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Thinking that a state of the art router will make your wi-fi superfast ?
Not so fast buddy !!

Here's how fast your internet connection really is

By DONG NGO

Attaching just one computer to your home internet is the key to finding your broadband connection's true speed.

If you're experiencing slow internet speeds, run this test before calling your service provider and dealing with a potentially apoplectic situation.

 

It will tell you the top speed you can get at your home with the service you currently have and can help you determine if it's your connection that's the problem or a particular device you're using to connect to the internet.

1. Use a computer (desktop or a laptop) that has a Gigabit network port. Not sure if yours has one? Here's how to find out. Note that you'll need a network cable to conduct this test

2. Make sure the test computer is the only one currently using the internet:

If you have a modem and a router, unplug the router from the modem and using a network cable, plug the computer directly into the modem's network port.
 

If you have a modem/router combo, make sure the computer you're testing with is the only one plugged into the device's LAN port. Also, you should disable Wi-Fi on the modem or router/modem, at least for the duration of the test.

 

You can do this by logging into the device's web interface. Some devices have a hardware switch to turn off Wi-Fi, too.
 

3. Next, from the computer, go to speedtest.net and click "Begin Test."  Repeat 3 or 4 times The highest score you receive is what your real internet speed is.

Keep in mind however, that your broadband speed fluctuates all the time. This is because the test signal does not travel directly from the test server to your home; there are pit stops it makes along the way. Depending on where the signal stops, it can be slowed down a little or a lot. On top of that, at any given time a test server might be accessed by multiple users trying to do the same test. This may adversely affect your results as well.

Note that the speeds you get from the test are best-case scenario. When you do an actual internet-related task, such as streaming or surfing the web, the performance will also depend on the servers of all parties involved (your service provider, the service you're streaming from, etc.). These servers may or may not be capable of delivering your content as fast as your device is capable of receiving it.

Gordon KellySenior Contributor 
Consumer Tech
(abridged)

I’ll start with the good news: chipsets featuring 802.11ac are fully backwards compatible with previous WiFi standards. 

 

This means it works perfectly with 802.11a (introduced in 1999), 802.11b (2000), 802.11g (2003) and 802.11n (2007). The bad news is you will be limited to the performance of the older standard and will only get the full benefits of ‘Wireless AC’ or ‘AC WiFi’, as it is also known, if you are connecting from 802.11ac to 802.11ac. That means an 802.11ac router and an 802.11ac device.

So that out the way, what are the benefits?

802.aac theoretical speeds versus 802.11n and 802.11g - image credit Asus

WiFi is always promoted using ‘theoretical’ speeds and by this standard 802.11ac is capable of 1300 megabits per second (Mbps) which is the equivalent of 162.5 megabytes per second (MBps). This is 3x faster than the typical 450Mbps speed attributed to 802.11n.

The problem is these speeds are garbage. In the real world no-one ever gets close to theoretical speeds and the fastest 802.11ac real world speeds recorded in testing are around 720Mbps (90MBps). By contrast 802.11n tops out at about 240Mbps (30MBps) so the 3x estimate is still true, just much lower. 

 

But there is one more crucial part to understand for your real world experience: antennas. Long term 802.11ac has the headroom to support up to eight antennas each running at over 400Mbps each, but the fastest router to date only has four antennas. The reason is because antennas add cost and take up space and the smaller the device the less antennas they can fit so it becomes pointless adding more to a router. Typically:

Smartphones: 1 antenna

USB Adaptors: 1 or 2 antennas

Tablets: 2 antennas

Laptops: 2 antennas (occasionally 3 on desktop replacements)

Desktops: 3 or 4 antennas (PCI Express EXPR +0% cards)

This is another bottleneck. If your glorious four antenna 802.11ac router is connecting to your single antenna 802.11ac smartphone then 400Mbps (50MBps) is your theoretical maximum and 200Mbps (25MBps) is the more realistic one.

Furthermore 802.11n only supports up to four antennas at roughly 100Mbps (12.5MBps) each so when you do the maths for devices using 802.11n antennas the gap begins to widen. Especially when it comes to the next big benefit of 802.11ac

802.11ac vs 802.11n Range

So AC WiFi is much faster, but its peak speeds are not really the selling point. It’s speeds at long range are.

First the bad news: 802.11ac WiFi doesn’t really reach any further than 802.11n WiFi. In fact 802.11ac uses the 5GHz band while 802.11n uses 5GHz and 2.4GHz. Higher bands are faster but lower bands travel further.

 

That said my experience testing both standards finds very little difference in signal strength between 802.11ac over 5GHz and 802.11n over 5GHz and 2.4GHz.

 

Why? Firstly because 2.4GHz is used for everything from cordless home phones to microwaves and 5GHz remains relatively interference free for a cleaner signal.

 

The second key factor is ‘Beamforming’. Typically wireless signal is simply thrown out from your router equally in all directions, like ripples when throwing a stone into a pond. This is why you should place your router as close to the centre of your home or office and as high up as possible.

 

Beamforming is different. It is built into the 802.11ac specification and is ‘smart signal’ which detects where connected devices are and increases signal strength specifically in their direction. Yes it is still a good idea to position your router centrally, but it helps make it less vital.

All this means the performance of 802.11ac is maintained far better at long range than 802.11n. Peak performance may be tripled, but at range 5-10x the speed benefits are not unusual and this is where 802.11ac comes into its own. Some numbers for example


802.11ac at one metre: 90MBps,-------> 10 metres: 70MBps and at ------->  20 metres behind two solid walls: 50MBps

802.11n at one metre: 30MBps, ------->  10 metres: 20MBps and at ------->  20 metres behind two solid walls: 5-10MBps

 

Technology is a wonderful thing. 12 months ago 802.11ac equipment was hard to find and extremely expensive. Now it is built into every premium smartphone, tablet, laptop and smart TV and is increasingly found in midrange devices as well.

The reason for this is threefold. Firstly there are obvious performance benefits, particularly for single antenna devices like smartphones. Secondly it is more battery efficient because WiFi needs to be active for less time when data transfers can complete more quickly. Thirdly with proliferation comes scales of economy which bring down the price.

 

One caveat: make sure you find officially certified devices (using the official WiFi logo). Some devices are still use ‘Draft’ 802.11ac and while they tend to work fine and should eventually update, it isn’t guaranteed.

When it comes to pricing most devices you buy have already integrated 802.11ac so you won’t be consciously paying more for it.

 

Where there is still a jump in price, however, is routers. Wireless AC routers still tend to have a 20-50% premium (depending on model), but as ageing routers risk becoming the speed and range bottleneck for every Internet connected item in your home these much neglected devices are worth a little more investment