The average internet connection speed in the United States has more than doubled in the past five years. Akamai’s “State of the Internet” site reports that speeds increased from 4,163 kpbs to 8,675 kbps between 2008 and 2013 (Q2 data).

Web app users appreciate the difference: a faster connection means faster apps.

  • Faster ISP: One way to upgrade your connection speed is to call to your internet service provider — or a competitor. In most cities, if you pay a bit more, you can get a faster connection. This may be less feasible in rural areas.
  • Faster network hardware: New network hardware also may provide faster performance. A high-speed router and firewall are essential, as are client systems (and devices) that support high-bandwidth connections.
  • Faster DNS: You might get an internet performance boost by changing one setting: the Domain Name Server, or DNS, address. For less-technical folks, think of the DNS as a web-site search service: every time you request a website, your DNS provider translates your request into numbers and routes your computer to the requested site’s servers.

When you change the DNS setting on your router (or device), you change where your router “looks up” servers on the internet (i.e., DNS translates “” into numerical server addresses). It doesn’t change the bandwidth of your connection. Instead, your router sends requests to a faster DNS server, which means you spend less time waiting for a DNS server to respond. The decreased wait feels like increased speed.

Small businesses or home users typically use the default DNS server of their internet service provider, but other DNS providers are often faster.

1. Identify alternative DNS servers

Google hosts Namebench, “an open-source DNS benchmark utility” that runs on Mac, Windows and Unix systems (see: Download it, install it, then run it.

Namebench returns response times from many well-known DNS services. Some of these services may provide significantly faster response times than your existing configuration. DNS response times typically take milliseconds.



Namebench tests DNS server response times.

2. Change DNS settings

On most networks, there are two places to change DNS settings: on a router (or system serving as a router), or on the client machine. In most cases, you’ll want to make the change on the router, so that all connected machines will benefit from the new setting. Router settings are typically reached by typing the router’s local IP address (often or

In particular, I suggest you consider both OpenDNS and Google’s DNS servers as viable alternatives. These provide slightly different services.

Google DNS

(at and

Google offers public DNS aimed at providing speed and security. Change your DNS settings to the above settings to route your DNS requests to their servers. Google has configured their system to attempt to protect against both spoofing and denial of service attacks. Learn more at


Google’s public DNS servers offer an alternative to your ISP’s DNS servers.


(at and

OpenDNS serves DNS info from at 20 different locations around the world (see the locations and status here: OpenDNS also protects against spoofing and denial of service attacks, but also extends into the area of web filtering. Change your DNS settings to the IP addresses listed above to route DNS requests to OpenDNS. OpenDNS may be configured to warn, or even block, users when certain websites are requested. OpenDNS offers paid versions of the service for home users and businesses.



OpenDNS offers reliable free DNS services in addition to paid filtering and security options

3. Test results

After you’ve made the change, test the results. The simplest way to do this is to reboot, then connect to the internet. Run an internet speed test (e.g., to check your connection’s performance. Pay particular attention to the “ping time”: a lower ping time combined with consistent download and upload speeds is a good indication that things are working.

You also should test commonly used media services, such as web meeting tools or, for home users, music and video streaming services (e.g., iTunes, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu+). Make sure all services that worked before the change also work smoothly after. If things don’t work as expected, you can always revert back to using your ISP’s DNS settings.

An excellent end-of-year project

The holidays make an excellent time to test alternative DNS settings — both at your small business or at home. For tech folks visiting family, this is one way to share your expertise. The gift of faster web browsing may be something appreciated the rest of the year.