Understanding nbn internet speed tests
Internet speed tests are not new to the nbn. The ability to test your internet speed has been around for years, allowing you to test your ADSL or mobile broadband and now nbn speed whenever you want to.
nbn plans usually list an average sampled evening speed, which is measured regularly by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and always during peak evening periods. It is a good indicator of the typical top speeds achievable on each plan during busy periods, but there are many other factors that can influence this all the time.
Running your own speed test allows you to see how close your actual speed is to the speed listed for your plan, and for finding problems that could be affecting your speed. In this guide will look at what each part of a speed test means, and some of the things that could be affecting your nbn speed.
How to test your nbn speed
There are several speed test sites, and some nbn providers even offer the service on their site. But many of these all use the same service, Speedtest by Ookla. Besides the large GO button, you will also see your Internet Protocol (IP) address, the name of your nbn™ provider, and the name of the server the test is going to use. This will always be a random server close to your current location, but you can also change it. Changing the server is most useful for online game enthusiasts who know where the game’s server is located.
The actual test takes a few seconds or minutes, and the results will display the ping in milliseconds (ms), and both the download and upload speed in megabits per second (Mbps).
For most nbn, download speed is the most important detail of the results. This is the speed at which information travels from different servers to your computer or connected device. Everything you do on the internet benefits from a faster download speed, but especially activities such as:
- Watching YouTube videos
- Streaming videos and music
- Download software, games, and other large files
Higher download speeds mean all of these happen faster, and in the case of streaming media, play in better quality.
Saying that download speed is the most important doesn’t mean that your upload speed is not important. This is how quickly information is sent from your computer to whatever service you are using at that point. Think of when you send off an email with a large attachment: your upload speed affects how long it takes to send this to the email server you are connected to. The download speed of the person you are sending it to affects how long it takes for them to retrieve it from the server.
Activities that benefit from a better upload speed include:
- Video calls and virtual meetings
- Online gaming
- Uploading photos, videos, and other large files to cloud storage and similar services.
Higher numbers for your download and upload are better, but with ping you want a lower number. Ping, also called latency, is the amount of time it takes for any action you take on the internet to reach the correct server, retrieve the right data, and then send this data back to your computer or device.
Think of when you click on any link on the internet, ping determines how long it takes a server on the internet to receive the instruction that you want to load this new page, and to then send the page back to you. In most cases it is almost instant, but there are online activities that benefit even more from a much lower ping, such as online gaming. Higher upload and download speeds do help lower response times, but there are many other factors that also affect it.
And you can’t always do something to improve your ping.
What things affect nbn speed?
There are several things that can affect your nbn. Some you can control, and others are outside of your influence.
Your nbn plan
Different nbn plans offer different download and upload speeds, and your online activity and the number of people in your household, influence which speed is better. An entry-level plan supports streaming media, but it is unlikely that you can stream movies and TV shows in high-definition on a slower speed.
Similarly, more than three people at the same address, all using the internet at the same time, is not going to be great on an entry-level plan. Changing plans could improve the speed, and if not, you could also consider changing nbn providers.
Network congestion is like you getting stuck in rush-hour traffic on your way to or from work. Too many people heading in the same direction and slows everything down. Network congestion is usually caused by too many people being online at the same time. Sometimes this might be too many people in your household all trying to watch Netflix at the same time, or it could be too many people in your neighbourhood all trying to do the same thing. But it could also be too many people trying to connect to the same server as you, like when a popular website launches a big sale, or a new game is released online.
If congestion is caused by the number of people in your home trying to use the internet at the same time, upgrading to a better nbn plan could fix this. But there isn’t much you can do about too many people in your neighbourhood all using the internet at the same time; this is why the ACCC’s broadband report measures typical download speeds between 7pm and 11pm (peak time in internet usage).
With so many devices able to connect wirelessly, using Wi-Fi, to the internet, there is always a risk of one of the devices interfering with the others. Additionally, the further away from your modem you are and the more walls and other obstructions are in the way, the weaker the signal quality is. All of these can reduce the speed of your connection and explains why any device that is plugged straight into your router always has the best speed.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems and Wi-Fi range extenders can help boost the signal quality around your home, and if you suspect one or more devices are interfering with the others, you can carry out an isolation test to identify the culprit.
The NBN Co used a Multi Technology Mix (MTM) system for the rollout of the nbn: some users have a fixed line connection, while others connect using fixed wireless or a satellite network. This, in addition to the actual fixed line technology used, can also affect your speed.
The top speeds supported by both fixed wireless and satellite connections aren’t as high as fixed line connections and are also very prone to network congestion. But fixed line nbn™ connections also use a mix of technology, with some offering better, more reliable connections than others.
The NBN Co allows customers to apply for a change in the connection technology used at their address through their Technology Choice Program. But customers need to apply for this through the NBN Co and be aware that there are costs involved.
Finally, it is worth noting too that the age of your own technology could also affect your nbn speeds. Not only your devices, but also the modem you have installed. If your nbn provider supplied the modem you are using, this should be adequate. But if you are using your own modem and it is more than three years old, upgrading to a newer modem could also help improve your internet speed.