You might not get the internet speed you paid for – here’s why

  • According to a recent study, the internet speed you pay for is not always correct.
  • Many ISPs take on too many customers at the expense of their internet service.
  • You can move your WiFi router to a better location to improve your internet speed.

Mika Baumeister / Unspalsh

If your internet connection at home isn’t as fast as it should be, maybe you’re not imagining it.

A new study finds that home internet speeds routinely don’t match advertised “up to” speeds by several ISPs. Experts say numerous issues on the ISP side could be the cause of slower than advertised speeds.

“Most ISPs oversubscribe their connections,” Ritesh Mukherjee, senior vice president for enterprise networking at Inseego, a 5G networking company, told Lifewire in an email interview. “As a result, not every customer in the area gets the advertised rates during peak usage periods. Network congestion, time of day, network type (fiber vs. cable vs. DSL), overbooking ratio, and distance from the ISP all affect how slow connections can become.

Slow browsing

Consumer Reports recently conducted a study that found that many users have broadband speed limitations. The nonprofit consumer organization found issues with consumers who paid for “premium” plans, which purported to offer download speeds of between 940 and 1,200 Mbps, who were actually experiencing average speeds of between 360 and 373 Mbps.

“Additionally, we found that a large number of consumers who participated in our study pay as much or more for a sub-broadband plan (which is generally defined as a download speed of less than 25 Mbps will) as other consumers pay for advertised speeds of 300 Mbps or higher,” the organization wrote in the press release.

Fredrik Lipfert / Unsplash

Mukherjee noted that your ISP is not always responsible for slower than advertised speeds. He said the problem could include older routers, a poorly configured Wi-Fi connection, distance to the Wi-Fi access point, many devices sharing a single ISP connection, and purchased carrier plans.

But numerous issues on the ISP side could be the cause of slower-than-advertised speeds, he said. “Due to increasing competition, ISPs are advertising higher or best possible speeds,” he added. “These speeds can degrade during peak usage when the technology shares upstream throughput (like cable) with many homes and is oversubscribed.”

Michael Miller, the CEO of VPNOnline, said in an email interview that ISP speeds are often not what they promise because companies measure their speeds. He said ISPs use a process called “traffic shaping” to slow down certain types of traffic, like torrents.

“That way, they can guarantee that all customers will have a certain level of service at all times, regardless of how much bandwidth they’ve been using,” Miller added.

speed things up

You are not helpless when it comes to improving your connection speed. Mukherjee suggested that you upgrade your router and Wi-Fi devices to support the latest standards and speeds. For example, if you are on a cable gigabit plan, you should use a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. If you’re using Wi-Fi, make sure your router supports Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax).

One thing to try is getting your internet gear in the right place, Mukherjee said. “When using 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), moving the CPE to an area with a stronger signal improves speed. If you use Wi-Fi, make sure it’s in a central location so you’re closer to it most of the time. Switching to a wired connection can help when the Wi-Fi signal is poor,” he added.

Regulate applications and users that may be hogging bandwidth. Streaming applications or downloading large files can result in a huge bandwidth hog. A router with QoS capabilities to manage bandwidth usage by applications can help. Changing the DNS provider can also help.

Miller said the only thing users can do to speed up their Internet connection is to identify the type of connection they have. Is it a wired or wireless connection? If it is a wireless connection, users should make sure that there are no other wireless devices connected to the same network. If other wireless devices are connected, disconnect them.

“If it’s a wired connection, users should check that the cable going from their modem to their computer is plugged in properly,” he added. “You should also check if a surge protector is preventing power from reaching your modem.”


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