When you sign up for broadband, you’re offered ‘up to’ speeds in most cases. For certain tasks – online gaming, video streaming, design work where you’re collaborating with people in other locations – you need that high speed. But you don’t always get it.
Bad cabling in your local area, lots of neighbors on the same copper wire, or poor quality equipment in your home can all slow down your connection.
But so can your ISP.
ISPs handle data in a bunch of different ways. Not all of them work out well for you. Sometimes, ISPs throttle your data (which they’re not supposed to do), or queue it and let it languish. Sometimes, there are other factors in play.
So when you’re not getting the speeds you pay for, what’s causing the glitch?
Test your speed
First things first: check your internet speed. Use a test site like speedtest.net to find out how fast your upload and download speeds are. Check a few times, to get an average, and if you can do it, run tests at high and low traffic times – in prime time and super early in the morning, for instance. Write your numbers down or take screenshots, and compare them to what your ISP promised you.
Test your speed with a VPN
VPNs are virtual private networks. They conceal the contents of your data by wrapping it in a layer of encryption, meaning an ISP doesn’t know which data to throttle. If it’s looking for gaming data, streaming data or big image files – the stuff that takes up bandwidth – it can’t identify it. Your data gets treated the same as everyone else’s.
So grab a free trial from a couple of VPNs, download and fire them up, and head back to your speed test. This time, test speeds with and without the VPN enabled. Try a couple because you never know which VPN gives the fastest service in your area, and which you prefer using. As before, make several tests to give you an average. And remember to test at different times too.
Pro tip: most VPNs let you pick your own server – the place your traffic emerges to join the regular internet. Choose one close to you and with low server load, so you get the fastest VPN connection.
What do your results mean?
If you consistently saw slower speeds with a VPN than without, the chances are you’re not
being throttled. If you saw faster speeds with a VPN during high traffic times and slower speeds with a VPN during low traffic times, it looks like your data is being queued or throttled in prime time. Makes sense from your ISP’s point of view, not a lot from yours. And you’re the one paying.
If your problem isn’t throttling, move on to chasing other things that might be slowing you down: your modem, cables, or computer settings could all be slowing your connection. If it’s not them, try contacting your ISP.
If throttling is your issue, pick the VPN you liked the best, pay a few dollars a month and get the speeds you’re paying for!