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Distance from the exchange and your broadband speed

By Claire Nottage | Friday, December 2nd 2022

There are a number of issues that can cause slow broadband, one of which is the distance of your property from the local exchange or street cabinet.

The further your property is from the local street cabinet, the slower your connection is likely to be. But before you take drastic action and put your house on the market, here are a few suggestions as to what you can do to improve your snail-pace broadband.

Why distance matters

If you are suffering from painfully slow broadband speeds, it could be that your property is located a very long way from your nearest exchange or streetside cabinet. This is particularly the case if you are still on a standard broadband connection rather than a fibre connection.

Standard broadband runs on copper wiring which causes degradation to the signal over long distances. If you experience crackling and interference on your phone line when making a call on your landline, this is most likely to be the reason why. The interference you hear on your phone line is also the reason your broadband connection is likely to be slow.

How far am I from the exchange?

If you don’t know where your local street cabinet or exchange is, you can find out either by asking your provider or visiting a website called SamKnows. Type in your landline number and postcode and you will be shown where your local cabinet and exchange are in relation to your home and the speeds you can expect to get.

What to do if you have slow broadband

There are several things you can do to improve your broadband speed if you live a long way from your local exchange or street cabinet, from switching to a fibre broadband package to using a 4G or even a 5G connection to get online.

Switch to a fibre service

If you currently have an ADSL (or standard broadband) service, you should consider making the switch to fibre. Fibre cables run all the way to the local cabinet and provide far faster download speeds than ADSL. The final stretch from the cabinet to your home is still connected by copper cables, but the overall speed is likely to be better. You can see what fibre broadband deals are available in your area by using our fibre broadband comparison page.

Switch to Virgin Media

Virgin Media runs on its own network of cables and does not use copper telephone cabling at all. This means it has always been able to offer far faster speeds than those offered by providers that use the Openreach nework, such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk. Virgin’s network is not as extensive as that of Openreach, but you can check whether you can get Virgin Media and what packages are available to you on our Virgin Media comparison page.

Full fibre (FTTH) broadband

Thanks to the recent rollout of full fibre broadband by the Openreach network, Virgin Media is no longer the only provider that offers ultrafast speeds. Full fibre, also known as FTTP (fibre to the premises), is now slowly increasing in availability across the country. Unlike regular fibre broadband, full fibre does not use any copper wiring at all. Instead, the fibre cables go all the way into your home, bringing you very high download speeds of up to 1Gbps (1000Mbps).

BT, EE and Vodafone all now offer full fibre download speeds up to 900Mbps to millions of homes across the UK – both in urban and rural areas. Virgin Media offers speeds up to 1000Mbps with its Gig1 service. You can check what is available in your area by using our online availability checker.

There is also a small number of independent full fibre providers that provide ultrafast broadband in limited areas around the country. Gigaclear is a specialist provider that installs gigabit fibre broadband in rural communities and Hyperoptic installs full fibre broadband in urban apartment blocks. Residents of Kingston upon Hull can now also benefit from ultrafast connections thanks to the rollout of full fibre by KCOM.

Use 4G home broadband

If you can get a good mobile signal where you live, you could consider abandoning cabled broadband altogether and go for 4G (or 5G where available) home broadband. You will be supplied with a 4G router which you simply plug in to the mains. The router emits a 4G/5G wifi signal to which you can connect your various devices.

Currently available from EE, Vodafone and Three, 4G home broadband can be a good alternative, offering around 30Mbps download speeds on average. Three and EE both offer unlimited 4G home broadband. Vodafone has a maximum data limit of 300GB with its 4G service but its 5G service is available with unlimited data. Check what coverage is like in your area and what speeds you are likely to get before you commit.

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How to improve your wifi signal

There are several things worth trying to help your router emit a stronger signal and speed up your existing connection.

  • Use a wired connection – It may be a bit inconvenient, but using a wired connection at least for your PC or games console will help to improve the download speed on that device
  • Check your router’s location – Ensure that your router isn’t blocked by furniture or close to any other electrical items such as a baby monitor or a fish tank. It should be raised off the floor and located close to where you are mostly online
  • Use a broadband accelerator – This little gadget that fits onto your master socket filters out interference on your phone line to help boost your speed by up to 1.5Mbps
  • Use a wifi booster –To improve the signal around your home, you can buy a range extender, that plugs into a regular socket and uses your home’s electrical wiring to boost the reach of the signal.

Frequently asked questions

Will switching to a new provider increase my speed?

Switching to fibre from standard broadband may well improve your speed. Otherwise the only reason to switch is to save money and get a better deal.

What is the difference between FTTC and FTTP?

FTTC is short for Fibre to the Cabinet. This is how most providers operate – the fibre cables only reach your local cabinet – the last stretch to your property is covered by copper telephone wires. FTTP is short for Fibre to the Premises. In this case the fibre cables are fed directly into your home from the exchange, providing extremely fast speeds up to 1Gbps.

What is an exchange-only line?

This is when your connection does not go through a street cabinet and comes straight from the exchange and as a result is very slow. Openreach is slowly installing fibre cabinets between such customers and the exchange to resolve this issue.

Is satellite broadband any good?

If your standard broadband service is horrendously slow then satellite broadband could offer a good solution, with speeds from 30-50Mbps now available.

Do I need a new contract for 4G home broadband?

Although you can use your mobile phone’s data for tethering to other devices, it will drain your data and is usually not permitted on unlimited packages anyway. A separate contract for a 4G home broadband package will give you more flexibility as well as a back-up if your mobile network goes down.

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