The main causes of slow internet connections

Slow broadband can be more than just an irritant - but what causes it, and what can we do to fight back?

Friday, 5 July, 2019

Slow internet connections are unquestionably a first world problem, but there’s something particularly annoying about sluggish connectivity.

A poor connection can disrupt online gaming, lead to buffering in streaming media, cause webpages to time out and make uploading files feel like a chore.

And while some causes of slow internet connections can’t be tackled (such as relying on old-fashioned copper telephone cables), others may have relatively straightforward solutions.

These are our tips for identifying and resolving sluggish connectivity…

Hardware issues

The cause: Overtaxed router. It’s rare to leave home computers on all the time, and modern TVs knock off after a few hours. Yet broadband routers rarely get time off.

The solution: When you don’t need to be online, unplug the router and reboot it. Try to do this regularly to clear its memory and update software, optimising performance.

The cause: Faulty equipment. The microfilters which plug into phone sockets are notoriously fragile, but any piece of broadband equipment could develop a fault.

The solution: To pinpoint possible issues, try replacing microfilters, swapping Ethernet leads and disconnecting cable splitters. You could also try borrowing a wireless router from a friend or neighbour in order to check that your own router isn’t the culprit.

ISP issues

The cause: Network congestion. Internet rush hour takes place between 7pm and 11pm, when every member of the family may be competing for connectivity.

The solution: Set on-demand content to download overnight rather than streaming live. Do the same for system updates, and turn off non-essential web-enabled devices in the evenings.

The cause: System faults. ISPs occasionally experience network failures. This might be down to damaged infrastructure, server problems or simply human error.

The solution: If a connection slows down or stops, use a 4G device to check your ISP’s website for outage reports. If other people are offline too, you’ll have to await a resolution.

The cause: Inefficient DNS servers. This is a bit technical, but ISPs may be instructing broadband routers to connect to the internet via slow or overloaded servers.

The solution: Switch router DNS servers by accessing its website interface and searching for DNS options. Check online to find a list of alternative server addresses.

WiFi-specific issues

The cause: Poor router positioning. If a WiFi router isn’t centrally located within a property, it might struggle to reach every corner of the building.

The solution: Try to position the router in a relatively central position on the entrance level of your home, off the ground and away from expanses of signal-muffling metal or concrete.

The cause: Lack of WiFi signal. Even placing your router in an optimal position won’t always counterbalance its modest internal aerial and limited range.

The solution: Non-Virgin Media customers should be able to replace the ISP’s router with a more powerful high street model, sporting external aerials or mesh repeaters.

The cause: Wireless interference. Most WiFi routers use the inefficient and congested 2.4GHz frequency by default, often leading to slow internet connections.

The solution: Switch dual-band routers to the 5GHz frequency. Turn off baby monitors or cordless phones, and experiment to see if microwaves or car alarms are causing interference.

The cause: Slower connections over WiFi. When you ring an ISP for tech support, they always ask you to plug a computer into your router – and with good reason.

The solution: Hardwired connections are always faster than wireless ones. Always connect devices via Ethernet cables or Powerline adaptors if possible, so as to reduce pressure on WiFi.

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!