What Determines Internet Speed?

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Internet speed has greatly increased since the world wide web's inception.
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With streaming video, online gaming and videoconferencing being necessities of the modern-day internet, it's no surprise that people are becoming increasingly interested in connection speed. If you've performed an online speed test and found that your internet connection isn't as robust as you want it to be, several different factors could be affecting your internet speed. In general, while many factors could be responsible, the type of internet connection you have, your router, and the level of internet traffic at different times all affect the speed more than anything else.


Types of Connection and Speed

If you're old enough to remember dial-up internet, you know that the type of connection you have has a huge affect on your speed. Fiber connections give you the fastest internet connection, but the fiber optic cables it requires aren't available everywhere. Cable internet works through the same cables that transmit cable TV signals and is the next quickest type of connection.

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Among the slower options, digital subscriber line (DSL) connections operate through a connection that resembles a phone wire, but it is modified to support broadband and offer fast connection speeds. Satellite internet is about as fast as DSL, although it can have issues with latency. As the name suggests, it's transmitted wirelessly to the receiver via satellite. Although the type of internet you have affects the speed, it's likely only a limited number of options are available in your area.


Bandwidth and Internet Speed

Bandwidth tells you the maximum speed you can get from your internet provider, but it doesn't mean you get that speed all the time. If a company advertises "up to 8 Mbps," it means that the connection you have can support an internet speed of up to 8 megabits (not bytes, 1 byte = 8 bits) per second in ideal circumstances. The only way to change this is to switch providers or change your type of internet connection.

Your Router Affects Connection Speed

Your router is responsible for managing the internet connection to all the different devices on your home network, literally "routing" the connection to different devices. At the same time, the modem connects your home network to the internet itself. These terms are used interchangeably, but this makes sense because a router and modem are often contained in the same device. Regardless, the quality of your router and modem can have a significant effect on your connection. Most combination devices provided by internet service providers are suitable for general use, but if you have a lot of devices or intensive demands, it may be worth investing in a better quality one.


Your Connection to Your Router

Another important factor is the quality of the connection from your device to your router. If your router is too far away from your device, it causes a bottleneck in your connection speed. For the best performance, minimize the number of barriers between your router and your device, particularly walls, large appliances made of metal, and fish tanks containing water.

Overall Internet Traffic Affects Speed

When a lot of people are online, the connection speed usually goes down. In most cases, you won't notice a difference because of this, but at peak times, such as when people are getting home from work, there can be noticeable drops in speed. You can also see this happen if you conduct internet speed tests at different times of the day.


The Distance to the Server

The connection from your home has to travel to a local server to connect to the wider internet. The physical distance between your home or wherever you're trying to connect and the server can have a substantial effect on your speeds. Unfortunately, there is understandably little you can do about this, short of moving. Your provider can improve the situation in a few ways, but as a consumer, you're pretty much stuck.