Will faster broadband prevent buffering?

As thousands of web users stream coverage of all the sporting action in London this summer, frustrated viewers have taken to social media to complain about buffering – when video pauses while your computer downloads data before resuming playback.

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One Twitter user asked: “Is there nothing more infuriating than iPlayer buffering just as Tom and Pete leap off the board!!!! #Olympics”, while another tweeted:

“I’m on the fastest Internet connection in the UK, less than 2 miles from the BBC’s server and it’s STILL buffering… #london2012”.

Another viewer unhappy with their connection complained: “Yeah iPlayer, it'd be wonderful if you could refrain from buffering for me for 60 seconds. #london2012”

With a fast and stable connection, playback should be seamless. However, a slow connection or periods of high demand can make streaming video a real chore as you’re interrupted every few seconds while the computer downloads the next part of the video.

So, does upgrading to a faster broadband connection do away with bothersome buffering? Is there anything you can do to reduce buffering on your current connection? Here’s a look at how to get smoother streaming.

What causes buffering?

Firstly, your connection might be too slow for streaming video. Most streaming services will work at speeds of 1Mbps (Megabits per second) with relatively few interruptions.

1Mbps isn’t particularly fast, but if your connection is slower this is could be causing buffering. Also, if you’re trying to stream HD video, there will be more data to download, so you’ll need a connection of around 5Mbps to get smooth streaming.

If you don’t know how fast your broadband is, our speed test will tell you with just a click of a button.

A fast broadband connection doesn’t guarantee smooth streaming though, as there are other factors at play.

There could be issues with the servers of the site you’re playing the video from for example. When you choose your video on say, iPlayer, your computer sends a request for that video to the BBC’s servers where the video data is stored.

If the server you’re making the request to is being bombarded with thousands of requests from other users, it may take some time to serve your request, resulting in buffering.

It could also be that you are running out-of-date Adobe Flash or other software. Most streaming services will prompt you to update any out-of-date software though.

If you’re using a wireless connection to your router, your signal may be holding you back. If you’re using a wired Ethernet connection, the quality and condition of the cables could also be causing problems.

You need to use decent anti-virus and security software to keep your computer secure, but a particularly over-zealous piece of security software can slow down your computer. There are usually options to turn off or dial-down such settings though.

Alternatively, your computer may not have enough available memory to stream video smoothly if you’re running lots of other memory-hungry programs and applications. Windows Task Manager will show you what programs are running and what percentage of the memory they are using.

How can I reduce buffering?

If your broadband is too slow, you could always upgrade to a faster connection or a new provider. Remember that when you sign up for broadband, the speed advertised isn’t necessarily the speed you’ll get.

For instance, just because you sign up for a 10Mb connection, it doesn’t guarantee your speed will be 10Mb, because speed is determined by factors such as your distance from the nearest telephone exchange, time of day/week and your hardware. In this instance, 10Mb would be the maximum you could get.

Click here to compare faster broadband deals, or watch our video on speeding up your broadband below.

If your broadband speed isn’t the problem, there are other things you can do.

Try using a wired Ethernet connection if your wireless signal isn’t very strong or stable. The shorter the distance between your computer and router, and your router and the telephone socket, the better.

Make sure your security software is up to date and running, but try turning off any real-time scanning to see if that’s slowing you down.

Open Windows Task Manager and close any programs using a lot of memory. VoIP services like Skype, for example, can sometimes take up a lot of memory.

The more people there are connected to your router, the slower your streaming will probably be. Disconnect any other connections not being used. Also, secure your router with WPA encryption to make sure your neighbours or others aren’t connecting and stealing your bandwidth.

If you have a decent speed and your software and hardware are up to scratch, it may simply be the website’s servers are being bombarded with requests – in which case there’s not a lot you can do apart from finding another site to stream from.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct

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