How to speed up your internet connection

Internet connection can always be faster. Whether your downloads are crawling, your streaming looks like a slideshow, or you just want to speed up, here’s how you can speed up that connection.

Depending on your Internet Service Provider (ISP), you can often get better speeds by calling them (or visiting their website) and upgrading to a more expensive plan. Your monthly bill will grow, but so will your speed. However, before you do that, here are some tips that can speed up your connection for free.

Optimize your Wi-Fi and LAN

Many problems with local networks, especially with the use of Wi-Fi, are to blame for the slow Internet speed. Before looking at your internet connection, it’s worth making sure your local network is up to par.

The easiest 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. This is called “turning it off and on” on your router, and it can often speed things up.

Selecting a Wi-Fi channel in the basic settings menu of the router.

If you’re using Wi-Fi instead of wired Ethernet, it’s a good idea to minimize interference from nearby networks, as it can cause slowdowns and network outages. If you see a lot of other networks on your devices when connected to your home Wi-Fi, you might be better off choosing a Wi-Fi channel with the least interference.

If you have a modern router that supports the 5GHz band, you should use it wherever possible. Using the 5GHz band results in faster speeds and less interference. If you have a dual band 802.11ac compatible router, you will see two networks when you connect. You can name them accordingly in the router settings. Most routers have instructions for accessing this interface printed on the side of the device.

Router menu with 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands checked.

While you’re logged in, it’s worth downloading and installing any new firmware available for your router. Where to find this depends on the manufacturer and model you’re using, so look for “Software Update” or something similar.

You must not use an unsecured wireless network. If your network is open, anyone can connect to it and rob you of your bandwidth. If possible, make sure your network is secured with WPA2 (AES). When this feature is enabled, all devices require a password to connect.

Completely bypassing the wireless network and using a wired Ethernet connection provides the best LAN performance. You can also try moving your router to a better location, closer to where you use your wireless devices the most.

Finally, if your router is old (two to five years old), consider purchasing a new wireless router. Network equipment rarely breaks, and problems can arise depending on how heavily you use it. Newer routers support faster Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11ac. For better coverage, you may want to consider a mesh Wi-Fi system.

An old modem can also be the cause of your speed problem. If you don’t get the speed you pay for and you bought your modem a long time ago, it might be time to upgrade.

Test your speed

With your local network working optimally, it’s time to test your internet speed. You can do this with services 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 under test as close to the router as possible.

Be sure to run a speed test when you are not actively using the connection. If you are streaming or downloading at the same time, you will most likely get a lower result.

Internet speed test results at Fast.com.

You can run the test multiple times to get the most reliable results. Now compare the speed you are getting with the speed you should be getting. Internet speeds in the real world rarely match those advertised by your service provider, but you do need to be around during off-peak hours.

Sometimes a slow speed can indicate a problem that only your service provider can fix. This may include replacing cables or installing new access points. However, before picking up the phone, it is best to try the processes listed below. Thus, you can tell your service provider that you have tried everything you can to fix the problem.

Limit the bandwidth you use

Your Internet connection provides you with limited bandwidth, which must be shared among all devices on your network. The more devices connected to the Internet at the same time, the less bandwidth. Limiting what you are doing at the same time can greatly improve your internet speed.

Certain actions consume a lot of traffic, for example:

Try to isolate any device that may be using more than its fair share of bandwidth. Ask other family members or housemates if they watch a lot of videos or download files via BitTorrent. You may be getting the internet speed you pay for but trying to do too much at once on your current data plan.

"Download Limits" in Steam settings, scheduling downloads at specific times.

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 no one is sleeping (you can schedule most BitTorrent clients). Set your smartphones and tablets to auto-update so they download the files they need at night while charging.

If your router supports it, enable Quality of Service (QoS) in its control panel. This feature allocates bandwidth more efficiently and prevents certain activities (such as torrent downloads) from stopping.

Change your DNS servers

The Domain Name System (DNS) is similar to the Internet address book. DNS translates domain names (such as howtogeek.com) into the IP addresses of the servers where the data is stored. The speed of DNS servers varies significantly. A slow DNS server means longer delays (larger latency) when accessing websites.

Sometimes your choice of DNS server affects which IP addresses you serve, especially when websites load balance their traffic using Content Delivery Networks (CDNs).

Change DNS servers on Mac.

By default, you use the DNS servers assigned by your service provider. They are unlikely to be the fastest available to you. It is better to use the DNS servers provided by Google (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4) or CloudFlare (1.1.1.1). For best results, run a simple test to find the best DNS servers based on your geographic location.

The best way to implement DNS changes is on your router. By changing the DNS server on the network equipment, you will see an 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

The software can also cause internet speed issues. Something might be making heavy use of 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 everything you don’t need.

On a Mac, you can do the same by launching Activity Monitor, clicking the “Network” tab, and then sorting by “Sent Bytes” for upstream or “Rcvd Bytes” for downstream. For Windows and Mac systems, it is important to identify processes so that you can understand why the software is using your connection. Search the Internet for names of processes that are not immediately obvious and decide whether you need this application or not.

Activity Monitor panel on Mac showing all incoming and outgoing processes.

Malware and viruses can also be a source of unwanted network activity, especially on Windows computers. Run Windows virus scans regularly to protect yourself. Mac users can take advantage of anti-malware tools designed for Mac. Linux users usually don’t need to worry about malware.

If your computer is generally slow, your web browsing will likely be slow too. This helps limit the number of simultaneously open tabs. You should also maintain 10-20 GB of free hard drive space at all times. Learn how to free up space on Windows or how to save cropping on a Mac.

On mobile devices, Opera Mini provides a faster web experience, especially on older devices.

Is your ISP choking you? Use a VPN

“Throttling” is when your ISP restricts certain types of traffic. For example, it may try to restrict data-intensive activities such as file sharing and video streaming. It can also restrict certain types of traffic (such as BitTorrent transmissions) or entire domains (such as youtube.com).

If performance is especially bad when you’re doing something online but not doing anything else, your ISP may be limiting your connection. For example, you may experience slow streaming when you try to watch a video, but a web search loads instantly. You can easily check if you are being restricted by using a virtual private network (VPN) to hide your online activity.

Dropdown menu for connecting to a virtual private network on NordVPN.

Connecting to a VPN will slow down your Internet speed somewhat. How much depends on how far you are from the server. You can fix this by choosing a VPN provider with servers closest to you.

Try to isolate which activities are causing the slowdown. Connect to the VPN, and then repeat these steps. If there’s no noticeable difference, chances are you haven’t been strangled. However, if you notice that things work much better over a VPN, you might want to say a tough word to your ISP.

When is the right time to call a service provider?

If you are satisfied that slow internet speed is not your fault and the speed you are getting is way below what you are paying for, it is time to talk to your ISP. Similarly, if you suspect that you are being restricted, you should also raise the issue with them.

Let your ISP know that you are unhappy with the level of service you are receiving. If they don’t respond, the threat of leaving may convince them to fix the problem. However, if you’re not going anywhere and have the option of choosing a different provider, consider switching.

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