Some Internet connections routinely have trouble caused by a vast array of factors. Speed tests are the most abundantly available Internet testing tool. If used properly, they can help determine whether the Internet Service Provider (ISP) is delivering the subscribed bandwidth. However, they are not designed to detect and locate trouble. If you are having problems with an Internet connection, there is a better way.
Why Most Internet Speed Tests Are Unreliable
The Internet is very complex and composed of thousands of routers or hops with highly fluctuating traffic patterns. Each hop has limited resources such as bandwidth, CPU speed and memory available to it. ISPs connect to the Internet through backbone providers and sometimes to each other through peer points. Peer points frequently have the most limited resources.
The data from the speed test server must pass through several hops to get to the IP address that it is testing. If any of the hop’s routers are at or near capacity of any of their resources, then they will adversely affect the test’s results. This is increasingly likely if any of those hops are peer points.
Speed tests are also performed quickly and their results are based on that precise moment in time. As mentioned before, the Internet connection being tested as well as each hop in the Internet has highly fluctuating traffic patterns. Therefore, speed tests are not really a measure of the speed of an Internet connection. Instead, they are a measure of the bandwidth available between the speed test server and the Internet connection being tested at that precise moment in time. The results will reflect the available bandwidth of the most limited resource which is not necessarily the tested Internet connection.
Speed tests cannot be used for corrective action even if the expected speed is not reflected in its report. Speed tests give no indication of trouble or where trouble may lie. Lower than expected results could be due to traffic on the Internet connection, ISP problems, a busy speed test server, congested peer point in the Internet or the ISP is simply not delivering the expected speed. Most importantly, an Internet connection may not have the stability to support a real time application like voice although it yields the expected results on a speed test.
Use An ISP Route Test Tool to Test an Internet Connection
Use an ISP Route Test Tool that will monitor an Internet connection for several hours or days. Monitoring for hours or days is crucial as the most prevalent problems with Internet connections are intermittent. Intermittent issues cannot be seen or diagnosed with only a few seconds of monitoring.
ISP Route Test Tools find all the hops between the monitored Internet connection and the test server. They gather data from each hop’s router. When assimilated into a report, the data reveals any points that are causing packet loss or delay (latency). Packet loss and delay may not noticeably hamper the results of a speed test (especially if they are intermittent), but they will create havoc with real time applications like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video.
ISP Route Tests which report the operator of each hop are more useful. They reveal ISP and peer point bottlenecks. They also provide leverage with an ISP if any of their routers are not performing adequately to the demand.
If the delivered bandwidth of an Internet connection is an issue, use a speed test from a speed test server using the same ISP and located in the same city. If the Internet connection experiences intermittent or frequent trouble, use an ISP Route Test Tool to definitively locate the source.