Why My Internet is Slow (and How to Fix It)

Why My Internet is Slow (and How to Fix It)

You can generally fix a slow internet connection if the issue is on your end. A simple restart of your modem and your router (or all-in-one wireless gateway) can sometimes speed up your connection. But your slow speeds may also be the result of problems on your provider’s end—problems you just can’t fix.

Pro Tips :

Generally, your modem or router (or both) will create a speed bottleneck if not working properly—the same goes with wireless gateways. If your equipment is too old, it may not support important internet protocols. Equipment damage, such as bad ports or components, can also cause slowdowns.

There are a few ways to make sure each step of your network is performing at optimal speed. We’ll help you identify and fix your network’s weakest link starting with the basics—we’ll get more in-depth as we go deeper into our guide.

Jump to:  How to troubleshoot a slow connection | Quick fixes

Why is your internet so slow?

There are many reasons why your internet is slow. Perhaps your internet provider is having issues, your home network needs a reboot, or you’re just too far away from the router—the possibilities can be a bit overwhelming. We’ll list the most common problems and how you can fix them to get more speed.

  • Your internet plan is too slow
  • You need better network management
  • Your provider’s network is congested
  • You exceeded your data cap
  • You have weak Wi-Fi signals
  • You have high latency
  • You have slow or outdated devices
  • Your provider is throttling your connection

1. Your internet plan is too slow

If your internet slows down only when too many other people are online simultaneously, you’re probably using more bandwidth than your plan allows. Use our internet speed test to see if you’re getting the speed advertised by your ISP. If your results are close to your plan speed, consider upgrading.

Your internet package gives you a specific amount of bandwidth, and if there’s more information trying to move around than there is bandwidth, you run into a traffic jam. 

Think of your internet connection like a road directly to your house. One car’s worth of people (or internet data) can reach your house at a time. If there are three cars trying to get there, they have to line up to get to your house. And if more cars arrive as the others are waiting to reach your house, the line and the delays get longer. 

The easiest way to get more bandwidth is by upgrading to a faster internet plan that can keep up with your household. We’re online now more than ever, and the internet plan you signed up for a few years ago might not be sufficient today if your connection slows down every time multiple people use the internet. 

Here are a few tips on how to manage your home network traffic:

Use QoS settings

Many routers have a quality of service (or QoS) component that allows you to control how your network prioritizes certain types of data. That way, you can make sure your streaming data always gets first access to available bandwidth for smooth playback.

Not all routers have adjustable QoS, but if your router does, you’ll find the controls in your router’s web interface.

Prune your internet connections

There may be some devices connected to your network that you rarely use—if at all. For example: you bought a new laptop, but the old one still idles and connects to the network. Even though it’s not in use, it still uses bandwidth for updates and other background services. Your router may even have a limited number of devices it can connect to simultaneously, and if you have too many connected devices the router may start kicking some of them off the network. 

One simple way to take stock of all the devices using your network is to load your router’s web interface and view the network map. You will see all connected devices, whether they’re active or not, so you can block the ones you never use.

Another method is to change the Wi-Fi password, but that only applies to wireless devices. Once you do, you must manually reconnect every device that accesses your wireless network. 

Some routers or wireless gateways also have a handy companion app that lets you see everything on your network without loading a browser. That way you can identify and remove devices that no longer need access to your network.

Stagger bandwidth-hogging activities

If your connection can’t handle everyone online at once, stagger your internet activities so everyone gets a chance at an uninterrupted connection.

Also, make sure to schedule big downloads (like computer and game updates) during times when other people won’t be online.

Put visitors on a guest network

There’s nothing wrong with sharing your internet with guests when they come to visit, but you don’t want them to secretly download illegal content while they lounge on your couch. That’s where your router’s guest network feature comes into play.

You can create a second guest network using your router’s web interface or mobile app. A guest network allows you to limit how much bandwidth guests can use, and what services and websites they can access. It also provides improved security by preventing guests’ devices from mingling with your devices, so there’s no worry about guests spreading malware to everything you use.

Pro tip:

Our guide on how to set up guest Wi-Fi covers a few different ways to establish a second network.

3. Your provider’s network is congested

Cable internet subscribers may suffer slowdowns during peak times when they and everyone else in the neighborhood are active online at the same time. It’s a similar situation to traffic on your home network but on a larger scale. In this instance, you and all your neighbors compete for the same bandwidth.

If the congestion gets particularly bad, your internet provider may throttle internet speeds in your area to reduce traffic for the network.

Unfortunately, you can’t control when or how often people in the same area use the internet—we certainly don’t advise asking your neighbors to log off so you can Zoom in peace. But there are a few tricks to circumventing the issue.

Try to schedule game and media downloads during off-peak hours, like in the middle of the night. You could also switch to another provider that doesn’t have as many subscribers around you, though that could be difficult to determine.

On the bright side, because cable ISPs have been adding a lot more neighborhood nodes to their networks, neighborhood-level congestion isn’t as big of a problem as it used to be.

The only type of internet that isn’t much affected by an area’s network congestion is fiber internet. Fiber infrastructure is capable of carrying much more information than other internet types, so having a ton of traffic at the same time doesn’t slow down individual customers.

4. You exceeded your data cap

Many internet providers have data caps, and some slow your speeds to a crawl after you hit that cap. You can usually check to see how much data you’ve used on your online account or through your ISP’s app. 

Satellite internet providers charge for internet use by data rather than by internet speed. It’s similar to how cell phone plans usually work: once you use up your data allowance for the month, your internet connection can slow to a crawl. 

5. You have weak Wi-Fi signals

Walls, distance, and even microwaves can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal. Weaker Wi-Fi signals mean slower speeds and frequent disconnects. 

You can tell if signal interference and weak Wi-Fi signals are your issues if your connection works well near your router but is extremely slow in the next room.

To fix weak Wi-Fi, first, check your router’s placement. You want to make sure your router is in a central and elevated location and away from things that can affect your Wi-Fi signals (like walls, Bluetooth speakers, etc.). 

If that doesn’t work, you might need to replace your router with one designed for longer ranges or better coverage—or you can add an extender to your network to stretch Wi-Fi signals into a previously unreachable area. 

6. You have high latency

Latency is the time data takes to make a round trip from your device to the destination and back. A high latency creates noticeable lag: an extended duration between your physical actions and the results displayed on your screen. This can be particularly frustrating with online gaming or video calls. 

High latency is difficult to work around. It depends partially on your physical distance from internet servers, network congestion between you and the servers, and your internet provider’s infrastructure—things that are mostly beyond your control. Internet type can also play into latency as well. 

For example, satellite internet has high latency because all your data must travel to space and back, both coming and going to your device. Newer types of internet, including fiber and 5G mmWave, have lower latency because they can handle faster signals. 

7. You have slow or outdated devices

The problem might not be with your internet connection—it might be with the device you use. Your computer, tablet, phone, or gaming console could be outdated and not capable of processing today’s Wi-Fi speeds.

For example, the old (but much loved) PlayStation Vita handheld console supports up to 150 Mbps per second because it uses a Wi-Fi 4 radio. That speed can decrease based on the router it connects to and the security protocol it uses. The Vita will never see speeds beyond that 150 Mbps limit.

If you have speed issues on a desktop or laptop, try power cycling the device. This clears the memory of any junk, refreshes your connection, and cleans out unnecessary processes and temporary files. Speed issues tend to happen due to an overworked processor, and a quick power cycle—shutting it down completely for 30 seconds—will “clear its head.”

Other things that can slow down your devices include the following:

  • Too many open applications
  • Too many open browser tabs
  • Outdated software
  • Outdated drivers
  • The operating system needs to reboot to install updates
  • Patch downloads
  • App downloads
  • Malware

Avoid overwhelming your computer’s CPU by closing unused applications and browser windows. Keep your device’s operating system up to date by allowing auto-updates, and keep your antivirus definitions current.

Other factors that affect your speed

Your internet plan’s maximum speed

Internet speeds are measured in megabits per second (Mbps). This refers to your connection’s total bandwidth, not the actual time data uses to make a round trip to a website and back—that’s called latency.

Providers usually advertise their internet speeds as “up to” a certain number of megabits per second, and there’s usually some fine print that says those speeds are not guaranteed. Internet providers are mostly in the clear legally if your internet doesn’t actually perform up to the highest advertised bandwidth.

Realistically, you may pay for 400 Mbps per month, but you may not see that maximum due to hardware issues between your internet provider’s operator—a device that communicates with multiple modems—and your physical internet connection. Utility pole connections, your buried cable, and so on all play a major factor in how your connection performs.

Your upload and download speeds

Your upload and download data every day, whether you’re on a smartphone or a laptop. For instance, when you access a website, you upload a request to that website and then download temporary files from the site to view it in your browser.

If you don’t have issues with streaming on Netflix or downloading files but are still experiencing some symptoms of slow internet speeds, your issue might actually be with your upload speed.

Cable, DSL, and satellite providers give customers way less upload bandwidth than download bandwidth because most people request much more information from the internet than they send. Upload speed is typically an issue for heavy uploaders.

The best way to improve upload speeds is to switch to a fiber plan. Fiber-optic internet connections often give customers upload speeds equal to their download speeds.

Your internet connection type

There are a few different technologies internet providers use to deliver your connection, like cable, fiber, satellite, or DSL. Your internet connection type plays a huge factor in your overall speeds.

Satellite internet transfers internet signals from a base station to a satellite to a receiver at your home. Because all your information must travel such a long distance both ways, satellite internet can have very high latency compared to other types of internet, which slows things down. 

DSL internet uses phone lines to carry data. It can’t handle the same amount of bandwidth as cable or fiber. DSL internet tops out at just over 100 Mbps, and its electrical signals tend to degrade in quality over long distances. 

Cable internet is faster than DSL because it uses coaxial cables that have a higher bandwidth than phone cables. Speeds can reach up to 1,200 Mbps.

Fiber-optic internet is one of the newest types of internet, and it’s the best wired connection you can get. Fiber uses light pulses to send your internet data, so it has lower latency than other internet types as a whole. It can also carry much more bandwidth than cable or DSL, offering speeds up to 5,000 Mbps. It’s less prone to network congestion and offers equally high download and upload speeds.

Overall, DSL and cable are the most common internet types while fiber is newer but scarce. Satellite is best for rural areas where the other three types can’t reach.

ISP throttling

Internet providers can throttle your speeds, causing a slow connection.

We’ve already discussed a few circumstances where a provider might throttle your speeds—like if you go over your data cap or if there’s too much congestion in the network. But your provider might also slow you down if it flags your internet activity as potentially illegal or if it generally doesn’t want you to do a specific type of activity (like torrenting). 

To see if your provider is throttling your internet, run a speed test normally and then run it again using a VPN. If your speeds improve with the VPN, congratulations! You’re throttled.

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