How do I check my real internet speeds?

The obvious place for an internet speed test is at your ISP.  Most Internet Service Providers have a speed test.  It has been my experience that this is usually a pretty good test.

I say “usually” because there have been some recent changes among some ISPs in certain areas that can affect your determining the real speed.  Some ISP’s start throttling you speed well before any advertised data caps take place.  If their equipment shows you downloading huge amounts of data, they may periodically throttle you back to a lot slower speed than what they advertise for your particular plan.

Some of the providers do this and flatly deny any such actions.  I have personally seen this behavior with several major providers and some smaller ones.

Other suppliers have learned that many more customers are aware of various sites for testing speeds and react rather slyly.  If you use your ISP’s speed test tool (I am currently writing this on a Comcast triple-play plan and when I run the tool it shows 18.95 Mbps download and 4.06 Mbps.  Comcast definitely knows I am measuring my speed and they will allow, as your ISP probably does, full speeds without throttling.  The figures look good, which I would expect.

I went to over 100 different speed test sites and found a wide variance between reported speeds.  Many reported less than one sixth (1/6) of my speed and there were eight speed test sites that actually tried to install a Trojan on my laptop, so be careful and make sure anti-virus and anti-spyware programs are installed on your system.

I did three successive speed tests at each site and found the best sites for my area.  When you try these sites make sure you choose a test point nearest where you live.

Surprisingly, the most consistent and accurate speed test was the FCC’s Broadband Speed Test.  I’m in California and chose the test facility in Oklahoma.

I figured it would be too great a distance to get an accurate reading, but it worked just fine.  The FCC test site reported a 19.136 Mbps download speed and a 4.103 Mbps upload speed.

Then I did something to verify the speeds.  I have access to my own server at a collocation facility that is within 10 miles from where I made real-time tests.  Downloads from my own server reported 19.013 Mbps and 4.122 Mbps upload speeds.

I did not use any special speed tools, but did it the old fashioned way and downloaded files.  I was not too old fashioned as I used some really big MP3 files.  Additionally, I uploaded and downloaded some MP2 and MP4 video.  Finally, I streamed some video just as you would from on-demand-TV or Netflix.  I averaged 19.013 Mbps download speeds and 4.122 Mbps upload speeds.

This is actually the most accurate measure of your download speed.

You can do this too: find a spot to download a large file.  Try a free Linux distribution .iso file as it will be several Gigabytes in size.  You should see a speed in KBps, Kilobytes per second, in the browser download if you use Firefox.  Other browsers or FTP tools should also give you the speed.  Once you see a fairly stable number, write it down and you can stop the download if you really don’t want it.

To convert Kilobytes per second to Megabits per second, multiply by 8 and then divide by 1024.  So 2433 KBps is 19.0078125 Mbps, so just round it to 19 Mbps.

If your browser or other transfer program gives you MBps, Megabytes per second, just multiply by 8.

This is an important test as many ISP’s know the addresses of popular speed test sites and they just open their floodgates to give you the max your plan allows while you are testing.

ISP’s measure their speed in Megabits per second or Mbps.  Now you will need to convert your measurements to compare against what your ISP is advertising.  Also read your fine print in the contract and see what the CIR is.  That (Committed Information Rate) is the speed they really guarantee.

Here are the results from the top 13 sites for my area.  Several of them should work for you, particularly the FCC’s site.

Who                            Download       Upload

personal server            19.013             4.122

FCC Speed Test           19.136             4.103

Comcast                      18.950             4.060

Speedtest.net              18.390             4.150

Speakeasy                   17.830             4.100

Speedtests                   17.773             3.762

Visualware                  17.200             4.160

WIMI                          17.070             3.980

CNET                          16.833             n.a.

AT&T                          16.490             4.060

Bandwidth Place        15.330             3.980

PC Pitstop                   13.460             4.020

Sprint                          10.980             3.750

And before you ask, no, you can’t have access to my server.

I do wonder how accurate the FCC measurements are.  Could they be inflated to show the national broadband policy is working?  Naw, it’s probably just my paranoia acting up.

Trivia test: If I said divide by 10 instead of 8, what network would I be using to do the transfer?

Comment if you think you know the answer.  I will come back and post the answer in a week or so.

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