Fast downloads, uninterrupted streaming, and web browsing that doesn’t load pictures and text slower than molasses out of a jar. It doesn’t seem like much to ask for, but even in major cities with the headquarters of the biggest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the world, fast internet can be a challenge.
Is it because of the service itself? Is it your computer, or maybe the place you’re trying to download from? There could be any number of problems in the way, and sadly, you can’t do much about some issues. For problems you can’t fix, you can boost your performance with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) such as Surfshark (found here), or other similar tools.
To learn more, check out a few of these internet performance and VPN details.
What Does Fast Internet Really Mean?
Internet speed is all about getting a certain amount of data from one place to another in a decent amount of time. The meaning of decent is always changing; megabits per second, gigabits per second, and before long terabits per second will be demanded by not just major corporations or government offices, but heavy downloaders at home.
Gigabit internet is sweeping the world as the new standard. In theory, you should be able to download a gigabyte (1GB) of data in around a minute. As speeds become easier to purchase, people are more comfortable with letting their files get bigger as well.
If you download games from Steam or the Epic Games store, seeing games between 10-30GB isn’t rare. AAA, high-polish games often have over 100 GB of data, and that’s not including all of the patches. Speaking of patches, a lot of games have updates requiring fast downloads of bigger files, and if you want to stay up to date, you need fast internet.
But how much do you really need? Do you really want to pay the higher costs for gigabyte internet, or are you fine with a few hundred megabits per second? 100-500 Mbps internet tiers are out there for people who don’t mind waiting an hour while a big game downloads, since there are other things to do. That’s also fast enough for most people in 2020 who just need to download a few updates, stream high definition (HD) TV on one or two devices at the same time, or other average internet tasks.
Wanting internet and needing fast internet isn’t an argument that many people want to get into, but some tasks truly need gigabit internet. Businesses that regularly work with hundreds of gigabits for project files–art companies, big data departments of corporations, or scientific analysts–need that kind of speed because big, bulk, raw data needs to be sent in as pure form as possible.
Fast means whatever you’re comfortable with. There are many internet speed calculators out there that can measure the usual time it takes to download a file, which can help you figure out if you’re patient enough. While some people demand the highest, best, most expensive service out there, some people may be annoyed if they pay a lot of money for speeds they barely use per month.
That is, if the service performs properly.
Are You Getting What You Pay For?
Whether you need the speed or not, you should be getting the speeds advertised. When you purchase an internet plan, consider running an internet speed test at least once per week–if not daily–to make sure you’re getting the proper speed.
People who actually use their internet near max speeds will notice performance issues immediately. Downloading a file that seems to go slower than planned is usually as good as an internet speed test, but there are other factors that could cause problems. Your internet connection could be performing well, but the server you’re downloading from could be too slow. A proper speed test from Speedtest.net or Broadband Reports (also known as DSL Reports) can sort out the truth.
Every ISP has a different contract, but a good rule of thumb is to look for at least 70% of your promised speed. Yes, getting the entire speed is ideal and what most people will ask for, but most service contracts will state that your connection is best effort. Due to various factors from congested networks–too many users taking up too many resources–or system failure, you’re entitled to at least the amount listed in the contract as best effort.
Along with that best effort, your system needs to be able to access their speeds. A computer bogged down with viruses, spyware, a weak wi-fi signal, or other problems are not your ISP’s responsibility. They may be able to help you via technical support, or they may have a premium service that offers to fix your computer and network for you, but an ISP’s job is only to provide internet.
If your computer is running smoothly–or if multiple people in your household are experiencing the same problem, it’s time to make the ISP do what they promised. Gather documentation for speed reports, test your computer on other connections if possible, have outsiders or third party technicians test as well, then ask for repairs and compensation.
While most ISPs will have this stipulation listed, don’t assume. Look at your service contract, look for the speed promises, and take the issue up with your ISP or legal representation if you’re not getting what’s promised.
Stability Is Speed
One mistake that many internet customers make is thinking that a faster internet package will fix their problem. Some internet speed issues are caused by constant errors, network congestion (traffic jams for network data), or system failure. Before looking at higher speed packages or changing companies, it’s time to understand internet stability.
Think of stability as a percentage of success. Here’s an example of how connection stability looks to computers:
Your connection needs to throw 10 packages of data to make 1 whole delivery. That delivery could be a single, big download, streaming video from Netflix or Hulu, or a Zoom call.
For downloads, a failed package means having to send it again. If it takes a minute to send a package, dropping a package means adding another minute, since it has to send the whole package again. 10 packages with no dropped packages will take around 10 minutes. 1 dropped package will take 11 minutes, 5 dropped packages will take 15 minutes, and so on.
If you’re streaming video or on a Voice over IP (VOIP) call like Zoom, Skype, Facetime, or Discord, those packages can’t be resent. Your live conversation isn’t a boxed package that can be picked up and delivered again. Instead, calls will sound a bit robotic as pieces of audio data are lost. If you’ve ever seen green, blocky digitization on your TV or stream, that’s what it looks like when streaming video is lost.
With enough loss, the stream may stop completely until it has time to build enough video to be presentable (which includes a process called buffering). For calls, the call may go silent until the connection is stable, or the call may drop completely.
What can cause stability issues? It’s not your internet package. With a slow, basic connection, everything will simply take a longer amount of time. If the connection is healthy–that is, lacks excessive errors–your download won’t fail. It’ll just be delivered slowly. Streams, however, will buffer slowly if the connection is too slow to download minutes at a time for easy video and audio sharing.
In 2020, having at least 100Mbps is easy for many suburban and rural areas across the world. Unfortunately, both rural areas and deep, inner city areas may have old or damaged infrastructure. That means the cables and connections used to deliver internet may be weak to the point of disconnecting and losing your data.
If you’re over 100Mbps and still running into buffering, it’s time to take matters into your own hands. Using a VPN is one way to achieve stability, since it can create a smarter way to connect to the content you want.
When you use a VPN, you enter a private network that searches for secure, private paths to keep your information safe, secure, and secret. A byproduct of this process means having higher standards than many ISPs. Instead of jumping to bad or failing internet connection points, you’re using a private path that is more stable.
Another way of thinking about it is having private roads that only a few customers access. With less traffic and a traffic system that tests the traffic before you get there, you’ll be a bit more stable. If instability is slowing down your connection, a VPN will speed that up.
You can test VPN performance with services such as Surfshark, which will give you a guided tour of how VPNs work and what other benefits you gain through their service. It’s not just for boosting internet speeds; VPNs can protect you from hackers, make your purchases more secure when on public internet, or help you avoid shady parts of the internet as you dig deeper into what the digital world has to offer.
For more details on VPNs, internet performance, and general networking advice, contact a VPN expert.
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