If you’re feeling sick, you go to the doctor—it just makes sense. You want to make sure everything's functioning exactly as it should. The same should apply to your home network. Whether you’re home streaming a new Hollywood hit in 4K or transferring gigs of data for work, your Wi-Fi is an absolutely essential household utility. So if you feel like your connection is lacking in the get-up-and-go department, it takes only a few quick, free tests to identify the problem. Thankfully, checking your Wi-Fi performance is a whole lot easier than making a doctor's appointment.
What You're Testing: Upload and Download Speeds
When it comes time to test your home Wi-Fi network, you're looking for two basic measurements: Download speed and upload speed. The former measures the speed of data travelling to your home network, which you need to do things like:
- Check your email and open or save attachments.
- Browse the Internet on anything from your laptop to your tablet to your smart TV.
- Stream video on services like Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, or stream music.
- Update software and video games to their latest versions.
- Save files from the cloud to your computer or smart device.
Upload speed measures the inverse of download speed—it gauges how fast you can send data from your network to others. You’ll use it to:
- Add files to cloud storage services such as Google Drive or OneDrive.
- Attach files to outgoing emails.
- Send out a live video stream, as you would on Skype, FaceTime, or Periscope.
- Uploading pictures from your phone to Facebook or Instagram.
When you run a speed test, you'll also see a measurement of your ping, which is basically your Wi-Fi's response time. For all you hardcore PS4, Wii U, and Xbox One fans, this is a crucial measurement for online gaming. Ping is measured in milliseconds, so a low number is good news.
How to Test: Browser-Based Speed Tests
The quickest, easiest, and most painless way to gauge your Wi-Fi speed is to use a free, browser-based test like the one offered by Internet metrics company OOKLA at Speedtest.net. With about 8 billion tests under its belt, OOKLA has more data to back speed comparisons than any other tester out there. Speedtest and similar browser-based apps work by downloading and uploading a small amount of data, then measuring the speed of the transfer—simple as that.
The best part? Taking a test like this one is as easy as visiting the site and clicking a button. Just watch the needle move and wait for your download, upload, and ping results.
When to Test: Ideal Wi-Fi Conditions
Before you hit that tempting “Begin Test” button, you'll want to create an ideal environment for testing. Otherwise, you won't be giving your Wi-Fi a fair shot.
First, make sure your wireless router is unobstructed, and that no one else in the house is online hogging all the bandwidth, whether they're Snapchatting or streaming. Let your device focus on the test by closing all open web pages in your browser, and pausing or cancelling any in-progress downloads or updates. Most testing apps will automatically figure out your location and connection time, but if not, you may have to type in this info. Once you've got that down and de-stressed your Wi-Fi, you're ready to let the speed test do its thing.
More Wi-Fi Testing Tips
Just about everything in your house has a browser, so run the test on your laptop, iPad, gaming consoles, or any other device you use frequently. That way, you'll find out if any speed disparities are device-based. Try different locations, too, as speed may vary based on the distance you are from your router. Lastly, always run tests at different times of day to account for fluctuations; Internet rush hour is real—Wi-Fi typically runs more slowly between 5:00 and 10:00 p.m. If you still question the results, it doesn't hurt to try alternative free tests, such as ZDNet's Broadband Speed Test or OOKLA's own mobile apps.
Once You Have the Results
If your results leave something to be desired, there are a few steps you can take before contacting your ISP, upgrading your router, or adding a range extender.
- First, re-set and re-test the router to make sure the low speeds weren't just a tech hiccup.
- Then try moving your router to an open area in the middle of your home or office, keeping it away from competing electronics, cordless devices, metal, and concrete.
- If you have a dual-band router, use its included software to change some of your bandwidth-intensive devices from a 2.4GHz frequency to a 5GHz frequency, where you'll face less Wi-Fi congestion.
- Lastly, make sure your modem isn’t from 1999!
As a final measure, you can always plug your PC or laptop directly into your modem with an Ethernet cable and bypass your wireless router altogether. This will determine if your sluggish speeds could be the fault of your Internet service provider or your Wi-Fi devices. If the problem comes from your router, you may need to consider upgrading to one that supports the latest Wi-Fi standard, which is 802.11ac. And if you have a busy household with lots of devices, ensure that your new Wi-Fi router supports MU-MIMO—the ability for multiple devices to stream simultaneously versus having to wait their turn like on non-MU-MIMO capable routers.
If all signs point to issues on the part of your ISP, it’s time to give them a call and make sure you have a broadband plan that is performing as advertised, or look at upgrading to a plan that meets your needs.