Many people use online speed tests to check the speed of their internet connection, but are the results really accurate? Several factors can affect and confuse your speed test results, some within your control, some not. Here are some issues you should be aware of when interpreting your speed tests.
- “Up to” speeds
ISPs advertise certain speeds, but almost no ISP guarantees them. Look carefully and you’re likely to find “up to” in front of the number. A plan claiming “up to 20 Mbps” means that 20 Mbps is the maximum you can get at any time, not that you will always have exactly 20 Mbps every minute.
- Throughput is not Connection Speed
This is a little confusing. Your connection speed is the rate at which your router communicates with the network. Throughput, on the other hand, is the actual speed that you see as you use your various applications. Throughput will always be slightly lower than connection speed.
The packets of data transmitted between your router and the network aren’t purely the information from websites. Each packet has to include extra information about where it came from, where it’s headed, what programs and protocols it works with, etc. On top of that, some of your connection must be dedicated to allowing your router to communicate with the rest of the network, which means your throughput cannot be fully 100% of your advertised speed, by limits of the technology.
- Devices, programs, and WiFi
Always make sure there are no extra programs running in the background of your computer when you run a speed test. Along with that, make sure there are no other devices connected to your router, no phones, tablets, or other computers. And for good measure, plug your computer directly into your router with an Ethernet cable. These measures ensure that your speed test has access to every last bit of throughput, so you get the most accurate result.
- Servers can be overloaded
Another reason that your speed test results might be skewed is the speed test server itself. If it gets overloaded with multiple connections, then the server can’t respond fast enough to give correct results. This has nothing to do with your connection, and is out of your control.
Speed tests are an indication of your internet connection’s performance, but they aren’t prefect. If you get a result that looks really off, wait a few minutes and try again. One bad result isn’t cause for panic, but if it becomes a pattern, contact your ISP for help.