How to Check Your Internet Speed (and Why It’s Important)
Nothing slows down your life like slow Internet.
Over the last 15 years, broadband Internet has become a home utility nearly on the same level as water or electricity. According to Pew Research, around 25 percent of adults in the United States had broadband Internet service in their home in 2004. By 2019, that number had skyrocketed all the way up to 73 percent.
Today, broadband Internet is marketed as “high speed,” but there’s very little consistency as to what that really means. Depending on where you live and your Internet service provider, the “high speed” label could be applied to a wide range of internet connections, some that haven’t been considered “fast” since 2004. This can make it hard to know if the service you’re paying for is worth the money—or if you are even getting the high speeds promised. Find out how often you should be rebooting your router.
Conducting an Internet speed test is a quick, easy way to take stock of your Internet service’s performance. If it seems like your Internet is slower than it should be, running a speed test is the quickest way to find out if something is wrong on your end, or if the problem is with your internet service provider.
How is Internet speed measured?
Internet speed is typically measured in megabits per second, or “Mbps.” Basically, Mbps is a measurement of how quickly your Internet connection allows you to download and upload data. If you are trying to download a file and your Internet download speed is 100 Mbps, that means that you will (theoretically) be able to download 100 megabits of that file every second.
What’s the difference between upload and download?
When checking Internet speeds in your home, there are actually two measurements to look at: Download speed and upload speed.
Download speed measures how fast you can pull something from a separate server onto your device, and upload speed measures how fast you can send something to a server. Of the two, download speed is usually more important to the average user, as fast download speeds enable things like buffer-less streaming, lag-less gaming, and high-quality video chat.
How to conduct an Internet speed test
Anyone who wants to test their Internet speed can find access to multiple free platforms online that will do it quickly and simply. If you search Google for “Internet speed test,” the top result Google gives you is a speed test (hosted by Google) that you can conduct right there in your browser.
The quickest way to run an accurate, consistent and reliable speed test is to go to Speedtest.net and download the designated app for the device you want to test. Speedtest.net is a free service run by Ookla that has native apps for pretty much any platform, including iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS.
Once you have the Speedtest app downloaded onto your device of choice, running the test is simple.
- Open the app
- Check that you are connected to your home’s internet connection
- Press “GO”
After you press “GO,” the app will run the test without any other input on your end, first testing download speed and then upload speed. Once the test is complete, the results are displayed at the top of the screen. If you run a test and forget the results, don’t worry—the Speedtest app keeps a log of every test you run.
Why you should conduct a wired test
To test whether you’re reaching the maximum Internet speed you’re paying for, conduct a speed test from a device connected to your router by an Ethernet cable. Ethernet cables provide Internet service directly from the source through a wired connection, which is automatically going to be more consistent and a better indicator than a Wi-Fi connection.
For example, if you’re paying for top speeds of 100 Mbps and your wired Internet speed test shows you’re only getting around 30 Mbps, contact your Internet service provider and ask them what can be done to get your Internet “up to speed.” Telling them you ran the test from a device via an Ethernet cable indicates you know what you’re doing and should be taken seriously.
Why you should conduct a wireless test
Conducting a speed test from a device connected to your home’s Wi-Fi network is a good way to test the strength of the network in different parts of your home. Wireless connections are going to be stronger the closer your device is to the router.
Go to the rooms farthest from your router and run a speed test from a mobile device connected to your Wi-Fi network. If the drop-off in speed is negligible no matter what room you’re in, you know your router is in a good location. But if the speed is dramatically inconsistent as you move further from the source of your Wi-Fi, you may want to consider upgrading your router or setting up a Wi-Fi range extender to service the parts of your home with a weak connection. Learn the difference between a router and a modem.
What is considered “fast” Internet?
Not surprisingly, there does not seem to be a consensus of what qualifies as “high speed” Internet. For people with access to optical fiber Internet, download speeds higher than 200 Mbps are the norm. But that technology is new and still not widely available. In areas where fiber Internet is not an option, users can expect top speeds around 100 Mbps, maybe a little less…and that’s usually more than enough.
“The thing is that most internet connections today are fast, and there’s no point in being high-speed when the average users don’t need that extra 100 Mbps that ISPs are providing,” said Anh Trinh of GeekWithLaptop.com.
When it comes to broadband Internet, having a connection marketed as “high speed” doesn’t really matter anymore. All that really matters is having the speeds you need to use the internet in your daily life, which will vary from person to person and from household to household.
“Internet speed of at least 25 Mbps is usually pretty good for doing the basics with a little streaming thrown in,” said Trinh. “It’s pretty suitable for an average person, and you can always upgrade your plan to meet your demand.”