For those who work or run a business from home, having fast, reliable internet speed is integral to their livelihood. We know it's pretty frustrating to log into an important video meeting only to have your internet suddenly slow down, making your video feed choppy or breaking your connection altogether.
For others who like to stream their favorite shows, play online games, or share content with peers, fast internet speed is still essential, especially considering you are paying an internet service provider (ISP) to deliver the speeds in a given package.
But how can you be certain that you are getting the speeds you’re paying for? You may consider troubleshooting if you are experiencing a faulty connection, or even take steps to boost your internet speed if it seems slow. Although these are both good ideas, we think the best and easiest place to start if you’re experiencing slow internet speeds is to use a tool that is widely available for free: an internet speed test.
What impacts your speed
Tips to increase your speed
How to check your speed
Checking your Wi-Fi speed is simple. There are many free programs available online, and using them can be as easy as pushing a button.
If you want to browse the plethora of available sites yourself, feel free to type test my internet speed in any search engine, and you will have plenty of options to sift through. Some of these sites will include tests created by internet providers such as AT&T, Xfinity, or Spectrum.
You do not need to use a speed test produced by the same ISP you are subscribed to. In fact, we recommend a reliable, third-party test, such as Ookla's SpeedTest.net because it has a simple, readable user interface, is a neutral party, and has performed more than 40 billion tests since its inception in 2006.
Before the test
Before beginning your test, there are some steps you should take to produce the most accurate results.
Restart your devices
Your modem, router, and the device you are using for the test should all be restarted before administering the test. These devices can develop issues over time when being used, and restarting them brings them back to square one. The restart will clear the router’s cache and end all tasks, allowing your internet connection to be faster and stronger.
Limit internet usage to the test only
When running an internet speed test, you’ll want to make sure there are no background processes that might be eating up your internet real estate, such as video streaming or system updates.
Also consider turning off — or setting to airplane mode — any smartphones, pads, laptops, or any other smart devices that connect to your network wirelessly.
Clear browser cache
Clearing your browser cache can get rid of possible malware that may have stored itself in the cache, which could interfere with the accuracy of your internet speed test.
Use an Ethernet connection if possible
Connecting via Ethernet can limit any interference or performance fluctuations that seem to happen when connected via Wi-Fi.
After preparing your devices, choose a test. You will be prompted to start the test by clicking a large button that reads something similar to Go, Start Speed Test, or Test My Internet. With some sites, the test will begin as soon as you enter the webpage.
You will know the test has started as you will see various progress bars or gauges bouncing up and down as well as fluctuating numbers on the screen. Wait until the test concludes.
The results and what they mean
Once your test has concluded, you will be provided with your connection speed results. You’ll notice the results will have a lot of techy lingo, such as upload and download speeds. If you’re unsure what all the numbers mean, we’ve got you covered.
Your download speed represents how fast you can download data from the server to your location. Measured in megabits per second (Mbps), this speed determines how quickly you can download files, stream movies, and load website pages.
Upload speed is a measurement of how fast you can send data to others, such as sending files, emails or videos. Also measured in Mbps, upload speed is almost always lower than download speed.
Ping or latency
Ping is the unit of measurement for latency in milliseconds (ms). Latency is the time it takes your internet to send data to a destination and back. You want this number to be low. Latency numbers of 100 ms and below are average for most broadband connections, and values below 20 ms are considered exceptional.
Packet loss is the time it takes your connection to buffer. Imagine a package being delivered to you that temporarily gets lost in transit, but then finds its path again, creating a delay. You want packet loss value to be low — ideally below 5%, where values below 1% are ideal for streaming audio and video.
Jitter indicates the change in time for your data packets to travel across a network. If the jitter rate is high, that means your data (which is sent in multiple packets) may be reaching its destination at different, delayed times. Think of when your video feed gets choppy and distorted, or you experience voice lag when talking on a phone. You want your jitter value to be low — ideally below 30 ms.
What impacts your speed
There are many factors that can affect internet speeds for better or for worse. If you are disappointed in the results of your internet speed test, consider the following.
Internet connection type
Internet connection type is the biggest factor that affects your internet speed. You may think an easy fix to slow internet is to just upgrade the connection type, but unfortunately, users can be limited to different connection types depending on what is available in their area. You may live in an area where cable is offered but fiber is not, for example. Some common internet connection types are:
- Satellite (up to 100 Mbps)
- DSL (up to 500 Mbps)
- Cable (up to 1,000 Mbps)
- Fiber (up to 5,000 Mbps)
Internet package or plan
No matter how fast your connection type, your internet speeds will always be limited by your ISP depending on your plan. If you’re using a cable connection that can offer speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, but you chose a plan that offers 300 Mbps, you can only expect to get up to 300 Mbps.
Ethernet vs. wireless
Whether your device is connected directly to your router via an Ethernet cable or wirelessly via Wi-Fi can make a big impact on your internet speed. Ethernet is always the fastest and most reliable way to connect to the internet — maxing out at 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) — whereas routers top off around 860 Mbps.
Having multiple devices connected to the same wireless network can create interference that will cause slow internet speeds. Whenever possible, connect the devices that use the most bandwidth to your router with an Ethernet cable. This will cut down on the number of devices using up your wireless network space.
Additionally, take stock of what devices are connected to and using your wireless network, and disconnect or turn off devices that are no longer in use.
Old hardware and operating systems
Old devices that use old or out-of-date operating systems can create a litany of issues such as slow internet speeds. Be sure to keep your devices up to date with patches and updates.
Also, keep your modem and router up to date as often as you can. Using old modems and routers can not only create security risks but also greatly hinder your internet speeds. Old models of routers also have weaker antennas that can affect the range in which they transmit Wi-Fi. Experts recommend upgrading modems and routers around every three to four years.
The position of your router in your home is important when considering wireless internet speeds. Be sure you choose a central location in your home when placing your router, and try to avoid putting it behind many large obstructions such as walls or doors.
If one or multiple devices connected to your home network becomes infected with malware, it can greatly hinder your internet speeds. Malware is designed to install itself onto your device and run in the background, and it could be using up your bandwidth without you knowing it.
Tips to increase your speed
Want to boost your internet speed but don’t want to spend extra cash? The good news is that you don’t have to. Here are some brief tips you can use to get the most out of your internet speeds.
- Restart your modem, router, or modem/router combo.
- Use an ethernet connection.
- Reposition your router to a central area in your home.
- Update your router’s firmware.
- Clear browser cache and cookies.
- Disconnect unnecessary devices.
What are Mbps?
Mbps stands for megabits per second. Mbps is the standard unit used to measure internet speeds among some other things.
What is latency?
Latency is a measurement in milliseconds (ms) of how long it takes for data to reach its destination and come back to the user.
What’s a good internet speed?
There isn’t one universal good internet speed because needs and uses differ greatly among users. We consider 100 Mbps to be the sweet spot for a home connection where users will be streaming video, audio, and maybe playing online games.
Why is my internet slow?
If you are disappointed in your internet speed test results, consider the following factors that can affect your internet speed:
- Connection type: Certain connection types will be capable of faster speeds, however they aren’t always offered in every area. Check with your provider what connection types they offer.
- Internet plan: Your speeds are limited by your internet plan. Upgrading could increase speeds.
- Ethernet or wireless connection: Connecting to your router directly via Ethernet will always result in a faster connection compared to using Wi-Fi.
- Router position: Make sure your router is in a central location and not buried behind many large objects.
- Number of connected devices: Limit the number of other devices that are potentially using up your Wi-Fi real estate. Consider disconnecting devices you’re not currently using.
- Old hardware/operating systems: Keep all your devices up to date with the latest operating systems, and remember that old routers and modems do not perform as well as new ones. Experts recommend considering upgrading a router/modem every three to four years.
There is no universally perfect internet speed. It is useful, however, to be able to test your speeds to ensure that you get what you pay for from your ISP. If you find that your internet speed matches your internet plan but is still too slow, consider contacting other ISPs to see if there are other connection types or faster plans available in your area.