How to (properly) test your Internet speed

The good book has a saying about not rejoicing when your enemies fail, and even though AT&T and Comcast are Valley Internet’s frenemies, I hate to see anyone having a bad internet expereince.

If your Internet connection appears to be slow, the first thing to ask yourself is have you tried turning it off and on again? If not, do that first, then, if the problem persists, come back for some more tips…

When trying to figure out why your network is slow, it’s important to first identify if the slowdown is with your ISP or your home network. You can think of your home network as your driveway and the freeway as your ISP. Is your driveway blocked or is the highway jammed?

The same logic applies for your Internet connection. The slowdown is usually with either your home network or your ISP, rarely with both. The following process will help you narrow down where the problem is. It’s not scientific, but for the most part this will reveal where the bottleneck is.

Important! Before you proceed, you need to know:

  1. What is your speed plan with your ISP (download and upload speeds.)
  2. What device is acting as the router. Sometimes that can be the box you got from your ISP, and sometimes it’s a device you added on your own.

The Pure Speed Test

The objective of this test is to remove as many variables as possible, in order to obtain results that reflect your true connection capacity to your provider.

  1. Disable the WiFi on your router*
  2. Disconnect all hardwired devices from the router, such as printers and switches.
  3. Connect just your computer with a network cable, aka cat5, cat6 or ethernet, to your router’s LAN ports.**
  4. Disable any background activities such as Apple Photos, Dropbox, or Google Drive sync
  5. Head to and test your speed 3 times.

* if you can’t disable the WiFi on the router, make sure you are logged into it with the network cable, then temporarily change the Network Name (aka SSID) which will cause all wireless devices to disconnect. Don’t forget to change that back when you are done testing.

** if you do not have a network cable or a wired network connection on your computer, try to make sure that during the tests, the only device that connects to your router is your computer. However, the speed test may reflect your WiFi negotiations speeds, and not your provider, and because many variables impact your WiFi connectivity, this can drastically change from test to test. Just walking to another room can lower your speed by 50% or more… so when possible, hard-wire to the router to run this test.

The test results need to be within 10% to 15% of the published speed plan you are on. Why 10% to 15%? Well, there is something called TCP overhead, which means that when you see 36Mbit download, the actual traffic passed through is closer to 40+Mbit.

Bad results? Keep everything as is and call your ISP. This setup will allow you to move the conversation forward. Make sure you let them know that you power cycled their modem, the router, and that nothing else is connected to the network. It’s still possible that something is wrong with your computer, your router, or even the cable between your computer and the router, or between the router and the modem, but at least now it’s easier to narrow it down.

Good results? That means the problem is likely inside your home network, and it could be one of many different things, which requires a whole troubleshooting guide by itself. However, culprits wear the following costumes:

  • Background service jamming the down or upload, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Apple Photos, or any cloud service that is scheduled to sync at will. Remember, if your upload is maxed, you will not have any download capacity.
  • Software updates, including iOS, OS X, Windows, PlayStation, etc. Most of these updates will download in the background without your knowledge, and only prompt to install when the download is complete. Some devices and operating systems allow you to set updates to run manually or at certain times.
  • A device with poor signal will drag down the entire WiFi network. Why? In simple terms, the wireless radio can only talk to one device at a time, and if a device is having trouble communicating with the access point, it will draw too much ‘air time’ attention and slow everyone else. Unfortunately, this could also mean some far away device like a Nest Thermostat in a back room, or a Ring doorbell device 30' from the router behind the outer wall. If you truly want smart home devices, get those that can hardwire to the network with ethernet or fiber. For the most part, WiFi enabled stationary devices are usually at the toy or gadget level, and not true home utility grade instruments.
  • Related to the above, a legacy wireless devices that only supports 802.11b or 802.11g (especially the former,) can seriously drag down the entire network.
  • A teenager or college student back home, in their room, will often result in extra streaming, bittorrent and other activities that tend to hog the network.
  • Legacy Sonos or devices that create their own wireless networks, can and do compete with your WiFi signal and can cause severe slow down. Make sure network speakers are hardwired to the network.

And the list goes on, but at least the above described methods can help you focus your troubleshooting efforts.™ app speed test utility

A bit of a self serving message, our team is working on an app which will allow our customers to perform a ‘pure’ speed test from the router, without having to do all the above. Google WiFi router also offers it.

The challenge of being able to easily perform a ‘pure’ speed test is being addressed, but until we ship smart.routers, or until you get yourself some gear that does it, the above described method will do the trick.