Slow internet can be a major drag — now more than ever, as more of us need to rely on our personal internet connections while working from home.
Our internet needs to be always-on and always reliable, especially when we are on video conference calls, whether on a laptop, or a smartphone, such as the iPhone 12. While co-workers or clients might be understanding, a slow connection can be embarrassing or prevent us from keeping up.
Likewise, students need always-on, always reliable internet, too. As most schools and college campuses are going virtual or will have limited openings due to the pandemic, students will find themselves on the internet more than they had been in the past. So how can you ensure your internet connection is performing as well as it should be? Internet speed tests.
What Do Speed Tests Measure?
Speed tests generally measure data connection. This is important as internet and mobile services providers transition to 5G networks. Below are a few of the most common things speed tests take into consideration.
Measured in milliseconds (ms), ping is the reaction time of your connection — how fast you get a response after you’ve sent out a request to the server. Obviously, a fast ping means a more responsive connection. This is important in applications where timing is everything, such as taking a timed online exam or playing video games.
The bulk of most people’s internet usage relies on fast download speeds. Measured in megabits (of data) per second (Mbps), download speed affects everything from loading web pages to listening to music and streaming video. Without a fast download speed, streaming results in a lot of buffering, images that won’t download or web pages that seemingly take forever to load.
Usually of less concern to consumers and businesses, upload speed, also measured in Mbps, is important when sending emails, uploading videos to YouTube and participating in a live video call.
How Speed Tests Work
For downloads and uploads, a speed test measures how long it takes to process multiple data chunks — usually in small file sizes, such as 25MB — while simultaneously working to “stuff the pipe” full of data throughout the test. Tests will usually increase the payload size gradually during the test to perform multiple downloads and get a sufficient number of samples.
However, there are several variables which can affect speed tests:
- Servers: Generally, a faster result occurs when the user is close to the location of the test’s servers.
- Wired vs. wireless connection: A Wi-Fi router may not support the full speed of an internet service and usually delivers a slower result than when the test is performed with a wired connection, such as Ethernet, DSL or Cable.
- Devices: The speeds of different devices may also vary. Also, when multiple devices are connected to the same network, the speed might be slower.
- Browsers: Different browsers process information differently, and, if packed with add-ons and extensions, might serve as interference with a specific speed test.
- Time of day: During peak internet usage time, such as the daytime when businesses in the local area are using the internet and causing congestion, speeds might be slower than during off-peak times.
Because of these different factors, results can vary by as much as 60 percent.
As interest in speed tests increases, and as companies add more server capacity to provide this service, the results of speed tests should become more uniform across devices and scenarios.
The Best Internet Speed Tests
There is certainly no shortage of tools that you can leverage to test your internet connection and speed. However, some are safer or more reliable than others. Here, we review five of the more popular internet speed testing tools available.
Note: these tests were performed using the following:
- Browser: Google Chrome
- Device: MacBook Pro laptop
- Operating system: macOS Sierra
- Internet provider: AT&T
- Server: Frontier, Miami, Florida
Duration of test 38 seconds
Ping 24 ms
Download 28.8 Mbps
Upload 4.7 Mbps
Though returning slower download and upload speeds than some other tests, and taking a bit longer, this is the winner when deciding which speed test to use.
The interface is clean and straightforward. Scrolling down past the results are professional, easy-to-navigate sections titled “Want better results?” and FAQs.
Duration of test 39 seconds
Ping 23 ms
Download 29.24 Mbps
Upload 4.65 Mbps
This was one of the longer tests, clocking in at 39 seconds. The webpage displaying the speed test results has three Google AdSense display ads, which is distracting.
Speedtest is currently available for the web and for download on iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, Google Chrome and Apple TV. This is helpful for when you find yourself working or studying at another location and you need to check the internet speed.
Duration of test 33 seconds
Ping 42 ms
Download 30.41 Mbps
Upload 4.62 Mbps
This test was shorter than that of Speedtest.net, and the download speed came back as faster.
There are also three distracting Google AdSense display ads on the page. Additionally, there are links below the results intended for developers to incorporate the technology into other applications.
Because it is not built with Flash or Java, Open Speed Test can be accessed on mobile phones without the need to download special apps, as you would need to do with Speedtest.net. For example, you can simply open the mobile browser on your iPhone and visit http://openspeedtest.com/ to check your mobile phone’s internet connection speed.
Duration of test 10 seconds
Download 28 Mbps
Powered by Netflix, this is a clean, simple interface that immediately starts checking your internet connection speed once the page has finished downloading — you do not need to click a start button.
However, this is not recommended. The result simply reads, “Your Internet Speed is 28 Mbps.” This is confusing, because it does not indicate whether this is for upload or download (it’s for download).
Further, no ping or upload results are provided.
From a safety perspective, this could be troubling, as the user may or may not authorize the start of a speed test result — the test just starts automatically when you visit the website.
Duration of test 32 seconds
Ping 37 ms
Download 11.25 Mbps
Upload 4.54 Mbps
Not recommended. The download speed result is off by more than 60% from the other results. As such, the safety and integrity of the results are questionable.
Checking internet speeds on the devices you and your family use every day is key to a secure, enjoyable internet experience. Tests, such as that provided by AT&T, not only provide a safe testing environment, but also provide tips and tricks to enhance the browsing experience.
Jake Wengroff writes about technology and financial services. A former technology reporter for CBS Radio, Jake covers such topics as security, mobility, e-commerce, and IoT.