Take the Broadband Speed Test
If there’s one thing about the internet we’re almost all in agreement on, it’s that we have a need – a need for speed! No matter what you do online, there’s no getting past the fact that the faster your broadband connection, the better the experience. But not all broadband providers are equal, and neither are the various ways of connecting.
It’s only relatively recently that most people have started really paying attention to broadband speed and what it means for them. For many years when almost everyone was on ADSL, the actual connection speed was something the end user had no control of – it was all down to the distance between you and the phone exchange, and the condition of the ancient copper wires that carried your data there. If you wanted to download something big, you’d leave it overnight or set it going before heading out to work because it would take so long.
The arrival of the NBN has changed everything, with many people now having access to download speeds of 100 Mbps (that stands for megabits per second – more on that later) and fast upload speeds for the first time. That’s coincided with the internet as a whole becoming much more data-heavy very quickly. Between Netflix, Stan and YouTube streaming in 4K, modern video games for PC, PlayStation and Xbox asking you to download up to 100GB, video and image-heavy web sites and social media, constant updates to Windows or the apps on your phone and tablet… it’s a never-ending stream of data that just keeps getting bigger. “Leave it to download overnight” isn’t really a thing any more – we want it while we wait, and so we need a fast broadband connection to do so.
The Speed Test
When you sign up for a broadband plan on the NBN, you’re asked to pick from a range of “speed tiers”. These indicate the absolute fastest your connection will go – but it’s not a guarantee. There’s only one way to find out for sure how fast your actual connection can go – download something. And that is basically what a speed test does. It downloads a large file to your computer or device, and measures how long it takes to arrive at your end. It does the same in reverse as well, getting your device to upload a file. It then gives you speed ratings, usually measured in Megabits Per Second (Mbps).
What’s a Megabit Exactly?
Used as the de facto standard for quoting the speed of a broadband connection, a megabit is equal to one-eighth of a megabyte. So if you have a 100 Mbps NBN connection running at that speed, the most data it can download each second will be about 12 megabytes. Nice and speedy, especially for those game and software downloads!
How Do I Use the Speed Test?
Powered by a company called Ookla, the speed test service you see here is the most popular options for finding out what your true connection speed is. The clever part with the way it works is that it’s all automatic, unless you decide you want to manually adjust some options. When you press the GO button, the speed test checks where your connection is located, then chooses a speed test server that’s as close to you as possible. These dedicated servers are designed to deliver data as fast as you can receive it, and so the number you see when the test is complete is a good measure of the true speed of your broadband connection.
What Do the Results Mean?
You’ll usually see four results, which together give you a good summary of how your connection is doing in the speed stakes. These results can also be very handy if you’re trying to spot a bottleneck in your own home network or at your internet provider that might be slowing things down.
The result everyone focuses on for a reason – this is the top speed your connection can get data at, so you want this to be as high as possible, especially if you have multiple family members using the one connection. The higher this number, the better – it means you’ll be comfortably be able to do multiple things online at once, like have several people watching their own Netflix streams. It determines how fast games and software will take to download. By law, internet providers now have to show a typical download speed for the busiest time of the day for each plan; this number should be at or above that when you run a speed test in the evening.
Not to be underestimated, upload speed is about more than just sending photos and videos to social media nice and fast. When you download anything, your device needs to be able to talk back to the server that’s sending you the information, and a low upload speed can cause those replies to be delayed – and slow down the download as a result. For everyday use, the 20 Mbps upload speed of an NBN 50 connection is more than adequate for almost anything you’ll be doing online.
As the name suggests, ping is the time (in milliseconds) that it took for a request from your device to get a response from the server at the other end. This should be as low as possible – but it will always be higher for technologies that use copper wiring, like Fibre to the Node. You should expect a low number here – usually single-digit – but if you see a large number returned for Ping it can indicate that something’s wrong. If you play games online, meanwhile, a low ping is critical as it determines how long it takes other players to see what you do.
A measure of the difference in ping across several tests, Jitter gives you an idea of how reliable and stable your connection is, and can be useful in troubleshooting problems that are otherwise hard to pin down – like occasional line noise causing delays on the connection.
I’m Paying for 50/20 Mbps, Why Aren’t I Getting It?
The important thing to realise right out of the gate is that you will never see downloads or uploads at the actual maximum speed of your connection. That’s because there’s an amount of information that has to be constantly sent and received along with your data to make sure each packet of data goes where it’s meant to go. But even in an ideal world, you’re quite likely to see a result for download and/or upload that’s slower than you’d like.
There are several possible reasons for this – but for many, the most obvious first port of call is to blame the broadband provider. That’s in some ways the industry’s own fault. Some less ethical providers happily sold “unlimited” NBN plans in the early years of the NBN’s life, but didn’t buy enough capacity to handle the influx of users at evening peak times. The arrival of Netflix didn’t help, either, with millions streaming their favourite shows and movies every evening.
The ACCC came to the rescue with their requirement for display of a typical evening speed, and the NBN itself made some changes so that providers could give customers faster speeds overall at a similar price. Today, most plans are “unlimited” and are totally fine.
But if you’ve paid for, say, a 50 Mbps connection, and you get a speed test result here of only 28 Mbps, what should you do?
First, don’t panic. Check that you don’t have any downloads running on your devices, and that nobody’s streaming Netflix in another room. Choose an alternate speed test server location from the drop-down list, too, and see if that makes a difference.
If your device is on Wifi, congestion may be the cause – test on a device that’s got a wired connection to the internet if you can for the most accurate results. And reboot your modem – it’s probably been turned on for months, if not years, and that can have a detrimental effect on speed (your modem is just a tiny computer, after all!). Switch it off at the wall, wait for 30 seconds or so then switch it back on. Many cases of weird broadband faults can and have been fixed just by this simple thing!
Try a few different devices to make sure it’s not a device problem – try your phone, tablet, laptop, game console, streaming box or even your smart TV.
And try a speed test at different times of the day – not just in the evening peak. If you get low speeds all the time, it could indicate there’s something wrong with your overall connection. But if you just see speed drastically lower in the evenings, you’re seeing the dreaded peak slowdown, and might take it as a cue to shop around for a new broadband provider (something we can help with!).
If you’re consistently getting slower speeds than you should and you’re sure it’s not an issue at your end, get in touch with your internet provider. They’ll be able to investigate from their end and also run some tests to make sure the connection between them and you is working properly. But don’t be afraid to consider switching providers if you don’t see things improve. You’re paying for that speed – and you should get as much of it as possible!