Broadband and ADSL Information

Broadband Speed Test Information

UK Broadband Speed Test - Testing the speed of your connection

Introduction

There are many broadband speed test sites and utilities available online and as downloads - but few sites are willing to debunk the hype around quoted speeds and transfer rates.

Most ISPs now offer services that are 'Up to 8Mb' - but it is not until much later they admit that 8Mb speeds can only be obtained by a very small proportion of users, who are typically less than a quarter of a mile telephone cable length from their exchange.  Even then, the likely maximum download speed will be about 7.2Mb - 7.7Mb due to the various protocol overheads along the connection.

The majority of users (around 65%) can get a possible connection speed of over 5Mb, giving possible download speeds of over 4Mb.  This is STILL an excellent download speed compared to the original 512Kb broadband and the 'High Speed' 1Mb and 2Mb options from a few years ago.

Much more important is the quality of the connection - this can be quantified according to:

  • The latency or ping times that can be achieved - How long it takes to get a response from a remote server, regardless of the download speed
  • The contention of the connection - How many users are sharing the ISPs 'Central Pipe' from the exchange back to their servers and their own Internet connection
  • Lastly - the overall speed of the connection

The first two of these are largely dependant on the number of users sharing the ISPs 'Central Pipe'.  This is a VERY expensive connection (Over £30,000 a month each, most ISPs have a number of these) from the BT exchange network to the ISPs own servers.  If this connection is oversubscribed, as is common on the cheapest accounts, poor/variable ping times and increased numbers of dropped packets are encountered.  While this does not stop users browsing or sending email, it is very detrimental to gaming users and generally makes web browsing look more erratic.

Some ISPs (i.e. PlusNet specifically allow gaming and traffic such as VOIP calls and web browsing to have a higher priority on their network compared to file transfers and email to give a much better 'feel' and responsiveness, especially at peak usage times, which are most evenings between 7PM and 11PM.

The cheapest ISPs are forced to share the 'Central Pipe' connections between over 30,000 users to reduce the cost to around £1 per month per user, while the more reputable ISPs will typically limit each Central Pipe to around 10,000 users.  As each pipe has a fixed capacity, it is easy to see how the cheaper ISPs sacrifice the overall performance to save money.  Even with an 8Mb connection to the exchange, it is not possible to get anything like an 8Mb download if the connection to your ISP is significantly over-subscribed to save money.

So - How about a Decent Broadband Speed Test Site?

OK - so there are two basic options here:

  1. Test your connection speed to YOUR ISP to see what throughput you are getting to their servers - but this is not a valid test of your general Internet access speed
  2. Test your connection speed to a remote server on the Internet - This tests your overall connection performance from your PC to a 'real' server on the Internet, rather than a server located at your ISP.

For testing different configurations and system options, Option 1 may be a more reliable indicator - but not appropriate for comparing different ISPs.  Check your ISP for information regarding their own speed test facilities!

To give a good overall test, Option 2 is to be preferred as it is independent of your own ISP and allows different ISPs to be compared more reliably.

Our preferred independent broadband speed test site is: http://speedtest.net/ - This is an excellent broadband speed test utility where you can choose a server location to use for the test (it will automatically try to determine the nearest server to your ISPs connection to the Internet) and it will keep a log of your results for later comparison.