WebGuy Internet Speed Test

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About Bandwidth and Latency

About this Test

This test measures Internet "Bandwidth" which is quite simply, "how large of a pipe you have". It does NOT test Latency which is another factor in your "perceived" Internet speed.

What Is Network Bandwidth?

Bandwidth is the primary measure of computer network speed. Virtually everyone knows the bandwidth rating of their modem or their Internet service that is prominently advertised on network products sold today.

In networking, bandwidth represents the overall capacity of the connection. The greater the capacity, the more likely that better performance will result. Bandwidth is the amount of data that passes through a network connection over time as measured in bps, kbps (bps x 100) or Megabits (Mb) (bps x 1000).

Bandwidth can refer to both actual and theoretical throughput, and it is important to distinguish between the two. For example, a standard dialup modem supports 56 Kbps of peak bandwidth, but due to physical limitations of telephone lines and other factors, a dialup connection cannot support more than 53 Kbps of bandwidth (about 10% less than maximum) in practice. Likewise a traditional Ethernet network theoretically supports 100 or 1000 Mbps of bandwidth, but this maximum amount cannot reasonably be achieved due to overhead in the computer hardware and operating systems.

What Is Network Latency?

Bandwidth is just one element of what a person perceives as the speed of a network. Latency is another element that contributes to network speed. The term latency refers to any of several kinds of delays typically incurred in processing of network data. A so-called low latency network connection is one that generally experiences small delay times, while a high latency connection generally suffers from long delays.

Latency vs. Bandwidth

Although the theoretical peak bandwidth of a network connection is fixed according to the technology used, the actual bandwidth you will obtain varies over time and is affected by high latencies. Excessive latency creates bottlenecks that prevent data from filling the network pipe, thus decreasing effective bandwidth. The impact of latency on network bandwidth can be temporary (lasting a few seconds) or persistent (constant) depending on the source of the delays.

Latency of Satellite Internet Service

Satellite Internet service illustrates the difference between latency and bandwidth on computer networks. Satellite Internet connections possess both high bandwidth and high latency. When loading a Web page, for example, most satellite users can observe a noticeable delay from the time they enter a Web address to the time the page begins loading. This high latency is due primarily to propagation delay as the request message travels at the speed of light to the distant satellite station and back to the home network. Once the messages arrive on Earth, however, the page loads quickly like on other high-bandwidth Internet connections (DSL or cable).

Besides propagation delays, latency also may also involve transmission delays (properties of the physical medium) and processing delays (such as passing through proxy servers or making network hops on the Internet).

Measuring Network Latency

Network tools like ping tests and traceroute measure latency by determining the time it takes a given network packet to travel from source to destination and back, the so-called round-trip time. Round-trip time is not the only way to specify latency, but it is the most common.

On DSL or cable Internet connections, latencies of less than 100 milliseconds (ms) are typical and less than 25 ms desired. Satellite Internet connections, on the other hand, average 500 ms or higher latency.

Summary

Two key elements of network performance are bandwidth and latency. The average person is more familiar with the concept of bandwidth as that is the one advertised by manufacturers of network equipment. However, latency matters equally to the end user experience as the behavior of satellite Internet connections illustrates.