According to Ofcom, the average broadband speed in the United Kingdom reached 14.7Mbit/s in May, 2013, and it continues to rise every year as newer technologies such as 4G mobile broadband and fibre-optic cable are rolled out. However, the increasing average broadband speed is largely a result of the increasing prevalence of superfast networks which are still not widely available around the country. Many people, particularly in rural areas, are still stuck with low connection speeds of 2Mbit/s or even less. There are also a number of other factors which influence your broadband speed, and because of these, Internet service providers cannot guarantee that you will be able to enjoy their advertised connection speeds. You can use a free speedtest to work out the actual speeds you currently receive.
1 - Your Distance from the Local Exchange
The distance between your home and the local telephone exchange is by far the most significant factor when it comes to ADSL connections which use the telecommunications infrastructure. Cable Internet, though nothing like as widespread as ADSL, uses the same infrastructure as cable television. If you are using ADSL, the further away you are from the local exchange, the slower your maximum download speed will be. This is why many people in rural areas are stuck with slow broadband options.
2 - The Technology You Are Using
Internet connectivity technology is advancing all the time with the rollout of fourth-generation (4G) mobile broadband and fibre-optic cabling well underway. The latter provides by far the fastest download speeds available. Another, though much rarer, broadband technology uses the same infrastructure as satellite television. This is universally available and sometimes the only option available for fast Internet in rural areas, although it is subject to high latency rates (response times).
3 - Number of People Sharing Your Connection
The more people there are sharing your Internet connection, the slower it will be. If you have a large household with multiple people using the Internet at the same time, you can use the bandwidth management features provided with most broadband routers to allocate bandwidth to different users on the network. You should also avoid sharing broadband with your neighbours or anyone else if at all possible, since your download speeds and latency rates will be impacted considerably.
4 - ISP Contention Ratio
The contention ratio refers to the number of people sharing your connection using the local infrastructure rather than your actual home network. Most Internet service providers have a contention ratio of 50:1. This means that you will effectively be sharing your Internet connection with as many as 49 people. For the most part, the available bandwidth is distributed as equally as possible between everyone connected to the network at any given time, so a contention ratio of 50:1 should be adequate for the majority of home users.
5 - Weather Conditions
Weather conditions typically do not have any significant effect on ADSL and cable connections, although severe weather may temporarily disrupt or damage some of the local infrastructure. Weather conditions play a much more significant part with mobile broadband (which uses the mobile phone networks) and satellite broadband. In these cases, bad weather can lead to significant drops in signal quality.
6 - The Time of Day
The more people online, the slower the Internet will be for everyone. The difference should not normally be particularly significant, but it is wise to remember that you probably won't be able to take advantage of the fastest download speeds during peak hours. Peak hours are typically between 6 and 11 PM for home broadband connections. If you need to download large amounts of data, it is best to leave your downloads to complete over night or while you are at work during the day.
7 - The Website Itself
Whether you are browsing the Internet or connecting to a remote server for a live video chat or an online multiplayer game, the speed of your connection will ultimately be limited to the speed of the remote server which you're connecting to. For example, if a website has limited bandwidth, it doesn't matter how fast your Internet connection is - it will still depend on the remote server. Some websites and online services are notoriously slow, but unfortunately, this is completely beyond your control.
Remember to use a free speedtest to check the quality of the actual connection you will receive.