We know what “slow” internet is like: videos buffer, downloads lag and a single page can take forever to appear in its entirety. We wonder whether it’s our browser, our device or the website we’re visiting.
You may suspect your Wi-Fi signal. Wireless networks are notorious for connection problems. So how can you pinpoint the issue?
Your first step is to check your connection speed. Afterward, compare the results of the test to the speed advertised by your internet provider.
Note: Make sure no one in your home network is doing bandwidth-hogging tasks like file downloads, file sharing, video streaming, video chats, etc. You don’t want any activity within your control to be skewing results.
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Measuring internet speed
Internet speed typically is measured in “megabytes per second,” or Mbps. You should know what this number means, and even that this measurement exists. Every provider promises different tiers of internet speed rates; usually the pricier the plan, the faster your internet should be.
• 1 – 3 Mbps: Good enough for web surfing, email, social, casual online gaming (if you don’t mind some latency) and email. However, this is not ideal for video streaming.
• 3-4 Mbps: This is the minimum speed for standard video streaming from services like Netflix. This speed may be enough for a one-computer household, but with all the HD content that’s available on the web right now, this will lead to constant video buffering.
• 5-10 Mbps: Netflix recommends at least 5 Mbps for a single HD stream, and you’ll double that for two simultaneous HD streams. Although this is the baseline speed that is required for HD content, it could still lead to buffering especially if you have multiple connected gadgets at home.
• 10 – 20 Mbps: This is the minimum speed for a consistent and reliable internet experience. If you continuously download files from the web and cloud storage services, get a plan with this advertised speed at the very least.
• 20 Mbps and higher: Now we’re talking. Households with multiple computers and gadgets, video streaming services, smart appliances, and simultaneous users should aim for at least a 20 Mbps plan.
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Services that test internet speed
Now that you have an idea what internet speed is required for certain activities, test your actual bandwidth and compare it to your provider’s advertised speed.
Here is a list of the most popular sites to use. It’s a good idea to conduct the test at more than one site. Your mileage may vary.
One of the most well-known internet speed test services available is Ookla Speedtest. This service can measure your connection’s ping response, and download and upload speeds from a remote server.
As for download and upload speeds, measurements are given in bits per second. Higher numbers are better. Download speeds will typically be much faster than upload speeds.
You can also compare these numbers against the speeds that your internet service provider promises you. Be sure to run multiple tests over several days at different times. This will give you an overall picture of your connection speed. You also might find specific periods when it’s slow, depending on your area’s network congestion.
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Interestingly, Netflix has its internet speed test called Fast.com.
Fast.com is entirely browser-based, so you don’t have to download an app or program. Just point your web-based or mobile browser to Fast.com and the test will automatically run and show your download speed when it’s done.
For more details about your connection, tap or click the “Show more info” box. This will show your latency, upload speeds and the servers used for the test.
Another excellent web-based speed test is SpeedOf.Me. What’s great about this tool is the real-time graph that tracks the fluctuations in the speeds while the test is running. It can also provide you with a graphical history of all the tests you’ve run for comparison.
Other tests you can try
Other alternative speed tests can be accessed straight on the search engine of your choice. For example, search for the keywords “speed test” on Google and the first hit will show Google’s very own speed test tool.
The same service is available from Bing. Just search for “speed test” via Bing and the first result is a handy speedometer-style internet speed tool that measures ping response plus download and upload speeds.
Tips for more accurate results
Whenever available, always use a wired connection for more accurate and consistent results. Why? The culprit of your slower speeds may lie on your Wi-Fi connection and not on your ISP connection itself.
Do multiple tests and if the average of the results is only about 5-10 Mbps off, then that should be tolerable. Factors like congestion during peak times and your distance from the relay hardware will contribute to slight variations on your speed. (For more accuracy, you could turn your Wi-Fi radios off during the wired tests.)
If your wired results are way lower than advertised, a consistent 20 to 30 Mbps difference, perhaps, then there might be something else going on.
Check your hardware first and see if it’s compatible with your provider’s recommendations. For example, older DOCSIS 2.0 modems can’t go beyond 38 Mbps. If you have a rate plan of 50 Mbps and above, better upgrade your modem to DOCSIS 3.0.
What if you already have newer hardware and you’re still seeing less-than-advertised speeds? Then check your network for unauthorized devices that may be stealing your bandwidth.
If you do find Wi-Fi thieves, better kick them off then change your network password quick!
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