In the days where unlimited access doesn’t really mean you can download “all you can eat”, and Verizon and AT&T are at each other’s throats about 3G coverage, it pays to check up on your ISP to see if you really are getting what you’re paying for.
There’s a few ways you can check on your ISP. Speed tests, Ping tests, DNS tests, Shaping / Throttling tests to see if certain protocols (P2P, Voip, Skype, Torrents) are traffic shaped.
What about if you have a bandwidth cap? How can you meter your bandwidth to see if you’re approaching it? Its not just for DSL and Cable – 3G and other mobile data plans are usually capped with heavy overage charges.
Here’s what you can do to give your internet provider a checkup:
Speed tests are pretty simple, your browser downloads a certain size file and the testing applet calculates how fast you receive the data. Then you upload a file back and the applet measures the speed. Before testing, know your ISP’s limitations, specifically what is their minimum guarantee? What is normal, and what is considered good? For example, if you’re only guaranteed 3Mbps on a cable connection that can go up to 10Mbps – don’t call and complain if you’re getting 4Mbps instead of 10. If you’re getting under the guarantee, by all means get that looked at.
Note: Sometimes the servers are under heavy load. To get an accurate speed test, run it at least 3 or 4 times and use multiple servers.
To get a real picture of your speed, you can’t just run speed tests all day, every day. I’d recommend using the iStat Menus Network monitoring tool for getting a real-time accurate picture of your actual speed.
Ping tests are simple. You send out a message and calculate the time it takes to recieve the reply measured in milliseconds. Ping tests measure the responsiveness of your internet connection. The lower the milliseconds, the better. The speed test at Speedtest.net calculates ping for you.
If you want to manually run a ping test:
- Open Terminal and type: ping www.google.com
If you want more details, such as the route taken and response from each hop along the way:
- Open Terminal and type: traceroute www.google.com
Note: For security reasons, many sites and routers along the internet purposely don’t respond to Ping requests. If a site doesn’t ping but you can still visit it, that’s normal.
DNS Tests: (Not for beginners)
DNS is what humanises the web. Instead of typing in 184.108.40.206 into your browser, you type in www.yahoo.com. For DNS to work, you need a DNS server to translate the DNS Name to IP for your connection. These servers can be a source of internet slowness. Especially if they are busy or overloaded.
To test your DNS:
- Find the IPs of your ISPs DNS Server. You’ll have to log into your Router / AP for this unless you connect directly to the internet (bad, bad, bad).
- Download and install Namebench.
- Input your ISPs DNS information and run the test.
P2P / Voip Throttling and other Traffic Shaping Tests:
To test for Bit Torrent throttling, Voip / Skype throttling and traffic shaping on other protocols such as FTP or streaming media, head on over to MLab to download / run a bunch of different tools to test for traffic shaping and throttling. Many of the tools are OS X friendly. You don’t have to be an expert to use many of them.
If you have a bandwidth cap with your ISP, or use a 3G data plan, keep track of it by downloading Surplus Meter from Skoobysoft. This is a great way to keep from huge overage charges if you use a 3G or other Mobile modem with your Mac.