How to check on your Internet connection

How to check on your Internet connection

Summary: Having trouble with your Internet connection? Here's how to find out what's really going on with your network.

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How to check your Internet with Speedtest

Check your Internet with Speedtest

If there's someone on the planet who hasn't had trouble with their Internet connection at one time or the other I don't know who it is. So, if you're having trouble with your network connection, here are some simple tricks to find out what's what with your Internet and maybe even fix it.

Check your local network

First things first, if your Internet connection is as dead as a doornail, check your network cabling. It may seem dumb, but I can't begin to count the number of times what appeared to be a major network problem just turned out to be an unplugged network connection.

This isn't just for people who are using Cat-5 cable to hook your their networks. If your Wi-Fi Access Point (AP) or cable or DSL modem have had their power cords unplugged you're not going to connect with anything. My all time favorite failure of this sort was when a friend called with a dead network connection and it turned out the problem was he'd unplugged the AP while vacuuming and he forget to plug it back in. You should always look for the simple answers first.

Continuing to look for simple answers, if your Wi-Fi connection isn't working, check to make sure that your PC is actually trying to connect to the right AP. If your device is actually trying to hook up to your neighbor's AP you're not going to get anywhere. Also remember that if you change your AP's user authentication password, you'll need to change it on all your devices as well. I've seen people often end up getting ticked off for hours before they recall that they hadn't used a particular laptop in a couple of weeks and that in the meantime they'd changed their password.

So, what if everything is powered up and hooked together but you're still not able to get to the Internet. Well, check all the basics again. I've found over the years that the odds are you've still forgotten something really simple. Lord knows I have!

Everything looks right but you still can't get to the net? Check to see if you can connect to your AP. Most APs have a Web-based administration panel. If you can get to it, it's finally time to stop looking for local area network (LAN) problems and look to your Internet connection itself.

Checking the Internet

The next step is to see what's what with your Internet connection. I could tell you a lot of fancy things to try, but I'll make this really simple. Unplug your cable or DSL modem, whatever, wait for half-a-minute and then plug it back in. If you call your ISP, chances are ninety-nine times out of one hundred they'll you to the same thing.

Then, if you're still not on the net, you might as well grit your teeth and call your ISP. This is usually a pointless exercise, but every now and again you can get useful information. For example, it's not just you but a whole neighborhood that's having problems because a back-hoe took out a cable. And, once in a blue moon, they'll actually have a helpful suggestion. No! Really! I've seen it happen!

Let's say though that your Internet is up and running, but it's being a little flaky. Here's what you do. First, let's see if you're actually getting the bandwidth you're paying for. The best site to check on your current real speed is Speedtest. This site is run by Ookla, a network performance company. If you want to know what's really going on with your LAN, wide-area network (WAN), or virtual private network (VPN) I highly recommend their programs.

For just checking out what's what with your Internet connection, their main service is free. The Speedtest site will tell you what your ping is-the time it takes from a single packet from your network to hit a host site-and your download and upload speeds. What you want is a low ping number, less than 10ms (milliseconds) is good, and high download and upload speeds. So, let's presume it's not as fast as you were promised. Welcome to the real world. ISPs usually over-promise and under-deliver on bandwidth.

Even if you have a low ping and your bandwidth looks good your connection may still not be that good. That's because ping and bandwidth only tell part of the story. You may be losing packets or suffering from jitter. To check for these problems, use Pingtest.net. The Measurement Lab's Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) can also be used for this.

A good Pingtest result

A decent Pingtest result

Packet loss is just what it sounds like. Your PC is sending out packets of information to some site on the Internet... and they're not getting there. Lots of things can cause packet loss: interference, overburdened network hardware, or a bad connection.

The Internet being what it is, you'll usually see a little packet loss. Ideally, you want zero packet loss, but for ordinary Internet usage you can with 1 or 2% loss. But, if you're video-conferencing, making Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls, or playing real-time online games like World of Warcraft, then any packet loss is painful. If you're doing any of those, or seeing higher packet losses, bug your ISP.

Jitter, or more precisely Packet Delay Variation, is the difference between computer to computer delays over the network. So, for example, if you ping a site once, and it takes 1ms to report back in and then the next ping packet takes 10ms to report in, you have a lot of jitter. In short, the more jitter you have, the less stable your connection is. With older programs like e-mail and ordinary Web browsers you may never notice that your Internet is less than rock stable, but with high jitter, video, VoIP, and games will once more start misbehaving.

If the packet loss or jitter seems to be coming from inside your own network, check your connections yet again and try switching out equipment on your network to see if something on your LAN is being noisy. You can also try using the Measurement Lab's NPAD (Network Path and Application Diagnosis. The Measurement Lab says that it "prescribes corrective actions with instructions suitable for non-experts" for any problems it finds. That's not quite right. You really need to know your way around a network to get much good out of it. Still, even if you're not a network pro, it's worth trying.

Still can't find the problem? It's time to get call in a network technician to find and fix it. Anyone with a Network+ certification should do. If you know your way around a network, you can find the trouble yourself with the use of tools like WireShark.

If your connection isn't delivering the promised goods, don't jump to the conclusion that you're being ripped off. Double-check your connection. Yes, check the cables one more time. Then, try it again. Still going slow? Then, connect the PC you're using for testing directly to your modem, and try again. If your connection is now up to speed then you can safely assume you have some sort of slowdown on your LAN. If that's the case it's time to look for a technician or move to levels of network troubleshooting well beyond anything I'll be covering here today.

Page 2: [Checking your ISP] »

Checking your ISP

Let's say your Internet connection is still slow. Well, there are several other factors to continue. First, you may be doing it to yourself. For example, if you're downloading a movie from a BitTorrent site or watching a Netflix video you're already using a lot of your bandwidth.

There are also times that the Internet is slower than others. For example, thanks to the rise of Netflix on the Internet, weekday evenings most ISP connections are being strained by video delivery. Since ISPs haven't, for the most part, been building out their infrastructure to meet the demand you can expect to see prime-time slow downs increasing.

You can find out if your connection is actually capable of delivering the speed you've been sold by using the Pathload2 bandwidth program from Measurement Lab. If it turns out your connection can't actually deliver the bandwidth goods, I've talk to them about a refund or, if they're not co-operative, take it up with your Better Business Bureau.

But, there may be something else going on that's throttling your speed. Your ISP may be deliberately handicapping your bandwidth. ISPs, especially US ones, are capping your bandwidth. These caps can range from 1GB (Gigabyte) of traffic in a month to up to 250GBs. As networking expert and writer Glenn Fleishman wrote in the summer of 2011, "more than half of U.S. home broadband subscribers now have some kind of cap." Yack!

250GBs may sound like a lot and it is. It's 50 million emails (at 0.05 KB/email); 62,500 songs downloads (at 4 MB/song) or 125 standard-definition (SD) movies (at 2 GB/movie). But, once you start watching HD video, or have several family members using the net, or you're constantly working on the net it's really not that much.

Each ISP handles this in a different way. Some firms, like AT&T, charge for usage above a set amount. Others, like Comcast, with its 250 GB monthly limit, give you a warning the first time you exceed your limit, and then can cancel your service if you do it again. Some services start slowing down your service if there's a lot of demand on their part of the Internet or if you're close to your limit.

This is the result you want to see from your DiffProbe

A good DiffProbe result

To see if this is happening to you, use the ShaperProbe aka DIffProbe test. At this time, there are versions of this available for Windows XP, Mac OS X, and Linux. Sorry, there's currently no Windows 7 version.

In addition, ISPs are slowing down specific services such as video and BitTorrent. To find out if that's what happening to you, you need to use the Glasnost tests. This is a set of Web-based tests that try to find out whether your ISP is cutting down your traffic with application-specific traffic shaping. Currently, you can test if your ISP is throttling or blocking email, HTTP or SSH transfer, Flash video, and peer-to-peer apps such as BitTorrent, eMule and Gnutella. Each test will take about 8 minutes to run.

If it turns out your problem has been that you ISP has you on a strict bandwidth diet or is mucking with your use of an Internet service you use all the time, it's time to find a new ISP. That's a business problem and not a technical one so I can't help you on that one. Good luck!

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Topics: Browser, Networking, Telcos

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19 comments
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  • RE: How to check on your Internet connection

    I have Verizon Fios 50/20mbps and Verizon dosent throttle a single bit out of my connection but thanks for the tips maybe my friends can use this sometimes...
    Viper589
    • Flaky intermittent connections are hard to prove to your ISP!

      When your connection is going up and down all the time, just one test doesn't help much. A program like Net Uptime Monitor will test continuously and make a log that you can show to your ISP to document the problem.
      dibaz
  • Finally! SJV has his MOJO!!!

    Man, SJV - everybody knows you're a smart guy, and I am admitingly not. But I do follow ZDNet everyday and I have been typically skipping over the majority of your articles because in at the end, most of them tie back to focusing on simply bashing MS and uplifting Linux- which is fine to a point. This article is GREAT for a vast majority of people. Point is, mix it up here and there and let some of that expansive knowledge yours spill beyond just the Linux march. Who knows? More people may start to again read all your pro-Linux arguments because they learn to fully appreciate its' foundation - a comprehensive understanding of computing tech. Cheerio!
    WishyWashyWannabe
  • Sometimes the simpliest is overlooked

    Sometimes, people have to check out the telephone cord coming out of the wall to ensure it is plugged in and the wire is not bent, broken or has been chewed by the dog.

    the next thing to check out are the dsl filters. they usually last for a year or two, if that long.

    perhaps, the easier method to check out both of the above is to pick up the telephone connected to the dsl filter.

    basically, if there is noise on the line or nothing at all, then its probably time to changed out the telephone cord or dsl filter.
    databaseben
  • Then there was the person in our office...

    ... who had unplugged the proxy server so that she could plug a fan in instead.
    Zogg
  • And sometimes the problem is the DNS.

    If web pages are taking ages to load, it might not be a bandwidth problem at all. Your DNS server might just be struggling to look up all the IP addresses from all of the ****ing adverts on the page.<br><br>I have noticed that some ISPs' DNS servers struggle <i>a lot</i> with this.
    Zogg
  • RE: How to check on your Internet connection

    Check your grammar much? This article was painful to read with missing/extra words.

    On the other hand, my internet connection 'breaks' a couple of times a night. Then I do the power off/power on thing for the cable modem and the wi-fi. I will try some of these suggestions to try and see if it's me or my ISP.
    blothe@...
    • RE: How to check on your Internet connection

      @blothe@...

      It sounds like you and I have the same ISP. Every time the net goes down, I pull up my DSL modem's page and sure enough, I get to watch the connection speed go from up/down rate to no DSL connection to a different up/down rate and back and forth for a good hour or two. Of course, I'm a captive audience as there is no other game in town for high-speed internet. They always tell me there's nothing wrong, but I've got the summary logs that prove otherwise.
      reziol
  • admittedly a dumb question

    "...If the packet loss or jitter seems to be coming from inside your own network, check your connections yet again and try switching out equipment on your network to see if something on your LAN is being noisy..."

    How do you test/determine if the problem is inside the network?

    Is there a way to test LAN equipment to at least narrow down which piece of equipment might be causing the problem? If not, would we power down each piece of equipment one by one until we find the offending hardware? And if the connection issues are intermittent, what then?
    jrhalli89
  • RE: How to check on your Internet connection

    On my home network I get a limited connectivity message once or twice a session. It will always come back immediately if I unplug and replug cable modem and router. Problem is it is located in somebody's bedroom and they may be sleeping. Machine is in basement, Modem and router is main floor with wiring inside the walls running to the basement. If I do nothing it will eventually comeback within an hour or so. Running diagnose and repair sometimes brings it back as uninstalling the driver and restarting the machine forcing windows Vista to reinstall the driver. It can get "limited connectivity" while running any program. In gmail if a youtube poster has replied to a comment I made, if I click on the hyperlink to go to the comment page I will always get limited connectivity message. Off hand the problem could be located in any of these places Windows Vista software, My network card, the wiring, the router, the cable modem. Out of these possible what is the more likely source less likely etc?
    edkollin
  • RE: How to check on your Internet connection

    Classic internal Dell legend:
    A customer's server in London rebooted intermittently.
    It was eventually correlated with Royal Navy warships coming up the Thames...................(emi)
    Steve__Jobs
  • And then I checked my hardware compatability

    and found that my N-router was not rated as Windows-7 compatabile. Bought a new one, and everything works much smoother now.
    genedigger@...
  • RE: How to check on your Internet connection

    This is very helpful. Lots of tools I didn't know about. One tool on windows systems that I turn to first when the inet disappears is ipconfig. ipconfig/all will give you a synopsis of your ip internet connectivity. Sometimes specialized isp servers such as dns or dhcp have gone wonky. An ipconfig/release followed by an ipconfig/renew can sometimes get things going again. Often the ipconfig/all info can be helpful when talking to your isp, if you call them.
    eboyhan
  • RE: How to check on your Internet connection

    Over the past 7 yrs I never had a DSL filter break - in fact my only personal issues have been with the ISP server - never had any issues on my end. Not that it is unlikely to have any; just that my experience is as unique as anyone elses. In fact, I recently had a somewhat frustrating experience where I was connected, and even trading packets with the ISP server, but the server had a connection problem, or possibly a DNS lookup corruption issue. The biggest problem was convincing the ISP that the problem was on their end. They kept wanting to test my line, again & again. Lesson is to persist until the issue is resolved, and do not let the help line "get back to you later" or you are likely to be sitting idle for hours.
    Willnott
  • I know who it is

    [i]"If there???s someone on the planet who hasn???t had trouble with their Internet connection at one time or the other I don???t know who it is."[/i]

    If the scope is as large as the global population, then I know who it is: the billions of people, probably still the majority, who don't know what the Internet is, who have never seen a computer or any other kind of Internet-connected device, never will and would have no use for it.

    While at first one thinks of poor illiterate peasants in places like Bhutan, Vanuatu or Burkina Faso, or people in oppressive countries with rigidly controlled communications such as North Korea, many such people can be found even in the U.S., among elderly people, among the destitute, in Native reservations, in isolated rural communities, and so on.

    If the Internet were to be completely destroyed today by some major cataclism, modern life as we know it would be over, but humankind would still survive, just as we have done for the last tens of thousands of years.
    goyta
  • RE: How to check on your Internet connection

    One of the more practical info articles I've seen on ZDNet in quite some time. Some very useful links.
    You should consider having this article archived/available for download (after correcting the typos/missing words) over on sibling site TechRepublic.
    KenTankerous
  • RE: How to check your Internet connection

    This article was very thorough, albeit a little too lengthy. For comparison here's an article I found very helpful that is more concise (http://www.geektek.com/how-to-check-your-internet-connection/) Cheers!
    kilorico
  • Yes when connected to AP directly it speeds up, So what is ur advice

    Hello, sir

    You were right once you said that when connected directly to the modem or AP it is speeded up and work so fine. So what are the next steps to follow if that is the case, as you already said that it is beyond the scope of this article.

    Thanks sir
    Taher Bahashwan
  • Checking Internet Speed

    I think that all of the Internet Speed Test
    Website use the same system which it simple download and upload a little file , Well I think that that internet speed have more factors to be considered like ping , Download speed , ....
    Mohamed Elloumi