HOWTO: Measure Your Internet Speed
'How fast is my internet speed?' is a common question. There are quite a few definitions of internet speed and several free ways to test it. Here's the scoop on Internet speed tests, and why you definitely should check your speed every once in a while...
What is My Internet Speed?
By "internet speed" most people mean, "how fast I can download things" like web pages, music and movie files, software, etc. Internet service providers tune their connections so that most of their available bandwidth is devoted to downloading and far less to uploading (sending) things. ISPs do this because a) they know fast downloads are of greater importance to most consumers, and b) they want to discourage people from running high-traffic business Web sites from their consumer priced accounts.
When uploading or downloading, the Internet can be "bursty" at times. That means your file transfer will go very fast one instant and very slowly the next. "Net speed" is generally measured as an average, dividing the time it takes to transfer a file of a given size into the file size. If it takes 1 second to transfer a file of 1 MB, your Net speed is 1 MB/s at that particular time, and between the two particular points.
If you have a DSL connection, your max download speed will be 1.5 - 3 Mb/s. Most cable internet connections will be in the 5-10 Mb/s range, and a fiber optic connection will typically get you between 10 and 50 Mb/s. The higher speeds in each range usually correspond to a higher price point.
Internet speed is not something you can measure and take for granted forever thereafter. Internet traffic may be heavier between different points and between the same points at different times. Local outages on the Internet may force traffic to take detours, lengthening their trips and slowing Net speed temporarily. It's just like a real road system.
Here's another good reason to occasionally run an internet speed test. Your ISP may throttle your internet speed without telling you. At my home, I have Verizon FIOS for Internet service, and I'm supposed to get a blazing 50Mb/s download speed. But twice in the last few years, I ran a speed test and found that it was mysteriously maxing out at 10Mb/s. When I contacted Verizon, they made some lame excuses, and set me back to the higher speed. So run a speed test every once in a while, and make sure you're getting the level of service you're paying for.
How To Test Your Internet Speed
Now that you understand that there is no cut-and-dried, final "knowing" of your Net speed, let's look at a few ways to measure it.
Speakeasy and Speedtest.net are two of the most popular Net speed testing sites online. Both have been around for over a decade, and have evolved with changing technology. But using either is simple. At Speakeasy, you'll have a choice of testing the connection speed between your location and eight cities scattered across the USA. I live close to New York City, and my download speed for that test is consistently at 50 Mb/sec. But as I look westward, it slows down. Downloading from Chicago shows 25 Mb/sec, Dallas 17Mb/sec, and Seattle 12Mb/sec.
SpeedTest gives you a choice of several servers to test locally, with the option to select from servers all over the world. Just click "Begin Test" and watch the odometers spin up. SpeedTest is a nice tool, but just be careful that you don't accidentally click one of the ads instead of running the speed test. Wait for the "BEGIN TEST" to appear inside what looks like an open laptop screen. Then click that link, or slide the cross-hairs to another location on the map to select a different test server. Speedtest will give you several measurements to ponder.
"Download speed" is the rate at which a file of known size was transferred from the test site to your computer. It depends on the location of the test site selected; the amount of traffic on the route between you and the test site; the traffic load on the test site at the time of your test; and so on. But it's a number.
"Upload speed" is the same as download speed, in reverse. A file of known size is generated temporarily on your computer and transferred to the test site. The same caveats apply.
"Ping" is a significant number that most users don't understand. It's more accurately described as "latency," or the delay between sending a request for data to a remote computer and receiving a reply. The Ping speed reported by Speedtest.net is the sum of the latencies between all of the computers that relay your requests and data between you and the test site. To see how many intermediate "hops" there are and their individual latencies, do a traceroute report:
Pingtest.NET will evaluate and grade your internet line quality by measuring ping, jitter and packet loss. You'll need to enable Java in your browser to use this site. (I generally advise people to avoid Java, but in this case, it's safe to temporarily enable it for these tests. See Is Java Safe and Do I Need It? for details.)
Jitter is the average time difference between successive ping tests, and is an indication of how stable (or flaky) your connection is at a given time. As in golf, a lower jitter value (hopefully close to zero) is better.
Packet Loss is an indication of whether you're having trouble transmitting or receiving data with your Internet connection. Any number greater than zero indicates a potential problem, and can result in slower web page loading, longer download times, lagging in online games, and poor quality with streaming media or VoIP calls.
A Bit of Geekery...
You may find it interesting to trace the route from your computer to another site on the Internet. On Windows, click Start, and enter "cmd" to open a command-line window. Type "tracert yahoo.com" and hit Enter. On a Mac, open Applications, then Utilities and click on Terminal. Enter "traceroute" instead of "tracert" on Mac or Linux terminal screens. You can use any domain name you like, instead of yahoo.com. Something like this will slowly appear:
1 <1 ms <1 ms <1 ms Wireless_Broadband_Router.home [192.168.1.1]
2 5 ms 4 ms 4 ms L100.NYCMNY-VFTTP-179.verizon-gni.net [220.127.116.11]
3 6 ms 7 ms 7 ms G1-0-3-1379.NYCMNY-LCR-13.verizon-gni.net [18.104.22.168]
4 23 ms 9 ms 9 ms so-6-3-0-0.BB-RTR1.SEA01.verizon-gni.net [22.214.171.124]
5 13 ms 14 ms 14 ms so-10-0-0-0.LCC1-RES-BB-RTR1-RE1.verizon-gni.net [126.96.36.199]
6 16 ms 17 ms 17 ms so-6-0-0-0.ASH-PEER-RTR1-re1.verizon-gni.net [188.8.131.52]
7 16 ms 17 ms 17 ms 184.108.40.206
8 13 ms 17 ms 17 ms ae-6.pat2.dce.yahoo.com [220.127.116.11]
9 64 ms 64 ms 72 ms as-0.pat2.dax.yahoo.com [18.104.22.168]
10 106 ms 112 ms 164 ms as-1.pat2.pao.yahoo.com [22.214.171.124]
11 108 ms 107 ms 107 ms ae-0-d151.msr2.sp1.yahoo.com [126.96.36.199]
12 106 ms 107 ms 107 ms te-8-1.bas1-1-prd.sp2.yahoo.com [188.8.131.52]
13 105 ms 107 ms 107 ms ir1.fp.vip.sp2.yahoo.com [184.108.40.206]
If you're looking for ways to speed up your Internet connection, there are several things you can do. See my article Speed Up Your Internet Connection! to find out what works and what doesn't.
Do you have something to say about testing your Internet speed? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 21 Jul 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- HOWTO: Measure Your Internet Speed (Posted: 21 Jul 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved