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What is the Broadband Speed Test?

posted Apr 17, 2014, 11:17 AM by Megan Chadwick Gernert - OIT   [ updated Apr 17, 2014, 11:57 AM ]
The primary purpose of the internet speed test is to provide consumers with the ability to retrieve real-time information about their broadband connection.  This information can help the consumer better understand quality and reliability of their broadband service and their ability to access content over the internet.  In addition to providing the consumer with a snapshot of their broadband connection, the speed test is also an important tool utilized by the state to develop an accurate picture of broadband in Colorado. 

When you use the Colorado Broadband Speed Test, you have the option of filling out additional information (address, provider, cost, etc) and submitting to the Colorado Broadband Program.  You may wonder why we are asking for these details.  The answer:  collecting this detailed information allows the Colorado Broadband Program to identify geographic correlations and trends in speed, performance, and cost.  The Colorado Broadband Mapping team also utilizes the speed test data to validate the broadband service availability data received from broadband service providers, thus improving the accuracy of the data.

How does the speed test work?

The speed test take three measurements:
 1)  ping, or latency (milliseconds)
 2)  download speed (megabits per second)
 3)  upload speed (megabits per second)

The ping test sends requests to the server and measures the time it takes to get a response. The download and upload speeds are tested by sending small amounts of data between the server and the client and measuring how long it takes to transfer the data.  The randomly generated data is divided into chunks, so the speed test is actually sending many files back and forth, and the speed measurements are averaged together to determine the final result.

What factors can affect broadband speed?

Did your speed test measure up to the speed you are paying for?  Probably not.  But before you call up your service provider to complain, take a moment to understand how broadband speeds can vary.  It’s likely that the internet service you are subscribed to is advertised as “up to” a certain speed.  Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) advertise this way because there are many factors that can affect users’ broadband speeds, making it difficult to guarantee a certain speed at any moment of the day.  These factors typically fall into two categories:  end-user equipment, and ISP equipment and capacity.

End-user equipment is how you are connecting to your provider network.  This includes the computer or device you are using and cable or Wi-Fi router that you are connecting with.  When connecting through a Wi-Fi router, you must consider the distance from the router, walls/ceilings that could affect the signal, number of devices connected, and the compatibility of the router with the network. 
Computer processing speed, number of applications running, and choice of browser can also contribute to quality of the connection. 

Your ISP has a finite capacity for its broadband network, that must be divided among all customers, include you.  This means that you are vulnerable to congestion at times of peak internet usage.  Times of congestion will have different effects to your connection, based on the technology of transmission used by your ISP and the capacity of their network.

Lastly, there are issues that may appear to be a slow connection, but in fact could be an issue with other servers and other networks.  For example if you are visiting a website that is loading slowly, the lag may be caused by the server speed of the site you are visiting, rather than your broadband connection.