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You may have noticed that there are many websites that test your internet speed – otherwise known as internet speed tests.  You might also have noticed that different sites will give you different results.  Why is that?  Today we’ll discuss how internet speed tests work, and delineate the many factors that influence them.

How do they work?

On the most basic level, the mechanics of an internet speed test are easy to understand.  To test your download speed, the test site sends a file of a known size to your computer, and measures how long it takes for your computer to download it.   Similarly, your upload speed is measured by how long it takes your computer to upload a file of a known size to the test site.

 

Simple, right?  Well unfortunately, there are a host of variables between your home router and the test site that complicate matters considerably.  Not only that, but conflation of the terms speed and bandwidth complicate the issue even further.

 

Most consumers assume that the number from their speed test should match, or at least approach, the number on their internet bill.  But in actuality, their internet service provider is selling them bandwidth, not speed.  The speed is impacted by many factors out of your ISPs control.  It is important to note that speed and bandwidth are two different things, although they are closely related and the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Bandwidth Vs. Speed

 

Bandwidth is a measurement of the connection, not the speed going over that connection. 

 

In other words, your bandwidth is your maximum speed. Internet service providers typically offer several tiers of service options, and they are usually differentiated mainly by download bandwidth, with cheaper options offering less download bandwidth and vice versa.  The average download speed in the United States in Q2-Q3 of 2018 was 96.25 Mbps.  (Download and upload speeds are typically measured in Megabits per second (Mbps)).

 

But again, bandwidth is a measurement of the connection, not the speed going over that connection.  Your bandwidth is your maximum speed.  So, an internet user with a service plan offering 100 Mbps of download bandwidth will not necessarily get a reading of 100 Mbps download speed from an internet speed test.

Leaving Your House, Entering the Internet

Once Internet traffic leaves your house through your router (which can itself limit throughput), depending on where it is routed, it may not have access to that same level of bandwidth.  If it does encounter a lessening of bandwidth, at that point the speed gets choked down to whatever that connection is.

 

The analogy of car traffic is often used to illustrate this idea.  If traffic is humming along on an 8-lane highway, and suddenly there are only 2 lanes, traffic is going to slow considerably.  The same thing happens on the Internet when a 1 Gbps  connection gets sent over a 100 Mbps connection.  In the context of this analogy, bandwidth is your vehicle’s maximum speed on an open road, under perfect conditions, with no other traffic.

This bandwidth bottlenecking is often a result of physical network cabling.  While you may be lucky enough to have an internet service provider build a fiber-optic connection right to your home, the internet-at-large is still constructed largely on the backbone of shared coaxial cable, which stands like Ozymandias over the desert of the cable TV industry.

Many Factors

In other words, despite information on the internet being transferred at a rate difficult to comprehend by the human mind, there are still constraints that are based on physical realities of how the internet is constructed.  Among these are the amount of bandwidth physically able to be carried by different cable technologies, the processing speed and the amount of routers and/or firewalls along the path of the information, the distance between them, and the amount of other homes or devices hooked up to the same internet connection.  Even your browser and operating system can place limits on your available bandwidth.

 

With all these factors at play, hopefully you can begin to see how the number on your internet speed test will not be the same number as the one on your internet plan.  However, there are a few things you can do to achieve the most accurate possibly speed test.

 

  1. Disable any non-essential processes running on your computer
  2. Use the speed test site recommended by your ISP (CTS Telecom recommends http://www.speedtest.net)
  3. Run the test at a low-traffic time of day (this may vary based on your location).

 

Although the entire Internet is not equipped to handle speeds up to 1 Gbps, CTS Telecom offers that amount of bandwidth because we are on the leading edge of Internet technology, and we believe the Internet will eventually catch up to our level of service.  In the meantime, regardless of the number on a speed test, we can confidently state that we are offering the fastest, most reliable Internet connections in our area.

Despite its somewhat whimsical name, the Internet of Things (often abbreviated IoT)  is a complex topic of global significance.  Its impact will be felt not only economically, in the form of new products and services, but socially, as the new generation of Internet-connected devices changes the way we live.

So what is the Internet of Things?  It’s the generally agreed-upon term for devices that connect to the Internet in one way or another, usually for a limited purpose.  For example, one of the most common IoT devices is a “smart thermostat.” A smart thermostat is one that you can control remotely, via an app on your phone for example, so that you can monitor and alter your home’s temperature from afar (in the context of internet devices, “smart” is just another way of saying “connected to the internet”).   “Smart home” hub devices like Alexa are also becoming increasingly popular.

EXPONENTIAL GROWTH

Believe it or not, research firm Gartner estimates that around 8.4 billion(!) such “smart” devices were in use in 2017 (this includes smart TVs), up 31% from 2016, and that this number will reach approximately 20.4 billion by 2020.  With this kind of incredible growth, it’s no surprise that the Internet of Things is a topic of great interest to the business sector.

Healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing are 3 of the fields expected to benefit most from the potential of IoT, but security and energy companies are also expected to invest heavily in IoT infrastructures, as remote-access cameras and the aforementioned smart thermostats become more widely available.  Cities and municipalities, too, will benefit from the power of the IoT to seamlessly integrate data to facilitate management of traffic flow, environmental issues, and safety concerns.

THE PERFECT STORM

There are a variety of factors, a “perfect storm” if you will, which has allowed for this proliferation of Internet-connected “Things.”  Widespread availability of wireless networks, cheaper processors, and the arrival of IPv6, which dramatically increased the number of IP numbers available for use, were all essential prerequisites for the opportunities for simple household items to be connected to the world at large via the Internet.

The world, too, has become more connected.  In 1995, less than 1% of the world’s population had internet access.  As of January 2018, that number was 55% and growing.  Bandwidth, too, is ever increasing, with some forward-thinking internet service providers already offering 1 Gbps download speeds as a standard internet service.  So as the ability of “Things” to be connected to the internet has increased, so too has the ability of people to be connected to those Things from the other side.

SECURITY & PRIVACY

One of the foremost concerns with all of this convenient internet access is security.  Bringing the internet closer to the world also brings it closer to malevolent forces who would use it for their own benefit.  One can easily imagine a hacker gaining access to a device remotely and using it to cause harm (for example, turning off industrial-scale smart refrigerators or other electronic devices), to say nothing of self-replicating viruses that could spread from one device to another.  Privacy, too, is wrapped up in the IoT, as cameras, remote monitoring, and smart homes become more and more prevalent.  Despite these challenges, the predicted success of the future IoT economy is easy to envision.

THE FUTURE

With once fantastical-sounding inventions like driverless cars on the foreseeable horizon, the potential applications of the Internet of Things are virtually limitless.  Past technological developments have led us to a present time where smart homes are becoming a reality.  With smart cities expected to appear by 2025, can a fully connected planet be far behind?