Broadband speed test results are about as useful to accurate consumer decision-making as infomercials. That’s the word from South Africa’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), which represents almost 180 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) providing the lion’s share of the country’s broadband connections.
A number of popular web sites are advertising tools to help Internet users test the download speed of their fixed-line or mobile broadband connections. Media outlets, too, often conduct their own tests outside of laboratory settings where broadband speeds advertised by ISPs are compared to actual speeds achieved at very specific places and points in time.
However, speed is not the alpha and omega of the web experience, and there are different ways to measure it, says ISPA chair Graham Beneke.
Consumers also need to take into account their selected application. “For a quality online gaming experience, for example, stability and ping times take precedence over pure speed,” he says.
In addition, while speed has emerged as the most common metric for assessing the quality of broadband offerings, consumers should be aware that speed measurements for the same service can vary significantly.
To illustrate this, the ISPA invites readers to run broadband speed tests using the following platforms to see how the results differ.
For ease of use, www.speedof.me and www.testmy.net are HTML-based and do not use flash. Another option is www.speedtest.net.
Significant bottlenecks can arise in home networks, end users’ computers, and server side systems and networks. Consequently, inferences regarding how ISP-delivered speeds compare with their advertised speeds need to be undertaken with careful attention to the testing methodologies employed. Many testing methodologies are inappropriate for the purposes of assessing the quality of a broadband network.
One of ISPA’s biggest concerns regarding online speed testing tools lies in the fact that the web is simply not prepared for the kind of speeds individual home fibre users are expecting to achieve.
“Internet consumers are likely to be disappointed as bottlenecks start being encountered thanks to a web that’s simply not prepared for huge amounts of people with access to lightning fast broadband fibre connections,” Beneke explains. “The resultant bottlenecks have little to do with an ISP’s broadband service quality, and a lot to do with too many people trying to do the same thing, at the same time.”
Aside from a consumer’s own hardware limitations, differences in advertised speed versus actual speed may also depend on whether the website a particular consumer is trying to access is hosted in their city, their country, or across the world.
“In summary, while broadband speed is usually reduced to a number for convenience, there are additional complex factors at play which together determine a user’s web experience,” Beneke says.