With full-time working from home becoming the norm for many post-Covid sufferers, many families are struggling with their home broadband cracking under the pressure.
This is especially problematic for large households with several family members using different devices, all connected to the same socket.
If you have a large household and are looking for a suitable broadband deal this Black Friday, here’s what to keep in mind.
The battle for bandwidth
Several family members watching Netflix, scrolling through Instagram on their phones, playing video games online, and buying from Amazon (while trying to hold a work call via Zoom) is not an uncommon domestic scenario in 2020.
But while you’re all unwittingly competing for bandwidth, you could end up with a service that’s sluggish — and even at risk of crashing.
Similarly, while a slow or unreliable broadband service can be extremely frustrating, there are steps you can take to improve things – and ensure you’re getting the most out of your connection.
Check your speed
First you need to know what speed you actually get. Ofcom has a free broadband checker where you can run a speed test. For best results, run tests over a few days and at different times of the day.
Make sure your current broadband speed is at least 25 Mbps (megabits per second) to cope with multiple family members trying to get online at the same time. If your speed is 10 Mbps or less, you will probably struggle and need to take action.
Ask about an upgrade
Call your existing broadband provider to see if you can upgrade to a faster fiber plan without losing service. The ability to do this depends on what’s available in your area, but in many cases it should be possible.
Superfast fiber broadband – promising speeds of at least 30Mbps – is now available to more than 95% of the UK, according to Ofcom.
And if you already have fiber, see if your current provider can offer better speeds and packages.
Take steps to improve your speed
There are some simple and immediate measures you can take yourself to ensure that your current installation works as it should:
- Check if the Wi-Fi router is connected directly to your telephone socket. Try not to use a phone extension cord as they can cause interference that can lower your speed.
- Make sure the router is free – buried in a bookcase, for example. Place it on a shelf or table, rather than on the floor.
- Keep the router away from other electrical devices such as cordless phones, computer speakers, and (some types of) baby monitors that can interfere with the signal.
- If your speed seems slower than normal, a simple ‘reboot’ can often solve the problem.
- Consider buying a “Wi-Fi booster” or “extender” to boost your Wi-Fi signal.
Lighten up the demands on your Wi-Fi
If possible, limit the number of devices connected to Wi-Fi at the same time – or spread out when family members are online. Try to avoid a situation where more than one of you is doing a “data-intensive” task (such as high definition HD streaming, gaming, or video calling) at the same time.
Keep in mind that tablets and smartphones often work in the background, so try turning off Wi-Fi reception when you’re not using them.
If you stream a lot via services such as Netflix and YouTube, turn off the HD function in ‘settings’ to free up some bandwidth.
Do not use the microwave when making video calls, watching HD videos, or doing anything important online, as this can reduce the Wi-Fi signal.
Buy an Ethernet cable
For the best broadband speeds, Ofcom recommends using an Ethernet cable to connect your computer or laptop directly to your router, meaning you don’t need Wi-Fi at all.
This should give you a faster and more reliable connection. At a cost of around £3 it won’t break the bank either.
Switch to a new deal
If, after taking steps to improve your broadband, you’re still stuck in the slow lane, it might be time to make the switch to get your service up to speed.
When comparing deals, think carefully about the features you need as a large multi-user family, including faster speeds, better service, and a lower price.
One of your top priorities may be finding an ‘unlimited broadband deal’, meaning there are no restrictions on how much you can use the internet for streaming movies, online gaming, shopping and video calls on multiple devices.
The good news is that virtually all home broadband deals are unlimited these days, including the cheapest standard deals from low-cost carriers.
Also note that unlimited broadband offers are often ‘bundled’ with other services such as landline, mobile and TV. With this in mind, you might be able to save big by opting for an ‘unlimited broadband and phone’ deal, where you get broadband and mobile as part of one bundle, for example.
But always do your research to make sure you’re getting the best value for money before signing up for a contract.
Watch out for exit fees
Before switching, check whether there is a financial penalty for leaving. You may be subject to a so-called ‘exit fee’ if you are still within your contract – which can be up to 24 months – and this could potentially wipe out any gains from a move.
In this case, it might be better to compare broadband offers now, but switch later.
Likewise, if you’re switching before the end of your contract so you can work from home more efficiently, you can talk to your employer to see if they’re willing to foot the bill.