10 Immediate Ways to Deal with Slow Internet
Everything you need to know for faster browsing
The spinning wheel indicating a slow loading internet page is so annoying. In our connected world, we want info, and we want it now, whether it’s to look up data for a work project, or to look up the year Ashton Kutcher took over the lead on the show Two and a Half Men to settle a bet. When a slow loading page happens, you’re going to wish you could do something to speed up your connection and get that useful or trivial information.
Before you pick up the phone and call your service provider, here are a few suggestions to troubleshoot, fix or survive a slow internet connection.
1. See if your hardware is the problem
Just like a miniature computer, modems and routers have microprocessors and tiny memories. Since the first rule of troubleshooting a computer is reboot, give your modem and router a quick reset by turning them off or unplugging them, wait a moment, then turn them on again. Give the equipment a few minutes to come back online, then try loading the internet page again.
In general, 90% of connectivity problems can be solved by rebooting these two pieces of equipment.
You may also have antivirus software preventing you from accessing certain sites. If you know a website is safe, try adding the URL to your browser’s trusted sites, then see if the site will load.
2. Evaluate equipment limitations
Many people don’t realize that modems and routers need to be replaced periodically. If you have had either device for more than a few years, they may be operating fine, but could be sorely outdated.
The reason is technology continues to advance with faster internet speeds, but your older equipment may not be able to handle those newest top speeds. You could be paying for a fast connection, but are actually stuck in the slow lane.
The modem—the box connected by the cable coming into your house—is your main hub for service, and is usually supplied by your provider. If your modem is more than five years old, ask your provider to swap it out for a newer model.
The other essential piece to be updated periodically is your Wi-Fi router. Sometimes this is built into your modem, but often is a stand-alone unit to wirelessly disperse your signal throughout your home.
You can typically obtain a Wi-Fi router from your provider. You can also buy your own, which is recommended if you have a challenging set up such as a large home.
Bypass the router entirely and connect your computer to the modem with an ethernet cable (looks like a fat phone connector) for the fastest internet connection for video conferencing and other data intensive uses.
3. Fix your Wi-Fi signal
If your modem and Wi-Fi router are up to date, but you have a weak Wi-Fi signal there are a few ways to tweak performance.
Think of your wireless router as a big antenna. Make sure to place it in a central location and keep it unobstructed. A router may not be the prettiest thing to look at, but you do not want to keep it inside a cabinet or even on a low shelf. You can add satellite stations to some newer routers to boost your signal out to the garage or other distant rooms.
4. Address bandwidth issues on a website
Sometimes certain websites load or function slowly because of bandwidth issues. Think of bandwidth as a pipe that a lot of data has to travel through from a site to you, and from you to other points via the internet. The bigger the pipe, the better. Bandwidth of 100Mbps will be much faster than a bandwidth of 25Mbps.
If it is just your company’s website that is loading slow while others on the internet are fine, you (or your IT resources) can remedy the problem.
A website that has a video banner and content that is heavy with photos needs more bandwidth for a smooth user experience. First, make sure media is optimized before loading it on the site. The file size of an image coming out of a digital camera is huge compared to the size it needs to be displayed on a website. Another alternative is to host site videos on a separate server like Vimeo or YouTube.
If your files sizes are ok but your site is still having issues, find a website host that can support the full bandwidth of your site. You can check the size of your website pages using a free tool at webpagetest.org.
5. Consider peak times
There are other issues that can affect bandwidth, including more people accessing resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. With so many people working from home, there is increased information moving through the pipeline, potentially slowing things down at peak internet times. If you have your own website, you can set up and monitor your website’s peak usage time with Google Analytics.
6. Work more efficiently
Knowing your internet connection may be faster and slower at different times of day, you can prioritize your work accordingly. Schedule big downloads and data intensive projects in non-peak times when you have a faster connection, and use the morning to answer email, work on documents and return phone calls.
Many apps come with offline modes. For example, when you are on the internet, you can go into Google Drive settings and set up access to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides to access and edit offline.
7. Neutralize bandwidth-hogging apps
Browsing sites with a lot of ads or having apps running in the background on your computer can make everything else you are doing on the web slower.
If your computer is running operations in the background, such as file syncing to services like Google Drive or Dropbox, those can also be slowing your connection. You may be able to decrease the download and upload rates in each app to cause less interference with other processes. Also check for other apps that don’t need to be running in the background.
Another annoyance is apps and your computer system wanting to start an update, right when you hit your stride on a work project. Configure your system to perform updates at non-peak times—like when you are sleeping. Here’s how to manage those updates in Windows 10, and here’s how to set an update schedule in a Mac OS.
8. Try a new DNS server
How the internet translates a website name you type into a URL search bar is pretty amazing at a base level. A computer uses something called DNS, or Domain Name System, to look up the numerical equivalent of that name and serve the information back to you in the form of a website. However, DNS servers can and do go down or get overtaxed. There are fast and free alternatives you can try to speed up the process, like Google DNS or Cloudflare. There is also a free utility called Namebench that will test what’s the fastest DNS for your location.
9. Optimize your web for a slow connection
If you are stuck with a slow connection at a coffee shop or waiting at the airport, you can switch to a slimmed down browser. Opera Mini or Opera Turbo are browsers that function well while saving data. On your mobile device, Chrome has a skinny version—Chrome Lite (Android only).
During a power outage, you can forgo your Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection and get online by tethering your smartphone. Just be aware this will use precious data, so you may want to use this option for urgent operations and save watching Netflix for later.
10. Consider upgrading your internet plan
I saved this one for last, so you could review other potential problems first. However, you may have simply outgrown a lower level internet plan you originally signed up for. Adding more devices and using services like Netflix to stream TV programming over the internet take increased bandwidth. Your current internet plan may no longer not be sufficient. Log onto your account and check what plan you signed up for and the speed. This is usually expressed in Mbps (megabits per second).
Note that plans say “up to” a certain speed. These speeds will change throughout the day and with how many devices are accessing it, and how many people are connected on your neighborhood hub.
See how fast your actual connection is by running your own speed test:
- Go to Google.com.
- Search for internet speed test.
- Tap or click Run Speed Test.
If what you’ve measured is close to what you’re paying for, then your network is working fine. If the speed is average or slow, the best way to speed it up will be to upgrade. However, first ask your internet service provider if your account has the fastest speed for the level you are paying for. Sometimes providers will upgrade their own systems, transmission lines or equipment and raise the speeds of established service levels—it doesn’t hurt to ask!