6 Sep 2011
Speedtest Won’t Fix Your Poky Connection, but It Sure Is Nice to Know
For the most part, I barely notice the incoming speed of my Internet data connections on my iPhone 4 or iPad 2. Sure, if I want to download something large, I make sure I’m on a WiFi connection. If I’m in a car (riding as a
But sometimes — usually when I’m streaming a video or really need to get some work done — it’s painfully obvious that the tiny invisible blips of data are not riding the waves very fast at all, for no discernible reason. In fact, I’ve had poorNetflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) streaming response while using a WiFi connection only to turn off WiFi on my iPhone 4 and stream via AT&T’s cellular data service instead — with much better results.
This used to be sort of trial and error, hit and miss. But now there’s an app to help you better understand what sort of Internet data movement performance you can expect: Speedtest.net Mobile Speed Test by Ookla.
This free app works much like the widely and wildly popular desktop browser-based version atSpeedtest.net. You start the test, which sends some sort of meaningless download data to your desktop (or in this case, iPhone) while the app measures the speed at which you’re able to gobble the data. Then it reverses and uploads a smaller bit of data.
As with most home Internet connections, at least in the U.S., the download speeds are far faster than the upload speeds. I’m not sure where the bottleneck or tech limitations are with this; I just recognize it as a fact of the data plans, most notably seen when a regular consumer is surprised at how long it takes to upload a simple video.
Back to Speedtest.net Mobile Speed Test
The Speedtest.net Mobile Speed Test app uses Ookla’s massive global infrastructure to minimize the impact of Internet congestion and latency when it tests your bandwith. I’m not sure what this means, exactly, but I get the impression that Speedtest.net has some brains that decide which servers to connect you to in order to try to get a reasonably accurate measure of your true download/upload speeds.
For example, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to connect you to a small overloaded server in Antarctica that’s trying to communicate through a tiny pipe, nor does it make sense to connect you to servers with all sorts of switches and hops in between you and the server. Technically, a blip of data ought to be moving so quickly that thousands of miles mean nothing. But really, what all this means is that you’ll likely see the Speedtest.net Mobile Speed Test app connect you to a regional server for your test. The default server chosen in my tests has been from a city about 80 miles away.
In my home, I tend to get my best bandwidth during the morning hours, but as the afternoon wears on, it seems as if my bandwidth falls off a cliff. I’m guessing that every kid in my neighborhood, in the city, in the county, and in the state, et al, either gets home from school and starts playing video games on Xbox Live or starts streaming some kid flick from Netflix. Or maybe it’s not the kids, but if I’m thinking about downloading a video to buy on iTunes … let’s just say that I don’t usually bother attempting it from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
In fact, I’ve had a roomful of family over during the holidays, and when we all finally agreed on which HD movie to rent on my Apple(Nasdaq: AAPL) TV, we realized that, oops, this puppy will be ready to watch in two hours.
For some people with wicked-fast Internet service plans, this is never an issue. For those of us unwilling to shell out big bucks for high-speed — or who are located in areas not served with high-speed options — the Speedtest.net mobile app will give you a quick way to judge your likely bandwidth, even if you’re sitting over at your friend’s house watching football or thinking about downloading a movie to watch while sitting in an airport waiting for your flight.
During one test in the wee hours of the morning, my download speed via my home-based DSLservice (rated at 3.0 Mbps) delivered 2.21 Mbps to my iPhone 4. Not bad. I turned off WiFi and tried AT&T directly and got a paltry 0.43 Mbps download. Wow. I was shocked at the difference. Obviously, I expect WiFi to usually be faster, particularly when I’m browsing the Apple App Store. But this was a massive difference.
What about uploads? The WiFi delivered 0.55 Mbps in upload speed while AT&T let me push 0.24 Mbps.
What about bars and signal strength? When just using AT&T, I realized that I was in an area of my house that only gave me two bars of signal strength to my iPhone 4. With more bars, might I get a faster response? I moved to a couch where I get four bars and ran the test again, just a few minutes after the first test. The result? Worse. I got 0.27 Mbps on the download and 0.04 Mbps on the upload. I don’t doubt that signal strength can influence your upload and download speeds, but I’m guessing that factors beyond your control, like perhaps how the people around you consume data, will have a larger effect your personal bandwidth.
All in all, the Speedtest.net Mobile Speed Test app won’t actually fix any bandwidth problems, but it will alert you to possible issues with your data connections no matter where you go. For this reason, I count it among the pack of utility apps you’ll want to have on hand, just in case. As a practical solution, if you need some evidence to use in an argument with an Internet service provider in an effort to get a faster connection or a refund, this data won’t technically help you. But from a practical standpoint, companies sometimes respond to customers who seem to have at least some data that backs up their righteous anger.
Or, you might want to have it on hand to help you pick a local coffee shop that’s better able to suit your Internet-guzzling needs.