How fast is your Internet connection? Sure, your Internet service provider has given you some numbers, and your cellular provider probably says you get blazing fast 4G LTE. But how fast is it, actually?
There’s a good chance you’re not getting the Internet connection speed you’re paying for, but maybe you are. Here’s how to find out.
You can’t just rely on the download speeds you see when downloading files and doing other normal things. Download speeds you’ll see depend on a lot of things, including the remote server and the number of “hops” (Internet routers) in between you and the server. It may not even just be the Internet infrastructure itself — the remote server may only want to give you so much download bandwidth, or it may be bogged down.
Instead, you’ll need to test this a bit more scientifically. The ideal would be to find a server nearby you, one that has a large amount of bandwidth available. You could then try to download from it and upload to it, seeing just how high your download and upload speeds could reach. This ensures you’d just be measuring the last-mile connection speed between you and your ISP as accurately as possible.
That’s why you need dedicated tools for measuring your connection speed.
If you want to get the most accurate result possible, you can’t just run the tool once without thinking about it. Here’s what you really need to do:
Ensure You Aren’t Using Your Internet Connection: Is someone else streaming Netflix in the other room, or are you downloading files via BitTorrent on your computer? Pause all these applications using your connection before performing a speed-test. Ensure the speed-test application is the only thing using your connection, and you’ll be able to measure it more accurately. If the tool can’t saturate your connection, the numbers you’ll see will be low.
On a smartphone or any other type of mobile data connection, just ensure your device isn’t downloading or uploading data in the background.
Measure More Than Once: A single measurement isn’t the be-all, end-all of connection speeds. Measure more than once, preferably at different times during the day. For example, you may have faster Internet connection speeds during the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping and slower connection speeds in the evening when your neighbors are home from work and using their home Internet connections.
On a smartphone or any other type of mobile data connection, your speed will depend on how many people around you are using data, as well as the signal quality in your area, and other factors. Move around between speed-tests and you can see how your connection speed varies between different locations. As with a wired Internet connection, the time of day can affect things — you’ll probably have a slower connection speed at lunch time in the central business district than you will if you tried the speed test ta the same location on Sunday when no one else is around.
The actual process of measuring your connection speed is simple. The gold standard for this is Speedtest.net, and that’s the one we recommend you use. A quick web search reveals many other tools, with even Comcast and AT&T offering their own speed-test applications. Using it on your computer is as simple as visiting the website and clicking the “Begin Test” button.
On a smartphone or tablet, free Speedtest.net applications are available. Download them from your app store of choice, launch them, and test your speed. Remember, if your smartphone is connected to a Wi-Fi network, the app will test the speed of the WI-Fi network. Disconnect from the Wi-Fi network and it will test your smartphone’s data network.
Warning: Using any sort of speed-test app involves both downloading and uploading some data. If you have a limited amount of mobile data, this will count toward your cap. The app works by attempting to download and upload data at maximum speed for several seconds, maxing out your connection. It could use as much as 20 MB of data per speed test, or even more — the faster your connection, the more data it will use. Take this into account.
Yes, there are other speed-testing websites and apps out there. But they all work in a similar way — they provide very fast, nearby servers that attempt to max out your connection. Under these ideal conditions, they can provide you with a reasonably accurate estimate of just how fast your connection is when it comes to both uploading and downloading.
Image Credit: Tony Webster on Flickr