Do Internet Speed Tests Work?

Reading time: 5 minutes

5 minutes read

Category: Internet
Posted on: 10/29/2020
a phone displaying a 5G speed test, seen over the shoulder of the person holding it

Internet speed denotes how quickly you can load websites, stream movies, download documents, and more. You order service from your provider, and they promise a specific rate or speed, measured in megabits per second or Mbps. Due to several factors, including the time of day, equipment, and location, the speed they promise is not always consistent. You should expect to get close to what you pay for, but how do you know? You may be disappointed with the delays in your connection, but what can you do about it? There is a way to measure your internet speed and find out whether your service provider is delivering what they promise. 

What is an Internet Speed Test?

The Internet Speed Test is just what it sounds like. It measures the speed between your device and a test server using your device's internet connection. You can perform internet speed tests on your home connections as well as on your cell phone. If you use multiple devices to access the internet in your home, you may want to test the speed coming into each device. They are not always the same, even if you get service from the same provider on each. Also, your speed test's accuracy might depend on your device as some devices might not be able to capture or measure the full speed of your internet service. It is important to research your specific device, provider, and type of test to determine which one might be the best for you.

Is one test better than another?

There are several different "types" of tests. Among them are HTML5 and Flash. Flash is owned by Adobe and is a platform developers can use to build games, video players, and speed tests. It requires extra software that is installed on your computer to work. However, Flash will be reaching the end of its life cycle in December 2020, so you may not see this type of test around for much longer. 

HTML5 is a version of the programming language that most web pages currently use. It does not require any extra software to run and, as a result, may be a more accurate test. HTML5 also works on more devices and with more browsers. 

As far as actual tests go, there are a ton out there. Most likely, your service provider has one available. And if you Google "internet speed tests," you will be presented with a ton of options. You'll probably want to check out a few and see which one is recommended for your particular provider and devices.

How do I make the test more accurate?

While it is easy to go to an internet test site, follow the directions, and just hit go, there are things you can do to make the test more accurate. First, restart your devices – your modem, router, and the computer, tablet, or phone you're testing speed on. This shuts down programs running in the background and unnecessary processes that can slow down your device. It is always a good idea to reboot or reset periodically to clear out the clutter, and especially when your computer starts moving slower in any way. 

Second, once you've rebooted your computer, clear the cache on your browser. When you browse internet sites, your computer automatically saves content or data in temporary storage called the cache. These files add up and take up space on your computer that may slow down your internet speed. Before any test, you should clear this cache for optimal performance. 

Third, when you are in the middle of the test, refrain from using your device for anything else. You may be tempted to stream music or use another window in the browser, but the test will be more accurate if the test is the only thing using your computer at the time.

What is a good result?

Your test results will show your upload and download speed. It is probably a good idea to perform a test several times at different times of the day and on different devices. If your test results show that your internet speed is somewhat close to the speed you purchased in your plan, then you know your internet service provider is doing a good job. 

Keep in mind that the internet speed promised is the total delivered to your home. If you are using one device, that speed would be expected on that one device. If you are using multiple devices, that speed will be shared among all of the devices. So the more devices you are running at one time, the slower your speed will be.

The time of day can make a big difference in internet speed. If you are trying to stream a movie at peak hours of the day or evening, when a lot more people are online, your speeds will be slower. It is recommended that you perform multiple speed tests at different times of the day to see your average connection speed. 

A good result also depends on how satisfied you are with the performance of your internet. If it serves your needs, the actual speed may not matter.

What to do with the results

Suppose your service provider is delivering the internet speed that you are paying for in your plan, and it is still not sufficient for your needs. In that case, you can either call your provider and upgrade to a higher Mbps plan or shop around for another provider that might offer faster speeds in your area. If your service provider is not delivering the speeds they promise, and your equipment and connection are optimal, ask your provider for a discount or to fix your connection speed. Your provider can also troubleshoot more options to optimize your speed. 

If you are satisfied with the performance of your internet, a speed test can verify you are getting what you paid for. If you are not satisfied, a speed test can let you explore some options.

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