Well-known Internet Service Providers

A slow internet connection is a crime against your time – with a wide range of common suspects.

Slow bandwidth can make you wait to see images appear on a web page, interrupt video streaming with visual buffer stuttering, cause your video calls to drop, leave speed test apps showing irritating low numbers and generally create an online existence everywhere from agonists to unachievable to anything heavier than emails.

The blame for a slowdown may lie somewhere from your laptop on your Wi-Fi network to your ISP or even servers on the other end. Errors in your device or network need to be fixed more easily, while problems with your ISP or an overloaded server elsewhere on the Internet are completely out of your control.

The upper limit of your internet speeds is not a function of what company you use, but what technology that provider sets.

Fiber Internet – that is, data sent as light pulses within thin fiber optic cables – tops this list in the limited places that are available. Fiber download and upload speeds typically start at 100 megabits per second (Mbps) each way and easily enter gigabit territory, one billion bits per second.

Cable internet, in which data moves on the same type of coaxial cables that have traditionally brought cable TV to most households, is the second fastest option for internet speed. The cable allows discharge speeds that match most fiber connections, but loads are much slower; expect a minimum of 5 Mbps and a maximum of 35 Mbps.

The subscriber digital line, also known as DSL, uses old-school copper telephone lines to transmit data. This both limits its speed – you’ll be lucky enough to see DSL 15 Mbps downloads and 6 Mbps uploads – and limits where it works as those speeds fade away as you leave the phone’s “head office” hubs.

The satellite is the last. This is not because of its first speeds, which can operate from 12 to 100 Mbps for downloads and can reach 3 Mbps for uploads, but because of the delay imposed by your data traveling around 22,000 miles each way towards satellites in geosynchronous orbits that keep them fixed above a place on earth. This delay time, worse by a factor of hundreds than any wireless connection, can make interactive services and online games unobtrusive. The strict data limit set by each of the two traditional satellite providers in our estimates (HughesNet and Viasat) further limits your use of this band.

The problem may be with the hardware closest to you. A computer or tablet may slow down for reasons outside of your home network or your broadband connection. Get started with its web browser, especially if it’s on a Mac or Windows desktop; Browsers have a bad habit of letting poorly designed websites eat memory and processor cycles, which not only block but block the rest of the system. Leaving and restarting the browser usually fixes it at the moment, while the use of an ad blocker may be necessary for future use of pages particularly requested by resources.

But your device may also have its own Wi-Fi problems – it may be struggling with a Wi-Fi signal, or it may no longer have a valid IP address and is therefore invisible to any other device on internet. In that case, disconnecting from the network and reconnecting can fix it. If this does not work, restart the entire device.

Wi-Fi has a widespread and well-earned reputation for being unstable in practice. If more than one device appears to be stuck in a slow lane, as shown in a speed test application, your wireless router should be your next suspect. First, try turning it off and then on again. Second, check its settings page or its mobile app to see if there are any firmware updates that can fix performance flaws. Third, take a few steps to fix your network:

• If the router is in a corner or at the bottom of your house, try moving it to a more central location.

• Check to see which of the two main Wi-Fi bands, 2.4 or 5 gigahertz (GHz), each device is on. Modern dual-band routers need to set these automatically, but your device may prompt you to select a router settings page. The older 2.4 GHz band offers better bandwidth but is more subject to interference and delivers lower maximum speeds, while the newer 5 GHz does not reach that far, but offers faster speeds.

• Connect a computer via Ethernet to the router. If that wired connection gives your advertised speed, but wireless connections do not, it may be time for a new router – or, if your home is large enough or prone to interference, a Wi-Fi network that will distribute the signal much better than a single router can have.

Many broadband services – in particular cable and DSL, but sometimes also fiber – require a specialized device to connect your home network to your broadband connection. Even that modem or gateway can be a source of trouble, though it is less suspect than Wi-Fi. Again, your first troubleshooting step should be restarting it – resetting the hardware is a technical support cliché, but it often works to clear up random problems. Then check for firmware updates if the device does not do it automatically. Finally, the modem or port may need to be replaced. This is especially important if you use a dial-up connection. For those links, Microsoft recommends you use the fastest modem available. If you rent from your provider, they should be able to send you a new one right away. If you have purchased your own, check to see which new models your provider supports before making a replacement.

If you have turned off the entire device in your home, your connection itself is likely to be to blame. If your neighbors are reporting similar issues, chances are higher that the problem is your internet provider connecting to your areas. So get in touch with your provider’s technical support to see if they can diagnose the problem and fix it.

One concern may be high traffic due to the volume of people online in your area. Peter Holslin i HighSpeedInternet.com refers to time as the “internet peak hour”. These peak hours of use usually occur between 6pm and 11pm on weekdays when people finish work and school and have more free time to use the internet. You may experience slow internet speeds during those times, except at other times, as more people are now working and studying from home, Holslin says.

The other possibility is that you have exceeded your plan and need to get faster service. If you need faster download speeds, any cable or fiber provider should be able to force you, even if your need for speed goes to hundreds of megabits per second. But if you need faster uploads – perhaps because work from home now involves sharing large files with other remote colleagues – only fiber will offer great improvements at those speeds. And if you have DSL or satellite, none of the technologies allow much in improving speed.

Point 5: Your neighborhood choices in the broadband

If your provider can not or will not sell you a faster connection, then it is time to purchase a new internet service provider – if your location allows it. In most of America, especially in more urban areas, people can choose between a cable and a fiber provider, allowing for considerable competition. But in much of the U.S., a cable provider’s only rivals consist of slow DSL services and satellite providers that impose particularly strict data backups. The unfortunate reality of the broadband in America is that in some cases, the only way to update it is to move. Or do what many people are forced to do sometimes when they need a faster connection for the day: Travel with a laptop or tablet to a place with Wi-Fi connected to a faster service. Visit our local websites to see the internet service providers available nationwide.

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Other products to consider

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