Speedtesting your Internet

Contention Ratios etc.
February 14, 2016

It has become a very popular thing now for subscribers to link up to Speedtest.net and then start hammering their providers for speeds.

Speedtest.net is a great Java tool designed to measure the balance of your speed. It cannot measure your actual speed for a number of reasons.

  • Contention ratio. If you have a contended service, say a 10:1 link, Speedtest cannot detect how many other users are using the same link at the same time. It can only tell you how fast YOU are at the present time. In order to get low cost internet services, links are shared (Contended). Read more here. It simply not possible to Speedtest a contended link and get the full speed at all times.
  • Peering Links. The server you speedtest to, might not be on the same network segment as your own internet services. So for example if your provider is on a Seacom Backbone, and the speedtest is on Telkoms network, there may be a throttle of speed between Telkom and Seacom – i.e. the Peering link. This generally leads to a higher latency, but can also force lower links. Not to mention the amount of traffic flowing into that foreign server network.
  • Own Network. We have had customers that are running on internal WiFi Networks. i.e. using 2.4Ghz wireless. These users walk around the office speedtesting using hand held laptops and devices linked to their network on a Wifi Link. In a laboratory condition, a 2.4Ghz wireless runs at 10-11 Mbps. In a house or office, particularly upper and lower floors where there is steel and reinforcing in the structures, speeds can drop to lower than 1Mb. Since wireless devices are Asynchronous, they can often have lower upload speeds than download speeds. This due to the connecting devices lack of power to transmit as well as it reads. So customers who buy 100Mb link, and then use a wireless device to test these speeds, are reporting link speeds of 2 and 3Mbps. These are what the device is measuring via the poor WiFi Signal, and has no bearing on the actual speed. In addition to this, other devices are also making use of the internet at the same time. So perhaps there are 2 or 3 devices that are downloading email or getting the latest updates from Apple or Microsoft, consuming bandwidth in place of the speedtest device. Speedtest.net can only give you the balance of speed available to your link. Its an indicator, usually indicating how much traffic YOU are consuming overall and the reading is the balance available. The only way to test the speed is to ask your provider for a period to have exclusive access to the network for a period, then to plug in directly to the providers router and run the speedtest ensuring that all other devices are unplugged.

When you get a 3G / LTE dongle from Vodacom. They tell you it can do speeds up to 40Mbps. That’s why we buy it. However, its never ever achieves that, due to these factors above. Vodacom and Telkom are far bigger companies than Vlocity, and far more capable of delivering cheap fast services, yet they don’t, that’s because they face the same challenges we do. A Telkom 4Mb ADSL runs on average between 1 and 2, depending on your area and the amount of subscribers in the area. No one buys exclusive 1 on 1 internet as a cheap home broadband service. Its impossible. Not with the present costs to connect to the internet as we know it i.e. Europe and America.

Sure internet is fast and cheap overseas. That’s because the vast majority of the internet exists there locally. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook all have local cheap breakout in Europe and America. For us to reach the “Internet” we have to pay for massive undersea cables and go around Africa via the Mediterranean. Unfortunately that’s not free. Foreigners come to our country and complain bitterly about slow speeds, only because they have to connect 100 times the distance to get to their usual sites. Go to Europe and browse our south African servers, its also slow and expensive.

Moves are now afoot for these large companies to create their own African Presence. i.e. they will pay for the fiber links to South Africa, and provide us with faster cheaper Peering Points. Example Netflix. They are coming to South Africa. So that means cheaper faster access to Netflix. But guess what. They have regional limitations. So you will get the name here, but older product they cant sell overseas. So we are back to square one. If we want fast current Netflix, we will pay a premium to have good international feeds.

Telkoms Hi Speed Fiber tot he home. 100 Mb speed etc. Ask the question, whats the international speeds like. See if you can get an answer. Its easy to sell 100Mb in south Africa, on our own network, but the cost via Seacom, over R300 000 per month for dedicated 150Mb links. So be carefull what is promised and what is actually delivered. If the majority of your internet requires local access, then sure. But check first that the network (LAN) you use can actually get to those speeds as well.