Checking your Internet speed is something you do to help troubleshoot possible issues. You typically check your speed from a special “speed test” website. You visit the speed test website, click a button or two and it checks your download and upload speed by downloading and uploading a particularly sized file. It measures how long it takes you to download and upload that file, divides the size of the file by the time, and reports its finding as your “speed.”
Technically, it’s really not the “speed” you are measuring but rather the “capacity.” A “faster” connection does not make individual bits of data move “faster” — they always move at their max speed. A faster connection just allows more of those bits to flow together (at their max speed) so whatever file you are transmitting finishes in less time when your connection capacity is greater. Think of it like this: Your connection is a highway. The bits of data you are transmitting are cars traveling on that highway. The more lanes open on the highway, the more cars can travel along the highway at their programmed speed. If fewer lanes are open (aka – slower connection) then cars start to slow down and get backed up as they wait for cars to take turns going through the reduced lanes. So a faster connection does not mean a faster speed limit but more lanes being open on the highway so the data flows freely and doesn’t get backed up. Visit Minneapolis any weekday around 8 am or 3 pm, you will see this example brought to life!
Anyway, doing a speed test helps you troubleshoot Internet issues. It helps determine if you are “getting” the proper speed (capacity) from your Internet provider. It also helps to see if your devices might be causing too much congestion for the speed/capacity that you have.
Speed Test Websites
There are a few websites that perform speed tests such as: Speed-Of-Me, Fast.com, Open Speed Test, and Speedtest.net. One of our favorites is speedtest.net. You can go to the website or download the app if you have a tablet or smartphone. While it does have a few ads that you have to watch out for (don’t click on them), Speedtest is rather simple looking (just click Go), it’s been around for a long time, and it can test your connection from a lot of points around the U.S. so it can usually find a test point close to you.
The distance you are testing from is very important as it reduces the amount of “false slowness” due to the extra distance. Remember, you are testing the speed from your provider to you so adding extra distance outside your provider will skew your results. Imaging seeing how long it takes to drive from Trempealeau to Eleva but having to go all the way to Eau Claire before you can stop the clock. That would certainly result in an inaccurate time! So using a speed test site that is closer to you helps the result be more accurate.
In addition to a good speed test website that is closer to you, it is equally important to consider local things that could impact your result. For example, you want to test from a wired device, not a wireless device, if possible since there is commonly speed loss over wireless communications. A connection setup at 40 Mbps might only test at 25 Mbps from a wireless device 20 feet from the wireless router. Lastly, you should turn off all other devices using your Internet or their intermittent use of your bandwidth will also affect your speed result. This might mean asking those in your home to turn off their connected devices for a few minutes so you can have the connection all to yourself.
- Good speed test website
- Test from a wired device
- Turn off all other connected devices
During the test, you might see speedometer-like graphics showing the speed as the file is being uploaded or downloaded and at the end of the test, it should produce three numbers — the ping rate, the download and the upload.
The ping rate (which is measuring “latency”) is how quickly the server responded to the request and it is measured in milliseconds (ms). It’s like how long the your cellphone is silent before your call is connected and you hear it ring. This is really important to gamers who need their Internet to respond very quickly to their constant actions in the game. The download and upload will be measured in Megabits per second or Mbps. Most Internet connections will be about 5 to 100 Mbps down and .5 to 10 Mbps up. The upload and download are typically not supposed to be the same — download is usually set for a much higher capacity since most traffic is coming down (to your computer) than going up (from your computer to the Internet). Check with your provider to find out how your connection is set.
Reading The Results
A ping rate under 50 ms is fine, but being under 20 ms is much better. As for the download and upload, you want them to be as close to your subscribed package as possible. Typically 80% of your package speed is fine/normal, since there may be some overhead due to other devices, current line conditions, testing server, software, website java, etc.
If your numbers are showing potential issues, the FIRST thing you should do is run the test a few more times — preferably from different devices and/or at different times of the day. You want to get a good picture of your connection as a whole. A poor result from one device at one time of the day could be a problem with that device or an event that day causing issues for you. Testing from a variety of devices at different times will rule out specific device issues and odd one-time events.
After you have pretty conclusive numbers, if they are still low, it is time to call your provider. They can run some tests from their end to confirm what speed your modem is setup at, if there is any unusual noise/interference on the line, if your device(s) might be in conflict with the type of router you are using, or any other potential issues.
Speed tests can be really helpful tools for finding connection issues. Simplify your connection as much as possible for the best results. And remember, there are a lot of factors affecting the results from a speed test. Great numbers may not result in great performance and poor numbers may not mean a poor connection from your provider. The speed test is just a good first step. Contact your Internet provider for assistance.