Do a speed check
Find out the speed you are getting using a computer connected to your router via an ethernet network cable. Many routers and other devices come with one, or they cost about £5 separately.
You may also need a USB ethernet adapter (about £10) if your computer does not have a port built-in.
If you can’t connect via ethernet, use a modern phone, laptop or tablet on wifi as close to your router as possible with a clear line of sight.
Some more advanced routers have speed testing services built into them, too. They are typically accessible via a router’s settings pages in your browser or a companion app, if they have one.
Connecting your device to the router with an ethernet cable can improve speeds. Photograph: Tetra Images/Getty Images/Tetra images RF
If your broadband is slow at the router, it might be time to switch providers. Some fixed-line ISPs offer speeds in excess of 200Mbps in certain areas, while 4G/5G home broadband is an alternative.
If you are not getting near the speed your ISP advertises, you may be able to get a discount, or switch to a plan with higher speeds.
Work out what you need
When it comes to broadband the faster the better, particularly with multiple people and devices using the internet at once. However, the minimum speed needed for most online activities is fairly slow.
Video calling services, such as Zoom, typically need up to 4Mbps upload and download.
Online gaming services, such as Xbox Live, need at least 3Mbps down and 0.5Mbps up, while game streaming services need a minimum of 10Mbps down.
Video streaming, such as Netflix, needs at least 5Mbps for HD or 25Mbps for 4K content.
The median broadband speed in the UK is 50.4Mbps down and 9.8Mbps up, according to data from Ofcom in March 2021. That means that the majority of connections should be able to handle most popular services.
But bear in mind that with more than one device, or person, using your connection simultaneously, including updates and downloads when idle, slower broadband packages can quickly get choked.
Reposition your router
If your broadband connection is fast enough but your wifi is weak, there are things you can do. If possible, move the router closer to the centre of the house, or towards the rooms in which you need the strongest signal. Keep it in the open, not in a cabinet, and away from solid and metallic objects.
And try to position it away from dense walls, particularly those made out of concrete blockwork or with pipes and wires running through them.
Check your settings
Most modern routers will automatically select the best settings for your home, but you can manually check using the web interface of your router accessed through a browser on a computer. Consult the help pages for your ISP’s router for how to do so.
Wifi operating at 2.4GHz uses a range of frequency “channels”, only some of which do not overlap with each other. To reduce interference from your neighbours’ wifi, switch to channel 1, 6 or 11, which do not overlap, and therefore are less likely to cause or suffer interference.
If you have a connection under 200Mbps, enabling prioritisation or “quality of service” for your key devices, might help. This stops other things from sucking up all the available bandwidth – it will prevent a game download on an Xbox cutting off a video call on your laptop, for instance.
Set a strong wifi password using at least WPA2 security, not the lowest WEP option. This will make sure no wifi thieves can log on to your network and steal your bandwidth.
Check your devices
An internet slowdown may be down to your devices rather than your router. For older computers, upgrading the wifi adapter may help. USB wifi 5 adapters cost under £15, while the latest wifi 6 models cost about £50, but you will need a compatible router to take advantage of the extra speed.
For a non-portable device, such as a media streamer or a console, use an ethernet cable if it is close to the router, as this will be faster and more reliable than wifi.
If you have about 40 devices connected at once, consider disconnecting unnecessary ones to help provide more bandwidth for those you need most.
Weaker routers struggle with lots of devices connected at once.
Extend the wifi reach
If your wifi can’t reach parts of your house you can extend the signal of your current router with add-on gadgets.
Powerline networking devices use your home’s power cables to transmit data. They typically cost between £20 and £70. They plug into standard electrical sockets with one connected to the router via an ethernet cable, and others placed about the home providing ethernet ports and/or wifi for your devices. The speed you get through them is dependent on the condition of your electrical wiring.
Wifi extenders (£25-70) do a similar thing, but simply connect to your router via wifi, then rebroadcast it for other devices.
A network switch (under £20) can add more ethernet ports to your router if you need to connect more devices.
Upgrade to a better router
Mesh wifi systems come in various shapes and sizes, spreading your broadband all over your home using a series of wirelessly interconnected satellite units. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
Replacing your existing router is often the most effective way to improve your wifi, but is also the most costly. Before committing to a third-party router, speak to your ISP as it may be able to provide you with a more modern one for free. Virgin and other ISPs are currently rolling out more powerful wifi 6-capable routers.
Otherwise, there are broadly two options: a beefy single router with much more powerful wifi broadcasting ability than the cheap one provided by your ISP, or a mesh system, which uses a series of satellites dotted about your home to blanket it in wifi.
Both typically use your existing router as a modem and then broadcast their own more robust wifi network.
Single unit wifi 6 routers start at about £60 but can reach the hundreds for powerful gaming-orientated devices. They connect to your old ISP box via ethernet cable, which means they are often easier to place in a more central area of your home. Running a long ethernet cable under floorboards, carpets, behind skirting boards or picture rails, or just under furniture can help keep things neat.
Good wifi 5 mesh systems start at under £100 for a triple pack of satellites, which should be enough for most homes with connections under 200Mbps. For those with faster broadband, good tri-band wifi 6 models cost about £300.