Do you know how fast your Internet connection is?
When you sign up for an Internet Service Provider (ISP), you pay for a specific download and upload speed, which is typically provided in units of Mbps or millions of bits per second, where a bit is a single unit that is either 1 or 0 (see the Glossary for more on bits and bytes). Download speed is defined as the speed for pulling data from the Net to your computer or device, while upload speed is the opposite, or the speed of pushing data from your computer or device into the Net. ISPs typically provide much faster download speeds over upload speeds due to the fact that most typical Web applications and browser activity involves much more downloading than uploading. This allows the ISP to maximize the overall throughput from their systems.
How much speed do you need? Well, most web browsing is fine with a download speed of 10 Mbps. However, streaming HD movies typically require 15 Mbps minimum and you’d get a better experience with 20-25. Also, you’ll need to consider how many devices access the Net at the same time. For example, if you have 2 or more folks using the Net at the same time, one VPNing into work and the streaming movies, you’ll need more capacity. Also, consider your upload needs. Most folks don’t need fast upload speeds, however if you are working from home and uploading large documents or other artifacts regularly or you’re using a VPN, you likely will benefit from faster upload speeds.
So, you’ve paid for a typical speed of 20/5, which is 20 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up. Are you really getting this? If not, are you getting close? There is a fast and easy method for testing this. Go to Speedtest.net and click the big “BEGIN TEST” button. It will provide your with a report that looks something like this:
I have a plan from Verizon FiOS that provides 35/35, so as you can see, I’m getting significantly better download speed and proper upload speed. BTW: When performing the test, do not click on the other buttons that say things like “Before testing, click here” as there are several advertisements that are cleverly disguised as tests.
Run the test several times and with different servers (they offer a button to change servers). Also, be sure that you aren’t competing for access with your kid who’s downloading Finding Nemo as that will drop your tested throughput. Finally, if you use several browsers, repeat the tests with them all. On my Mac, I get only about 1/2 the throughput from Chrome as I do from Safari, which I need to investigate further. I also get comparable results from Internet Explorer running on my Windows 7 virtual machine, which is impressive and says a lot about VMware Fusion performance. To compare results on a given browser and computer, click “My Results” for a table and graph of your performance over several tests.
Remember that the promised speed is the maximum, so it’s perfectly reasonable that it’s not quite hitting the mark. However, if you see a significant difference between actual speed and the speed that your paying for, rerun the tests a different times during the week (including different times during the day) and see if it improves. If not, contact your ISP.