Broadband Connection Speed Checker:Whilst most take the internet for granted, it's still a relatively new development. During its comparatively short life, it has seen some significant changes although the holy grail of achieving an acceptable connection speed has seemed a tortuous process.
All initial connections to the internet were by dial-up, where you plug your computer into the phone line. A modem handles the translation of your PC's digital signal into the analogue format required by the phone system when transmitting, and then does the reverse translation when receiving. The method has some major limitations. Firstly, while you are accessing the internet, your phone line is in use and so you can neither make nor receive calls. You are also likely to be clocking up call charges since unlimited use deals haven't been common for dial-up.
The second main problem has been slow connection, with dial-up operating at 56 Kb per second at best. There was an increase in the problem as websites became more feature rich and downloads became more frequent.
The eventual availability of adsl caused things to improve. The system still uses the phone line although it may need an upgrade. However, a microfilter splits the line so that internet connection and telephone calls can occur at the same time. A different type of modem is required but performs much the same function while a router can be used instead and allows several devices to be connected. Original lines offered broadband speeds up to 512 Kbps, around nine times faster than dial-up. This has now increased significantly with 10 Mbps being common and higher values being available.
The next stage of development is fibre optic cable that is used instead of the conventional copper wire telephone line to carry light signals. This promises high speed, with up to 50 Mbps being offered already and up to 100 Mbps being possible. Another big advantage is that there is little deterioration in the signal for a fibre optic connection, unlike copper wire where performance can fall significantly if you are a long way from a telephone exchange.
It is worth noting that each quoted value is a theoretical max and is rarely achieved. It can be adversely affected by interference from other devices, wiring quality and length, the efficiency of your PC and other equipment, contention rates due to others using the same line and, as mentioned, distance from the telephone exchange. All values also refer to downloads, with the figure for upload often being about one twentieth of this. Lastly, don't fall into the trap of thinking Mbps means Megabytes per second. It actually refers to Megabits and so, with eight bits to the byte, might be considerably less than you think.
If you've ever wondered 'what is my internet speed?' or 'how do I test my broadband speed?', run a broadband speed check for a free test. All seem to work in a similar way, downloading and uploading files to monitor each process. All tests give you the results when they've finished, which are reassuringly similar for each speed test. However, they do reflect the current conditions so that, if your ISP's server is particularly heavily loaded, this might give a slower reading than normal. It's worth checking at different times to get an average reading.
The Top 10 Broadband speed test facility (www.top10-broadband.co.uk) needs to have Flash player installed so you may need to download it before starting. As well as rating your connection, it also shows availability in you area and the fastest deals around. Broadband Finder's speed test (www.broadband-finder.co.uk) requires you to select your current provider before starting the test. Overall, each broadband speed tester worked quickly, gave similar speedtest results and applied to both copper wire and fibre optic services as well as to wireless broadband. † [last update: 29.09.09]