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Why is my Internet so slow?

Slow Internet at home sucks. Whether it's sluggish speeds or an unreliable connection, our easy 4 step guide will help you diagnose the issue.

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Woman with palm on face, looking frustrated at the computer screen

Summary

  • Slow internet could be congestion when customer demand exceeds the capabilities of an Internet provider. This is especially common during the evening when the largest proportion of customers are accessing the Internet at the same time.
  • An Internet provider's typical evening speeds are a good indication of how much a connection might slow down.
  • If you're experiencing slow Internet, running speed tests and recording the results can help you present a compelling case to your Internet provider.

There are lots of reasons why your Internet might seem to be running slow. It could be a problem with your modem or router, or there could be too many devices on your network clogging up your bandwidth. It might even be an issue with your Internet provider regarding service in your area. Whatever the reason, we've got four simple steps to follow to try and get your Internet speeds back up and running.

Step 1: Confirm you're actually suffering from Internet congestion

  1. Make sure your PC is connected directly to your modem via a cable – not via Wi-Fi or through a router, as this will leave your results open to debate.
  2. Make sure only your PC is active on your home network. Deactivate Wi-Fi devices like your mobile phone or tablet, turn off video game consoles and make sure nothing else is connected while you undertake the following tests.
  3. At regular intervals during the day over the period of a couple of days, perform a speed test. It should take around one minute each time.
  4. When the test has run its course, record the details, preferably via a screenshot.
  5. Compare the recorded ping values, download speeds and upload speeds you've recorded to see whether they change dramatically throughout the course of the day. Some measure of slowdown at night is unavoidable (around 15% is reasonable) but if there is a dramatic difference then there's a good chance you have a congestion issue. A high speed during the day proves your wiring and home infrastructure is not the problem.

Step 2: Make sure the problem isn’t on your end

If your speed test results show a significant decline in the evening hours, it's time to rule out the possibility that the problem is on your end.

Check your hardware

If you have multiple devices connected to your home network, perform speed tests on all of them to see whether they all exhibit the same slowdown. If not, your Internet woes may be due to a problem with the hardware or software of a specific device.

When testing different devices, ensure that your testing process and environment is consistent. This might mean testing with a phone and a tablet, both on the same wireless network in the same room, for example. If all tests turn out to be equally slow then you might be looking at a problem with your modem or router.

In that case, the first step is to reset your modem and router. These are the "Internet boxes" that are most likely connected to a cable in the wall. If they have on/off switches, you can push that. If not, simply unplug them. Always leave the devices off for a minute or so before turning them back on, just to be safe.

If resetting your modem and router doesn’t help the performance of your wired devices, it might be time to call your Internet provider. If you're testing wireless devices, there are a few more steps to take before picking up the phone.

Fix your Wi-Fi signal

  • Locate your router: Wi-Fi signals have a hard time going through thick walls and travelling longer distances. To make sure the problem isn’t the location of your wireless router, try moving it to different locations around your house. If things don't improve, consider the age of your router, as it might lack the capacity to deliver consistently high speeds or may simply be malfunctioning. If moving the router does fix your speed woes but permanent relocation isn't a viable solution, you might want to consider purchasing a Wi-Fi range extender or a wireless repeater to strengthen the signal around your house.
  • Does your router need an upgrade? If you’ve switched to the NBN, you likely got a new modem and router as part of the deal. In this case, it’s probably not out of date. However, if you’ve had the same router for more than a couple of years, it's possible that the router isn't compatible with the latest network technologies or that it simply lacks the power to deliver the speeds you're after. In this case, upgrading to a new router could result in a substantial speed boost.
  • Try switching Wi-Fi channels: Wi-Fi routers communicate over wireless channels so as to avoid interference with other wireless devices. Most routers support quite a few different channels, but depending on your local network environment some may be more crowded than others and can even overlap each other. You'll need to dive into the settings of your router to change your Wi-Fi channel, but it's worth testing performance across a few different ones to see if that makes a difference. Note that this is more likely to work with older 2.4GHz routers than newer 5GHz ones.
  • Step 3: Call your Internet provider

    If you've thoroughly tested your home network across multiple devices and they all exhibit the same performance issues, it's time to call your Internet provider. Its technical support team may be able to offer further advice about identifying and resolving the issue. They’ll probably ask you to turn the modem off and on again, so humour them. It can't hurt.

    Step 4: Find a new Internet provider

    You've tested, documented and discussed the issue with your Internet provider to no avail. It might be time to bite the bullet and think about switching to a new Internet provider.

    Thankfully, it's a lot easier to see how well different providers handle peak evening times these days since most advertise the typical evening speeds their customers experience during the hours of 7pm to 11pm. By comparing plans based on these speeds, you can choose one that delivers a level of peak-hour performance sufficient to meet your needs.

    Before you make the switch, however, be sure to check whether you're on a fixed-term contract with your current Internet provider. If so, you may have to pay hefty termination charges to end your contract early. In this case, it might be worth presenting the results of your speed tests to your provider since it could help you get your termination fees waived, or perhaps a free or cheaper upgrade to a faster connection.

    In need of faster Internet? Compare Premium speed NBN plans here

    We've set the table below to show NBN plans on the Premium speed tier, which is the fastest NBN speed category available. If you're not looking to go to that extreme, feel free to toggle the download speed filter to find a better speed for you - we'd recommend 50Mbps for a household of three to four people who regularly use the Internet.


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2 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    ChristopherFebruary 20, 2016

    Kind of useless, my ISP has acknowledged the congestion and just said that there are no plans of an upgrade. They’re just leaving it as is, only problem is. the congestion isn’t just peak hours of the night its from about 8am-2am through the week, and pretty much all hours of the weekend. I’m on the maximum priced 100/40 plan and their offer to fix it, is to discount me $20 from one bill….

    • Default Gravatar
      BrodieFebruary 24, 2016

      Hi Christopher,

      Sounds quite frustrating. What kind of speeds are you seeing for uploads and downloads? If you can’t reach a solution past a $20 credit with your provider I would recommend contacting them via their Facebook or Twitter. You’re much more likely to get a speedy response, and hopefully, resolution that way.

      All the best,
      Brodie

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