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Internet Speed: Downloading and uploading data on the Internet

Last Edit: 11/05/17

When people refer to 'Internet Speed', they are usually referring to the speed of their Internet connection. The speed of an Internet connection is usually categorised by it's:

  1. Latency
  2. Download speed
  3. Upload speed

Latency: A ping test is an online utility that uses the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) to send a Echo Request packet on a IP computer network. The echo request (ping) can be sent to any online server/host, the time is takes for a Echo Reply is measured in milliseconds (ms) and is referred to as the latency of an Internet connection. The lower the latency - in milliseconds (ms) - the better. The latency of an Internet connection signifies the quality of the connection, and is vital for some online services: such as online gaming. What number is low latency? 0-50 ms (excellent), 51-100 (good), 101-200 (average), 200-500 (poor), and 500+ (slow). It is possible to have good latency (below 50 ms) and a bad download / upload speed: this is because latency refers to the quality of an Internet connection and not the bandwidth of it; that said good latency and a good download speed usually go 'hand in hand'. Ping utility tools can be found online and are also packaged in most operating systems and online games.

Download and Upload: The download speed of an Internet connection is the speed it takes to receive data from the Internet and the upload speed is the time it takes to send data to the Internet. The download and upload speed of an Internet connection is measured in bits, but is it usually referred to as: kbit/s (kilobit per second), mbit/s (megabit per second), gbit/s (gigabit per second), and tbit/s (terabit per second). Typically, Internet Service Providers advertise their download/upload speed in the non-standard abbreviation 'mbps', but it has the same meaning as mbit/s (megabit per second); both abbreviations accurately indicate the download/upload speed over time. The download / upload speed of an Internet connection relies on it's network bandwidth capacity: which depends on the hardware of the computer network: fibre optic networks provide the highest bandwidth, dialup networks provide the lowest bandwidth, copper line dsl networks provide medium bandwidth. The potential bandwidth a user can take advantage of is influenced by: the distance a user is from the telephone exchange; the amount of users simultaneously using the network; the low/heavy usage of the network users; and the users own network hardware (router etc). The download speed of an Internet connection is usually faster than the upload speed of an Internet connection. This is probably because end users download more data than they upload; an example of downloading data includes viewing video streams and an example of uploading data includes a two-way video chat on Skype.

Conclusion: Internet Speed is continually improving, and the UK government has initiated a 'superfast broadband' (speeds of 24Mbps or more) promise that will soon cover at least 95% of UK premises (Department for Culture, Media and Sport). Internet Speed is currently higher in UK urban areas: which have been the first to receive access to fiber optic networks. Many rural areas in the UK still have substandard Internet latency, download and upload speed: above 200ms and below 2mbps. This is due to a lack of access to fibre optic networks and the distance the users are from their telephone exchange: copper line dsl network connections degrade in quality over distance far more than fibre optic networks.