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Why is my internet so slow?

Slow internet is frustrating, especially when it’s avoidable.

There are a number of reasons why you might be experiencing unsatisfactory download speeds. To identify exactly what is causing your connection to struggle, and therefore to work out how to fix it, you first need to work out whether:

  • Your connection is simply too slow to use, or
  • Whether the download speeds you’re receiving are lower than what you were advertised.

If your connection is just not fit for purpose, you should definitely look at switching to a faster plan if one is available, and if your contract is coming to a close. Click here to view a chart that will show you long different types of file take to download or stream at different connection speeds, to get an idea of what you’ll need based on your usage.

If the speed you’re getting is much lower than what was advertised, then you should try and diagnose the issue (click here see some tips on how), and then get in touch with your internet service provider if the issue persists.

What kind of broadband speed do I need?

It's easy to get hung up on broadband speeds - the faster it is, the better, right? Well… not necessarily. The truth is that not everybody needs their broadband to be at the upper end of the speed scale. Although prices are coming down, top-end fibre packages are typically the more expensive broadband options out there, and many users don't do anything online that requires, or benefits from, speeds of 100Mb or more.

For these users, it would be a bit like buying a year's gym membership, then only going once before throwing in the towel - why pay for something if you're not going to use it?

Download Speed Chart

Here’s a helpful chart to give you an idea what kind of speeds might be appropriate for you:

File type Size (MB) 4Mbps 8Mbps 16Mbps 32Mbps 50Mbps 100Mbps
Single song 5 10s 5s 2.5s 1.25s 0.8s 0.4s
YouTube clip 10 20s 10s 5s 2.5s 1.6s 0.8s
YouTube clip (HD) 50 1m 40s 50s 25s 12.5s 8s 4s
Album 100 3m 20s 1m 40s 50s 25s 16s 8s
TV Show (HD) 450 15m 7m 30s 3m 45s 1m 52s 1m 12s 36s
Film 700 23m 20s 11m 40s 5m 50s 2m 55s 1m 52s 56s
Film (HD) 1500 50m 25m 30s 12m 30s 6m 15s 4m 2m
Film (full DVD) 4500 2h 30m 1h 15m 37m 30s 18m 45s 9m 22s 4m 41s
Film (Blu-ray) 10,000 5h 35m 2h 47m 1h 24m 42m 26m 40s 13m 20s

Do I need fibre optic broadband?

You should take the time to consider what speeds you actually need from your broadband deal before making any switching decisions. With that in mind, here's a handy list of reasons to consider 'superfast' fibre optic speeds.

Superfast broadband is worth considering if you:

  • Have a large family or shared house (e.g. a student house), with several people using the web simultaneously
  • Have lots of connected devices - laptops, tablets, mobiles, console, smart TV, for example
  • Regularly download movies, music and TV to watch offline
  • Use film and TV streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and NOW TV
  • Watch a lot of on-demand TV services like BBC iPlayer in high-definition (HD) or don't want as much buffering
  • Download and play video games that require an internet connection
  • You currently have ADSL broadband, and find it just isn't fast enough for your needs

If a few of these apply to you, you should look at fibre broadband packages. The faster the package, the smoother these activities are likely to be.

However, if you live alone, or you just use the internet for light browsing, social media and email, for instance, it's worth considering cheap internet providers.

Either way, do your homework and make sure you've weighed up your options before signing up. Compare broadband deals to find the perfect balance between speed and affordability.

What affects the speed of a broadband connection?

Types of Connection: Standard and Fibre Broadband

Firstly, let’s quickly explore the two most common types of broadband connection; FIBRE and ADSL. Whichever you use will dictate your upload and download speeds; i.e. the rate at which your ISP delivers data to you (download), or the rate at which your ISP receives data from you (upload). Mobile data uses wireless technology, and many phone carriers also offer wired solutions as described here.

A FIBRE connection with your ISP will comprise transmission of data via fibre optical cable. This is the fastest available today.

An ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) connection uses existing copper cables and can achieve upload and download speeds suitable for households and small businesses. Copper cables exist in most residences and businesses as they have been used for standard telephone services for decades.

Physical Infrastructure

Most fixed line broadband connections reach your home via your telephone line. Broadband companies will vary in which technology they use, which results in different maximum connection speeds. If your provider uses a copper telephone cable, then the length the cable has travelled before reaching your home will affect the internet speed you are receiving. Put simply, the further the cable has to go, the bigger the slowdown. Fibre optic connections don’t really suffer from the same problem.

Often, broadband in rural areas tends to be slower than in cities because providers are slower to bring higher speed fibre connections out to harder to reach areas of the county.

What other factors may affect my speed?

In addition to permanent speed limits due to copper cables, many broadband services are affected by slowdowns during ‘peak times’ when, due to the nature of working hours, a higher than usual number of people are attempting to access the internet. When using the internet at off-peak times, such as during the night when most customers are asleep, you’re much more likely to receive the best possible service.

The slowdown you experience depends on your provider and their own investment in network capacity. The more expensive providers will often be more capable of dealing with peak time traffic as their infrastructure is designed for businesses and large offices. If you are currently experiencing slow speeds during peak times and require a faster connection during the working day be sure to use our site to compare broadband deals to find the package best suited for your needs.

Understanding Advertised Broadband Speeds

It used to be the case that most providers would simply advertise the maximum possible speed available from the broadband connection, that which could be achieved over the very shortest lines, or only theoretically under ‘laboratory conditions’. As such, broadband deals would be advertised as ‘up to 20Mb’ (or even ‘up to 24Mb’) for phone line broadband and ‘up to 40Mb’ or ‘up to 80Mb’ for fibre services when virtually no-one would be able to achieve these speeds.

A provider that made money by spreading less capacity over more lines, and so giving slightly slower speeds than their competitors at peak times, would be able to advertise their service with the same (or even higher!) ‘up to’ speeds as a competitor whose peak time performance was better.

Since the 1st of April 2012 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) have enforced guidelines that require advertised up to speeds to be consistently available to at least 10% of the users of that service. With these rules in place ‘up to’ speeds have dropped to a range of ‘up to 13Mb’ to ‘up to 16Mb’ for phone line broadband and ‘up to 38Mb’ or ‘up to 76Mb’ for most fibre services.

It's now possible to see which providers will experience more of a slowdown at peak times due to congestion or over-subscription, as their advertised ‘up to’ speed will be lower than that of other providers offering similar services.

Michael Quinn

Author: Michael Quinn

Michael is a dedicated author helping usave to write guides, blogs and news for the last four years. When not writing articles, you can usually find him at wine tasting events or having a political debate on the night tube.

Guides on broadband speeds

Read our guides to find out more about the kind of speeds you need, and what to do if you're not getting them