Upgrading to a faster broadband package may give you a faster pipe in and out of your home or office, but there are simple ways to get more speed out of what you’ve got.
Move your broadband modem/router
For the best speed, your broadband modem or router should be connected directly to the BT Master Socket and not to an extension.
It should also be as close to the Master Socket as possible, and certainly less than 10m away over standard telephone cable.
Phone extensions and filters
Unless you have cable, or fibre-optic broadband all the way into your house, it uses the same copper wire as your phone connection, and this can cause problems.
Every telephone socket should have a broadband microfilter, which makes sure your phone and broadband signals don’t link into each other. You’re usually given at least one of these when you sign up to a new broadband provider, but they’re cheap to buy from any computer or electronics retailer. For a neater look to your telephone extensions, you can buy wall sockets with the filter built-in.
Phone extension sockets are often DIY jobs, and they’re not always very good. If you’re suffering regular disconnections and slow broadband after fitting microfilters, try disconnecting your extensions one-by-one at the master socket, and see if it makes a difference.
Primus Saver customers can ask for a technician to perform and Broadband Optimisation Service, and for £30 they’ll test all the wiring connected to your phone and fit as many filters as you need.
Improve the master socket
Unless the BT Master Socket where your telephone line arrives in the home is a new one with ‘BT Openreach’ or ‘ADSL’ on it, then it wasn’t designed for broadband. Even with microfilters on your extension sockets, the wiring can pick up interference which will slow down your broadband.
You’re not allowed to replace the Master Socket yourself or alter the wiring, but if you have a split-faceplate NTE5 master socket (with a horizontal line running across the front), then you can usually install a BT Iplate or Broadband Accelerator. This filters out interference and can speed up your connection by around 1.5Mbps. It will also make your broadband connection more stable and less prone to dropping out. It’s very simple to install and can be purchased from BT for under £10.
If you have an older BT Master Socket with a non-split faceplate, then you may be able to get BT to replace it with one fit for broadband. Ring BT on 150 or 0800 800 150 and place the order for the socket to be converted from hardwired to plug and socket - if you complain about poor quality calls you may get the engineer to visit for free. Unfortunately, they may charge £130 for the engineer call-out, so discuss the situation thoroughly in advance.
If you’re using WiFi, then you may be sharing the same frequency with your neighbours and other equipment like baby monitors, especially if you live in flats. This congestion could slow your surfing down to a crawl and cause all sorts of problems with gaming, video or Skype.
Simply changing to a different wireless frequency could make a world of difference, or upgrading to a a new standard like WiFi 802.11 N, which can use a different set of frequencies (around 5GHz) to the 802.11 B and G equipment most people will have (around 2.4GHz). Not all WiFi N routers and equipment use the 5GHz, however, relying on the same crowded 2.4GHz frequencies as everyone else - sadly this includes the BT Home Hub 3. Check carefully when you're buying.
The fastest WiFi money can buy is 802.11 WiFi AC, and a handful of routers are now on the market. Wireless AC provides speeds of more than a Gigabit (around 850Mbps in practise) and also uses the uncrowded 5GHz frequency range. However, you'll also need a WiFi AC PCI card or USB 3.0 dongle for your PC or laptop, because there are no laptops, smartphones or tablets with the new standard built-in yet.
Advanced routers like the BT Home Hub 3 can scan for the least-busy frequencies and automatically switch to them, and the rest of your wireless equipment will follow.
Most modern WiFi routers will also avoid other WiFi users, but they won’t scan for interference from microwave ovens, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, wireless video cameras, outdoor microwave links, and wireless game controllers. Unfortunately, it’s very expensive to survey an area for this kind of interference, requiring expensive equipment and an expensive expert to understand what it says.
Moving to WiFi N will reduce the chances of interference, but if you can’t do this, then you’ll just have to open up the administration page of your router and change it manually to see if there’s any improvement.
Use the power
The best way to connect computers and other devices to your router is via an Ethernet cable - most routers will provide up to 100Mbps over Ethernet, and some up to 1Gbps. This is an ideal connection for network hard discs which might be communicating with several devices on your network at the same time.
You can lay Ethernet cables around most homes and offices, but few of us enjoy the chore of moving furniture, rolling up carpets, drilling holes and tacking cables to skirting boards that’s involved. The alternative is Powerline networking, which piggy-backs a high speed broadband signal on top of the mains power supply running around your home.
A small adapter socket plugs into a socket near your router, and another near where you need the connection. Ethernet cables connect the adapters to your router and the target device, and some powerline adapters even include a WiFi access point that will let you connect wireless devices.
The current dominant powerline networking standard, HomePlug AV, can deliver working speeds of around 85Mbps each way, and the new HomePlug AV2 standard will triple that. HomePlug AV networks can have up to 16 devices talking to the router, although they will divide the top speed between them. Your data is encrypted so no-one else can listen in.
Early powerline devices caused interference to amateur radio and even DAB, although HomePlug AV is designed to reduce this greatly. Plugging a powerline adapter into a ‘power strip’ will also greatly reduce its speed, but you can passthrough adapters that let you keep using the power socket.
If you’re fond of online gaming and other two-way experiences, you can make it a quicker and more stable experience using Port Forwarding.
Many games and applications configure port forwarding automatically with your router using UPnP, but they can’t you can do it manually.
It sounds pretty scary, but fortunately most routers come with preset ports for the most popular games like Call Of Duty, and there’s a website that will walk you through the process for almost every router out there (the make and model are usually written on the bottom). Portforward.com will help you set up routers and firewalls, and also offers free software to help configure and test your setup.
Who’s using all the bandwidth on your broadband connection? Most broadband providers offer software that lets parents can restrict their children’s surfing to certain times, and if you’re downloading or sharing files, try to restrict it to off-peak times. Some providers don’t count downloads from midnight to 7am against your allowance, and most Torrent software will let you set the hours when it operates.
And if you can’t order other users to turn down their downloads, you’ll just have to negotiate over who uses BBC iPlayer in the evenings.