To understand your speed test, you need to understand your bandwidth.
Bandwidth is either “upstream” or “downstream.” Downstream is data that you are receiving. Upstream is data that you are sending. Both are measured in kilobits or megabits per second. 1 megabit is approximately 1,024 kilobits. This is separate from “kilobytes” or “megabytes,” which are usually displayed during computer file transfers. To get the value in bytes, divide by eight. For example, 8 megabits of downstream bandwidth equals approximately one megabyte of download speed. The results from speed test sites will typically be in bits, not bytes.
Latency is the length of time it takes for data to travel to its destination and return to its source. Speed test applications display the results in milliseconds. The lower this number is, the better. Pings under 75 milliseconds are considered very good. Speeds over 200 milliseconds are considered poor. Speeds over 500 milliseconds make many tasks difficult or impossible.
SPEEDS TO EXPECT, BOTH DOWN AND UPSTREAM
Depending upon configuration, these lines can provide from 1.5 megabits per second downstream to 40 megabits or even higher. Check the rating on your connection to determine the exact data rates to expect. Bear in mind that since these lines are typically used to service a wide area network, you cannot expect to see full performance during peak usage.
Fiber Optic is the fastest networking medium available at this point in time. However, it is only able to communicate as quickly as the network connection that it is serving. Fiber Optic Internet service providers are able to provide up to one gigabit of bandwidth at this time. The specific amount of bandwidth that you have subscribed to will determine your ideal speed. Typical Fiber Optic connection rates range from 16 to 150 megabits per second. These connections are usually on a shared network. Therefore, performance can vary based upon how many users are simultaneously accessing the network and what activities they are engaging in.
Like Fiber Optic connections above, the ideal speed depends upon the amount of bandwidth that has been purchased from the Internet provider. Cable speeds usually top out around 100 megabits per second. 30 megabits and lower are more common configurations. Note that cable networks’ overall speed varies depending upon how many other subscribers are using the network at the same time. It is advisable to perform speed test analysis at different times of the day, as well as on different days of the week.
Digital Subscriber Lines provide dedicated bandwidth. Therefore, they are normally unaffected by changes in network load. If the speed that the connection is rated for is not being achieved, it is a good idea to contact the Internet service provider to determine the reason. The most common reason for service degradation on DSL connections is line noise or excessive distance between the client computer and the nearest DSLAM, sometimes just referred to as “the phone company.”
4G connections, when available, are able to provide over 2 megabits of bandwidth downstream. Upstream varies due to various carrier configurations. Some providers are able to supply connections as fast as 8 megabits per second. However, this is not common. 4G service is not available in most areas at this point in time.
3G connections, ideally, provide 1 to 2 megabits of downstream bandwidth. Upstream bandwidth varies depending upon the provider being used. Latency is rarely lower than 100 milliseconds but does not usually exceed 200 milliseconds when a strong signal is available.
2G and Lower:
EDGE, EVDO and GPRS cellular service is very slow and is often unable to exceed 256 kilobytes per second downstream, which equates to 32 kilobytes per second. Upstream varies widely due to the service provider being used. Latency on these connections is usually high and can exceed 300 milliseconds.
Dial-up connectivity in North America is limited to approximately 53 kilobits per second to accommodate voice traffic on the telephone lines. However, this type of speed is rarely actually attained. More common connection speeds are 50,666 BPS and lower. Note that some dial-up applications indicate the port speed after a hardware handshake. This can range from 57,600 BPS all the way up to 115,200 BPS. This is not indicative of the connection speed across the phone line. Through the use of compression, dial-up connections typically achieve a maximum of 7-8 kilobytes per second downstream. Without compression, typical speed is closer to 4 kilobits per second. Latency on these connections is usually fairly high and exceeds 150 milliseconds. Dial-up connections are so slow that you may not be able to access speed test sites at all.