Internet Connection Seem Slow? Check It With an App

Does your broadband feel slow? WSJ’s Nathan Olivarez-Giles shows you how to use Internet speed test apps from Netflix and Ookla. Photo/Video: Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal

Suffering from stuttery streaming video while watching Netflix, NFLX -0.29 % Hulu or other services at home? Annoyed by slow-loading websites and apps? It’s time to see if you’re getting the broadband internet you’re paying for with some helpful free apps.

Netflix Inc. recently released a new Android and iOS app called Fast Speed Test. All it does is measure how fast your download speeds are in megabits per second (Mbps). Netflix originally launched the service on a website, fast.com. Either way, Fast is a good place to start.

What download speed do I need?

To see if your internet is too slow, you need to know a couple things: the speed promised by your internet service provider, and the speed you need to get things done online. For the former, check your monthly bill. For the latter, here’s a simple guide:

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0.5 Mbps is good enough for streaming music.

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1 Mbps can handle basic video chatting in an app like Apple Inc.’s FaceTime or Microsoft Corp. MSFT -0.05 % ’s Skype.

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5 Mbps will get you streaming video on Netflix or Hulu in 1080p HD.

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25 Mbps is the minimum requirement for 4K Ultra HD video.

The Ookla Speedtest app measures download, upload and ping speeds to give you a deeper understanding of your internet connection. ENLARGE
The Ookla Speedtest app measures download, upload and ping speeds to give you a deeper understanding of your internet connection. Photo: Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal

What else should I measure?

If the you want to take the testing to the next level, get the Ookla Speedtest app, distributed by Ziff Davis LLC. We’ve been using this gold standard of internet speed test apps for years. Available on both Android and iOS, this app goes deeper than Fast, measuring ping, download and upload speeds. It’s also available on the web at speedtest.net.

Ping is the reaction time of your internet connection, in milliseconds. You’ll want single or low double digits. A good ping rate is especially important for online gamers since your timing can often mean winning or losing.

While download speed is most important, upload speed also matters if you work online a lot, do a lot of video chatting or upload lots of photos and video.

But don’t worry if your home’s upload speed is a lot slower than your download speed. Internet service providers allot bandwidth based on the fact that most people, and most devices, do a lot more downloading than uploading.

How broad is my band?

The Federal Communications Commission determines that, to access the internet’s “advanced, high-quality voice, data, graphics and video offerings,” your broadband speed must be at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. So that’s a great rule of thumb.

If you have a 4K Ultra HD TV, and get 4K streaming service from Netflix, Amazon or other providers, you’ll need 25 Mbps allotted for that TV alone. That means you’ll want more than 25 Mbps—ideally upwards of 50 Mbps—for the whole house.

It’s important to keep in mind that bandwidth speeds can change depending on how many others are using the same internet connection. When you’re testing, make sure that nobody else is on your internet network at the same time, especially doing something intensive like streaming video.

Some internet service providers guarantee certain bandwidth overall, but speeds can still get choked during peak hours. You may find you have more bandwidth at 2 p.m. on Tuesday than you do at 9 p.m. on Thursday.

Bandwidth speeds can also be affected by how old your wireless router is, and how far you are from the router when you’re testing.

If you're seeing webpages struggle to load, like this, then your internet connection might be too slow. ENLARGE
If you’re seeing webpages struggle to load, like this, then your internet connection might be too slow. Photo: Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal

What can I do about slow speeds?

If you’re paying for a connection that’s faster than what you’re getting, your router could be the bottleneck. We recommend getting a new router, rather than using the one provided by your internet service providers. The latest models even have apps that measure connection speeds.

If you’ve ruled out all of those factors, and you’re still unhappy with your so-called broadband speeds, take a screenshot of your testing results and share them with your internet service provider.

Write to Nathan Olivarez-Giles at [email protected]


WSJ.com: US Business

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