We all know the pain of “slow” internet: videos buffer, downloads take ages, and a single page can take forever to load. We wonder whether it’s our browser, our device, or the website we’re visiting.
It could be your Wi-Fi signal. Wireless networks are notorious for connection problems. Tap or click for ways to boost your Wi-Fi coverage for good, including changing the router's channel, which hardly anyone does.
Speaking of, your router or modem also be the culprit. You may be tempted to unplug yours and plug it right back in, but that’s a mistake. Tap or click here for the way tech pros reboot their routers where patience can pay off in a more reliable signal.
Beyond that, how can you pinpoint the issue? Your first step is to check your connection speed. Afterward, compare the results of the test to the speed advertised by your internet provider.
Note: Before you test your internet speed, make sure no one in your home network is doing bandwidth-hogging tasks like downloading or sharing files, streaming videos, gaming, etc. You don’t want any activity skewing results.
Measuring internet speed
Internet speed typically is measured in “megabytes per second” or Mbps. Every provider promises different tiers of internet speed rates. In general, the pricier the plan, the faster your internet should be.
1-3 Mbps – Good enough for web surfing, email, social, casual online gaming (if you don’t mind some latency) and email. However, this is not ideal for video streaming.
3-4 Mbps – This is the minimum speed for standard video streaming from services like Netflix. This speed may be enough for a one-computer household, but with all the HD content available on the web right now, you should expect constant video buffering.
5-10 Mbps – Netflix recommends at least 5 Mbps for a single HD stream, and you'll double that for two simultaneous HD streams. Although this is the baseline speed required for HD content, it could still lead to buffering, especially if you have multiple connected gadgets.
10-20 Mbps – This is the minimum speed for a consistent and reliable internet experience. If you continuously download files from the web and cloud storage services, get a plan with this advertised speed at the very least.
20 Mbps and higher – Now we’re talking. Households with multiple computers and gadgets, video streaming services, smart appliances, and simultaneous users should aim for at least a 20 Mbps plan.
Services that test internet speed
Now that you know what internet speed is required for certain activities, it’s time to test your actual bandwidth and compare it to the speed you should be getting. Here are the most popular sites to use. It’s a good idea to conduct the test at more than one site. Your mileage may vary.
Compare the results you get against the speeds that your internet service provider promises you. Be sure to run multiple tests over several days at different times. Write your results down, so you don't forget. This will give you an overall picture of your connection speed.
You also might find specific periods when it’s slow, depending on your area’s network congestion. This is especially true if many of your neighbors work from home and hogging up bandwidth on video conferences or streaming presentations.
RELATED: Windows computer acting up? Tap or click for seven DIY tools you can use to diagnose the problem.
Speedtest by Ookla
One of the most well-known internet speed test services available is Speedtest by Ookla. This service can measure your connection’s ping response and download and upload speeds from a remote server.
As for download and upload speeds, measurements are given in bits per second. Higher numbers are better. Download speeds will typically be much faster than upload speeds.
Netflix has its internet speed test called Fast.com. Fast.com is entirely browser-based, so you don’t have to download an app or program.
Just point your web-based or mobile browser to Fast.com and the test will automatically run and show your download speed when it’s done.
For more details about your connection, tap or click the “Show more info” box. This will show your latency, upload speeds and the servers used for the test.
Another excellent web-based speed test is SpeedOf.Me. What's great about this tool is the real-time graph that tracks the speeds' fluctuations while the test is running. It can also provide you with a graphical history of all the tests you've run for comparison.
Other tests you can try
You can also access speed tests straight on the search engine of your choice. For example, search for the keywords “speed test” on Google and the first hit will show Google’s very own speed test tool.
The same service is available from Bing. Just search for “speed test” via Bing and the first result is a handy speedometer-style internet speed tool that measures ping response plus download and upload speeds.
Tips for more accurate results
Whenever available, always use a wired connection for more accurate and consistent results. Why? The culprit of your slower speeds may lie on your Wi-Fi connection and not on your ISP connection itself.
Do multiple tests and if the average of the results is only about 5-10 Mbps off, that should be tolerable. Factors like congestion during peak times and your distance from the relay hardware will contribute to slight variations on your speed. (For more accuracy, you could turn your Wi-Fi radios off during the wired tests.)
If your wired results are way lower than advertised, a consistent 20 to 30 Mbps difference, perhaps, then there might be something else going on.
Check your hardware first and see if it’s compatible with your provider’s recommendations. For example, older DOCSIS 2.0 modems can’t go beyond 38 Mbps. If you have a rate plan of 50 Mbps and above, better upgrade your modem to DOCSIS 3.0 or 3.1.
What if you already have newer hardware and you still see less-than-advertised speeds? Then check your network for unauthorized devices that may be stealing your bandwidth.
If you do find Wi-Fi thieves, better kick them off, then change your network password quickly! Tap or click here to make sure no one’s stealing your Wi-Fi.
If all else fails, give your internet service provider a call. Tap or click here for seven ways you can lower your internet bill while you’re at it.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch The Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.
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Learn about all the latest technology on The Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.