Speed tests should be viewed only as rough guides to the quality of broadband connections, says the Internet Service Providers’ Association of SA (ISPA).
An Internet speed test measures the connection speed – as well as the quality of the connected device – by running consecutive tests that analyse different aspects of the connection; including latency, download and upload speeds. This can be very useful for debugging problems, particularly when comparing historical results from the same device using the same connection. However, they can sometimes be misleading.
Normal Internet use fetches content from many different places that might have different quality connections to the worldwide web. Speed tests, however, measure speed between specific points that may not accurately match the consumer’s own Internet usage patterns.
The type of browser, the age and quality of the device, the operating system and whether the connection is via mobile, fixed-line or WiFi can all influence the overall result. In addition, some online speed tests ‘game’ their testing servers to influence consumers with inflated upload and download speeds. Browser-based speed tests are useful for checking Internet speeds on a computer while downloading an appropriate app is advisable for achieving better accuracy on mobiles.
“Performing a speed test and then rating one’s satisfaction with an ISP based on the result does provide some information, but there are other considerations when selecting an ISP,” says ISPA chairperson, André van der Walt.
He suggests asking the following questions:
* What Does the Web Say About the ISP? A quick Google search about an established, reputable ISP should soon reveal consumer ratings of their overall service on such platforms as HelloPeter, Facebook, and others.
* What Does Your Network of Contacts Think? Check any applicable comments on neighbourhood social media and messaging groups and you might also consider simply asking informed techie friends who they use for Internet access.
* Can You Talk to Someone When You Need to? When things go wrong, you might not be able to send an email or fill in a Contact Us form, for obvious reasons. Consumers should determine if their prospective ISP runs a fully-fledged call centre or at least provides a telephone number for Customer Care. If you have questions or concerns, try phoning the ISP and seeing what response you get.
* Is the ISP an Established Corporate Entity? In the past a business card might have convinced a potential customer that a particular company was legit. Today, consumers should be on the lookout for a company website, listings in online directories, CIPRO registration or similar that would suggest a reputable outfit able to take care of one’s Internet access needs.