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Improve Internet Speed

by Andy Thompson on April 15, 2015

With demanding schedules is it any wonder we become easily frustrated when we are held up in traffic?  Whether it is out on the road or on the Internet, we want uninhibited passage.  In our previous article we began to introduce you to Internet speed tests by reviewing four popular testing tools that are available.  The caveat is that each of these is different and results vary.  So… how do we equip ourselves to: a) determine if the fault is at our end and b) if not, to better be able to present some real data to our Internet provider?  First we are going to offer more information on the speed tests in case you have given up hope on them. The key to using them is: create a history!  Next, we are going to examine and better understand how slowdowns and bottlenecks occur and what the impacts are.  By doing this you can better assess if the issue is within your home and network or outside and due to poor conditions.  Finally, if the issue is due to your PC, we will show you a very easy method of improving your Internet speed.

More on Speed Tests:

What did we learn from our previous article and our investigation with the multitude of speed tests that are available?  We found out that there are considerable discrepancies in test results.  If you missed our previous article – click here.  We also found it difficult to determine if the results were based on averages or the top speeds that are achieved during the test.

We have one more batch of observations to make about these four speed tests.  We recommend that you pick out one speed test that suits your needs and try to stick with it to be able to compare your results over time.

1. Speed of Me (http://speedof.me/)

SpeedOf.Me can utilize several test servers in various locations in an effort to make the test more realistic.  Other speed test sites choose the nearest physical test server which does not seem to fit the real-world model.  SpeedOf.Me tests bandwidth in several passes using sample file sizes that increase gradually.  What we saw as a shortcoming is that they seem to display the download speed based on maximum speeds achieved.  You have to examine the graph to get a real idea of your connectivity and overall speed.  What we do like is that they provide a history of your previous tests.

2. Speedtest.net (http://www.speedtest.net/)

This site also includes a results page of previous tests and it is well presented with each test displayed in a list and in a graph.  There is also excellent information available in the support page.  For example, we found out that the tests are based on binary file samples and that they aggregate the samples into 20 slices, remove the slowest 30% and the fastest 10% and then average out the remaining pieces.  This seems to be a much better approach but Speedtest.net uses a nearby server methodology whereby they identify up to five servers nearby and then ping each to determine the one with the lowest latency (meaning nearest on the network).  This does not reflect real world conditions well and we found our tests results to be the lowest for two out of three of our network tests (not good for satellite or high-speed wireless networks).

3. SpeakEasy (http://speakeasy.net/speedtest/)

This site offers you the chance to pick a server location.  Of course testing from one server location is not reflective of real-world connectivity either as we surf to sites throughout the Internet world.  While it does include a history we found the test results to be dubious as they appear to be a mix of tests from our machine and other test that were much higher in download throughput.

4. Bell Aliant (http://speedtest.bellaliant.net/)

There are many positives to this test site: we were in favor of the lack of advertisements (unlike the other speed tests above), we felt the results were accurate in comparison to others, and we liked the ease of use.  However we think this site would be the outright winner if it also included a history.  If you pick this site we would recommend recording your test results along with the date and time of the test.

Recommendations:

  1. History of Speed Tests:  why is it so important to track your speed time?   If you are having issues with your connection that are not due to your PC or wireless router, then you can contact your network service provider and provide your findings.
  2. Time of Day:  Check your speed at various times of the day to determine if peak use times are an issue.  You could find striking differences when running a new test 30 minutes after the previous one.  It may be due to traffic and your ISP (Internet Service Provider) is not able to provide consistent service.
  3. Make sure you are performing your tests with no Internet activity (downloads, streaming, etc.), as this can affect consistency of results.

Now that we have provided you with more information to better choose a site that you can use on a regular basis you are in a better position to assess if your connection is an issue.

Slow Downs and Jitter:

Jitter is a technical term.  Although it doesn’t sound very technical, it relates to the quality of your connection.  For example, if you are having a video chat or you are watching a streamed video and there are delays and interruptions, this is referred to as jitter.  What is happening is data is transferred to you in packets and when they are not arriving in a steady stream you experiences disruptions or shaky pulses.

Another factor in connection speed relates to how many connections are between you and the source (or the receiver if you are uploading data).  We can refer to these connections as hops.  It’s like traveling from one city to another but there are various roads and interstate highways in-between.  The slowest and less maintained of these roadways will be the “bottleneck”.

The other critical factor to consider in our data route is the potential bottleneck that can be from your hardware (wireless router or modem) or with your PC.  This is the real challenge – determining whether the slow down you may be experiencing is due to something wrong at your end or as a result of connectivity conditions.

Let’s break our investigation down between items that are outside of our control and ones that are in our local terrain.

External Issues

  • Congestion:  When we share an Internet connection with other customers that use the same ISP, congestion can result.  If others on the service are using high-demand applications and are downloading large files regularly than this can really slow things down.
  • Time of Day: Peak hours come into play with shared Internet connection.  Many residential users will experience this from approximately 6 pm to midnight.
  • Throttling: In some cases your service provider will may slow down your connection speed otherwise known as to “throttle”.  This happens when you exceed a certain threshold of download (and upload) usage and it can happen with certain types of heavy downloading.  You may notice that the speed improves at the beginning of the month when you have a fresh allotment of download capacity.  Some ISPs have daily maximums and the reset occurs at the beginning of each day.
  • Internet Server Speeds: The speed of the servers you are connecting to and the routers in between may also experience slowdowns.  You may experience good connections with local sites but not with other more distant sites.

At Our End

  • Distance: If you are a considerable distance from the ISP source your signal could be weak.  For example, if you were in the middle of the countryside you could have slower connection speeds compared to being in the city.  For some types of service (such as line-of-sight wireless dishes), this is a major consideration as obstructions and weather can have an impact.
  • End-User Congestion: It could be that you have many users or Internet-connected devices in your home tapping into the same online service.  If demand is high, you can experience another form of traffic congestion.   Read below for more information.
  • End-User Hardware Issues: Using an old router can cause slow speeds or it could be you have a poorly configured Wi-Fi connection whereby you are experiencing interference.  In this case you need to do some investigation and this is a good place to start.

Wireless Router Tips:

  • Place your router near to the middle of the house, up off the floor, position the antenna vertically, and make sure there is no metal barriers between your router and your computer.
  • Interference from other wireless networks can cause interference as can cordless phones, baby monitors, and microwave ovens.  You can expect interference with cordless phones using the 2.4 Ghz frequency.

To find out more – including solutions – following this link.

How to Improve Your Speed:

Up to this point we have given some very useful information on how to test your Internet connection speed.  This is a very useful tool for your PC bag of tips and tricks.  We are now ready to move on to the next step… working on improving your speed.  First we need to check and rule out whether there are no other factors first requiring your attention.  Here are the top three items we would look at specifically if you were to require support relating to speed issues.

  1. Make sure it’s not your PC that is slow.  If you are experiencing slow performance with your Internet speed and other aspects of your PC (opening and closing applications for example), then you have to deal with your slow PC performance first and see if that clears things up.  Follow this link to deal with a slow PC.
  2. Congestion.  Have you tried taking a shower when the washing machine is running, along with the dish washer, and someone flushes a toilet?  This is similar to having too much demand on your Internet service.  We suggest examining all the devices that are connecting to your wireless network and making sure also that there are no outside devices connecting to your network without your consent.  To gain access to your wireless network you need to make sure you have a secure password that the whole neighborhood doesn’t know and share.
  3. Internet Explorer Browser Issues.  It could be that you are experiencing slow downs on your browser as a result of add-ons and other installed tools that are causing congestion.  If this is the case and you are using IE specifically we suggest that you click on this link and reset your Internet Explorer browser.

Internet TuneUp

Having unwanted applications can also cause browser issues.  Regardless of what browser type you are using, you can take full advantage of the Uninstaller tool available with PC Clean Maestro to remove recently added programs. Follow this link to find out about repairing your browser.

Now you are ready to deal with any networking issues by using the tune up tool available with PC TuneUp Maestro.  This tool analyzes your computer and provides a recommended list of items that will bring about Internet performance improvements.  The analysis focuses on PC areas that can benefit from a performance tuning and the results providing only the recommendations relevant to your system.  You can also use the Advanced Settings to configure the individual Internet TuneUp items.

Here are the steps:

  1. To begin, open up PC TuneUp Maestro and click the Optimize PC item in the left pane.
  2. Next, you can click the Internet TuneUp option in the list and the tool is immediately activated.

Note: You can view the Advanced Settings to see all the items that are optimized.

In Summary:

The knowledge presented here is intended to equip you with the necessary skills to assess Internet connectivity.  While we have covered a fair amount of area, we do feel that you can gain a great level of confidence and familiarity when it comes to assessing the conditions related to Internet connectivity.  With this in hand you are better able to speak to your Internet Service Provider if the bottleneck is indeed at their end.

We will continue to provide story lines like this that benefit all of us and we will describe them in a manner that is within reach of everyday computer users.  If you have some ideas of topics you would like us to cover, email us at: newsletter@compuclever.com
Currently, one popular speed test site performs more than 5 million speed tests each day.  This speaks to the need of attempting to verify if our Internet is slow or suffers from periods of poor connectivity.  Stopping and waiting for a video or show to buffer in the middle of viewing or being cut off during an online chat session – these are sources of frustration.  This is especially true given the fact that we paid for a service and full expect that it should deliver.  When you signed up for a service you may have heard the boastful claims for fast download and upload speeds.  But, do those numbers hold up to everyday use?  And why do we face slowdowns?  Many service providers are looking at changing the monthly subscription model to a usage model.  What leeway do they have around charging more for priority services; and, what about government regulations in this area?  We’ll look into these concerns and we’ll show how all speed tests are not created equal.  We also have a list of phrases, terminology, and speed measurements to help with some of this subject matter.  We’ll start with some recent news.

In the News: Fair and Equal

At the end of February of this year, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to have the same rules applied to broadband as what is governed by the telephone service.  This is in the hope that ISP companies provide fair and equal treatment. This means net neutrality regulations will be adopted “…based on a new definition of broadband that will let the government regulate Internet infrastructure as it could the old telephone network.”[1] The good news is that there will be no blocking or slowing down traffic by service providers. They are also banned from offering paid priority services to charge companies like Netflix fees for Internet “fast lanes” when facing congested network lines.  The common carrier principle will mean that every customer gets equal access to the network.

There are critics to this decision – Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman referred to it as “…heavy-handed government regulation in a space celebrated for its free enterprise”.  There is a concern about the government getting too involved and applying new tax and tariffs.  President Obama has released a statement saying that “…there should be no toll takers between you and your Internet content”.  If you would like to find out more about this, including an instructive video, see this link: money.cnn.com

It is likely there could be further developments and this will continue to be a hot debate moving forward; be prepared to hear more about “net neutrality”. For now, it is useful for us to focus on what we currently experience with our Internet network speeds.

The Terms

There are several terms that require a quick definition for us to continue.  These are:

  • Download Speed:  This is the rate that data is transferred from an Internet source to your PC.
  • Upload Speed:  This is the rate of transfer from your PC to the Internet.  This is useful to know when you want to do a two-way chat.  You need to upload your data (voice and video) to the receiver.
  • ISP (Internet Service Provider):  These are the organizations that provide Internet access and services for using and participating with online activities.
  • Bandwidth:  We refer to Internet bandwidth as the volume of data per unit of time that an Internet connection can handle.  It can be thought of as the size of the “pipe” that feeds the data.  Greater bandwidth equals more data in less time.
  • Ping: A type of test to determine the communication delay between two computers on a network.
  • Broadband:  High speed Internet access.  In this case, “broad” means that several types of data can be transferred such as data, voice, and video.  It can be delivered by such means as fiber optics, ADSL, cable, and satellite.

Types of connection vary as do speeds of data transmission:

  • Fiber Optics:  Lines that consist of glass strands as thin as a human hair that carry digital information over long distances.  It is not distance sensitive like copper and you can download more in less time.
  • Cable:  Coaxial cable similar to that used for TV’s.  This provides greater bandwidth than telephone ADSL.
  • ADSL:  This connection uses copper telephone lines.  Simultaneous high-speed data is transferred.
  • Satellite:  A connection is made using a satellite dish.  It is slower than fiber, ADSL, and cable.
  • Dial-up modem:  Analog modem via telephone.  This is the slowest of options.

Speed:

Now that you have a better idea of the various components of Internet connections, let’s talk about speed of transfer.  If you have ever had to deal with using a dial-up modem you know how important speed of access is.  The units of measure for bandwidth speed are kilobit per second (KBit/s) or megabit per second (MBit/s or Mbps). While it may be challenging to wrap your head around 1 Mbps being one million bits of data transferred in 1 second, it is useful to get an overall idea of the average speeds achieved by various types of connection.  For example, the top speed for dial-up is about 56 kbps.  The slowest of the High Speed Internet options is more than 15 times this speed starting around 768 kbps to 1.5 Mbps.

Good to Know:

  1. ISPs configure download speed to be faster than upload speed as there is typically more emphasis on downloading files to your PC.
  2. There are free ISP services in some areas where you can use the Internet free of charge but advertisements will be displayed.
  3. The average broadband speed in the US today is 18.2 Mps.[2]

What speed should you expect:  Follow this link: Types of Internet Connections to discover what speed you should be getting with your method of Internet connection.

Testing Your Speed:

We have examined four speed tests sites and provided the results here.  We focus primarily on ease of use with these sites.  We will also provide some information on the results in terms of accuracy and lack of accuracy.

The four sites we tested are:1) Speed of Me, 2) Speed test.net, 3) Speakeasy.net, and 4) Bell Aliant.

1. Speed of Me

Of our four tests this is the only one that is not powered by Ookla.  This means it could differ in its results from the others (we will speak to this later).  What we first notice when visiting this page is the amount of advertisements that are presented.  This site, like many others, gets revenues from other companies that benefit from users with slow PC performance.  As there are several ads we have a difficult time finding the place to start.  Eventually we notice a small “Start Test…” button.  The test itself takes under a minute to complete and was reliably the fastest of the test sites we examined.  The results, as can be seen from our image below, are presented in a bar graph style.  The graph is a great representation of what is going on – in this example, considerable spikes of Internet speed.  What we do not like about this test is that they point out only the maximum speeds.  For example, the maximum here is 7.42 Mbps.  We would have to guess at the average speed we would be getting and assume it is around 3 Mbps.

 

Click to visit speedof.me

2. Speedtest.net

There have been over 7 billion speed tests run on this site.  We can’t deny its popularity.  However, once again, we see a lot of ads.  On the plus side, it does have an easier place to launch from – there is a very visible “BEGIN TEST” button.  Again the test itself takes under a minute.  The results are less visually representative and the main results are provided: ping, download speed, and upload speed.  Unfortunately there are other ads presented as well. We do like the fact that speedtest.net utilizes ping test techniques to determine the closest server so you do not have to choose.  We don’t like the fact that the results are considerably different from the other tests.

 

Click to visit speedtest.net

 

3. SpeakEasy

Again, there are ads present from the first display to the final presentation of the results.  With this test you are required to pick a location although it is not clear as to which one you need to pick.  Most of us would pick the closest in proximity to our own location but it is important to note that web pages we visit on a daily basis can be located anywhere in the world.  This test provides the option to choose a location if this is important to you – all the other sites determine a server location for you.  After making a selection the test begins and then it appears to be doing nothing.  From our tests we found it to be the slowest of these contenders at well over a minute.  The results information displayed is minimal with ads taking up more space and the “Choose A Location” option remaining so that you can begin again.

 

Click to visit SpeakEasy.net

4. Bell Aliant

When you first arrive at this site you see only about three items: the name of the company, the “Ookla” logo, and the “Begin Test” button right in the center of the page.  This speed test is easy to run and as clean as can be.  It takes about a minute to complete based on our connection but you see the progress as it runs through various testing stages.  The results are displayed below and are more detailed than some of the options we have covered while still being easy to analyze.  The Download speed includes a small graph although it could be better displayed with actual measurements – that way we could determine if this is an average or the maximum speed.  Despite this we find this test to be the best of the four here.

Click to visit BellAliant

Speed results

As can be seen when examining the results of these four tests, the actual download speed can vary to a large degree.  In our case, from 7.42 Mbps (Speed of Me results) and 0.34 Mbps (from Speedtest.net).  If we are to throw away these two results and average the last two tests, we find that the real speed may be around 2.25 Mbps.  So why is there this discrepancy?  We don’t want to rely on taking more than one test and averaging.  In our example, we are testing using a Satellite ISP service.  We have also tested from a high-speed wireless service (requiring a receiver dish using line-of-sight), and from Broadband cable (coaxial).

Our test results

Speed of Me Download: 7.42 0.55 23.41
Upload: 0.66 0.49 2.91
Speedtest.net Download: 0.34 0.18 22.87
Upload: 0.11 0.15 2.72
SpeakEasy Download: 1.76 0.58 20.28
Upload: 0.17 0.31 2.63
Bell Aliant Download: 2.71 0.31 22.55
Upload: 0.36 0.28 2.65
(in Mbps) Satellite (as above) High-speed wireless Broadband cable

 

We found that the satellite tests were the most inconsistent.  The large spikes in connectivity depicted in some results graphs may explain the discrepancy.  The fastest and most consistent results we achieved were with the Broadband cable connection (TV cabling) with high-speed wireless showing more consistent speeds but being slower than cable and as slow as, or slower, than satellite.  The rule of thumb here is that direct lines (copper, cable, fiber optics) will provide the most consistent and fastest speeds.  However, this does not mean that these types do not suffer from poor connectivity.

Wrapping it up…

For now, we have had a good start into introducing this area of computing – one we use daily and take for granted.  In the next article we are going to look more closely at why our connection speed suffers and what we can do about it.  Stay tuned.

We will continue to provide story lines like this that benefit all of us and we will describe them in a manner that is within reach of everyday computer users.  If you have some ideas of topics you would like us to cover, email us at: newsletter@compuclever.com

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