Your internet connection is your lifeline to the world. Whether you're a gamer, a Netflix addict, or an at-home-worker, nothing can destroy your day like a slow connection.
But before you waste hours on the phone arguing with your ISP, we've got a few suggestions you can use to help improve your Internet speed. (And if you try everything and still want to upgrade your hardware, check out all of our latest networking deals and sign up for our electronics newsletter.)
Test Your Current Speed
Before calling your ISP in a fit of rage, there are two simple steps you should take. First, find out your current speed. You can do that by running a simple speed test on Speedtest.net. In its simplest form, the free service measures your download and upload speeds by sending information to your computer and back to its servers.
Now that you have this data, log on to your ISP account and find out what your speeds should be. Keep in mind that most ISPs give themselves some wiggle room, so your speeds may not match exactly, but if your numbers are reasonably close to your advertised speeds, chances are you just need a faster plan. However, if your numbers are horribly off, some of our tips below may help.
Give Your Modem and Router the (Re)Boot
Over the years, routers and modems can go bad. Twisted or bent cables can also wreak havoc on your connection. So you'll want to give your hardware a check before attempting anything else. Routers and modems can be rebooted with the click of their reset button. You may want to check with your ISP or manufacturer for precise instructions. Comcast, for instance, offers a quick-and-easy way to reboot its devices.
Once they've rebooted, check the internet connection on all your devices. If it's slow on every computer, it's likely something is wrong with your connection. But if you notice the problem is in just one room or with one computer, it could be something interfering with your network and not your actual ISP. If the latter sounds like your scenario, try re-positioning your router and take into account if there are other wireless devices in the area which could slow things down.
Delete Any Broadband-Hogging Apps
These days it's common to have various broadband-sucking apps and clients running in the background. Whether it's your anti-virus software, Skype, or a torrent client, it's easy to lose track of them. One or two of these programs may not have a significant impact on your network, but if you have numerous apps running on different machines, then it could slow down your network when you most need it.
Check your systems to see what's running on start up or what apps run in the background. Try to keep only necessary apps active and see if that improves your connection.
Switch to a QoS Router
A router with Quality of Service (QoS) technology may help improve your network. QoS routers work by assigning priority to each device operating on your network. So whenever there's a bottleneck, the router will decide (based on your settings), which devices get the most bandwidth.
While some of these routers may require some technical know-how, other "smart" QoS routers prioritize network traffic on their own, optimizing voice and video traffic over other tasks like file downloads. There are numerous types of QoS routers available, so consumers should definitely do their research before opting for one model.
Alternatively, if you live in a large house, you may want to look into buying a range extender, which essentially extends your home's WiFi signal so the devices furthest from your router can still receive it.
Invest in a VPN
As some commenters have noted, a VPN can significantly slow down your Internet speeds. So why include it in a roundup of ways to speed up your Internet? Because some ISPs play dirty with traffic shaping.
Let's say you're a power-user of bandwidth — maybe you stream Netflix all day, maybe you're a serious gamer, or maybe you're torrenting. If your ISP can see what you're doing, it may use traffic shaping to decrease your internet speeds for certain applications. As anyone who's experienced traffic shaping first hand can tell you, this is extremely frustrating.
That's where the VPN comes in. A VPN works by routing your Internet traffic through data centers in various locations. In addition, because a VPN encrypts all your traffic, your ISP won't be able to tell what you're doing, so you'll also get more uniform speeds across all your applications. Yes, you may sacrifice a little speed overall, but you're immune to the most common form of ISP traffic shaping, as described above.
It's worth pointing out that not all VPNs are created equal. If you choose a VPN with overly crowded servers located far from you, with low ping, your data is going to slow to a crawl. Price matters, too; free VPN services can lack the encryption bells and whistles of subscription services, and can have busier servers. Definitely do your homework, and choose a service that's best suited to your needs.
Call Your ISP
If you've tried everything and your web connection is still slow, then it's time to call your ISP (Comcast, Time Warner, etc.). Before you call, research other ISPs in your area and try to see if your current ISP can match their speeds or their prices. Even if you're bad at haggling, you'll be surprised at how quickly providers react when you mention the competition.
And of course, be polite while on the phone. The customer service representative on the other line isn't out to get you and they're more likely to help a polite customer than one who screams at them.
Have any of these methods worked for you? How do you speed up your internet connection? Let us know in the comments below.