How Fast Is My Internet?

How fast is my Internet?
“Trouble with home Internet”

“Trouble with Home Internet”

Bryan Alexander / Flickr

CC BY-2.0

Blazing-fast Internet.” “Internet with white-hot speeds.” “Super fast Internet.” You’ve seen these Internet service provider (ISP) advertising claims. But do you receive the speeds they claim to deliver? Probably not—but many factors can slow Internet speeds. Today’s IAG foray examines what impedes Internet speeds; you’ll discover “how fast is my Internet?”

Internet Speedbumps

Say you subscribe to Internet service tier from a multiple services operator (MSO aka “the cable company”) claiming to offer a maximum of 30 Mbps download. Yet, you notice that data speeds seem slow. So you run an Internet speed test from your laptop (more on that below) and find that you’re only receiving around 15 Mbps. Why?

Before accusing your cable company of not delivering the tier package speed you pay for, first troubleshoot for data speed bottlenecks on your local area network (LAN). These potential choke points include the modem/router/gateway, the number of home devices sharing WiFi bandwidth, WiFi signal strength and allocation (i.e., 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz) or a legacy laptop or PC that can’t handle today’s faster data speeds.

Troubleshooting Slow Internet Speeds

Your home network consists of four basic elements:

  • ISP

  • modem

  • router

  • devices (mobile, PC, laptop, tablet, IoT)

Note that a modem and a router for WiFi can be combined into one unit called a gateway.

The modem/router/gateway is the coupler between two networks: your LAN (or WLAN, which uses WiFi) and the wide area network (WAN), the great Internet beyond. While choke points in a WAN—like a slow DNS server—are beyond your control, any device in your home LAN can slow down data speeds. So, when troubleshooting slow Internet speeds at home, start at the modem and work your way to the end device.

Here’s how to check Internet speed on Amazon Firestick:

Run an Internet Speed Test

We assume you know the data speed you expect your ISP to deliver. If you subscribed to a service tier with 30 Mbps, don’t anticipate faster speeds by tweaking your network. We also assume you use WiFi. Too, we hope that you have either DOCSIS or fiber. If you receive 5 Mbps from legacy DSL, consider yourself lucky.

First, turn off your device’s WiFi. It can cause interference when running a speed test, skewing the results of the speed test you’re about to run. Second, connect your device to your modem with an Ethernet cable. If your ISP provided a WiFi gateway, this is a modem combined with a router in the same unit, which connects to a wall outlet with a coaxial cable.

Once connected, run a speed test. It tests download and upload speeds; some tests also ping for latency. If you use an MSO’s speed test, it’s likely provided by Ookla. Note that latency depends on the distance between you and the testing server. Too, distance degrades TCP/IP, so select the nearest server when running a test. Network congestion slows test results, so run tests at various times. Don’t expect best results during early evening hours.

Tests available online include:

If results of your speed tests come close to the speed of your subscribed tier level, then your modem is performing properly. If not, first try resetting your modem. Merely powering the unit off for 15-20 seconds and then powering it back on will suffice. Then run another speed test(s). If this didn’t restore your expected data speed, fret not: you still have more options.

Modem/Router/Gateway IP Address

More troubleshooting techniques involve logging into your modem/router/gateway (we’ll call it “gateway”) to check and if necessary adjust settings. Note this procedure differs from logging onto the Internet or your computer.

You first need to find your modem’s IP address, a private IPv4 address. See the table below:

Name

CIDR Block

Address Range

No. of Addresses

Classful IP Adr

24-bit block

10.0.0.0/8

10.0.0.0 – 10.255.255.255

16,777,216

Single Class A

20-bit block

172.16.0.0/12

172.16.0.0 – 172.31.255.255

1,048,576

Contiguous range of 16 Class B Blocks

16-bit block

192.168.0.0/16

192.168.0.0 – 192.168.255.255

65,536

Contiguous range of 256 Class C Blocks

Source: Wikipedia

If you don’t already know how to find your gateway’s IP address on Windows, macOS, iPhone/iPad or Android, see this.

Modem/Router/Gateway Settings

Next, access the gateway’s firmware—the software that runs the device’s hardware. With your computer still connected to the gateway and WiFi off, access the gateway’s firmware. After opening a browser tab, enter the modem’s IP address, which takes you to the login screen.

Sign in using a username and password. Hopefully, you still have this info with the paperwork the cable company tech left behind when installing your service. If not, try contacting the cable company, giving them the gateway’s model number. If they can’t give you the username and password, search here. Let’s hope the tech formatted the gateway with a default username and password. (If so, by the way, they should be changed.)

Once you’re in, copy and paste all current settings to a Word doc. For safety’s sake, copy all settings tabs so you’ll have the original settings data. You’ll do well to do a bit of online research about your gateway’s make and model, as model settings differ.

Now, search online for firmware updates. Should you find them, download them. Restart the modem afterward if necessary. Automatically update firmware if possible. Also schedule (and apply) a restart when your network is not in use, say the wee morning hours. If your modem is set to save data or power, change these to normal operation. Ensure that transmission is set to 100%. Recognize this change could affect your ISP’s data cap.

Before logging out of the gateway, set the gateway’s channels. For a legacy 2.4 GHz gateway (which uses IEEE 802.11b and g), set the channel to either 1, 6 or 11. Test speeds on each channel to find the fastest. For a newer 5 GHz gateway, ensure that it’s selected to automatically find a channelit usually finds the fastest on its own.

How Many Devices Share Home WiFi?

It’s claimed that up to 255 devices can share a home’s WiFi. Of course, this doesn’t mean you want this many fighting for bandwidth. The more devices in use, the less bandwidth available for all. Thus, the gateway choke point becomes even more crucial.

Real-world practicality limits the number of devices simultaneously sharing a home’s bandwidth to 45. Downloading large files (video, image ISOs, MP3s, etc.) will greatly reduce bandwidth to other devices. Streaming data to 4K UHD TVs has the same effect.

The gateway’s configuration can tell you how many devices are connected to it. And if you find your neighbors are hijacking your bandwidth, you can kick them off by changing the gateway password. Then, educate yourself about Hashcat.

Can Your Computer Handle Fast Data Speeds?

The two most important elements affecting computer speed are the device’s processor and random-only memory (RAM). Processing speed is expressed with GHz; RAM is measured in GB or TB).

Today, the slowest computers (e.g., the lowest-priced) usually have at least a 1.3 GHz processor and 2 or 4 GB of RAM. This setup is plenty fast for web browsing, checking email and visiting social media sites. And with many web functions now in the cloud (think Google Drive), local software is no longer needed to run these processes.

If your computer runs slower than in the past, try cleaning its hard drive (e.g., disk cleanup and disk defragmentation).

But… if you’re a gamer or do specialized tasks like creating 3D animation polygons, video editing or using CAD software, you’ll need a souped-up computer. Hardcore gamers, for example, would want a device with at least a 3.5 GHz processor and 8 GB of RAM.

Coda

So, “how fast is my Internet?” As you’ve just read, the speed of your computer experience depends on many factors.

Just don’t expect to receive data speeds from your ISP that you think you’re paying for. MSOs like Comcast and Cox will never offer residential customers SLA-grade broadband because they only have so much control over how many subscribers will try to simultaneously use the same data pipe. The good news is that even if you’re receiving 30 Mbps or 50 Mbps, it’s usually enough to operate all your home’s computer gizmos.

High Speed Internet asserts that 40+ Mbps is sufficient for a family of four who simultaneously taps into multiple HD video streams and games. (You might want to limit Junior’s time playing Global Offensive and Destiny 2, though.) But it might be a good time to think about your home’s bandwidth. Christmas is coming and doesn’t your family want new UHD TVs for the holidays?

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