Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Are You Getting The Broadband Speed You’re Paying For?

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Are You Getting The Broadband Speed You're Paying For?

by Chris Hoffman
broadband speed test
How fast is your Internet connection, really? Your Internet service provider quotes you speeds, but how do you know if you're actually getting the speed you're paying for? You can find out using one of these free tools. And, if you're not, there are some things you can do to increase your Internet connection speed.
You can't measure your connection speed based on how fast it seems during normal use, as websites won't necessarily make use of your full download speeds. These tools will make use of all the bandwidth your connection has available, ensuring you a fairly accurate measurement.

The Speedtest Broadband Speed Test

Before using Speedtest, ensure no other programs are using your connection. For example, if you have a BitTorrent client or another file-downloading program running, you should pause your downloads. This doesn't just apply to your computer - if you have other computers sharing an Internet connection, ensure they're not actively using your connection either. This will help you get a more accurate picture of just how fast your connection is.
Open the Speedtest page and click the Begin Test button to get started. Speedtest will automatically choose a nearby server and try downloading and uploading a file. It measures the speed when doing these transfers, and the speeds you see should be fairly representative of your Internet connection's speeds.
broadband speed test

JD's Auto Speed Tester

Speedtest is useful, but it only gives you a snapshot of your Internet connection speed at one point in time. It doesn't tell you how consistent your connection speed is or whether it regularly fluctuates at certain times of the day. To monitor your Internet connection speed over time, download JD's Auto Speed Tester.
JD's Auto Speed Tester will perform regular Internet connection speed tests in the background, providing you with a record of your broadband speeds. You can see a graph of your Internet connection speeds over time, allowing you to see just how consistent your Internet connection speeds are.
This program is quite powerful. It allows you to set up emails - you can get email alerts when your Internet connection speed drops to a certain level or receive regular updates on your Internet connection speed. You can also have it not perform tests when certain programs (such as file-downloading programs) are open.
Even if you prefer to run Internet connection speed tests manually and not on a schedule, this program can be useful. It will save each test results and provide a graph, while Speedtest won't remember any previous results for you.
broadband speed check

What If You're Not Receiving the Speed You Were Promised?

If you've run these tests and found that you're not receiving the speeds your Internet service provider promised, you're probably wondering what you can do to increase your connection speed.
Here's the bad news: Internet connection speeds can vary. Internet service providers can't promise you an exact speed, as your actual speed can depend on the amount of load on the network, how far you are from your Internet service provider's hardware, and other factors. Sometimes this can even be to your benefit - for example, in the screenshots above, I'm getting over 27 Mbps (Mbps stands for megabits per second). However, my ISP only advertises a maximum of 25 Mbps - so I'm getting extra speed.
However, in many cases this won't work out to your benefit. You'll probably have an actual speed that's a bit lower than the speed you were promised. If you look up your service plan details, you'll probably see a footnote saying that your ISP can't promise you an exact speed.
On the other hand, wide variations can indicate a problem. For example, if you were promised 25 Mbps and you're receiving 23 Mbps, that's within the margin of error. However, if your plan offers 25 Mbps and you're consistently receiving 8 Mbps, this can indicate a problem. Internet service providers can make mistakes - I once upgraded to an Internet service plan with higher speeds. After upgrading, I ran a speed test program and noted that my speed hadn't gone up. After a quick phone call to my ISP, they realized that they hadn't actually flipped the switch and given me the higher speeds I was paying for. This fixed the problem, and it's possible no one would have noticed if I hadn't tested my Internet connection speeds.
broadband speed test

Tips for Improving Your Speed

Before you go calling your Internet service provider and asking them to check your speeds, ensure you run multiple tests at different times - a single test isn't enough to indicate a consistent problem. You should also ensure that no one else on your network is using your Internet connection, as you'll see slower speeds in the tests if something else is maxing out your Internet connection.
If you're receiving poor speeds, it's also possible that there's an issue on your end - not your Internet service provider's. For example, if you're on a wireless network, you could be receiving a weak signal. Check out these tips to improve your wireless signal and ensure your router is using the ideal wireless channel. To eliminate wireless connection problems, try plugging your computer directly into your router with a wired Ethernet cable and then running a broadband speed test. And even if you are receiving good results in your speed tests, it's possible your ISP is throttling BitTorrent downloads and other types of traffic, slowing it down.
How did your Internet connection speeds measure up? Are you getting the speeds you're paying your Internet service provider for? Leave a comment and share your experience!