What can I do if my broadband is unreliable?

Wednesday, 12 September, 2018

Thirty years ago, we lived in fear of power cuts, or the family car refusing to start in the morning.

Today’s technology nightmares tend to revolve around the absence of broadband.

Since the turn of the millennium, rapid and dependable internet access has evolved from a weekend indulgence to a cornerstone of daily life.

We watch and listen to streaming media content, do our shopping and banking online, work from home when possible and speak to our friends via messaging apps more than in person.

It’s hard to imagine not having access to the internet.

So what happens when connections slow down, or develop gremlins?

Identifying a cause

There are many causes for unreliable broadband.

Some relate to the supplier – failed software updates, network outages, etc.

Others pertain to the infrastructure used to deliver internet data into our homes, such as an electrical fire in the green Openreach cabinets along the pavement near your property.

However, these issues are generally acute, and therefore temporary.

Unreliable broadband becomes more frustrating when it’s inconsistent yet ongoing –alternating from superfast to dial-up speeds, or cutting out entirely on a regular basis.

To tackle unreliable broadband, it’s worth investigating the following eight steps before ringing your provider’s technical support team:

  1. Hardwire a computer to the router. Connecting a PC or Mac to the router via an Ethernet cable eliminates wifi issues. If the connection is fine, problems may be wifi-specific.
  2. Consider recent changes. It’s not unheard of for wireless routers to interfere with car alarms, microwave ovens or even fairy lights. Have you bought anything new lately?
  3. Keep a diary. Are issues happening at specific times of day, or days of the week? Could it relate to your next-door neighbours coming in, heating thermostats turning on, etc?
  4. Reset the router to factory settings. Sometimes, a simple reboot eliminates sporadic problems. If that doesn’t work, try a full factory reset and install any software updates.
  5. Fit new microfilters. These white boxes plug into phone sockets, to split telephone and broadband signals. They’re unreliable, so try a different one in the master phone socket.
  6. Do diagnostic checks through your supplier’s website. Most companies offer a service or status check facility which could identify known problems or localised issues.
  7. Run a speed test. There are plenty of websites capable of testing upload and download speeds on your line. Doing this at set times every day creates evidence of inconsistency.
  8. Speak to neighbours. Perhaps other people in your building or on your street are experiencing similar issues? Collective complaints may be handled more quickly.

Maximising broadband’s potential

If none of the above steps fix your unreliable broadband, there are several steps worth taking.

While they’re unlikely to be miracle cures, improvements may be noticeable:

  • Reposition the router. You could use a Powerline adaptor to reposition the hub centrally in your home. This increases its range, and may ensure its signal isn’t being blocked.
  • Change cables. The filaments inside modern cables sometimes break, while the pins inside their plugs are fragile. Try replacing data cables – particularly Ethernet ones.
  • Buy a more powerful router. Acquire a high-performance third-party router with external aerials, but keep the receipt. If it doesn’t improve your signal strength or speed, return it.
  • Research complaints escalation. Complain to your provider in first instance. If they don’t resolve your issue, forward it onto the impartial Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme.

Finally, bear in mind some websites and services are simply overwhelmed with demand. The servers hosting online games are notorious for running slowly, due to their user numbers.

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!