HomeTechnologyNewsWhy Internet Speed ​​Tests Don't Really Matter (and What Does)

Why Internet Speed ​​Tests Don’t Really Matter (and What Does)

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Jason Fitzpatrick / Instructional Geek

It’s easy to look at speed test results, but factors like the age and location of your Wi-Fi router have a bigger impact on your actual experience.

Running a speed test on your home internet connection (and getting great results) is important, right? Not so fast. Sure, a flashy test result is great. But it doesn’t matter that much. This is what it does.

Why speed test results don’t matter as much as you think

Who doesn’t like a good result in the speed test? You’ve just upgraded your cable broadband to a better package, or maybe fiber has finally come to town and the technician has finished connecting your fiber line. That first speed test where you have way more bandwidth than ever feels great, I’m not denying that. And we’re certainly not trying to take away that feeling of satisfaction.

But maybe you’ve noticed that despite a good speed test, your home Internet connection doesn’t feel much better than it used to. Here’s why speed test results aren’t as useful as they seem.

Speed ​​tests measure maximum speed under ideal conditions

The result of a speed test is similar to taking a car to a race track with a professional driver and closed-course conditions to absolutely stress test the car and see the maximum potential performance of the vehicle.

It doesn’t say much about how the car will perform day in and day out, how comfortable you will be driving the car on a long trip, whether the car can carry your entire family plus all your luggage or other things that might be important to you. A speed test is very much a Cannonball Run experience: how fast can the test data get from A to B.

Speed ​​tests are optimized for good results

If you read about speed tests, you’ll inevitably come across people who say, almost knowingly, that Internet speed tests are rigged. They are not exactly rigged in the sense of a fraudulent carnival game, but they are designed for optimal results.

The internet is a big place, and the conditions under which speed tests are run are pretty small. When you use the Internet in general for browsing, downloading, watching videos, and all sorts of other activities, the location of the data you want (whether it’s a video game download or streaming video) is probably many hops along the chain. of the Internet from where they are.

But speed tests are optimized to connect you to the nearest speed test server, which is expressly selected based on the number of hops between you and the test server. If you are 30 miles from Chicago, for example, the speed test app will likely choose a speed test server located in Chicago.

To continue with the transportation analogies, if you are sending or receiving something, do you really care how fast something can get to a city post office or how long the total trip will take? If all my packages arrive at the local depot almost instantly, but then take ages to cross the country to their final destination, the speed of the first leg of the journey doesn’t really matter much.

Most people aren’t doing speed tests correctly anyway

Over the years, we’ve received more than a few emails from readers who were curious as to why their speed test results seem shaky and don’t match the advertised speeds for their broadband package.

The usual culprit is the method by which they have performed the speed test. In the last section, we noted that the speed tests are optimized so that you get the best possible route from your home to the remote test server. If, within your home, you haven’t optimized that route for testing, your speed tests won’t be accurate either.

The most common mistake is to run the speed test on your smartphone or Wi-Fi connected laptop. Ideally, you should speed test with a computer connected to your router via Ethernet.

You don’t need as much download bandwidth as you think

Everyone overestimates the amount of bandwidth they need. Among many reasons, this is largely due to the amount of emphasis Internet Service Providers (ISPs) place on speed. If you based your opinion on the broadband provider’s ad copy alone, you’d think switching from the 100 Mbps package to the gigabit package would help you win every game of video game and turn the old Netflix into a supersensory VR experience.

But the reality is about as cool as saying you have a gigabit internet package (at least if you run in circles worrying about such matters!) doesn’t have much of an impact on your day-to-day life. Aside from downloading very large files a bit faster, most people don’t need much more than around 25 Mbps per household member to enjoy web browsing, streaming video, downloading game updates, etc.

The leap from an old 10 Mbps DSL connection to a 100 Mbps or better cable or fiber connection is huge, no doubt. But most people won’t notice the difference between 100 Mbps and 500 Mbps, or 500 Mbps and a gigabit connection.

This is what matters more than speed test results

If speed tests don’t matter that much, what does? To stick with the car analogy, where a super fast speed test for a single test server is like having a car that can drive extremely fast, there is much more to the car experience than just speed. And with your home Internet, just like with a car, you’re much more likely to care about convenience, reliability, and quality-of-life features than the top number on the speedometer.

An updated Wi-Fi router

Your Wi-Fi router is the heart and brain of your entire home networking experience. It simply cannot be stated strongly enough how big an impact your router has on every aspect of your home Internet experience.

You may have a good fiber connection, you may have newer devices that support Wi-Fi 6, and if your router is a dusty old potato that your ISP shoved for you in the corner of your basement or living room, you’re going to absolutely have a time. awful.

We are so convinced of this that we encourage people to upgrade their routers before upgrading their broadband package. And even people who don’t have fast internet need to upgrade their router despite their slow internet connection.

Because upgrading your router isn’t just about the speed of your Internet connection (most people don’t even have enough bandwidth to completely saturate a modern Wi-Fi router), it’s about the quality of the experience. Wi-Fi 6 routers, for example, are designed to handle high-density Wi-Fi environments better than Wi-Fi 5 and older routers (and to do so for both current generation and older Wi-Fi devices). ). How your router handles all your devices is more important than your router maximizing the connection to any individual device.

On the fence about upgrading to a better router? If your router is five years old or older, you need to replace it. And if you’re younger than that, you should still consider these six signs it’s time to upgrade your Wi-Fi router. On a personal note, I’ve never upgraded my Wi-Fi router and I didn’t immediately say, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”

Placing your Wi-Fi router in an optimal location

Aside from upgrading your router so that it’s running new hardware that receives regular updates, the easiest thing you can do to improve the Internet experience for everyone in your home is to move your router.

Nine times out of ten, when we help a friend or neighbor with their Internet problems, the router is parked anywhere in the house that your ISP sees fit to connect to without regard to the needs of the home. If the corner of the rec room is closest to the utility pole, that’s where the router/modem combo ends. And the complaint we hear from them is usually: “When I use my iPhone on that side of the house, the Wi-Fi goes down and I use up all my mobile data in the middle of the month”, or something similar.

If you can move your router to a more central location in your home, you should. Remember, central doesn’t always mean central to the space of the house, but central to the location of your devices. And while you’re at it, be sure to position it away from these common Wi-Fi blocking materials.

Isn’t there a good way to move the router? Consider getting a mesh system, placing the base node where your old router sits, and then optimally placing the rest of the mesh nodes in your home.

Use Ethernet as much as possible

It’s easy not to think about Ethernet at all these days. But it’s just as useful for stable high-speed data connections today as it was twenty years ago.

Anything in your house that you can connect using Ethernet will improve both the connection for that device and the connections for all your wireless devices (by reducing the load on your Wi-Fi router). If your Wi-Fi router is in your living room, study, rec room, or other place where people often have smart TVs, game consoles, etc., connect them directly to the router.

And don’t neglect the handy Ethernet ports on your mesh network nodes if you have a mesh network. Not all mesh systems have Ethernet ports on the nodes, but if yours does, plugging devices into them speeds up Wi-Fi in your home.

All of these tips are focused on improving your home network conditions from the inside out and not worrying about speed test results. Because at the end of the day, the difference between one internet packet and the next becomes almost imperceptible once you get over 75-100 Mbps or so. But the difference between a dirty old router, poorly located and overworked, compared to a newer configuration located in an optimal location, is enormous.


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