How fast is my Internet? Find out with Speedtest.net

Video conferencing and transferring large files are two increasingly important factors to being productive online, and reasons for upgrading to the latest, greatest, fastest Internet plan from your cable or mobile provider. Broadband Internet and mobile data providers all tout themselves as being the fastest. But fastest is subjective–and generally, the speeds those providers say they’re capable of reaching come from best case scenarios. In reality, a number of factors can play into an Internet connection’s speed. Your neighborhood’s section of your cable or telephone company’s network, for example, may be saturated. You may have a device on your home wireless network (say, an older game console or handheld) that drags the rest of your own network down speed-wise. Satellite Internet has issues of its own. In other words, just because your provider sells you 50 Mb download speeds, you shouldn’t take their word for it.

NewImage.jpgLuckily, you can check your Internet speed easily, and for free. Speedtest.net runs a series of short connection tests so that, in less than a minute, you’ve got some data to look at to determine how quick your broadband connection is in reality right now (more on that in a minute). To try it out, make sure your computer or mobile has an Internet connection, then head over to Speedtest.net and click the Begin Test button.

What do the numbers mean?

Following the test, Speedtest.net provides some speeds at which you might expect to download a few common file types–an MP3 audio file, a short video, and a large video. You can also click View Upload Speed to get a sense for how long it will take you to send an e-mail attachment or upload a larger file to a server. You might also be interested in knowing if the reported speeds are sufficient for video conferencing via Skype, iChat, or the like. It can be confusing (and annoying) because Speedtest.net reports speeds back in megabit (Mb), or 1 million bits per second; while Skype suggests requirements in kilobits (kb). This is where Google can come in handy: Use the built-in calculator feature to convert megabits to kilobits on the fly, then check the requirements suggested by Skype, iChat, or your video conferencing tool of choice.

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There’s an app for that!

If you use an iPhone and want to see how fast AT&T (or, as of yesterday, Verizon!) is performing right now in your area, download the free Speed Test app. Remember to turn off Wi-Fi to check your mobile data provider’s speed (Under Settings > Wi-Fi; select off).

Test regularly

I mentioned that the results you get are the results of your network’s speed right now–one test does not deem your network particularly slow or fast. Run tests regularly, at different times of day, to get an overall sense of your network speed capabilities. If you’re seeing speeds that are consistently lower than what your provider advertises, though, call them up to see what can be done–sometimes a hardware upgrade in your neighborhood can make a world of difference for you and your neighbors. If they can’t (or won’t) do anything, shop around for other providers.

Image: Speedtest.net

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Aaron Sumner

Aaron Sumner is the Director of Technology for Research and Development at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has worked in web development and instructional technology since 1994.