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Most of us use our phones for just about everything, so it seems natural to grab your phone to run a speed test on your home internet connection. Here’s why you should avoid doing that, and what to do instead.

Why your phone shows inaccurate results

A question often asked by our concerned neighbors and friends is, “I ran a speed test on my Internet. Why is it so much slower than what I’m paying for?

That is certainly a valid question. Who wants to pay for the premium Internet package just to get budget-grade speeds? Usually, when we dig a little deeper, we find that the person ran a speed test on their smartphone and is upset that the result is a fraction of the anticipated speed. But that result is to be expected in most cases.

How speed tests work

To understand why people often get slow speed test results when testing from a smartphone, we need to look at how speed tests work.

We have analyzed in detail how internet speed tests work , but here’s an important point to note: the key detail is this: every time you run a speed test, you’re not connecting your general internet connection to the speed test server. . is connecting the device on which you are running the speed test to the speed test server.

Your phone’s Wi-Fi connection is a bottleneck

The device, in this case your phone, first has to navigate through your home network and everything between that device and the speed test server is a potential bottleneck. The moment your maximum bandwidth exceeds the capacity of any piece of network hardware between your modem and the test device, you will get inaccurate results.

If you’re getting speed test results that are a fraction of the internet speed you pay for while using your phone, the likely culprit behind the bottleneck is your Wi-Fi router and/or the Wi-Fi device running the test. Test. on.

Why? Because, except for people with slower connections, the overall speed of the Internet connection (measured directly at the modem) is faster than a single connection between Wi-Fi hardware and any Wi-Fi device can handle. .

This includes not just smartphones, but everything else on the network that uses Wi-Fi, including tablets, laptops, game consoles, streaming devices, and smart TVs. If your overall broadband speed is higher than what your home Wi-Fi equipment can handle, you will always get inaccurate results when running a speed test with a Wi-Fi device.

The exception to this rule, of course, is if you’re using really good hardware connected to a slow broadband connection. An new wifi router paired with a new smartphone it has more than enough bandwidth capacity to overcome a 25 Mpbs DSL connection.

Comparison of Wi-Fi and Ethernet speed tests

How does this look in real world conditions? Let’s jump right into an example that will probably be familiar to many people who have done speed tests with their smartphones and unknowingly run into the bottleneck problem.

Let’s say you have a gigabit cable or fiber Internet connection. This is what a speed test done with your phone would look like.

Jason Fitzpatrick/Speedtest.net

Our first sample test was done with Speedtest.net iOS app on an iPhone 13 connected to a Wi-Fi 5 network on a gigabit fiber connection in a residential location.

About 240 Mpbs for a single device is certainly not a terrible connection speed, to be sure. At that speed, there’s no amount of streaming video or updating mobile games that leaves you saying “Ugh, why is this stupid phone so slow?” But it’s clearly not the speed you’d expect from a gigabit fiber connection. So if you ran this test right after installing gigabit fiber, you’d probably be a little dismayed.

We ran the same test, using the same iPhone 13, but connected to a Wi-Fi 6 hotspot on the same home internet connection.

Switching from a Wi-Fi 5 hotspot to a Wi-Fi 6 hotspot produces a significant increase in download and upload speeds because the iPhone 13 can take advantage of the improvements offered by Wi-Fi 6 . But yet it does not accurately reflect the bandwidth of the Internet connection. You’d be happier with this trial, but you’d probably still wonder why you’re paying for gigabit internet if you’re not getting it.

This is the same test, done on a desktop computer with gigabit-ethernet using the speedtest.net site all while connected to the same home network and Internet connection.

An example of a speed test performed with a wired Ethernet connection and a desktop computer.
Jason Fitzpatrick/Speedtest.net

The speed test results here, roughly 945 Mbps, better reflect the kind of speed you’d expect from a gigabit fiber connection. Considering we didn’t pull everyone off the LAN to do this test or run it in total isolation, we’re not concerned that it’s not a perfect 1000/1000. Accounting for overhead and activity, that’s accurate enough.

If we had tested the same connection using a laptop’s Wi-Fi connection and then connected it to the router via Ethernet to test again, you might expect to see the same results even though the test was performed on the same device. Ethernet will consistently outperform Wi-Fi in any type of sustained speed test.

How should I test my internet speed?

If testing your internet speed using your phone is out of the question (in cases where your internet speed is higher than your phone and Wi-Fi router can handle), then what should you do?

Router level testing

Remember a moment ago when we emphasized that a speed test is actually testing the connection between the test device and the speed test server? Ideally, it should test your internet speed with a device that is connected to the modem as closely and efficiently as possible.

If you have a modern router with robust internal hardware, you can most likely run a speed test on the router by logging into the router’s control panel and starting the test there. In terms of proximity and efficiency, it’s pretty hard to beat running the test directly on the hardware that connects the Internet connection to the rest of your network.

Try using an Ethernet connection

Another good solution, if you can’t run the test on your router, is to use a device with an Ethernet interface, such as a laptop, desktop, or even a game console. Plug the device directly into your modem and test that way. If you already have a setup with a network switch connected to your modem/router, you can always connect to that place.

Assuming you are not using a dusty old 10/100 MB switch with your new fiber modem or running the test on a really old laptop with a 10/100MB port, this is as good as running the test on the router itself, as long as your hardware is up to the task.

Can’t you do either? Contact your ISP

If you don’t have a router that supports in-device testing and your home is completely Wi-Fi without any Ethernet devices to test the router, you’ll need to borrow some equipment from a friend or contact your ISP.

You’ll also want to contact your ISP if you run the speed test with the right hardware and the results aren’t what you expected, so they can help you rule out any issues. Something may not be configured correctly on your end.

In both situations (lack of test hardware or results showing there is a problem) they can always send a technician to your house to run a diagnostic tool up the line and rule out any connection or hardware issues on your side of the equation. .

If it turns out that the problem is, in fact, your network equipment because your Wi-Fi router is old enough to start driver training, it’s probably time to upgrade to a new one .

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