I did the speed test. Now, what do the numbers mean?
Internet speed tests have been around for years, but Netflix made this kind of information much more accessible and easier to understand with the launch of fast.com.
Whilst there is no standard definition of broadband performance, it’s predominantly based on download speed and can be broken into three groups:
- 1-10 Mbps – Broadband
- 30-300 Mbps – Highspeed/Superfast Broadband – the 120 rating in the photo shows that my broadband is very good, but not the best.
- 300 Mbps + – Ultrafast Broadband
When you click on ‘Show more info’, a lot more is revealed about your broadband connection. These numbers will start to become more and more important as a nation we move to working, shopping, playing – basically living – online.
Okay, so what do Latency and Upload speeds mean?
Generally, it is expected that upload speeds will be about 10% of download speeds. For years, streaming (downloading) has been the dominating requirement in our homes, as we watch TV on-demand and browse the internet on iPads and mobiles, often at the same time.
As we start to use more video calling for work and catching up with friends & family, the ability to get data ‘up’ to the internet is going to become much more important than ever.
Zoom, a leading video conferencing company, suggests we have the following speeds both for upload and download to get the best out of their services:
- 1 to 1 video calling: From 0.5Mbps to 1.8Mbps
- Group video calling: From 1 to 3Mbps
* the quality of your video will depend on how high the number is
Considering the expectation of upload speed being 10% of the download speed, we immediately start to see the problem. If your internet upload speed shows 10Mbps, then a 1Mbps upload speed would simply not get you the best quality Zoom video call. It’s also worth noting that an hour for video conferencing equates to up to 1GB of data, something to be very aware of if you’re on a metered or capped tariff, such as your mobile.
The other figure stated is latency, which shows the time delay of your broadband connection. Whilst this is measured in milliseconds (0.01 of a second), this number is what makes us feel disconnected from others in communicating via video.
It’s this delay and actually its lack of consistency that makes human interaction impossible via video – try playing rock-paper-scissors on a group call and you’ll see the effects for yourself. More seriously, latency can be what puts an end to your ability to take part in collaborative activities online.
Why is there such a difference in upload and download speeds?
In most residential areas, internet service providers optimize their networks to what users want. Until now, we have consumed content from the internet more than we have created it, so it makes sense to offer greater download than upload speeds.
Think of it as a highway or motorway with most people traveling from A to B rather than B to A. It makes sense to have more lanes on the A to B side of the road.
This analogy actually continues further with the fact that we all share this road with other internet users around us, not just those connected to the same Wi-Fi access point as us in our own household, but also the people living next door and down the street.
Internet service providers bet on the fact that we don’t all use our full download capabilities at the same time, and tend to provide 20 homes with a 10Mbps bandwidth internet package. However, we only have a single shared connection that can handle 10Mbps to all the houses, which means that if we use the internet at the same time, the speed available to each individual will be much less than the 10Mbps broadband promised.
This 20:1 contention ratio (think number households using the same connection) will be fine in typical home usage, but as we demand more data, we’ll start to see a lagging performance which in part will be down to the way our homes are physically connected to the internet (read hard to change!).
So what can I do to improve my internet speed? Do I reduce the number of connected devices, upgrade my service, change my way of working?
Firstly, we recommend that you refer to our recent guide for 5 useful tips on improving your home internet. If you’ve tried everything in the guide, below are a few other suggestions that are worth being aware of.
Upgrade your speed
If you fall into the category of users whose connection is too slow to even run a speed test, it’s time to call your service provider and see if other packages are available. Most internet service providers have 2-3 tiers of speeds and pricing available, so weighing your options is prudent.
Along with overall network contention, there will be problems caused within our households that are caused by:
Everything else that’s connected to the network and their need for bandwidth
Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be sent in a given amount of time, and we are constantly connected to systems that require bandwidth to provide up-to-date data, and regularly ‘call home’ to give status updates. Try to get a better understanding of how the internet is being used in your household, as this is the key to trying to improve it.
If you’re facing an issue, see if it improves if someone else temporarily stops working, shuts down their computer, stops gaming or streaming. If temporarily halting other users improves your performance, try digging deeper to find out what is causing this necessity to send or receive data, and if it can be moderated.
Like it or not, compromise may be needed.
Work out which devices are connected to your home Wi-Fi network. Remember that everything from lightbulbs to doorbells to plug sockets to your Alexa could be connected to the same Wi-Fi router you’re trying to work from. Whilst they may not take up much bandwidth, or actually be in use, your router will be working out which device to use bandwidth for. If you have access to your router’s settings, it can tell you exactly which items are using your internet.
By adding another router to your home network will ease the load and could increase performance. Going further than this and having a separate 5Ghz Wi-Fi network and 2.4Ghz connection can help.
Tabs tabs tabs
Working from home for most of us will mean working via the Cloud, and an uptick of applications being served up in a browser window. Each of these services; CRM, Drive, company intranet, task planning, social media, office productivity suite, will be constantly looking for updates even if they’re not in your current browser window or tab.
To reduce the load on your internet connection, remember to purge the unnecessary tabs that you have left open.
Both for security and performance reasons it’s key that your computer (and router, and everything else connected to it) is up to date with the latest software updates.
Take some time out of your schedule every week to check and update any software. Otherwise, your computer may well be updating in the background, taking up more bandwidth and leading you to need to restart at the most inconvenient of times. This is especially important if you’ve just dusted off a much-unloved computer to get you working remotely.
And finally, your computer needs as much rest as you. Consider actually powering down your computer on a daily basis to give it and you a fresh start in the morning!