Most of us use our phones for pretty much everything, so it seems only natural to grab your phone to run a speed test on your home internet connection. Here’s why you should avoid doing it 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? »
It is certainly a valid question. Who wants to pay for the highest internet plan just to get budget tier speeds? Usually when we dig a little deeper we find that the person has done a speed test on their smartphone and they are upset, the result is a fraction of the expected speed. But this result is predictable 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’ve taken a detailed look at how internet speed tests work, but here’s a pertinent point to keep in mind: The key detail is this: each time you perform a speed test, you’re not connecting your general internet connection to the speed test server. . You connect the device you run the speed test on the speed test server.
Your phone’s Wi-Fi connection is a bottleneck
The device, in this case your phone, must navigate your home network first and anything between that device and the speed test server is a potential bottleneck. As soon as 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 only a fraction of the internet speed you’re paying for when using your phone, the likely culprit behind the bottleneck is your Wi-Fi router and/or device. Wi-Fi on which you are running the test. on.
Why? Because, except for people with slower connections, the overall Internet connection speed (measured directly at the modem) is faster than a single connection between Wi-Fi hardware and any device. Wi-Fi can handle.
This includes not just smartphones, but everything else on the network using Wi-Fi, including tablets, laptops, game consoles, streaming devices, and smart TVs. If your overall broadband speed is higher than your home’s Wi-Fi equipment can handle, you’ll still get inaccurate results when performing a speed test using a Wi-Fi device.
The exception to this rule, of course, is if you’re using really cool hardware connected to a slow broadband connection. A new Wi-Fi router paired with a new smartphone has more than enough bandwidth capacity to exceed a 25 Mpbs DSL connection.
Comparison of Wi-Fi and Ethernet Speed Tests
What does it look like in real conditions? Let’s jump right into an example that will probably sound familiar to tons of people who have run speed tests using their smartphones and unknowingly ran into the bottleneck issue.
Suppose you have a fiber or cable gigabit internet connection. Here’s what a speed test performed with your phone might look like.
Our first test example was run using the Speedtest.net iOS app on an iPhone 13 connected to Wi-Fi 5 over a gigabit fiber connection in a residential location.
Around 240 Mpbs to a single device is certainly not a terrible connection speed, of course. At this speed, there’s no amount of video streaming or mobile game updating you’ll be doing that will leave you saying “Ugh, why is that stupid phone so slow?” But it’s clearly not the speed you expect from a gigabit fiber optic connection. So if you were running this test right after installing gigabit fiber, you’d probably be a bit appalled.
We performed the same test, using the same iPhone 13, but connected to a Wi-Fi 6 hotspot on the same home internet connection.
Changing from a Wi-Fi 5 hotspot to a Wi-Fi 6 hotspot results in a significant increase in upload and download speed as the iPhone 13 can take advantage of the improvements offered by Wi-Fi 6. But he still does not accurately reflect the bandwidth of the Internet connection. You’d be happier with this test, but you’d probably be wondering why you’re paying for gigabit internet if you’re not getting it.
Here is the same test, performed with a desktop computer with Gigabit Ethernet using the Speedtest.net site, while connected to the same home network and Internet connection.
The speed test results here, around 945 Mbps, are more reflective of the kind of speed you expect from a gigabit fiber optic connection. Since we didn’t kick everyone off the local network to perform this test or run it in total isolation, we’re not concerned that it won’t be a perfect 1000/1000. Accounting for overhead and activity is pretty accurate.
If we had tested the same connection using a laptop’s Wi-Fi connection and then reconnected the laptop to the router via Ethernet to test again, you might expect to see the same results despite testing on the same device. Ethernet will consistently outperform Wi-Fi in any type of sustained speed test.
How do 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), what should you do?
Router Level Test
Remember a moment ago when we pointed out that a speed test actually tests the connection between the test device and the speed test server? Ideally, you should test your internet speed with a device connected as closely and efficiently as possible to the modem.
If you have a modern router with beefy internal hardware, chances are you can perform a speed test on the router itself by logging into the router’s control panel and running the test there. In terms of proximity and efficiency, it’s pretty hard to beat the test directly on the hardware that routes the internet connection to the rest of your network.
Testing 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 computer, or even a game console. Plug the device directly into your modem and perform the test that way. If you already have a setup in place with a network switch connected to your modem/router, you can always connect to that instead.
Assuming you’re not using a dusty old 10/100MB switch with your new fiber modem or running the test with a very old laptop with a 10/100MB port, that’s as good as to run the test on the router itself as long as your hardware is up to it.
Can’t do one or the other? Contact your ISP
If you don’t have a router that supports on-device testing and your household is all Wi-Fi without any Ethernet devices to test the router on, you’ll need to either borrow some equipment from a friend or contact your ISP.
You’ll also want to contact your ISP if you’re running the speed test with the correct hardware and the results aren’t what you expect, so they can help rule out any issues. It is possible that something is not configured correctly on their end.
In both situations (no test hardware or results indicating there is a problem) they can always send a technician to your home to hook a diagnostic tool up to the line and rule out any connection or hardware issues. on their side of the equation. .
If it turns out that the problem is actually 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.