How to do an internet speed test

You're working from home and are in a video call, but there is a lag in the sound and a delay seeing your colleague’s presentation. In the evening, the movie you are streaming keeps stopping and buffering. One cause for such issues is a slow internet connection.
Woman works on laptop on coffee table with young boy looking over shoulder
Is your connection fast enough to stream Paw Patrol AND work remotely?
So how do you find out if this is the cause of your problems? It’s easy – you can test your internet speed in just a few seconds.
Internet too slow? This is a common issue as our increased used of streaming services means movies, TV and music are all coming into our homes via the internet and the increasingly high resolution of videos means download sizes are larger. Most American households also have multiple devices connected to the internet at any given time – mobile phones, laptops, tablets, game consoles, smart TVs – the list goes on and on.

So how do you know if your internet connection is fast enough for everything you do online? It’s surprisingly easy to test your internet speed! Today, we’ll show you how – plus share some recommendations for testing programs and apps.

What do I need to perform a speed test?

There are several free tools you can use to test your internet speed, and it will only take a few minutes of your time. Before you run the test, there are a few steps you should take.
  • If you’re testing on your computer, it has to be connected to the internet – either directly to your router using a network cable or through your Wi-Fi network.
  • Many experts recommend the former for the most accurate results, since interference and fluctuations can occur when using Wi-Fi. If Wi-Fi is your only option, minimize interference by disconnecting any other devices (like your smartphone) from your Wi-Fi while you’re testing.
  • Turn off any streams, downloads or uploads you have running, and deactivate any VPN software.

How does the net speed test work?

If you would like to perform a quick, simple speed test, go to the search engine in your preferred internet browser. If you are using the Bing or Google search engine, simply typing “speed test” into the search bar should bring up an option to test your internet speed in the browser in a single click. Or click on a speed test website in your search results for a quick test of your ping, download and upload speeds.
Screenshot of Bing internet speed test widget
You can test your internet speed right in your web browser

Once you start the speed test, your device will send a signal (“ping”) to the test server. The server then sends data to your device, and the program measures how much is downloaded in a certain amount of time. The program then sends data back to the test server to measure the upload speed.

What are the speed test metrics?

A basic internet speed test will measure three main values:
  1. Ping/latency: The time it takes for a signal to travel from your device to the test server and back. Delivered in milliseconds (ms), this is a measure of responsiveness – which is important for gaming or video chats.
  2. Download speed: How quickly your connection can transfer data from the internet to your device. Download speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps) and is important for activities like watching videos or browsing websites.
  3. Upload speed: As you probably guessed, this is the reverse of download speed – how fast data travels from your computer to the internet. Also measured in Mbps, this matters for video calls, sending documents or uploading photos to the cloud.
Depending on the speed test you use, you may see these metrics as well:
  • Connects: The number of connections that are possible simultaneously.
  • Bandwidth: This refers specifically to the maximum volume of data that can be transferred over your internet connection within a certain amount of time – also measured in Mbps.
  • Jitter: This refers to fluctuations in the ping values, which can indicate the stability of the internet connection. Like with ping values, the lower this number, the better.

Why do my internet speed test results seem to vary?

An internet speed test provides a snapshot of your internet speed at a given moment. Internet speed can vary depending on the time of day, how many devices are currently connected to your network, etc. You should also not be surprised if you are not seeing the top internet speed offered by your internet service provider (ISP). This can be caused by anything from hardware issues at your end (like an outdated router) to the internet infrastructure available in your location (like the type of cable used). This is why ISPs offer speeds “up to” a certain Mbps.

What internet speed tests are best?

In addition to the Bing or Google speed tests in your browser, there are a lot of reputable websites you can turn to. Perhaps the best known is Ookla Speedtest, but you could also try Fast.com (made by Netflix with streamers in mind), speedof.com (which, like Ookla, is great for showing fluctuations in speed), the Xfinity Speed Test, and many others.

If you are interested in tracking the speed of your internet connection over time, Speedtest offers you the option of creating an account so you can save and view your entire test history. To test internet speed on your phone, there are also a number of apps you can download. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has even developed its own speed testing app.  

Bonus explainer: How fast should my internet be?

When it comes to download and upload speeds, the higher the megabits per second, the faster the connection. However, don’t be alarmed if your download speed is a lot higher than your upload speed. Because download speeds are more important to the average user, many high-speed internet connections are designed to be asymmetric and provide better speed for downloads than uploads.

So what is a “good” internet speed? This will depend on the size of your household and what you use the internet for. If your household has more than one user or device at a time using a high-demand function like streaming movies or telecommuting, the FCC recommends a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps. Depending on the number of users and devices in your home, you may find speeds between 50 and 100 Mbps necessary for streaming 4K video or multi-party video conferences. Committed online gamers might even want to venture into 200+ Mbps territory. On the other end of the spectrum, in a single-person household where the internet is mostly used for emails and checking social media, a download speed of 5 Mbps could be sufficient.

If you found this post useful, please leave us some feedback below!

Images: 1&1/Getty Images
 

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