Are You Getting the Internet Speed You're Paying For?

Lots of factors contribute to the speed of an internet connection

The three major contributors to good internet speed are where you're located, what you're paying for, and how you're using the internet. If, after testing your internet speed, you find that it's slower than what you pay for, there are some things you can do to make the connection faster. However, the speed of any network is only as fast as what the internet service provider (ISP) gives out.

Home full of people using internet-connected devices
Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

How to Determine a Good Internet Speed

It's impossible to put a number on what's considered the normal speed of a network's internet connection. Everyone pays for different speeds and uses different devices on different networks to access the internet.

However, it is possible to determine your specific definition of normal by testing how fast a connection you have and comparing that to the speed you're supposed to get.

With that said, you're more likely to get faster speeds on wired connections than wireless. For example, your phone probably can't stream movies while you are camping as quickly as it can at home.

Average Mobile Internet Speeds

The average connection speed for mobile phones supporting the 4G LTE standard ranges from 27 to 32 Mbps, depending on the state where you live and the age of the phone. If your equipment supports the 5G standard, the average connection speed is higher, ranging from 50 to 495 Mbps.

All major cellular providers show somewhat slower speeds in rural areas, probably because 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas. In most cases, the speed differential is less than 10 percent. These are averages. Some users experience faster speeds, and some users experience slower speeds.

Average Broadband Speeds

Modern broadband cable, fiber, and DSL networks continue to increase their internet speeds. Cable and fiber download speeds range from 100 Mbps to a maximum potential of 1 Gbps; download speeds on DSL are slower, as are upload speeds on all three networks.

How to Test the Speed of Your Internet Connection

Finding out how fast an internet connection you have is relatively easy. Several internet speed test sites, such as Speedtest and SpeedOf.Me, do it for you in a matter of minutes.

One catch is that you have to perform the speed test against your ISP. For example, if you don't subscribe to the Comcast internet package, you can still test your internet speed with the Comcast speed test for a somewhat accurate result. However, if you plan to argue with your ISP about why you have slow internet, use the speed test that the ISP recommends.

There's a good chance your service provider has a speed test on its website that you can perform to instantly see if you get what you pay for. If you can't find your ISP's speed test, contact your internet service provider and tell the company that you want to test your internet speed.

However, there's a lot that goes into the speed of a network. You could be getting what you're paying for but not fully realizing it because your network is overworked.

How to Get Faster Internet

If your internet speed seems to be falling short of the theoretical maximum set by your ISP, consider the different variables at play.

Here are some of the more common scenarios that could contribute to slow internet:

  • Network congestion: If you share a network with other users, specifically ones that play online games, stream Netflix and YouTube, broadcast live video, and download large software programs, you'll experience a slowdown. Have the other users pause their downloads, streams, or uploads, or have them install an app with bandwidth control. The less bandwidth that's split between all users, the more bandwidth each user will have, which translates to faster internet for everyone.
  • Your location and distance from the server: Particularly for people in rural settings, the more distance the signal travels, the more your data encounters bottlenecks across the many hops to reach your device. If you're gaming or streaming movies, switch to a closer server (if that's an option).
  • Hardware: Hundreds of pieces of hardware connect you to the web, including your network connector, router and modem, many servers, and many cables. Also, a wireless connection has to compete with other signals in the air. Check the connections in your network (router, cabling, and other devices) to be sure the connections are attached properly. Replace the router or modem if it's too outdated to perform well. Change your wireless router's channel number to avoid interference.
  • Time of day: Like the roads during rush hour, the internet has peak times for traffic that contribute to speeds slowing down. Put off streaming and downloading until off-hours, such as during the day on Monday through Friday.
  • Selective throttling: Some ISPs analyze data and purposefully slow down specific types of data. For example, many ISPs limit connections that download movies or dial down everything if you consume more than your monthly allotment. Use a VPN provider to hide your data so that the ISP can't detect your habits and throttle your bandwidth.
  • Software: You may unwittingly have malware or a bandwidth-intensive application running that robs your internet speed. Shut down the bandwidth-hogging application and scan for malware.

If your internet is still slower than you think it should be, your only option is to upgrade. You can get faster internet by calling your ISP and requesting the next tier in their plan (if there is one).

However, before upgrading your internet service, do one last speed test with all of the above in mind. Keep network activity to a minimum, switch over to wired-only, and if the speed is within 5 percent to 15 percent of the service's promised speed (which is normal), an upgrade may be your only solution. Be sure to speed test on different devices and different bands (2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz) to rule out any other issue.

On the other hand, if you pay for a 150 Mbps connection and you get 44 Mbps, it might seem like a perfect time for an upgrade. However, contact your service provider to audit your connection first. If they mistakenly toggled you at a slower speed, the provider should give you what you paid for or credit you back fees.

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