Internet download speeds are the most important measure of how solid your broadband service is. A fast connection will allow you to browse the web at lightning speed, install new programs in a matter of seconds, and it will allow you to stream and download entertainment without a hiccup. A slow connection, on the other hand, can make these things harder, as well as being a cause of major frustration. In fact, slow internet is so frustrating for Australians that is the number one complaint they have regarding their internet.
So what affects internet speed? If you’re looking to boost your internet speeds, or simply bring them to a usable level, then there are a number of factors you need to consider. We’ve listed the 5 major factors that affect internet speed and some possible fixes for each one.
- Wi-Fi connection
- Your router or modem
- Network traffic
- Broadband connection
- Mobile network
1. Wi-Fi connection
Let’s start with the easiest problem to fix. When it comes to your Wi-Fi connection, many people envisage a world of dodgy reception and slow internet, but the reality is a bit more complex. The actual speeds that modern Wi-Fi standards can provide are immense. The most recent 802.11ac standard allows for peak speeds of up to 1300Mbit/s over three channels, or 1.3Gbit/s – fast enough to download an HD movie in seconds.
In most cases, it’s actually the range of your Wi-Fi router that’s the real problem. Many old or cheap routers can have fairly weak antennas and a limited range as a result, which means your connection will be worse if you’re several rooms away from the router. This problem will be exponentially worse in large houses with many devices all connected to the one router.
Solution – Try and find a more strategic place to put your router, where it will service all areas of your house more thoroughly. A common mistake people make with their Wi-Fi routers is that they place them in locations where the signals must travel through walls to reach your location. Try placing your router or modem up high in an open space near to where the internet is most commonly used in your house. This reduces the workload of your router and the distances the signal needs to travel.
If that doesn’t work, try and buy a more powerful router, wireless repeaters that strengthen the Wi-Fi signal around your home, or you could even consider switching to an Ethernet cable connection rather than a wireless one.
2. Your device itself
It’s not impossible that your slow internet speed might be because of your device, and there are two main reasons it could be so. The first is if you’re working with an outdated or damaged device, a cheap laptop you bought back in the mid-2000s, or something similar. Such a device will have an incredibly hard time keeping up with the internet speeds of today, and this may translate as what appears to be slow internet speeds but is actually slow processing speeds from your device. The same theory applies to modems and routers as well. It is best to update your device every few years just to make sure it isn’t struggling more than it should.
The other reason your device could be the issue is malware. Malicious programs installed by third parties can become a serious drain on your internet speed, siphoning off broadband for their own nefarious purposes and leaving you with very little.
Solution – Replace any old or damaged devices you may be working with, and scan all your current devices for malware using a piece of reputable and thorough anti-virus software. Our router buying guide contains some useful information to assist you in buying a new one.
3. Network traffic
Just like how the sheer number of cars going to work in the morning will slow down traffic flow, large numbers of people using the internet simultaneously are going to slow down your connection. The same goes for some websites which don’t have large server capacities. If large numbers of people visit the site, the number of requests and the amount of data required can become too much for the servers to handle, resulting in a crash.
Using the internet at peak times, such as in the evenings and on weekends, will likely mean slower speeds than browsing during the day. People who live in a household with multiple people using the internet at the same time – most commonly families with children – are more likely to experience slow speeds if everyone is streaming movies or playing online games, as the network becomes stressed.
Solution – Try to browse during off-peak times, namely earlier in the morning or later at night. It’s obviously not ideal but if you’re desperate for better speeds, it may be one of your only options.
4. Broadband connection
The speed of the connection provided by your internet service provider (ISP) is the single most important factor in your overall internet connectivity, and the unfortunate news is that it’s also the single most immutable aspect of your connection. Nothing you can do from the comfort of your home is able to change the quality of the connection provided by your ISP, unless you switch providers, of course.
Believe it or not, your broadband speeds depend largely on what your connection cable is made out of. The majority of Australia’s urban broadband infrastructure consists of hybrid fibre coaxial cables, which are a mix of optical fibre and metal-based coaxial cable, with older areas being served by ADSL or dialup and remote areas by satellite.
The bad news from this is that living in a remote area usually means poor internet speeds, as it’s just not cost-effective for ISPs to provide infrastructure out there for so few people. Conversely, if you live in a major city then your speeds are likely to be good, so if you’re looking for fast internet, a city is the place to live. The good news is that the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) means average speeds are going to increase dramatically over the next decade, in both rural and urban areas.
Solution – Change your ISP. You can start by comparing broadband providers. Unfortunately there is no real way to test the speeds you’ll get from these providers until you’ve installed them, but you should always read customer reviews of each plan to see if people in a similar situation to you have experienced any problems.
5. Mobile network
On a side note, it’s worth mentioning mobile broadband. Depending on the coverage in your area, you may have access to the current, faster 4G network, or the older 3G network. Australia’s big towns and cities all have 4G coverage from the major providers, and the network continues to be rolled out. Once again though, if you live in a rural area it’ll mean 3G speeds or slower.
4G networks can reach speeds of up to 30Mbps, which is even faster than some broadband connections. So if your internet is appallingly slow, and you’ve tried each of the solutions above to no avail, then maybe consider using 4G on tour mobile or your personal hotspot for lighter browsing. Since you will often have limited data, it is best not to use 4G for things like online gaming or movie streaming as these can consume a lot of data in short spaces of time.