Speed test: What you need to know

Free service


Free service

An internet speed test is the best way of finding out how fast your connection is. That’s because the speeds you get are not always the same as those promised by your provider. A speed test is the only accurate way to know what kind of upload and download speeds your connection gives you. It also lets you know whether you can stream content, make calls or work without interruption or frustrating buffering. An internet speed test can be both very simple and very complicated, depending on what you need to know. There are lots of questions that need answers, such as what constitutes a good result, how you can improve your speed and whether switching providers is a good way of boosting your connection.
Last update: October 2021

Internet service is all about speed. Of course, the price is very important, as is the customer service and the contract length. But at its most basic, you want your connection to be as fast as possible. Let’s find out what speeds you will need to work from home or stream Netflix. You will get a greater understanding of what factors affect speed test results and why you might be getting a lower speed test result than you had hoped for.

How to test internet speed?

Testing your speed is straightforward. Scroll down to our tool, click start and you’re ready to go. It will give you a reading for download speeds, which is the speed you are receiving packets of data through your connection, as well as your upload speeds, which is the speed you are transmitting data from your device through your connection.

Internet speed is measured in megabytes per second, or Mbps. This is a unit of electronic data that tells a computer or device what to do at any given time. A megabyte of data means you are getting one million bytes of data every second. Most ADSL connections operate at around 10 Mbps. Some fibre connections offer speeds of around 50 with ultrafast connections offering the potential for 300+ Mbps and even up to one gigabyte, or Gbps.

Your internet speed may vary at different times of the day, depending on your connection. This could be because more people are using the connection in your home. Some broadband services come with a bandwidth, which means there is a maximum rate of Mbps second your connection can offer, and if this is exceeded your connection will start to slow down. It could also be because more people in the local area are using their own connections, which slows things down at the exchange in your street.

What is an internet speed test?

Your internet speed is the volume of data packets that can be transferred through a connection at any one time. Your internet connection works via these data packets, which is essentially a unit of data, that gets transferred from your connection to your device.

The faster your connection, the more of these packets can be transferred in any given amount of time. The slower the connection, the longer this transfer takes. Many modern tasks on the internet, such as making a Zoom call or streaming a Netflix show, take up quite a lot more of these packets than just browsing the newspaper or doing some online shopping. So, if you want to take full advantage of the power of the internet, you need a fast connection

A faster connection means that everything from streaming to video calling will be smoother, with no interruption to service and no frustrating buffering.

Why is it important to do a speed test?

There are a number of very good reasons why you should do a regular internet speed test. These include:

  1. You know that you are getting what you paid for. If your provider says that your service should be for 50Mbps and you are inly clocking in at around 10 on a regular basis, then there may be something wrong with your connection and you may need to contact your ISP
  2. To see if other people are using your connection. It is possible for other people to log onto your WiFi, especially if you don’t have it password protected. You can use a speed test to see if anyone else is using your bandwidth and data
  3. You can do speed tests on other people’s connections to see how fast their service is. This can help you to make the right choice for your own connection. Try a neighbour or someone who lives close by to get an accurate reading

How does internet speed test work?

There are two main types of speed test called TPC and HTTP Legacy Fallback testing, which both work in more or less the same way (just with a few key technical differences). A comprehensive speed test will test a number of factors relating to your connection. These include:

Latency/Jitter
This test measures the time it takes for the server to reply to a request from your device. The device sends a message to the server, which receives that message and sends a reply back. The entire journey time is measured in milliseconds. This part of the test is repeated multiple times, with the lowest value providing the final test result.

Download
The device establishes multiple connections with the server over a specific port called 8080 and requests the server to send an initial piece of data. The device then calculates the real-time speed of the transfer and adjusts for the size of the data, in order to maximise network connection. The device will then request more chunks for the duration of the test. This allows it to more accurately measure the download speed.

Upload
The device establishes a connection with the server over the defined port and sends some data. The device then calculates the real-time speed of the transfers and adjusts the data size and buffer size, and then requests more data throughout the duration of the test. This allows it to more accurately measure the upload speed.

At the end of the test, the results of both upload and download speeds are given in Mbps. These tests should only take a few seconds.

Free service

What is a good broadband speed test result?

It depends on the type of connection and contract you have with your ISP. If you have a basic ADSL connection then a good speed would be much lower than a superfast fibre connection or coaxial cable. It also depends on what you want to do with your connection at any given time. Here are some good speeds for some common web based activities:

  1. 1-5 Mbps for checking email and browsing the web
  2. 15-25 Mbps for streaming HD video
  3. 40-100 Mbps for streaming 4K video and playing online games
  4. 200+ Mbps for streaming 4K video, playing online games, and downloading large files

If you get around 7 Mbps from an ADSL connection, 12-16 Mbps from ADSL2, 30 Mbps from FTTC, 20 Mbps from mobile broadband or 50 Mbps from cable, then your connection is considered pretty good and you don’t have a problem.

Ideally you want a speed test to show that you are getting the maximum speed according to the agreed bandwidth in your broadband contract. If you are not, or if this is too slow for your needs, then it might be worth upgrading your connection.

What factors affect my broadband speed?

If your connection seems to be slower than usual, there are a number of factors that could be affecting your internet speed. These include:

  1. Hardware – The cables or router you are using could be of low quality or not good enough to handle higher speeds
  2. Distance – if you are using a WiFi router and the device is far away from the router this could be causing connection issues
  3. Viruses – malware in your device could be using a portion of your connection and slowing it down
  4. Number of users – if lots of people are using your connection and streaming high resolution content then this could also be slowing things down
  5. Software – if you are using lots of apps or programmes that are all connected to the internet at the same time then this could be slowing things down

How to test RAM speed

It is important to know what speed level the RAM of your device has, as this determines how fast your applications will run. Your RAM speed determines how much you can do with your device. If it’s not enough, then there may be a need to upgrade it. There are different ways of checking your RAM speed according to what device and operating system you have so you may need to look for instructions. Generally it will be in your device’s control panel in the general information, alongside the product name and ID.

How to test LAN speed

A LAN speed test is useful in combination with an internet speed test so you can see how fast you can transfer files and data on your local network. There are a variety of free apps to test the speed on your LAN. Simply use a search engine to find one and carry out a test. If your LAN speed is very slow, this may explain why things are slow on your network, and it might not be your internet connection itself.

Which broadband provider is fastest?

The UK’s fastest available broadband service is with Virgin Media. Its best fibre broadband package will give you an average download speed of 516Mbps. Virgin Media is the only nationwide company to use its own cable network. Their Gig1 service is even better, with speeds of 1140Mb offered to more than 3.5 million homes across the UK.

Other providers that offer superfast connections include Hyperoptic, BT,EE, Sky, Zen, Shell Energy Broadband and TalkTalk.

What speed do I need to work from home?

With more and more of us working from home, having a good enough connection to get things done is very important. So what kind of speeds do you need to set up a home office? Ideally, you want at least 10 Mbps of download speed and 1 Mbps of upload speed bandwidth. That should be for each person for each person working from home. This should be enough internet speed to allow for a couple of different connections and carry out most basic work tasks. However, if you require enough speed for video calling and complex online operations, basically, the faster your connection the better.

What internet speed do I need for Netflix?

With millions of people now using streaming services such as Netflix through their smart TVs or other devices, it’s important you have enough connection for these to work smoothly. A good speed for streaming should be at least 1.5 megabits per second for TV services like BBC iPlayer for standard or 2.8Mbps for HD quality. For services like Netflix, the minimum speed is about 3Mbps for standard streaming and 5Mbps for HD. Again, if other people in your household are going to be using streaming services at the same time, you need to bear this in mind.

How much speed do I need to stream music?

If you are using your connection for streaming music then you really don’t require much bandwidth. Almost all current internet speeds are more than sufficient to keep the music playing. Around 500 Kbps (0.5 Mbps) is enough although you will need more speed for multiple streams.

What are the minimum speeds for a Zoom call?

Zoom has become a major way for us all to communicate, and the good news is that it is not too data hungry. You will need just 150 Kbps dedicated to your Zoom calls, although if you want to keep them clear and in sharp focus, you’ll need somewhere between 150 Kbps and 1.1 Mbps. Again, if other people on your connection are streaming or using lots of data then this can have a slowing effect.

Why is my broadband connection so slow?

Man frustrated with his computer because it is loading slowly

There are multiple reasons why your connection might be slow. It could be your modem or router, Wi-Fi signal, signal strength on even the cable. However, it could also be devices on your network using your bandwidth, or just a slow DNS server. Try checking for all of these and eliminating them one by one.

How can I ensure I get accurate results?

By using any the above speed test you will get an accurate result. However, if you really want to be sure that you are getting a clear picture of your speed, you should try the following:

  1. Run a test over multiple connections
  2. Run a test with only one or multiple devices
  3. Run a test at different times of the day
  4. Run a speed test in different rooms
  5. Run a speed test while doing different activities

We compare the market to find you the best broadband deal.

Free service - Available Monday to Friday from 8.30 am until 5.30 pm

How can I improve my broadband speed?

If your speed is slow, there are a few things you can try to make it better without changing your ISP. These include:

  1. Carry out a speed test on your line
  2. Talk to your ISP
  3. Update your browser
  4. Check for electrical devices that could cause electrical interference to your router
  5. Consider upgrading your router to the newest model
  6. Password-protect your connection
  7. Try wired rather than wireless

Will switching providers actually improve my speed?

If you have made all of the above checks and your speed is still slow, then it might be time to change your ISP. If the coverage in your area allows, changing to a superfast connection with fibre or cable will certainly improve your broadband speed. However, if the problem is with your usage habits or because you have old or outdated equipment then this may not make a huge difference.

Remember that if you switch from a low speed ADSL connection to superfast fibre, this will generally cost more and may require some set up connection fees. And if you are running the internet on an old device that does not support some modern software or applications, then a faster net speed will not help.

If you do want to switch, then give our team a call to find out more about your options on 0330 054 0020.

Where to complain about broadband speed?

If you have checked your connection and you are not getting anything like the speed agreed in your contract then you can make a complaint with your provider. Keep a record of any speed checks you make as well as any correspondence that you have with your provider. If the issue is not solved to your satisfaction, then you can escalate the complaint with the industry regulator Ofcom.

Call us to find the best broadband and/or phone provider for free!

0330 054 0020

Available Monday to Friday from 8.30 am until 5.30 pm

FAQ

What speed do I need?

It depends on your requirements but if you are getting around 7Mbps from an ADSL connection, 12-16Mbps from ADSL2, 30Mbps from FTTC, 50Mbps from cable or 20Mbps from mobile broadband then your connection is considered pretty good.

How long does it take the speed checker to complete?

Most speed checks will take less than 30 seconds to complete but it is worth trying a few different sites and at different times to get an accurate result.

What might affect my speed results?

Most speed tests will be accurate but may not be representative if your connection is being heavily used at the time by people in your household.

What can I do if my speed is lower than promised by my provider?

You can make a complaint with your provider, using evidence of speed checks. If this is not resolved in a satisfactory way, then you can escalate your complaint with the regulator Ofcom.

Updated on 21 Jul, 2021

redaction Who are we?
Redactor

Alex

Consumer Broadband Expert