Why Is My Internet So Slow? Your Ultimate Guide to Speeding Up
Your network is only as fast as the slowest part
There are several parts of your home network that could act as a choking point for internet speeds. For example, if your internet connection is 300 Mbps but your router’s ports can transfer only 100 Mbps because they’re not gigabit Ethernet ports, your whole network would then be limited to 100 Mbps instead of the full 300 Mbps.
That same principle applies to modems, Ethernet switches, routers, Wi-Fi extenders, and anything else in your network. If one of your devices limits bandwidth, there isn’t a way to get that extra speed back. So make sure all of your devices can handle internet speeds at least as fast as the top speeds you can get from your provider.
On the flip side, just upgrading your equipment without getting a better internet connection won’t work either. For example, if all your equipment is top of the line and can handle multigigabit internet speeds, it’s not going to make your internet connection any faster than your plan’s top advertised speed—in that case, your internet speed would be the choke point.
This guide is here to help you identify and fix your network’s weakest link. Let’s start with the basics, and we’ll get more in-depth as we go.
Before we dive in, take an internet speed test. Measuring your internet speed and knowing how it compares to the speeds you pay for is an important part of diagnosing a slow connection.
Internet speed troubleshooting chart
|Netflix is buffering in the middle of a show||Not enough download speed to support consistent playback||Disconnect other devices from your network.|
Connect your streaming device via Ethernet.
Lower your streaming resolution.
|Zoom video calls are out of sync||Either not enough upload speed or high latency||Connect via Ethernet.|
Use your router's QoS to prioritize video calls.
Change internet plans.
|Wi-Fi is slow in the corners of the house||Weak Wi-Fi signal||Reposition your router.|
Upgrade to a more powerful router or mesh system.
Use a Wi-Fi extender or access point.
|Internet speeds slow to a crawl at the end of the month||Throttling due to exceeding data cap||Upgrade to a plan without data caps.|
Use less internet data throughout the month.
|Internet speeds slow down in the evening||Internet rush hour traffic||Schedule large downloads for other times of day.|
Download shows and media beforehand.
|Wi-Fi keeps disconnecting||Weak Wi-Fi signal, or your router is wonky||Turn your router off and on again.|
Replace your router.
Quick fixes for slow internet speeds (and why they work)
Unplug your router and modem, and plug them in again
Your home networking equipment works hard, and sometimes it needs a break. Unplugging your modem and router, waiting a minute, and plugging them back in gives these vital pieces of your network a chance to clear their working memory and get a fresh start on tasks that may have been bogging them down before.
It may seem too simple to be true, but turning things off and on again can really give your internet speeds a boost.
Put your router somewhere else
A lot of people hide their routers or gateways in closets or (heaven forbid) the basement, but that’s not great for Wi-Fi.
You want to put as few physical barriers between your router and your devices as possible. Things like walls, floors/ceilings, doors, and large furniture can weaken your Wi-Fi signals, especially at longer distances. Signals, like those from microwaves, Bluetooth speakers, baby monitors, and cordless phones can also interfere with your Wi-Fi signals.
For the best Wi-Fi coverage in your home, place your router in a central location. Or you can put it near where you most often use the internet, like in a home office.
You can also make use of any external antennas on your router to get better Wi-Fi coverage. Most router antennas are omnidirectional, so they spread Wi-Fi signals in all directions in an outward circle. That’s great if your whole house is one story, but for multistory homes, lay one antenna horizontally so the Wi-Fi signals spread up and down as well.
Use the internet during off-peak hours
If you know there’s a big download in your future—like your MacBook has to upgrade to the latest OSX or a new patch for Overwatch is dropping—you might want to download it when you don’t need to do anything else online, like in the middle of the night.
If your internet gets too slow to stream during certain peak hours, download episodes of your shows earlier in the day (or again, in the middle of the night) so you’ll be ready to binge watch all of Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix without any buffering interruptions.
Upgrade your internet plan
Of course, your internet speeds might just not be up to snuff. If you haven’t upgraded your internet plan in several years, have more people living with you now, have transitioned to working from home, or just generally use the internet more now, it might be time to look for a speedier plan.
Common reasons for slow internet speeds
Everyone’s home network is a little different, but there are some common themes that pop up when it comes to issues that slow down your internet. Let’s dive into some common problems, how to diagnose them, and—of course—how to solve them.
Home network traffic
If your internet works fine when it’s only you but slows down when too many other people in your home get online, your issue is probably too much data traffic for your internet connection.
Your internet package gives you a certain 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 clear up network traffic is by upgrading your internet plan to a higher bandwidth that can keep up with your household’s internet needs. We recommend checking out one of the fastest internet providers in the US. We’re online now more than ever, and the internet plan you signed up for a few years ago might not be enough anymore if your connection slows down every time multiple people use the internet.
If you need help figuring out how much bandwidth you need to prevent traffic jams, check out our How Much Speed Do You Need? Tool.
If upgrading isn’t an option, you need to either get used to the slowdowns or manage your household’s internet use. Thankfully, there are some pretty easy ways of doing the latter that don’t include yelling at everyone to get off the internet so you can participate in your Zoom meeting.
Tips for managing home network traffic
Use QoS settings
Many routers have quality of service (or QoS) features that allow 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 have them, you’ll find the controls in your router’s user interface.
Pro tip: How to log in to a router
A lot of our tips and troubleshooting guides mention using your router’s user interface. If you’re not sure how to find that, learn how to log in to your router.
Prune your internet connections
There may be some devices connected to your network that you’ve forgotten about. For example, maybe you gave your neighbor your Wi-Fi password once, and their phone sometimes auto-connects to your network.
One simple way to take stock of all the devices using your network is to change your Wi-Fi password. After this, you’ll have to manually reconnect every device you want to use your internet.
Some routers or gateways also have a handy companion app that lets you see everything on your network without having to reset anything. That way you can identify devices that don’t need to be connected and disconnect them individually.
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 updates or game downloads) during times when other people won’t be online.
Put visitors (and children) on a guest network
There are some people who you want to have access to Wi-Fi in your home, but you may not want to give them the run of your whole home network. That’s why there are guest networks.
You can set up a guest network in your router’s user interface or mobile app. And here’s the best part: you can limit how much bandwidth the guest network can access.
Guest networks are (obviously) intended for guests, but they’re also useful if you have children in your home. Say you want to let your kids get online to do homework but don’t want them hogging all the bandwidth with TikTok and YouTube—you can set a cap on how much of your internet speed the guest network can use.
ISP network congestion
ISP network congestion happens when you and all of your neighbors use the same internet provider and all get 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 would be competing for the same bandwidth.
If the congestion gets particularly bad, your ISP might even throttle internet speeds in your area to make less traffic for the network.
Unfortunately, you can’t necessarily control when or how often people in the same part of your ISP’s network use the internet (we 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 downloading game and media files during off-peak hours, like in the middle of the night (you can schedule the downloads; you don’t have to stay up all night). You could also switch to another provider that doesn’t have as many subscribers around you, though that could be difficult to figure out.
The only type of internet that isn’t much affected by network congestion is fiber internet. Fiber infrastructure is capable of carrying much more information than other types, so having a ton of traffic at the same time doesn’t slow down individual customers.
Exceeding data caps
Many internet providers have data caps, and some slow your speeds to a crawl after you hit that cap. Providers like Xfinity and CenturyLink give customers very high data caps—1 TB for these examples—and shouldn’t cause too many issues for most households. But satellite internet providers including HughesNet and Viasat are less generous with their data allowances.
Satellite internet providers charge for internet use by data rather than by internet speed. It’s similar to how cell phone plans usually work. After you use up your data for the month, with these satellite providers, your internet connection can slow to a crawl.
HughesNet customers can see speeds drop to 1–3 Mbps. Viasat customers can expect all their internet traffic to be deprioritized, meaning that their data gets pushed to the back of the line of all Viasat customers’ data.
A lot of DSL, cable, and fiber internet companies are doing away with data caps, but there are still many ISPs that are holding on to the practice. Look to see if your internet service has a data cap in our guide to ISP data caps.
Weak Wi-Fi signals
Walls, distance, and even microwaves can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal. Weaker Wi-Fi signals mean worse internet performance.
You can tell if signal interference and weak Wi-Fi signals are your issue if your connection works well near your router but gets worse as you move to different areas of your house that are farther away.
To fix weak Wi-Fi, first check your router’s placement. We mentioned moving your router to improve speeds earlier in the Quick Fixes section (jump to quick fixes section). But as a recap, you want to make sure your router is in a central location in your house 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 made for longer ranges or better coverage—or you can add an extender to your network to get Wi-Fi signals to reach a particular spot in your home.
Check out our guide to long-range routers if you need better Wi-Fi coverage. It goes over both mesh Wi-Fi systems and standalone routers to help you figure out how best to access the internet in every inch of your home.
Unlike most other causes of slow internet speeds, high latency doesn’t affect your bandwidth. It affects the actual speed at which your internet signals travel. Latency is the time it takes for your information to get from your computer to the destination internet server and back.
High latency causes lag between when you perform an action online and when you see the results. This can be particularly frustrating with online gaming or video calls.
It’s difficult to work around high latency. It depends partially on your physical distance from internet servers and your ISP’s infrastructure. Internet type can also play into latency as well.
For example, satellite internet has high latency because all your data has to travel to space and back, both coming and going to your device. Newer types of internet, including fiber and 5G, have lower latency because they can handle faster signals.
If you’re looking to lower your latency for a better connection, check out our report on the fastest ISPs. It dives into which internet services have the best tested speeds and lowest average latency.
Slow or outdated devices
The problem might not be with your internet connection—it might be with the device you’re using to access the internet. Your computer, tablet, phone, or gaming console could be outdated and not capable of processing today’s Wi-Fi speeds. If that’s the case, it might be time for an upgrade. It could also be that your device is just bogged down with too many applications.
If you have computer speed issues on a desktop or laptop, try restarting the device. We know we’ve already talked about turning things off and on again, but it really works for a ton of electronics.
Other things that could be slowing down your devices include too many open applications (or browser tabs), outdated software, or malware. Avoid overwhelming your computer’s processing power by closing applications and browser windows when you’re finished with them. Keep your device’s operating system up to date by allowing auto-updates, and consider installing antivirus software like NortonAntivirus Plus.
Internet service providers can throttle your internet speeds, and sometimes your slow connection is caused by that tomfoolery. We’ll go over ISP throttling briefly here, but you can get a more in-depth look at the subject in our guide to network throttling.
We’ve already discussed a few circumstances where an ISP 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 your provider generally doesn’t want you to do a specific type of activity (like torrenting).
You can figure out if your provider is throttling your internet speeds based on your internet activities by running a speed test normally and then running a speed test with a VPN. If your speeds improve with the VPN, congratulations! You’re being throttled.
Other factors that affect slow internet connections
How to read your internet package’s speeds
Internet speeds are measured in Mbps or megabits per second. This refers to your connection’s bandwidth, not the actual speed at which the pieces of information get to and from your network (that’s 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. Typical. Reliable ISPs tend to give customers speeds close to the advertised Mbps, but ISPs are mostly in the clear legally if your internet doesn’t actually perform up to the highest advertised bandwidth.
If you need a refresher on internet speeds and what they mean, check out our guide to internet speeds.
Upload speed vs. download speed
You use both upload and download speeds in your everyday web browsing and everything else you do online. Download speed is what you use to get information from the internet, and upload speed is what you use to send information to the internet.
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.
Many ISPs give customers way less upload bandwidth than download bandwidth because most people request much more information from the internet than they send to it. But this can be an issue for heavy uploaders—like Twitch streamers, people who work with video, or those who often have to share large files.
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. If you don’t know what kind of speeds you should aim for, check out our recommendations for upload and download speeds.
How internet types affect speeds
There are a few different technologies ISPs use to deliver your internet connection, like cable, fiber, satellite or DSL. And your type of internet connection affects your speeds.
Satellite internet transfers internet signals from a base station to a satellite to a receiver at your home. Because all your information has to 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. Because the infrastructure is usually a little older, it can’t handle the same amount of bandwidth as a newer connection like fiber—DSL internet tops out at around 100 Mbps. DSL’s electrical signals also tend to degrade in quality over long distances.
Cable internet can be faster than DSL because it uses newer infrastructure—the same copper cables that carry your cable TV signals. Cable speeds can reach up to 1,000 Mbps, but cable is susceptible to network congestion during high-traffic times.
Fiber-optic internet is one of the newest types of internet, and it’s the best wired connection you can get. Fiber uses light signals 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 1,000 Mbps (and even 2,000 Mbps on some select plans). That means it’s less prone to network congestion and can offer high download and upload speeds.
How to troubleshoot slow internet speeds
Know your plan
Know how much speed you’re supposed to be getting so you can compare it to how much speed you’re actually getting. You can check this on your internet bill or by logging in to your ISP account online.
Run a speed test
Running a series of speed tests while connected to different points in your network can help you figure out where your speeds are slowing down. This first speed test is to see if you’re getting the correct speeds to your home compared with what you’re supposed to get from your ISP.
To get the most accurate results for your initial speed test, disconnect other internet connections and plug your testing device into your modem with an Ethernet cable. An easy way to disconnect other devices from your network is to unplug your router.
Compare your results to the speeds you pay for
Your internet speed test should give you results that are close to the speeds in your plan. If not, try to track this issue over multiple days and times of day to establish a pattern. Then contact your internet provider to talk about why you’re not getting the correct speeds.
If your speed test results and your internet package speeds are pretty aligned, but you’re still having speed issues, the problem is either that you don’t have enough bandwidth in your plan or you’re running into an issue elsewhere in your home network.
Run another speed test to check your router
Connect your testing device to your router via Ethernet and take a speed test—preferably with nothing else connected to your router. If your speeds have dropped off compared to speeds from your modem, your router could be a choke point for your internet speeds. If everything is still peachy, move on to checking your Wi-Fi.
Troubleshoot your router
- Turn it off and on again.
- Make sure all cables are connected securely and that all ports work.
- Update your router’s firmware. You can do this in your router’s user interface (jump to interface section).
- Reposition your router (jump to repositioning section).
- Put connections on the right Wi-Fi band (jump to Wi-Fi bands section).
- Change Wi-Fi channels in your router’s user interface to find one that’s less crowded (jump to Wi-Fi channels section).
- Try a factory reset by pressing the reset button on your router (probably on the back or bottom of the device).
If none of these steps work, you may simply need to upgrade to a newer or more powerful router. Internet tech advances pretty quickly, and if your router is more than a few years old, it might be time to get yourself something shiny and new.
Check for Wi-Fi dead zones
Most households use Wi-Fi for most of their connections, so if everything’s been going fine so far, you may have an issue with your Wi-Fi network.
Wi-Fi problems can stem from multiple things. It could be your router’s range, a crowded frequency channel or band, or signal interference caused by physical obstructions and other electronics.
You already know that your router should be placed in the middle of your home for the best coverage, so we’ll assume that you’ve already done that and pointed your antennas in the right direction.
Go to different areas of your house with a computer or smartphone and watch the Wi-Fi signal strength indicator. If you notice a lot of dead zones, you may need to move your router again (if they happen in areas where you normally need Wi-Fi) or invest in something to boost your Wi-Fi signal to that particular area. You can also make a Wi-Fi heatmap if you want to get more precise with it.
If you have more than a couple issues with Wi-Fi dead zones, we recommend upgrading to a mesh router like the NETGEAR Orbi* or Google Nest Wi-Fi*. Rather than operating from one centralized point, mesh routers use multiple interconnected devices to create your Wi-Fi network. You could also add a Wi-Fi extender or powerline adapter, but we still prefer mesh routers.
*HighSpeedInternet.com utilizes paid Amazon links.
Reorganize your Wi-Fi connections
If you’ve already pruned your Wi-Fi connections to make sure everything connected to your network is supposed to be there, it’s time to make sure all those connections are on the correct Wi-Fi band.
Most modern routers offer two or three Wi-Fi bands, which each create their own visible Wi-Fi network. By default, these are usually labeled with their frequency bands, but it might be different if you’ve changed your Wi-Fi network’s name.
These bands operate on two different frequencies: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The 2.4 GHz frequency band has better range, but it’s slower and more susceptible to signal interference from other electronics. The 5 GHz band is faster but can’t travel as far.
Basically, you want to use the 5 GHz band for most bandwidth-heavy applications like streaming or gaming, and you want devices that don’t need that much speed—like smart home devices—on the 2.4 GHz band.
You can change the Wi-Fi band each device is on by logging in to the correct Wi-Fi network on each device.
Change your Wi-Fi band’s channel
Beyond having multiple Wi-Fi bands, there are also smaller sections of each band called a channel. Like any network dealing with a lot of information, these Wi-Fi channels can get too crowded, which can cause slowdowns.
To find the best channel, you can use an app like NetSpot for Windows or use the Network Diagnostics function on a Mac. Changing your Wi-Fi channel involves logging in to your router’s user interface and manually selecting the channel you prefer.
Check connected devices
As we mentioned before, sometimes the issue isn’t with your internet connection—its with the smartphone, computer, or tablet you’re using to access the internet.
Manage your network
If you’ve made it this far into this guide and you’re still seeing problems with slow internet speeds, run through the tips in the home network traffic section of this post if you haven’t already (jump to traffic section).
Your speed issues most likely stem from your ISP’s reliability or the traffic on your own home network. Even if you’ve organized and trimmed down your number of connected devices, you could still not have enough bandwidth at certain times of day to cover everything your network has to handle. The only solution to this is to either use the internet less or get a faster internet plan.
Author - Rebecca Lee Armstrong
Rebecca is a natural techie and the friend you turn to when your Wi-Fi randomly stops working. Since graduating from the University of Evansville with a degree in creative writing, Rebecca has leveraged her tech savvy to write hundreds of data-driven tech product and service reviews. In addition to HighSpeedInternet.com, her work has been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ and iMore.
Editor - Cara Haynes
Cara Haynes has edited for HighSpeedInternet.com for three years, working with smart writers to revise everything from internet reviews to reports on your state’s favorite Netflix show. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span (buffering kills). With a degree in English and editing and five years working with online content, it’s safe to say she likes words on the internet. She is most likely to be seen wearing Birkenstocks and hanging out with a bouncy goldendoodle named Dobby, who is a literal fur angel sent to Earth.