Earlier today, I saw an article on how Aptela (read Aptela reviews) used AppNeta's application performance management software to diagnose network connectivity problems.
Basically, Aptela found that, in certain cases, spotty call quality was caused not by their service but by the customer's internal Internet network.
After sending out AppNeta's APM product (called Pathview), Aptela was able to help its customers diagnose and improve their networks — and improve their experience with Aptela's phone system (you can read more details in the SearchCloudApplications article).
Interesting, thought I. And then I remembered an incident that occurred last week.
Many of you may be familiar with our VoIP speed test. It's a HTML5 test you can run to check out your Internet network connectivity and make sure your network is fast enough for VoIP).
Many visitors use our VoIP speed test to check their Internet connection speed, in general. You can also use our VoIP speed test to diagnose network problems.
What other Internet speed tests tell you:
Here's an example from speakeasy.net's Internet speed test.
29.50 mbps download! 6.46 mbps upload!
What our speedtester tells you:
Download speed of just 2.31 mbps! What the...? These tests were taken within 5 minutes of each other with no appreciable difference in Internet use in either case.
Last week, we had a customer call with a similar discrepancy: he was concerned that his Internet service provider was not providing him with enough bandwidth..
"I'm paying for 40 megabytes and only getting 2 with your speed test!" he wept into the phone. Okay, he didn't weep. But he was quite exasperated. "Can you help?"
Touched by the plight of my fellow man, I jumped into action — only to find that I was having the very same problem. A consistent upload speed and (comparatively) super-slow download speed -- especially compared to other speed tests.
Was our network shot? Was our speed tester broken? Could we diagnose my network's problem? What was going on?
The difference between our speed test and other speed tests
The reason that both I and weepy customer were getting low download speeds is something called "throughput."
Our speed test measures how quickly you can download and upload one set of data.
Basically, our VoIP speed test assumes you're trying to have a conversation with someone. Our VoIP test only measures one set of data at a time -- because a conversation doesn't make much sense if the words arrive out of order.
What the speakeasy's speed test checks is the maximum amount of bandwidth that you can sustain at anytime. It is not concerned with whether or not the data can be transmitted in order; it just making as many simultaneous connections as possible.
It would be like repeating the "Hello" at the beginning of the conversation as many times as possible. So, speakeasy's test will tell you how much Internet your connection can handle. Our speed test is useful for figuring out how much Internet your individual computer can use.
How you can use our speed test to diagnose network problems
- Run several tests
- Check the notes in red
- Ask for help
1. Run several tests
If you think you're having a problem with your network, run several tests. Your Internet use can fluctuate over time, whether you're on the phone, streaming music, or there are just a lot of people checking their email at once.
Save the contents of each test so that you can spot any trends and major fluctuations (you can do this by screenshot).
Does the connection speed increase at any time during the day? Are there any times that it decreases? Note: you're basically doing what AppNeta's product does, but not consistently. You're gathering data so you can look for trends. AppNeta's product just monitors your network connectivity all the time.
2. Check the notes in red
When you finish your test, you'll see the summary screen shown above.
You can also find more detailed diagnoses by checking the tabs on the left side of the screen and the detailed analysis options on the "Summary" page.
Important numbers to consider are:
- Consistency of Service: an average of download and upload consistency. Inconsistent service can be caused by the number of people using your current network and what they're using it for. It may also be caused by some bad network architecture from your service provider.
- RTT (Round Trip Time): the time it takes for your signal to be received and acknowledged by the server you're sending the signal to. High RTT can be caused by a bad router, a bad or long path choice (for instance, visiting a destination overseas) or bad network structure from your Internet service provider.
- Maximum route speed: this is the total bandwidth you can download. If this is lower than what you signed up for, run some more speedtests, with tests in various locations, and check with your ISP. This number should be similar between our speed test and other speed tests.
Any of the fields in red are bad. Yellow should concern you.
If you don't know what these fields mean, you should...
3. Ask for help
Technical support should be able to answer your questions by phone or over email (they called me). For instance, tech support was able to explain how our test was different than speakeasy's test (paraphrased above) and what we should work to improve (for us, we didn't really have any noticeable problems, just a bunch of people on the network at the same time).
I hope this will help you understand our speed test a little better — and to start using our speed test to gather data so you can start diagnosing your Internet network.