Broadband speed test: how to check your internet speed

There’s a number of ways you can check your broadband speed to see what level of connection you’re actually getting. After all, you might have noticed that although your internet service provider (ISP) promised lightning fast broadband connection speeds, websites and downloads aren’t quite as sprightly as you’d like them to be.

If you're not getting the kind of speed that you were told when you signed up with your broadband provider, then you should look to move to another. Use our best broadband deals guide to find a better plan.

What does Speedtest do? 

Speedtest.net is one of the best sites for testing your broadband speed. It’s free, and you can use it from anywhere in the world. Governments, universities and corporations use Speedtest – which performs millions of tests every day. Speedtest currently has an excellent new site in an early beta test version but you can also access the older version that uses Adobe Flash should you really wish.

As well as the desktop site, Speedtest also has apps for iOS, Amazon devices, Windows Mobile and Android – make sure your phone is connected to your own Wi-Fi, otherwise you’ll be testing your mobile data speed! And if one device is on Wi-Fi and the other is not, you’re accidentally testing the speeds of different connections. Also, note that there are variations in Wi-Fi and quality between devices, especially older devices. We’d recommend you use your newest device to do your measurement.

How does Speedtest work? 

Speedtest measures your real-time network connection, so tests taken within a few minutes of each other might vary a little based on network congestion and available bandwidth. If your Speedtest results are significantly different, make sure that both are on the same connection.

The service relies on a network of more than 5,500 host servers owned and operated by internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile carriers. These are based all around the world and so results will vary.

By default, Speedtest chooses a nearby server with a fast ping result. Speedtest automatically selects a server to test based on ping.

Ping is the reaction time of your connection, so how quickly your device gets a response. This is important for online video games. Ping is measured in milliseconds (ms). The lower this number, the more responsive your connection is. You need a ping of less than 60ms ideally – less than 20ms is really rather good.

Should you wish, you can also manually select a server to test to. If you don’t get a server near you then it’s possible your computer’s firewall might be blocking communication over port 8080, which will limit the number of servers available for testing. For a more complete measure of your speed, test to other servers in various locations. Remember some will be far away and distance DOES matter and you’ll likely get lower speeds and pings from those services.

Remember to disable anything that could be confusing your connection – such as a proxy server. It's also worth turning off any software that uses your internet connection, such as instant messengers and streaming services.

Click Begin Test to start testing your speeds. As the speed test takes place, you can view your results as they come in. A speedometer on screen measures how many megabits are being downloaded per second. The more megabits that can be downloaded in a second, the faster your internet connection is.

My broadband speed - what do the results mean? 

You can see your ping speed in milliseconds (ms) as well as your download and upload speeds in Mbps, which is the normal rating for broadband speed you see advertised from internet providers. The higher the download result, the faster your speed is for downloading files and websites. Mbps means Megabits per second. This is a standard measure of internet speed, not to be confused with megabytes (MB) which is a measure of size rather than bandwidth. Obviously there’s a certain amount of MB you can transfer in a certain amount of time depending on your connection speed. There are calculators you can use to work out your speed.

Your upload speed determines how quickly you can share files on the internet. For example, the speed of uploading photos or videos to a website are determined by your upload speed. Your upload speed is almost certainly a lot lower than your download speed, but that’s normal – after all, you usually download more than you upload.

Although you could download a file yourself and work out the speed by comparing the file size and how long it took to download, it’s much easier to rely on a site like Speedtest, even though the results can be a little variable.

How fast should my speed be and what do I need? 

Some people have super slow speeds that aren’t much different from dial-up. Remarkable isn’t it? Practically speaking, you need to have 2Mbps to use websites comfortably. 

Most photo and video uploads as well as standard definition streaming can be done at around 5Mbps, but again you probably need 10Mbps to be comfortable and use applications like Skype or HD video streaming without any issues. For online gaming and you really need to have 20-25Mbps, over which you can also stream Ultra HD - the kind of speeds that only fibre broadband packages can provide.

What if my broadband speed check reveals slower internet than I had expected?

These days, internet providers such at BT Internet, Virgin Media and Sky cover themselves by saying that your broadband speed will be 'up to xxMbps'. That gives them some handy leeway preventing rafts and rafts of breach of contract claims!

But when you signed up for your latest broadband contract, your ISP should have given you a range of speeds that it will supply. If your Speedtest trials show that the provider is within that range, then there isn't much you can do other than complain. But if it's falling short, then you can potentially exit your contract penalty-free.

So go and check your broadband speed now. If you're not getting the connection you were promised, you can head to our broadband deals page to get a new plan...