Internet connections could always be faster. Whether your downloads are crawling, streaming feels like a slideshow, or you just want to maximize your speeds, here’s how you can accelerate that connection.
Depending on your Internet Service Provider (ISP), you can often get faster speeds by calling them (or visiting their website) and upgrading to a more expensive plan. Your monthly bill will go up, but so will your speed. Before you do that, however, here are some tips that can speed up your connection for free.
Optimize Your Wi-Fi and Local Network
Many issues with local networks, particularly those using Wi-Fi, are to blame for poor Internet speeds. Before looking at your Internet connection, it’s worth making sure your local network is up to par.
The most basic fix for poor network performance is to turn off your router (and modem, if it’s separate), count to ten, and then turn it back on again. This is called “power-cycling” your router, and it can often speed things up.
If you use Wi-Fi instead of wired Ethernet, it’s a good idea to minimize interference from nearby networks, as these can cause speed dips and network drop-outs. If you see a lot of other networks on your devices when connecting to your home Wi-Fi, you’ll likely benefit from picking a Wi-Fi channel that offers the least interference.
If you have a modern router that supports the 5 GHz band, you should use it wherever possible. Using the 5 GHz band results in faster speeds and less interference. If you have an 802.11ac compatible, dual-band router, you will see two networks appear when connecting. You can name them accordingly under your router setup. Most routers have instructions for accessing this interface printed on the side of the device.
While you’re logged in, it’s worth downloading and installing any new firmware that’s available for your router. Where to find this differs based on the manufacturer and model you’re using, so look for “Software Update” or something similar.
You should not be using an unsecured wireless network. If your network is open, anyone can hop on it and sap your bandwidth. Make sure your network is secured with WPA2 (AES) whenever possible. With this enabled, all devices require a password to connect.
Bypassing wireless entirely and using a wired Ethernet connection offers the best local network performance. You can also try moving your router to a better location, closer to the area where you use your wireless devices most often.
Finally, if your router is old (anywhere from two to five years), consider purchasing a new wireless router. Network equipment rarely gets a break, and problems can arise depending on how hard you use it. Newer routers support faster Wi-Fi standards, like 802.11ac. For the best coverage, you might want to consider a mesh Wi-Fi system.
An old modem can be your speed problem, too. If you’re not getting the speeds you’re paying for, and you purchased your modem outright a long time ago, it might be time to upgrade.
Test Your Speed
With your local network running optimally, it’s time to test your Internet speed. You can do this using a service like Speedtest.net, Fast.com, or even Google. If possible, run the test from a laptop using a wired Ethernet connection or move the device you’re testing as close to the router as possible.
Be sure to run the speed test while you’re not actively using your connection. If you’re streaming or downloading at the same time, you’ll likely get a lower result.
You can run the test a few times to get the most reliable set of results. Now, compare the speed you’re getting with the speed you should be getting. It’s uncommon for real-world Internet speeds to match those advertised by your service provider, but you should get somewhere close during off-peak hours.
Sometimes, poor speeds can indicate a problem that can only be fixed by your service provider. This might involve replacing cables or installing new access points. Before you pick up the phone, though, it’s best to try the processes listed below. This way, you can tell your service provider you’ve tried everything on your end to fix the problem.
Limit How Much Bandwidth You’re Using
Your Internet connection provides you with a limited amount of bandwidth, which must be shared between all devices on your network. The more devices using the Internet at once, the less bandwidth there is to go around. Limiting how much you do at once can vastly improve your Internet speed.
Certain activities consume a lot of bandwidth, for example:
- Large downloads
- Streaming content, particularly 4K or 1080p video
- Wi-Fi cameras and doorbells
- BitTorrent transfers, including upstream traffic on some connections (ADSL, for example)
Try to isolate any device that might be using more than its fair share of bandwidth. Ask other family members or housemates whether they stream a lot of video or download files over BitTorrent. It could be that you’re getting the Internet speed you’re paying for, but you’re trying to do too much at once on your current plan.
If you suspect this is the case, you can change a few behaviors to try and help. Leave large downloads until late at night when nobody’s awake (you can schedule most BitTorrent clients). Set your smartphones and tablets to update automatically, so they download the files they need at night while charging.
If your router supports it, enable Quality of Service (QoS) on its control panel. This feature shares bandwidth more efficiently and prevents certain activities (like torrent downloads) from bringing everything to a grinding halt.
Change Your DNS Servers
The domain name system (DNS), is like the Internet’s address book. DNS resolves domain names (like howtogeek.com) into the server IP addresses on which data is stored. The speed at which DNS servers operate differs significantly. A slow DNS server means longer delays (more latency) when accessing websites.
Sometimes, your choice of DNS server affects which IP addresses you’re served—particularly when websites spread the load of their traffic using content delivery networks (CDNs).
By default, you use your service provider’s assigned DNS servers. These are unlikely to be the fastest available to you. A better choice is to use DNS servers provided by Google (22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199) or CloudFlare (188.8.131.52). For best results, run a simple test to find the best DNS servers based on your geographical location.
The best way to implement DNS changes is on your router. By changing the DNS server on your network hardware, you’ll see the improvement on every device that connects to it. The alternative is to change your DNS servers on every device you use.
Be Mindful of Software
Software can also cause issues with Internet speed. Something might be heavily using your connection while running in the background. Windows users can launch Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del) to view a list of running processes. Sort by the “Network” column to see which processes are using your network connection. Kill anything you don’t need.
On a Mac you can do the same by launching Activity Monitor, navigating to the “Network” tab, and then sorting by “Sent Bytes” for upstream or “Rcvd Bytes” for downstream. For both Windows and Mac systems, it’s important to identify the processes so you can understand why the software is using your connection. Search the Internet for any process names that aren’t immediately obvious and decide whether you need that app or not.
Malware and viruses can also be the source of unwanted network activity, particularly on Windows machines. Run a virus scan on Windows regularly to protect yourself. Mac users can check out the anti-malware tools designed for Mac. Linux users generally don’t have to worry about malware.
If your computer is slow in general, browsing is likely to be sluggish, too. Limiting the number of tabs you have open simultaneously helps with this. You should also maintain a 10-20 GB buffer of free space on your hard drive at all times. Learn how to create free space on Windows or how to keep your Mac trim.
On mobile devices, Opera Mini delivers a faster browsing experience, especially on older devices.
ISP Throttling You? Use a VPN
“Throttling” is when your ISP limits certain types of traffic. For example, it might try to limit data-intensive activities, like file sharing and video streaming. It can also restrict certain types of traffic (like BitTorrent transfers) or whole domains (like youtube.com).
If performance is especially bad when you do some things online but not others, your ISP might be throttling your connection. For example, you might experience slow streaming when you try to watch videos, but web searches load in a flash. You can easily test whether you’re being throttled by using a virtual private network (VPN) to obscure your online activity.
Connecting to a VPN will cause your Internet speed to slow somewhat. How much depends on how far you are from the server. You can rectify this by choosing a VPN provider with servers nearest your geographical location.
Try to isolate which activities are causing the slowdown. Connect to your VPN, and then try those activities again. If there isn’t a discernible difference, you’re likely not being throttled. However, if you notice things are running a lot smoother behind a VPN, you might want to have a stern word with your ISP.
When Is it Time to Call Your Service Provider?
If you’re satisfied that slow Internet speeds aren’t your fault, and the speed you’re getting is considerably lower than what you’re paying for, it’s time to speak to your ISP. Similarly, if you suspect you’re being throttled, you should also raise the issue with them.
Let your ISP know you’re unhappy with the level of service you’re receiving. If they aren’t receptive, threatening to leave might persuade them to fix the issue. However, if you don’t get anywhere and have the option of choosing another provider, consider making the switch.
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