How Does Your Internet Speed Measure Up?
When your Internet seems sluggish, you might be wondering “How fast is my internet speed?” or “Why is my internet slow?” These are common questions, and there are quite a few definitions of internet speed, as well as 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. Read on...
What is My Internet Speed?
By "internet speed" most people mean, "how fast I can download things" like web pages, music, videos, 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 may go very fast one instant and very slowly the next. "Download 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 somewhere between 1.5 - 30 Mb/s. Most cable internet connections will be in the 20-100 Mb/s range, and a fiber optic connection will typically get you between 200 and 400 Mb/s. Some providers are offering “gigabit” service, which is 1000 Mb/s. Higher speeds may be available in each type of service, and will 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 previous home, I had Verizon FIOS for Internet service, and I was supposed to get a 50Mb/s download speed. But on two occasions, 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 internet 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 several cities scattered across the USA. I live close to New York City, and my download speed for that test is consistently at 310 Mb/sec. But as I look westward, it slows down. Downloading from Los Angeles, for example, shows 256Mb/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 the "GO" button and watch the odometers spin up. I was rather surprised that when I selected Oslo, Norway as my test site, I got almost exactly the same download speed result as with New York City. 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. Speedtest also offers a Speedtest Global Index page, which shows average speeds for both mobile and fixed broadband connections around the world. (Spoiler alert: Head to Singapore, Chile, or Thailand if broadband speed is your top priority. You'll find the fastest mobile data speeds in the UAE, Norway, and South Korea.)
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 (see below).
Some Other Speed Testing Sites
Fast.com is another speed test that's super easy, and fast. All you have to do is visit this website and your download speed appears (and fluctuates) in real time. Fast.com is offered by Netflix to provide a simple, quick, ad-free way to estimate the Internet speed that your ISP is providing. After your download speed appears, you can click the "Show more info" button to see your connection's latency and upload speed. I was surprised to see my real-time download speed ranging from 110 to 410 Mb/sec. My advertised speed from my provider is 300 Mb/sec.
I noticed that when I searched Google for "speed test" the first result was a blue button labelled "RUN SPEED TEST." The text says "you'll be connected to Measurement Lab (M-Lab)" to run the speed test. I found this option unreliable, as it consistently reported my download speed at about 270 Mb/sec.
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 [126.96.36.199]
3 6 ms 7 ms 7 ms G1-0-3-1379.NYCMNY-LCR-13.verizon-gni.net [188.8.131.52]
4 23 ms 9 ms 9 ms so-6-3-0-0.BB-RTR1.SEA01.verizon-gni.net [184.108.40.206]
5 13 ms 14 ms 14 ms so-10-0-0-0.LCC1-RES-BB-RTR1-RE1.verizon-gni.net [220.127.116.11]
6 16 ms 17 ms 17 ms so-6-0-0-0.ASH-PEER-RTR1-re1.verizon-gni.net [18.104.22.168]
7 16 ms 17 ms 17 ms 22.214.171.124
8 13 ms 17 ms 17 ms ae-6.pat2.dce.yahoo.com [126.96.36.199]
9 64 ms 64 ms 72 ms as-0.pat2.dax.yahoo.com [188.8.131.52]
10 106 ms 112 ms 164 ms as-1.pat2.pao.yahoo.com [184.108.40.206]
11 108 ms 107 ms 107 ms ae-0-d151.msr2.sp1.yahoo.com [220.127.116.11]
12 106 ms 107 ms 107 ms te-8-1.bas1-1-prd.sp2.yahoo.com [18.104.22.168]
13 105 ms 107 ms 107 ms ir1.fp.vip.sp2.yahoo.com [22.214.171.124]
If you're looking for reasons why your Internet connection may be bogging down, see my article Slow Internet Sometimes? Here's Why... to find how to diagnose your connection problem, and tips for speeding it up.
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 22 Apr 2022
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- How Does Your Internet Speed Measure Up? (Posted: 22 Apr 2022)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved