Why should I be testing my broadband speed?
Here are 5 great reasons to be testing your broadband speed:
- To check that your broadband provider is giving you the speeds they should
- To see if your broadband speeds vary at different times of day
- To see if there are faster providers and deals available in your area
- To compare your speeds with those of your friends and neighbours
- Your test results will help us compile our monthly speed test results which show the fastest and slowest broadband providers in the UK.
Without broadband speed test tools there would be no way of holding your supplier to account, you just wouldn't know if you were getting the service you are paying for.
Some providers "throttle" their networks at peak times which can cause broadband connections to slow, but testing your connection regularly you can find out if your supplier is doing this to you.
As well as testing your broadband speed, we'll also let you know how your speeds compare to those of other broadband customers and let you know if there are faster providers in your area.
How can I ensure my test is accurate?
Make sure that nothing else is using your Internet connection. This includes other apps on your computer like your email client, instant messenger or browser tabs running Facebook or other constantly updating sites. It can also include online radio, background downloads and updates to your virus checker or operating system.
Make sure that nothing intensive is running on your computer. If your virus checker is in the middle of a scan or you're busy copying files or converting a video, this is likely to slow down your computer and so affect how accurately the speed test can run. If possible close all other apps, browser windows and tabs and try to run the speed test alone. This is especially important if you have a slow computer or you're running the test on a tablet or mobile phone and tend to wait a long time for apps to load.
Make sure that no other devices are using your network, this could include a TV box or games console in the living room or the smartphone in your pocket. If possible turn these off or turn off the wifi connection.
If possible, connect by cable rather than wirelessly. Wireless networks can get slower the further away from the router you are and can suffer interference from thick walls or metal objects. If you're on a mobile device or have to use wireless, try to stay relatively close to your router, preferably within line of site, and avoid running equipment that can cause interference such as microwave ovens or unshielded flashing lights.
If possible, avoid using proxies, VPNs, and 'Turbo' features, some browsers or broadband providers offer features designed to speed up your connection by processing the data that goes through your connection before you receive it. This can artificially increase your test speed or even prevent the test from completing. Our test uses the HTTP protocol over TCP port 80, if you're having trouble with the test make sure that this traffic isn't handled by a proxy or blocked by a firewall. Some Internet connected audio-video equipment or services designed to allow access to video content in other countries can also have an affect on our test results.
We recommend running the test more than once to make sure there wasn't some sort of blip during your first test. We'd also recommend using another speed test such as this Broadband Speed Test to compare your results, and testing at several different times of the day and night to see how peaktime network congestion affects your service.
How does the speed test work?
The test sends a small amount of data to your browser to get a rough idea of how fast your connection is and to measure latency (how quickly transfers begin), based on this figure it then sends a large amount of data and measures how quickly this is transferred. The data transferred is randomised and designed to not benefit from compression and to avoid caching, however it can be affected by proxies and 'turbo' browser features so ensure that these are switched off before you test. We send enough data to saturate your connection ensuring that even the fastest lines are accurately tested. The test is run multiple times and these figures are averaged to get the best indication of your connection's speed. For the upload portion of the test, a similar process occurs but random data is sent back to our servers.
The data our test transfers is not stored on your computer. We use a thrid party checker called Open Speed Test to calculate your internet speed,
What does my speed actually mean?
It's easy to be confused by terms like Mbps, Mb, MB and MB/s.
Broadband speed is generally measured in megabits per second. This is written as 'Mbps' or just 'Mb', sometimes this is also referred to as 'meg' or 'megs'. A 'bit' is a single binary digit of data. There are 1,000,000 bits in a megabit.
Most computers measure filesize in 'bytes' rather than bits. Bits tend to be abbreviated to lower case b while bytes are abbreviated to upper case B, so a MB is very different to a Mb. Megabytes per second tend to be written as 'MB/s' or 'MB/sec'. There are 8 bits to 1 byte, 1024 bytes to the kilobyte and 1024 kilobytes to the megabyte. This means that there are actually 1,048,576 bytes or 8,388,608 bits in a megabyte.
File transfer speed, as reported during a download, is likely to be measured in megabytes per second rather than megabits per second, which means this is more than 8 times slower than you might expect if you thought megabits and megabytes were equivalent.
In reality a 38Mb fibre broadband connection can only download a file at 4.7MB/s. However for most webpages that's immediate loading, and for the average music album download, that's approximately one track per second. You'd also be able to download the average standard definition movie in just 3.5 minutes or in 15 minutes for a HD film. Obviously on a 76Mb connection these times are roughly halved (or a little over).
Why Is My Broadband Slower Than Expected?
We often get asked why broadband speed checkers sometimes report download speeds slower than the maximum theoretically possible at a property. We've compiled a list of some of the causes of slow broadband connections.
- Being signed up to a slow deal. Some people, especially those who have not upgraded their broadband deal for a while, are on packages that will be set at lower speeds than they could get. We'd suggest that you compare the latest deals available at you property.
- The quality of the phone line to your house, you really need an engineer to test this properly, but if when you use the line for phone calls if it doesn't sound great then you may have a poor quality line.
- The quality of the phone wiring in your house. Its best to place the router as close to the point of entry of your phone line into the house. If you are plugging in via a distance of poor quality internal wiring this can degrade your signal and hence your download speed. We've seen cases where people have used an old extension cable to plug their router in and they couldn't get their broadband to work at all as it was in such poor condition, we suggested they bought a new cable and after they tried that it worked fine.
- Your modem/router - Higher quality hardware can improve your download speed.
- Time of the day - the more people using broadband at your exchange the lower your speeds can potentially get as congestion kicks in, so try testing your speeds at different times of the day.
- The tasks your computer is carrying out can affect the results of broadband speed checkers, if you are downloading something or your email application is checking mail etc all these will take up some bandwidth and thus cause the speed checkers to report a lower speed than you are actually getting.
- More than one computer on a connection. It is more common nowadays for multiple computers (and other devices like games consoles) to share a connection in a house. So if you are carrying out a speed test and another person is doing something bandwidth heavy you may not get properly representational results
We suggest you try speed tests a number of times over a period before reporting issues to your providers technical support.
Do I need a faster connection?
If you're a heavy downloader then faster speeds will certainly allow you to download more files more quickly.
If you stream videos, TV shows and films over your connection then download speeds of 5Mb or over should allow high definition content without buffering. However if you live in a home with more than one Internet user, perhaps other family members or housemates, then you can quickly discover that you need several times that at times when everyone's using your connection, especially if more than one of you wants to stream video.
If you currently experience regular buffering of videos and slowdowns when other people are using your connection then you'd also very likely benefit from a speed upgrade.
Will switching providers actually improve my speed?
If you're not currently using a cable or fibre service then switching from standard broadband to a superfast connection will most definitely produce a significant speed improvement.
If you're already on cable or fibre and on a slower package, this speed reduction is likely to be artificially enforced. Switching to a package with a higher speed limit will likely see a significant increase in your speeds. On Virgin Media cable services this is likely to always be the case, as their lines are rated to be able to achieve the maximum speeds.
On a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) service (such as BT Infinity), your distance from the street cabinet can reduce the maximum speed that your line can support. If you're currently on a half speed up to 38Mb service and currently seeing less that 38Mb then it's unlikely that you'll be able to benefit from switching to a faster package. If you get the full 38Mb then you still may not get the full 76Mb when you upgrade but instead get a lower figure between those two, determined by your line length. If you're unsure about this, your provider will be able to give you an accurate estimate of the maximum speed your line can support.
If you're only able to switch from one standard phoneline broadband service to another then speed changes are unlikely to be as significant as switching from one broadband technology to another. However if you're on a smaller budget provider then factors such as traffic management and peak time congestion may be slowing you down either due to artificial limits or the supplier's network capacity being saturated. In this case switching to a more expensive small provider with a better reputation, or switching to a larger supplier who has invested in their network capacity to allow them to advertise a 'truly unlimited' service may result in faster download speeds at peak times (i.e. evenings). However this is unlikely to be a very significant improvement, no more than increasing your evening speed to what you're currently able to achieve at off peak times like the early morning.
If you're on a rural exchange with very little competition and there's only standard phone line broadband available, BT may not have upgraded your exchange from up to 8Mb ADSL Max technology to the faster up to 24Mb ADSL2+ equipment. If this is the case then LLU providers like TalkTalk or Sky may have put their own equipment into your exchange, allowing you to possibly get increases in speed of more than double. However the size of this increase will depend on line length in terms of distance from the telephone exchange. If you're currently seeing maximum speeds of 7.5Mb on ADSL Max then switching to ADSL2+ might see your speed increase to between 16 and 19Mb. But if you're a very long distance from the exchange you may see no increase, or only a small increase of 0.5 to 1Mb.