Five steps: speed up your broadband

Back in the time of anthropomorphic tortoise/hare showdowns, slow and steady was the winning approach. These days business is fast-paced, and when it comes to broadband, speed is of the essence.

1. Upgrade your browser

One of Smarta's favourite quotes is from Microsoft's general manager for Internet Explorer (IE), Amy Badzukas, who said of an old version of the browser: "Friends don't let friends use IE6". In August, Microsoft reinforced this sentiment by publicly backing a group which had started a campaign against the browser, thoughtfully named 'Die IE6, Die'.

What on earth has IE6 done to warrant such bile? In short - it's slow. The way IE6 works is by downloading files on web pages sequentially - a massively inefficient way of working. Upgrade by downloading a browser such as IE8Firefox, Opera or even Google's Chrome, all of which will reduce the amount of time it takes to download pages.

2. Cull your system tray

Even if you don't have any programs open, chances are your computer is still running hundreds of little processes in the background, many of which hog bandwidth. If you're on a Windows PC, click the arrow next to the little icons in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen to open your system tray, or if you're on a Mac, open Activity Monitor to see how much bandwidth your applications are using. Do you really need Spotify, Skype, MSN Messenger, RealPlayer and 4OD running in the background when you're not using them? No, we didn't think so.

3. Improve your wifi signal

If you're using the wireless router which came with your broadband package, it's very likely you're not getting the coverage you deserve. Improve its performance by investing in a longer aerial: for as little as £10, you could see a 50% increase in signal. Obstacles such as walls or large pieces of furniture will also serve to reduce the wifi signal, so move your router somewhere central.

Alternatively, ditch your wireless altogether and use an Ethernet cable to connect to the internet. Ethernet is faster and more reliable - and because it limits you to one point of access, it means you won't find yourself slouched on the sofa concentrating on Murder She Wrote while you're supposed to be writing that presentation.

4. Banish bandwidth bandits

'Piggybacking', using someone else's unsecured wireless connection without their permission, is illegal in some parts of the world, but according to a survey, 12% of people admit to having done it before. If you haven't encrypted your connection, not only do you risk having your bandwidth used up by cheeky piggybackers, but you also leave yourself open to more serious breaches of security. Ideally, you should have a WPA (Wifi Protected Access) encryption if your hardware is compatible, as well as a WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy) password. See your router's user manual or contact its manufacturer or your broadband provider for instructions on how to set up a password.

5. Contact your ISP

If your download speed is slow, it could be that you're working from one of the UK's three million 'notspots' - areas with broadband speeds of less than 2Mbps. The speed of your connection usually has something to do with your distance from the exchange. The nearer you are to the exchange, the faster your connection should be. Beware, though: broadband companies can be devious about connection speed. They'll be happy to sell you a super-fast 20Mb package even if they know full-well your position means you're unlikely to achieve the full speed.

Use this handy Broadband Notspot map to determine whether you are in a slow broadband area, then check your connection speed using a broadband speed checker to determine whether you are receiving your connection's full potential.

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