How fast is my Mac’s broadband?
You got a Mac because it’s just about bullet proof on the internet, not to mention the rich, easy-to-use graphical interface and super stable performance. But are you getting your money’s worth out your expensive broadband connection? Here are a few simple tips and online tools for finding just how much (or little) your internet service provider (ISP) is delivering for your hard earned dollar.
First, there’s the question of how these things are measured. Specifically, network speed testing sites usually use Kbps (kilobits per second) to measure throughput and ISPs usually list speeds in Mbps (megabits per second, see also: Kbps vs. Mbps). That said, one megabit is equal to 1,024 kilobits, meaing 1.0 Mbps is over 1000 times faster than 1.0 Kbps.
Taking the example one step further, one byte is equal to eight bits. So, 2 megabytes per second (MBps) equals 16 megabits per second (Mbps) which in turn is equal to 16,000 kilobits per second. The import here is that hard disk throughput is measure in MBps, which can be a useful reference in thinking about network speed.
I’m on Time Warner Cable’s Roadrunner and, oddly enough (*cough*), they don’t list the connection speed I purchase on either the printed monthly bill or my online account page. Nevertheless, your bill will list a toll-free customer service number and they will be able to tell you what level of service you subscribe to.
Now that you know how fast you should be going, let’s find out how much speed you’re actually getting.
When it comes to speed test services, it’s important to get multiple results and to pick the testing node closest to you. That said, results can vary quite a bit even on the same service.
For example, when you use Broadband.gov’s testing link, it will ask you for your street address and ZIP code and then automagically hook you up with the closest node.
However, Broadband.gov’s test is provided by Ookla, which powers the popular Speakeasy speed test, and the results are very different.
DSL Reports in another popular testing service that’s known for its independence. Interestingly, their measurement of my connection came in the lowest and by a huge margin.
Lastly, I also recommend giving Speedtest.net a spin, as well, as they have by far the largest number of nodes around both the US and Canada. Also, there’s a pretty good chance your ISP’s support people will reference this service once you get ‘em on the phone.
Yes, results can vary by time of day (i.e. how many people are using the internet in general and on the last mile you inhabit). So, try these speed tests at different times and on different days to establish a solid baseline of results.
Also, be sure to take note of your broadband connection’s latency, which measures how responsive it is (i.e. you click a link and how long it takes for something to happen). High latency can make browsing, chatting or whatever frustrating and, in extreme cases, impossible.
My ISP comes up short, now what?
If you’re consistently getting half the advertised speed, even in off hours like early Sunday morning, there’s a problem. Talk to your provider — be firm, insistent and appeal to a higher authority (supervisor > manager > etc.), but don’t be a dick.
In turn, I believe the ISP is required by law (US) to speak to your complaint, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as fixing it. Also, your state representatives and Congressmen can also be a source of both information and direct help in applying pressure.
What happens next depends on how persistent you are and how many of your neighbors join in. Seriously, get everyone you can involved — write a letter to the editor, post on forums, bring it up at PTA meetings — there is strength in numbers.
Thereupon, the government and providers are really sensitive on these issues right now — it’s a hot button issue for both and, in my limited experience, they’re ready to work with you.
That said, always be as nice as humanly possible as you want people to remember and help with your problem, and not think of you as the problem…
What’s your take?