Methods to Test Network Connection Speed

How to check connection speeds for local and wide area networks

Abstract computer speed illustration

 mohamed_hassan / Pixabay

The speed of computer networks varies widely depending on how they are set up and being used. Knowing how to test the speed of your network connections can help you determine whether an internet connection is performing at the level the service provider is promising.

Information in this article applies broadly to local area networks and wide area networks.

How to Test Network Connection Speed

Checking the connection speed of a computer network requires running some kind of speed test and interpreting the results. A speed test measures the performance of a network during a short period of time. The tests normally send and receive data over the network and calculate performance according to the amount of data transferred and how much time was required to complete the transfer.

Understanding Speed Test Results

The most common measurement for network speed is data rate, which is counted as the number of computer bits that travel over the connection in one second. Modern computer networks support data rates of thousands, millions, or billions of bits per second. Speed tests also often include a separate measurement for network delay, sometimes called ping time.

What's considered "good" or "good enough" network speed depends on how the network is being used. For example, playing online computer games requires the network to support relatively low ping times while the actual data rate is often a secondary concern. Streaming high-definition video, on the other hand, requires support for high data rates, and network delays are less of a problem.

How to Test Internet Connection Speed

There are dozens of free internet speed test websites available that work with any web browser. A typical speed test run lasts about one minute and generates a report at the end showing both data rate and ping time measurements. Although these services are designed to reflect the performance of an internet connection generally, they measure connections with only a few web servers, so the results can vary greatly when you visit sites based in different geographic areas.

Your internet provider may offer a speed test tool that gives more accurate results than other free tools online.

How to Test Connection Speeds on Local Networks

Ping programs are used to conduct speed tests for local networks. Desktop and laptop computers include small versions of these programs, which calculate the network delay between the computer and another target device on the network.

Most ping programs are run by typing command lines that specify the target device either by name or IP address, but you can also install free ping tools for network troubleshooting that offer more features including a graphical interface.

Difference Between Rated and Actual Connection Speeds

When you're connected to a wired network, it's normal for the device to report a standard connection data rate such as 1 billion bits per second (1000 Mbps). Likewise, wireless networks may report standard rates like 54 Mbps or 150 Mbps.

These values represent maximum upper limits on speed according to the network technology being used; they are not the result of actual connection speed tests. Because actual network speeds tend to be much lower than their rated upper limits, running speed tests is essential to measuring actual network performance.

A significant difference between your actual and theoretical top speed is not necessarily a cause of concern. For example, you'll likely encounter speed slowdowns when multiple users on a network are using the internet simultaneously. There are many ways to optimize your network to improve connection speed.