If you want to check whether you’re getting the broadband speed that your provider claims to offer, or you’re trying to find out whether it’s a poor Wi-FI connection causing videos to buffer or games to lag, we know a number of free ways to do it.
Often it can be hard to know if it’s your home Wi-Fi or your broadband that’s slow. Plus, doing a ‘Wi-Fi speed test’ is not the same as checking your broadband speed but there are plenty of apps (and people) which use the two terms interchangeably.
If you try and test your internet speed over a weak or slow Wi-Fi connection, you might not get a true figure as a low Wi-Fi speed can be the bottleneck. This is actually a test of the whole connection from your device – a PC, laptop, phone or tablet – to a server on the internet. So it is testing both your Wi-Fi speed and broadband speed. Of course, you can test your mobile data speed if you run the test on your phone with Wi-Fi disabled.
But what if you want to know for sure how fast your broadband connection is at your router? Well, you’ve come to the right place as we’ll explain everything you need to know.
It’s worth knowing that internet speeds vary depending on many factors. Sometimes, when you and all your housemates, family members or even neighbours are streaming Netflix at the same time, things can slow to a crawl. Or, it could be that a dodgy Wi-Fi connection is running slowly and making you think your broadband provider is at fault.
If you use a VPN, that could be the cause of web pages loading slowly. Be sure to disable any VPN before you run tests – unless you’re testing your VPN provider’s speed, of course.
Free internet speed test
The service we use to check broadband speeds is Speedtest.net. You can do this in a web browser, or download the app for Android and iOS.
It will tell you – normally within a minute – how quick your connection is, but make sure you’re standing close to your router if running the test on a device connected via Wi-Fi. To eliminate the possibility of slow Wi-Fi, it’s best to run the test using a laptop or PC connected directly to your router with an Ethernet cable.
It really depends upon how fast your broadband is: the fastest broadband in the UK can deliver 1Gbps (like Virgin Media’s Gig1 plan), which will be faster than most Wi-Fi routers can provide. But virtually all ISP-supplied routers will offer Wi-Fi that’s faster than your broadband speed. Those that support Wi-Fi 5 should be able to handle 300-500Mbps at close range.
You should know that many broadband packages are asynchronous, which means they offer different speeds for uploading and downloading. Download speeds are the headline figures you hear about because they’re often much faster. Upload speeds can be very slow – up to 90% slower than download speeds – which is why it can take ages to upload a video to YouTube, for example, when it’s much faster to download from YouTube.
Similarly, if you’re having trouble with Zoom calls where your own video stops and starts, you should test your upload speed and remember that smart cameras that record to the cloud will be using up some of your upload bandwidth.
Internet speed tests should tell you both your upload and download speeds.
They should also report your ‘ping’ in miliseconds, which is the latency of your connection. This is important for real-time applications such as online gaming and video calls. A lower number is better.
Note: The download and upload speeds will be reported in Mbps, which is Megabits per second, not to be confused with Megabytes per second. To convert between the two divide a speed in Megabits per second by 8 to get the Megabytes per second figure.
You can also get apps for some speed checkers, including the ever-popular Speedtest, for iOS and Android.
Chris Martin / Foundry
How to test your Wi-Fi speed
If your speed result is slower than you were expecting and you ran the test over Wi-Fi, you can check your Wi-Fi speed separately to see if that’s the issue or not. Finding an app to test Wi-Fi speed is difficult because a lot of broadband testing apps call themselves “Wi-Fi speed test”.
However, there is an Android app called WiFi Speed Test Internet Speed by Zoltán Pallagi which allows you to disable the internet part and just see how fast is your local Wi-Fi. It isn’t the prettiest, but it does the job.
This only tests the ‘upload’ speed, which is the speed from your phone (or tablet) to your router or whatever access point you’re connected to. Again, the speed will be limited by the slowest device – your router might be the latest model with Wi-Fi 6 support, but unless your phone also supports the same speed, the result you see will be the speed of the slowest device.
Here we’ve tested with a Huawei P30 Pro (Wi-Fi 5) connecting to a Linksys Velop tri-band mesh system. (Ignore the BT Hub SSID – this was cloned to the Velop system to avoid having to reconfigure a whole load of devices with a new Wi-Fi network.) The speed of 461Mbps is very good, and way faster than the 60Mbps download speed we get from BT.
You can use this app in various places around your home to see how speeds vary in different rooms, or even in the garden. It can be very helpful in knowing where best to place your router or mesh Wi-Fi devices.
What internet speed do I need for Netflix, Zoom and gaming?
If the reason for testing your broadband speed is to see whether it’s good enough for certain tasks, here are some recommended speeds:
Standard definition video streaming 1.5Mbps download
HD video streaming 5Mbps download
4K video streaming: 25Mbps download
8K video streaming: 50Mbps download (minimum – recommended is 100Mbps)
Zoom / Teams video call: 4Mbps download / 3Mbps upload (for HD)
Online gaming: <50ms desirable, <100ms usable. Above 150ms may be unusable
Tech Advisor's Reviews Editor, Chris has been reviewing all kinds of tech for over 10 years and specialises in audio. He also covers a range of topics including home entertainment, phones, laptops, tablets and more.