How can you make the connection you've got right now work that little bit faster? We can't provide a magic bullet, either software or hardware to make everyone's connections quicker, but we can provide some tips that may help speed up individual connections.
1. Test your actual speed regularly
Part of the problem with broadband is that its uses are so wide, and our perception of its speed are often flawed. Just like waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting for a file to download, mail to finish processing or video to stream always seems to take absolutely ages, even if "absolutely ages" can vary from micro-seconds to minutes. The best way to get an actual handle on your real speeds is to monitor them from time to time. Our internet speed test will give you a real-world speedometer reading for your current connection, and running it over a period of time will give you a good gut feel for how fast your connection actually is.
2. Replace your modem/router
If your ISP provided a modem/router when you signed up, chances are it's getting long in the tooth. Chances are also quite high that it's locked to that provider, and you may have little or no ability to get into its interface and tweak it as you might want to. Consider a new or replacement router, especially if you've noticed your internet connection speeds dropping recently. It may also be worth considering fully wired or HomePlug Ethernet over wireless, as sometimes the speed bottleneck is more local than you may wish to think.
For 3G Broadband users, newer modems offer higher potential speeds, with some older models capped compared to newer units. It's also worth considering an extension antenna if your 3G reception is particularly poor, although you'll need to ensure you pick an antenna model that's compatible with your 3G hardware.
3. Replace your filter
If you're on ADSL/ADSL2+, you're relying on the crumbly old copper lines outside your home, about which you can't do much but complain to your ISP. Inside your home, however, you do have a measure of control via your filter. Like any other electronic part, filters wear out over time, and that can lead to additional signal noise leaking through and affecting your ADSL synchronisation speed.
4. Check your plan
If you're on a lower-cost plan, there's a high likelihood that you're speed limited in some way. ISPs typically state this in terms of a download speed followed by an upload speed, and always state the highest possible speed available, because it makes them look better that way. That's why most ADSL2+ plans list themselves at 24,000/1024 (or similar), even though for practical purposes nobody actually hits that 24,000Kbps mark. At the lower end, though, if you're on an ADSL1 connection (typically topped out at 1500Kbps) or a slower 512Kbps or even 256Kbps connection, consider switching to a faster plan. With broadband prices consistently toppling you may even find it's cheaper to go faster, and often with more download quota thrown in as well.
5. Kill broadband sucking applications
Installed lots of interesting broadband-aware applications such as torrent clients, Skype, live desktop widgets and automatically updating AV software?
Good for you -- this is what broadband's meant to be used for.
There's just one little problem. All of those applications -- and anything that needs it that loads in the background when you start up your computer use incremental parts of your broadband connection when they're keeping themselves running. Check what's loading on start up and eliminate any online services you only need intermittently, and you'll free up more of your raw speed for your own use.
6. Schedule your heavy network usage
You'll feel the broadband pinch most when you're trying to do particularly heavy lifting, such as downloading large files or uploading large backups, for example. Where possible, try to schedule these activities overnight, so that your connection is otherwise smooth when you're actually awake and using your connection.
7. Keep your AV software up-to-date
Malware loves an open connection, because there's so much it can do with one, whether it's using your PC as a zombie in a botnet, or sending out your personal details to identity thieves. Not only is that worrying in and of itself, it's also a huge waste of your broadband resources. A machine that's free of spyware and malware is one that's not only running at peak efficiency, it's also one that doesn't waste your broadband.
8. Set up your router for your activities
Most routers will allow you to set Quality Of Service (QoS) profiles to give bandwidth priority to specific applications, which can make those applications really fly, albeit at the cost of other apps running more slowly. Depending on the application -- most notably games -- it may also be worth opening ports on your router to allow specific traffic types through. Proceed with caution, however, as an open port is an open way into your home network.
9. Set up your router with proper security
Which brings us nicely on to security. Enable it. Preferably WPA2, which most new routers and devices support too. Don't choose an obvious password, and change the SSID (Service Set Identifier, the default "name" of your wireless network) away from the default. A default name is a rather obvious sign that you're perhaps not as fussy about network security as you might otherwise be. The more people who leech onto your broadband connection, the slower it will go for every single user.
10. Don't be afraid to call your ISP!
As noted above, there's not much point in calling to complain that you're only getting a 22MBps sync on your "up to" 24MBps ADSL2+ plan, because there's only so much that you can reasonably expect from any ADSL2+ connection.
But if your speed has dipped a lot recently, and especially if you've also been getting drop-outs of your connection, pick up a phone and call your ISP. There may be service works causing it, and it may be time to get a technician to actually check the outside lines. Be wary, though, as most ISPs will charge a fee if no fault is found on the street lines.