Internet Speeds – WiFi and Wired, Why Speeds Vary, and ISPs and Their Tricks


I wrote this as an addition to a post I wrote years ago entitled “Why are my download speeds so slow”. Much has changed since then, so I updated the blog to include the information you are about to read. Someone told me that I should have this info in its own post as well as leaving it where I wrote it. I agreed.

Internet speeds vary by ISP, modems, routers, speeds you are paying for, bandwidth on your home network, ISP throttling, and more than anything, lack of knowledge by the consumer as to what they are paying for when they sign up for Internet service.

ISP Throttling

Throttling is the intentional slowing of your Internet speed by your Internet provider. They all dismiss the notion, yet they all do it. Particularly to limit your amount of bandwidth on certain days of the week (Saturdays and Sundays) and certain hours (during weekdays between 6pm and midnight roughly.) Further, if you and your 30 neighbors are all using Comcast, for example, you are all sharing the bandwidth, which your ISP splits up so everyone has some.

How Can I Test My Speed?

I have an iPhone app called Speedtest by OOKLA, which I believe is free and it is available for both iOS and Android. Download it and see what it shows. Run it at 2pm on a Tuesday or Thursday and again at 8pm. You’ll see the difference. Also, there are many sites that you can visit, which offer speed testing. I use on my PC and Speedtest on my phone. My PC is wired and my phone is WiFi. Guess which is faster? The wired of course. Both the phone/tablet app and the Web site enable you to keep a log of your upload and download speeds and they compare you to your city, your state, the country, etc., so you can see your speed as a percentage of the average person in your state, or whatever.

Understand What You are Paying For

You get what you pay for and signing up for Internet service is no different than any other service you pay for. If you’re on the $19.95/month plan, then your upload and download speeds are slow. If you’re on the $80/month plan, then your speeds are faster than the $19.95 plan – all the time. That is, even though your upload and download speeds still slow down during high-use days and times, it is still faster than the $19.95/month plan. Check with your ISP and ask them what speed you have, if you don’t know. And pay attention to the terminology that the ISPs use for speeds when talking to them and what they say on their commercials. “54 “meg” download for only $29.99″ sounds great until you understand that it’s not megabytes (Mb/s) they are talking about, which we are all used to hearing; they are talking about megabits (Mbps).

An Example and Explanation of Mbps versus Mb/s

Here’s an example. At this time, Century Link is offering “Connection speeds up to 40 Mbps in select areas” and if you are in one of the selected areas, Century Link (or whomever you choose to use) will tell you that you get 40 “meg” download, which is great! Right? Wrong, because again Mbps is megabits per second, not Mb/s, which is Megabytes per second. 

If you’re downloading a file that is 1 gigabyte (GB) at 40 Mbps it would take how long? Thinking Megabytes per second, which is what the Internet providers infer by using the term “meg” (“meg” has always meant megabyte in the tech world, so everyone is familiar with it) and there are 1000 megabytes in a GB, then it should take roughly 25 seconds to download the 1GB file! Woo hoo! That’s damn fast! But wait, you don’t have 40 megabytes per second. You have 40 megabits per second. So, how many megabits are in a megabyte? There are 8 megabits per megabyte, which makes your 40 “meg” download speed, more like 5 “meg” per second. Much slower download speed, isn’t it?  So, your file is 1GB (1000 megabytes) and your download speed is 5 megabytes per second, so your real download time for that 1GB file is 3.5 minutes (still faster than my original 2600 baud modem or the ultra fast 14.4 modem.) That is IF, IF, your speed is at 40Mbps.

The actual download speed is typically lower than what you bought. Read the fine print and it is actually “up to” 40Mbps. Figure at that speed minus bandwidth sharing, minus throttling, minus Xbox games online, minus your significant other on their iPad, you will probably have around 18 to 20 megabits per second download speed, if that, which is roughly 2 megabytes download speed. Right this second, my wife is watching something on Netflix via WiFi through our Xbox and my kids are each on their tablet or phone. My speed test app on my iPhone (WiFi of course) is, I’m not joking here, 2.25Mbps and my upload speed is 5.83Mbps. I use Comcast and my speeds I’m paying for are something like 70Mbps download speed. Now, the wired PC speeds: 45Mbps download and 6.5Mbps upload. My WiFi is super slow. So, if you can wire your Xbox or PS to the router instead of using WiFi, you will have much faster speeds. The ISPs don’t even advertise their upload speeds, only their “ultra-fast 40 “meg” download” speeds are advertised.

Call your ISP and ask them what the fastest download speed you can buy is and when they tell you “40 meg!” say “Is that 40 Megabytes per second or is that 40 Megabits per second.” Betcha they don’t know. But, now you do.

I hope this helps.