Make the most out of your broadband or mobile plan by checking your speed to ensure you’re getting what you pay for.
Broadband speeds are a contentious issue, and for most of us the answer to the question “is your broadband fast enough” is generally “no”. We’ve all hit those moments where we’re trying to do something online, whether it’s on a computer, a tablet or a smartphone and everything… seems… to… slow… to… a… crawl.
It’s infuriating, although the reasons why one web page, online service or streaming app slows to a crawl can be quite complex. The first step you should take is to check the actual speed that you’re getting on your Internet service.
At a rough level, you can do this by looking at your Internet bill if we’re talking about fixed, mostly NBN services. Fixed line NBN plans (excluding those on fixed wireless or satellite) are sold in speed tiers.
The baseline speed for wired NBN is 12Mbps down and 1Mbps upstream. Down in this case refers to to the speed at which data flows to your computer – loading webpages, streaming video or whatever – while up is the speed you can send data – emails, video calls and the like – to the wider internet.
That 12/1 plan isn’t super common any more, and they’re generally not great value either.
Most NBN ISPs offering the same kind of costs for plans with 25Mbps down and 5Mpbs up. Stepping up the tiers you can get 50/20, 100/20, 100/40, 250/25 and 1000/50 plans, though your access to those last two tiers – and in some cases the 100Mbps down tiers – may depend on the exact network technology that runs the NBN to your home or office.
For those top tier 1000/50 and 250/25 speeds – at the time of writing the fastest consumer grade broadband plans you can easily buy – you need to be on a fibre to the premises (FTTP) or HFC Cable NBN connection, though the current upgrade plan for the copper-based Fibre To The Node (FTTN) node does call for FTTP to be an option for many Australians. Those upgrades do rely on you being willing to sign up to a higher speed (and higher cost) plan than your current one, however.
All those speeds are maximums, however, and while no ISP goes out of its way to frustrate its customers, the reality is that you’ll probably see typical speeds a tad lower than those advertised speeds.
How can I test the actual internet speed I’m getting?
There’s a number of online services that offer internet speed testing services, such as Google’s Internet speed test or the widely used – and often rebranded – Ookla speed test. The process for testing your speed is quite simple, and deliberately so.
Load up the web page for the speed test (Ookla’s baseline test is at speedtest.net, for example), click the “Go” button and it’ll run a sample download and upload process, giving you achieved speeds at the end of it for download and upload rates.
One factor to be aware of here is that this process does use data, so if you’re running it on your phone with a limited data cap, be aware that you’ll be burning through around 40-50MB per test.
Why isn’t my Internet as fast as my ISP claims?
There’s a couple of reasons why your home or office Internet may come in to your device a little slower – or sometimes a lot slower – than your plan would suggest.
For a start, if you’re connecting over Wi-Fi, you do need to be aware that there can be a lot of speed loss between your Wi-Fi router and your device, especially if you’re some distance from it or there are walls or other obstructions in the way.
It’s not uncommon to see 10% or more speed loss over Wi-Fi. If you’ve got the capability to connect up a laptop directly to your router with an ethernet cable, you’ll get a more accurate picture of the actual speeds that you’re getting.
Time of day is also absolutely a factor, with busy evening periods seeing the most usage of the NBN network. Like a busy road, the more users you have on it, the slower everyone goes. It’s worth testing at multiple times of day to get a more rounded picture of your broadband performance.
If you do continue to get sub-par speeds, it’s definitely worth contacting your ISP to see what can be done. They will almost certainly get you to run more speed tests, most likely with their own in-house tools so they can get a picture of where you may be experiencing issues.
The speed test looks good, but my internet is still slow.
What’s going on?
There are a few reasons why your Internet connection might run slower than you expect even if you can get the speeds your ISP advertises.
If you’re hitting a speed block on one site or service, it’s worth trying another. Sometimes the problem with internet speeds isn’t on your end, but on the provider that you’re trying to access. If you’ve ever tried to buy concert tickets to a popular act when they go on sale online, you’ll know what I mean. Those sites get hammered when that happens, but slow speed there doesn’t mean the entire Internet goes down.
The speed that’s advertised and sold to you is effectively one big block of speed. If you’ve got a big house with lots of people going online at once, they’re all taking a slice of that block for themselves, dividing up the speed as they go. For larger households you might have kids gaming, parents streaming video and students trying to online seminars all at once, leaving everyone frustrated with a service that’s meant to fast, but just can’t cope with the demand.
It’s worth evaluating your broadband plan options on a regular basis. If you’re constantly frustrated by slow access speeds, it may be worth jumping up to a higher speed tier if accessible. Many NBN plans run on a month-to-month basis, so you could test out whether that higher speed makes a big difference to you for not that much more with most providers. Just remember to drop back down to your old speed if you find it’s not making an appreciable difference to how you go online.
Can I run a speed test on mobile broadband?
You certainly can, and many providers offer apps that will do just that. Bear in mind however that mobile services are even more susceptible to network issues, coverage woes and interference than Wi-Fi is. You’ll also be limited by the capabilities of your device; if you’re still rocking an older 3G-only phone for example, even in a good coverage area you won’t see the same kinds of speeds that a more up-to-date 5G device might.
Likewise, if you’re on a highway in the middle of the desert, you might find mobile data signal hard to come by, compared to someone standing in the middle of a capital city.
Mobile broadband providers also tend to make much more elastic claims about broadband speeds that you can get on their services, because they understand the base variability of those plans. Check the fine print carefully, because most will claim a big number in the advertising, and then drop a range with quite a small number as the actual range into the fine print.
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