Why your internet is slow (and what you can do about it)

It's easy to take for granted your high-speed internet connection and router that allows most — if not all — of your devices an easy wireless hookup. The minute there's a drop in performance, though, all bets are off and you scramble to find a solution; no one likes internet that's slower than what they're used to. Let's take a look at some of the common causes for a slow internet connection and what you can do about it.

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Why your internet is slow

Ethernet (Image credit: Windows Central)

There are many more unforeseen reasons your internet might be slowing down than what I have listed here, but this is a good start.

  • Device is connected over Wi-Fi. A wireless connection to your router is, in most cases, going to cut the speed that you're paying for from your internet service provider (ISP). Signal interference can come from other electronics (particularly microwaves), walls, and furniture, and simply moving to the outer reach of the antenna will cause issues. If you want the best speed possible, stick with a wired connection using an Ethernet cable.
  • Device is outdated. You won't likely see a sudden drop in internet speed as your device has its third birthday, but trying to run modern web browsers — especially loaded down with extensions and add-ons — on aging hardware will make it seem like your internet speed is the problem.
  • Router needs a reset. Just like a PC, powering down your router (usually by unplugging the power cable) can do wonders for your internet. It's easy for your router to get out of sync with the myriad wireless devices connected to it, and a reset usually gets everything back the way it should be.
  • PC might be infected with malware. One of the most common causes of a noticeable change in network speed is a malicious program communicating with the open internet, using up your bandwidth before you even begin. Let your antivirus do a full scan and see what it dredges up.
  • Too many people using the same band. Unless your router and devices have multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output (MU-MIMO) capabilities, data is delivered in a rotating manner to any connected devices. The more devices, the longer it takes the router to arrive back at the first.
  • You're connected to an extender. Wi-Fi extenders are a low-cost way to extend the reach of a wireless signal, perfect if a back corner of your home can't be reached by your router alone. However, extenders generally cut bandwidth in half due to wireless backhaul traffic. You have data delivered to your device, and your device must deliver data back to the router.
  • ISP has you throttled. Did you recently re-download your entire Steam library onto a new hard drive? Did you recently binge an entire eight seasons of a TV show? Depending on the plan you have with your ISP, they might be throttling your connection.
  • ISP is having technical issues. Your slow internet might be completely out of your hands. The network beyond the modem in your home is extensive, and there are plenty of opportunities for it to fail. A quick search in a web browser (as long as your internet isn't completely down) will usually bring up a website where you can verify whether or not the problems are network-wide.

Even with all these potential problems, there are still plenty more things that could be affecting your overall speed. If you're downloading a file, the server on the other end might be getting slammed, and likewise, a website that's experiencing unusually high traffic will take longer to load. Depending on the density of your neighborhood, everyone trying to connect at once might be causing speeds to take a hit.

What you can do about slow internet

If you suspect your internet woes are coming from inside, there are a few things you can do to test and fix the issues. As always, it's never a bad idea to give your router a power cycle — unplug it and plug it back in — before trying anything else.

Test your internet's speed

Watching a web page slowly load doesn't always have to do with your internet speed. Your RAM might be busy dealing with thirty browser tabs (or some other equally-strenuous task), and your processor (CPU) might likewise be busy with something other than displaying your favorite website.

To ensure it is your internet speed that's causing a problem, it's not a bad idea to run a speed test. This will also let you know whether or not you've outgrown your current ISP plan — if you're seeing download and upload numbers that match what you're paying for and still don't find it fast enough, it's probably time to upgrade.

Speedtest.net seems to be the go-to place for checking internet speeds. Just click the big "Go" button in the middle of the page and let it do its thing. To get a true reading, always try to test using a wired connection.

Test your internet speed at Speedtest.net

Use an Ethernet cable

Especially for those super important tasks — online gaming, TV show streaming, file-sharing — an Ethernet cable can make a huge difference. Wireless signals at best get a lot of interference and usually cut speeds (unless you have a big, beefy router), and sticking with wired should immediately make a noticeable difference.

Try changing router band or channel

If your router is relatively new, it probably operates with one or two 2.4GHz bands as well as a 5GHz band. It might steer your devices toward the appropriate band based on usage, but more commonly, you'll be the one choosing. To put it simply, the 2.4GHz band can reach further but can't offer the same speeds as the 5GHz band. If you're into something that requires speed, give the 5GHz band a go, but don't travel too far from the router.

Most routers should also allow you to choose the channel on which it operates, ranging from numbers 1 through 11. A lot of routers, by default, will be set to a certain channel, which means that the neighbors downstairs and above you are likely using the same one. Try out channels 1, 6, and 11 (non-overlapping) for best results. Changing channels varies from router to router, but steps should be included in the documentation.

Velop mesh (Image credit: Windows Central)

Buy a new router or mesh system

Whether or not your ISP includes a router in their subscription plan, you might want to upgrade to something that can handle your needs. Whether that's a router with MU-MIMO capabilities, dual bands, or the 802.11ac standard, investing in new hardware can often alleviate your slow internet issues. No matter what you're buying, ensure you aren't buying too much. It doesn't make sense to buy a new router that far exceeds the speeds delivered by your ISP if you don't intend on upgrading.

If your internet problem is more to do with not having enough coverage in your home, a mesh Wi-Fi system might be your best bet. These systems are designed to blanket an area in an uninterrupted wireless signal without some of the speed sacrifices found with wireless extenders.

Subscribe to a new ISP plan

Sometimes your needs will exceed what your ISP plan has to offer. Just a year ago I was enjoying a 25Mbps connection, but since upgrading to 150Mbps, I can't imagine going back. If you're constantly noticing how slow your internet is while it's operating normally, it's probably time to up your plan.

Contact your ISP

You've exhausted your resources, and your internet still seems slower than usual. The network beyond your modem is complex, and it's easy for something to go wrong. It never hurts to contact your ISP's tech support department, as they have the resources needed to diagnose most big issues and will let you know if they detect an issue that you can fix right at home.

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Cale Hunt
Senior Editor, Laptop Reviews

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

  • You forgot 2 possible causes. 1: you have a crappy plan from your ISP
    2: you left your SSID open without a password, so all your neighbors are getting free internet I've had people ask me why their high speed internet is slow and have been on 1-5Mbps plans or have had 30+ wireless devices connected when there should only have been 1 or 2.
  • Are ppl still that unaware of such things these days? 1st one is so obvious to ever be possible, may be the 2nd one is.
  • Yep... Because at 1-5 Mbs, companies are still legally allowed to advertise "high-speed internet" because for some reason we are still comparing things to dial up. Marleting word wonders.
  • Why Is my Internet slow?
    I'm living in Germany that's why. It's the bitter truth. Poor countries have way faster internet for less money. Same for mobile data. Btw before changing anything on your WiFi channel use a WiFi analysers app. https://www.windowscentral.com/e?link=https2F%2Fclick.linksynergy.co...
  • I agree, here you have to pay around 20$ or euro a month at most for 250Mbps or even 500Mbps connection
  • Well, these are not exactly "poor" countries you talk of.
  • America is in the same boat with I ternet speed vs. price, so I feel your pain.
  • If they're experienceing slow internet for 1 particular site or game, it could be relative location and/or the path the ISP is using.  Paying for a VPN who advertises fixing this (usually under a gameing advert) could fix this issue.  This is usually an issue with high ping, a villian who can make even 1Gbps internet seem slow. Another possibility, they're using the ISPs default DNS.  The ISP's DNS can sometimes be quite terrible in regards to ping and response time.  With a ton of free DNS options and a 1 entry change in the router, a more responsive internet may be easily achieved.  Sympoms are similar to those of outdated hardware.
  • Now I know what Captain Obvious does when he's not making hotels.com commercials.
  • One of the other reasons (I am sure there are a lot more than what are outlined in this article) for slow internet is when you are assigned to a promotional internet access plan, say paying $40 a month for 100 Mbps service instead of $65 regular price. The ISP would throttle you down especially in non-peak hours to 30-45 Mbps since they know when you're online most!!
  • You're too far from the DSLAM if you have DSL.
  • Or it could be that you're using "your Internet" instead of a connection to the one everybody else uses. ;-)
  • What does that mean?
  • It's kind of silly when someone says "my internet is down/slow" - it's not your personal internet, it's your connection to the internet. It's just one of those inaccurate phrases people use.
  • My Orbi system cuts my wifi download in half (by 150mbps) and I can't figure out why. Even built in router speed test, it shows full 300mbps because it's hardwired. But wifi is cut in half and only for downloads. Upload on wifi is 300.
  • I would suggest to get closer to your access point and see if anything changes. If you are on a phone, chances are there is too much signal loss from walls/distance etc. Your phone/laptop may boost TX output more than your AP does to "power through" the walls.
  • I've got a rather odd speed problem.  ISP delivers 300mbps down, 35 up.  Testing on my fairly well equippped mini tower with a 1gbps hardwire connection to the router shows full speed.  Connection through a couple switches from the router, all 1gbps to an older i7 laptop.  Over the last couple months, runnng any speedtest, it starts out at full 300, and by the time the test is done the download speed is maybe 20% of where it started.  I'm guessing that there's either a software, setting, or ethernet issue on the laptop.  Any ideas?