Connection Speed Tests

Measuring your bandwidth

Speed test
Christopher Furlong / Staff

Bandwidth is one of the most important factors affecting voice quality. It is important to have a notion of how much bandwidth you have, both for upload and download, to be able to rightly assess your ability to benefit from VoIP. For this, there are speed tests, also known as bandwidth meters, online. In this article we are going to see:

  • How speed tests work
  • How accurate are speed tests
  • How to get good reliable results from online speed tests
  • What you need for a speed test
  • How to interpret speed test results
  • Which speed tests to use

How Speed Tests Work?

Put simply, one or more sample files are downloaded from a certain server to your machine through your Internet connection. The file or files are then uploaded again to the server. This activity then provides an environment to measure speeds and other parameters.

Prior to starting most speed tests, you are required to select a server, with which Internet activity will be taken for measurement. Some tests don't give you the possibility of doing so, and assign a server arbitrarily.

How Accurate Are Speed Tests?

Most online speed tests are not very accurate because they are not sophisticated enough. They can get you only a rough idea of the speeds and other values. There are some online tests that are quite professionally designed and give quite accurate results. Here are some examples. However, the accuracy of a speed test does depend on certain factors.

How To Get Reliable Results From Online Speed Tests?

Given that there are certain parameters that affect the accuracy of online speed tests, here are certain things you can do to get speed test results you can somewhat rely upon:

  • Make several tests
    • To get mathematically more accurate results, perform several test and make an average of these. You can make a series of tests (at least two) with difference in:
    • time interval - do the same test at different times, thus catching different test conditions
    • test server - do the same test with the same engine but with different test servers
    • speed test - do tests with different engines
  • Choose a suitable test server
    • Prefer one that is close to your physical location. Some test engines propose suitable servers.
  • Stop all other Internet activities on your machine while doing the test.

The other parameters affecting test accuracy are not in your control.

What Is Needed To Perform A Speed Test?

It is very simple to make a speed test. Some people do it without ever realizing what it takes, while others just can't get it done. Here is what you need to make a speed test:

  • A speed test engine
    • There are numerous speed tests online. Here is a list of the best ones.
  • Java or Flash
    • Most test engines are implemented as Java applets that are embedded into your browser. Your computer should have Java installed and enabled on your browser. Other test engines present their results as Flash movies, also embeddable into browsers.
  • Appropriate firewall settings
    • Speed tests fail on some computers because the firewall installed thereon would not allow traffic to and from the test server. In this case, either tweak the firewall to allow the test, or turn it off temporarily for the duration of the test.

How To Interpret Speed Test Results?

Many think that the the only important thing about a connection's bandwidth are its download and upload speeds. While these are primary indication of the quality you can expect, there are other parameters that are important too, and that should be given consideration. We see these parameters and their minimum values in that article.

Which Speed Tests To Use?

Not all speed tests online are good. Out of the few good ones, some stand out, with sophisticated algorithms that yield more accurate results, interesting features and nice visual interfaces. Here is my list of the top online connection speed tests.