Is Your Internet Speed as Good as Promised?

How to Test Your ISP's Claimed Internet Speed

For cellphone users in city limits: modern cellphone connections should be 5 to 12 megabits-per-second (5 to 12 Mbps) if you have the 4th Generation LTE technology. 

For desktop users in city limits: modern highspeed cable connections to a home desktop should be 50 to 150 megabits-per second (50 to 150 Mbps).

These are, of course, the latest technology available to large metro centers.  Your own part of the world will offer speeds that vary with the technology and providers available in your area.

Also remember: these speeds are theoretical numbers.  In practice, most users will experience speeds that are slower than these theoretical values. Speeds vary with many factors.

Here are several ways you can test your internet connection speed and see your own performance.

Ookla Speed Test for Android

Ookla Android speed test
Ookla Android speed test. screenshot

Ookla is a respected American name that has offered speed testing services for years.  Their Ookla mobile app will perform upload and download speed tests with controlled data over a 30-second interval.  It will then provide you graphical results to show what speeds your mobile device is achieving on 4G, LTE, EDGE, 3G, and EVDO networks.

Important note:  many ISP's will offer to be the target Ookla server for you, so their results may be skewed to inflate their performance numbers.  After your first test, it is a good idea to go into Ookla settings and choose an indepedent server outside of your ISP's control when you run your second and third Android speed test. More »

Ookla Speed Test for Apple Devices

Ookla speed test for iPhone/iOS
Ookla speed test for iPhone/iOS. screenshot

In the same fashion as the Android version, Ookla for Apple will connecct to a server from your iPhone, and send and receive data with a strict stopwatch to capture the results.  The results will show in stylish graphs, and you can choose to save your results online so you can share it with friends, or even your ISP.

When you use Ookla on your Apple, make sure to run it multiple times, and after the first test, using the Ookla settings to choose a target server that is not owned by your ISP; you are more likely to get unbiased results from a 3rd party server. More »

BandwidthPlace Speed Test for Desktop speed test speed test. screenshot

This is a good free speed test choice for residents of the USA, Canada, and the UK. The convenience of is that you need not install anything; just run their speed test in your Safari or Chrome or IE browser.

Bandwidth Place only has 19 servers around the world at this time, though, with most of its servers in the USA. Accordingly, if you are far away from the Bandwidth Place servers, your internet speed will appear quite slow. More »

DSLReports Speed Test for Desktop

DSLReports speed test
DSLReports speed test. screenshot

 As an alternative to Ookla and Bandwidthplace, the tools at DSLReports offer some interesting additional features.  You can choose to test your bandwidth speed when it is encrypted (scrambled to prevent eavesdropping) or unencrypted. It also tests you against multiple servers simultaneously. More »

ZDNet Speed Test for Desktop

ZDNet speed test
ZDNet speed test. screenshot

 Another alternative to Ookla is ZDNet.  This fast test also offers international statistics on how other countries are faring for internet speeds. More »

Speedof.Me Speed Test for Desktop

Speedof.Me speed test
Speedof.Me speed test. screenshot

Some network analysts claim that speed tests based on HTML5 technology are the most accurate mimic of how internet traffic really flows. The HTML 5 tool at Speedof.Me is one good option for testing your desktop or cellphone speed.  This browser-based tool is convenient for how it requires no install.

You don't get to choose the servers with, but you do get to pick what kind of data file you want to upload and download for the test. More »

Where Does Internet Sluggishness Come From?

Where does internet sluggishness come from?
Where does internet sluggishness come from?. Buena Vista / Getty

Your performance is likely to fall short of the theoretical maximum on your ISP account.  This is because many variables come into play:

  1. Online traffic and congestion: if you are sharing a connection with many other users, and if those users are heavy gamers or downloaders, then you'll definitely experience slowdown.
  2. Your location and distance from the server:  particularly try for those of you in rural settings, the more distance the signal travels, the more your data will hit bottlenecks across the many cable 'hops' to reach your device.
  3. Hardware: hundreds of pieces of hardware connect you to the Web, including your network connector, your router and model, many servers and many cables. Not to mention: a wireless connection has to compete with other signals in the air.
  4. Time of day:  just like the roads during rush hour, the cables of the Internet have peak times for traffic. This definitely contributes to your speed experience slowing down.
  5. Selective throttling:  some ISP's will actually analyze data, and purposely slow down specific types of data.  For example, many ISP's will purposely slow down your movie downloads, or even dial all your speeds down if you consume more than your monthly quota of data.
  6. Software running on your system:  you may unwittingly have some malware or some bandwidth-intensive application running that will rob your internet speed.
  7. The other people in your house or building:  if your teenage daughter is streaming music in the next room, or if your building neighbor below you is downloading 20GB of movies, then you'll likely experience sluggishness.

What to Do When Your Speed Doesn't Match What Your ISP Promises...

What if your internet speed is far below your ISP promises?
What if your internet speed is far below your ISP promises?. Buena Vista / Getty

If the speed variance is within 20-35% of the promised speed, you may not have much recourse.  That's to say, if your ISP promises you 100 Mbps and you can show them that you get 70 Mbps, the customer service people will probably just tell you politely that's you need to live with it.

On the other hand, if you paid for a 150 Mbps connection, and you are getting 44 Mbps, then you are well within reasonable to ask them to audit your connection.  If they mistakenly toggled you at a slower speed, then they should give you what you paid for, or credit you back fees.

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