolving dramatically, especially among younger consumers.

It’s been suggested half the world’s internet traffic is powering just two services – Netflix and YouTube.

That’s quite apart from the considerable bandwidth needed to support Spotify, Amazon Prime Video, online gaming and VoIP services like Skype.

Since these platforms are all commonly used by undergraduates, it’s easy to see how conflict might arise if everyone in the property is online simultaneously.

A solitary student broadband router has to serve several masters, all of whom tend to be online between 4pm and 2am.

And if each HMO tenant pays an equal share of the rent and utilities, they all have a democratic claim to stream The Grand Tour at midnight, as each weekly episode goes live.

The solutions

There’s no obvious workaround if everyone attempts to stream the same thing on separate devices, but there are ways to share student broadband equitably…

Download content in advance. Unless you’ve simply got to watch something the moment it airs, download programmes or movies for offline viewing later.

There’s no visible difference between a streamed or downloaded Netflix programme, apart from the fact the latter could be recorded overnight, or when everyone is on campus.

Limit device connections. Is it really necessary to have your smartphone, laptop and tablet all connected to the router simultaneously?

While one device is being used for streaming or gaming, everything else could have system updates, push notifications and other non-essential functions disabled.

Fall back on 4G. This expands upon the previous point, in that many people will be contributing to broadband costs while paying separate mobile contracts.

There’s no need to leave smartphone WiFi permanently turned on if you end each month with spare data. At least rely on 4G connections while streaming or gaming on another device.

Investigate router improvements. Proprietary broadband routers often struggle to cover larger properties, resulting in slow or flaky connections.

A long-range router sporting external aerials might improve connection speeds; it’s also advisable to hardwire computers via Ethernet cables, or a plug-socket Powerline adaptor.

Discuss your plans. It’s accepted practice to inform flatmates about a forthcoming party, or an impending visit from your parents.

If you’re planning a Clash of Clans night with friends, pin a note to the fridge so your flatmates can download content in advance/go out/borrow a book from the campus library.

Consider upgrading your service. Landlords will generally allow tenants to switch broadband providers, especially if a faster service is available elsewhere.

A Fibre to the Premises contract could dramatically improve achievable student broadband speeds.

Install a second line. It might be possible to combine an Openreach line with Virgin Media, or get an additional phone line installed into the property.

This would provide a second router, though it could only be done with the landlord’s express permission – which may well be given, if it makes the property more desirable.

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!