Sometimes it can feel like our iPhones and iPads are the speediest computers on the planet, while other times they seem to mimic an old Macintosh LC520 with a 1200 baud dial-up modem. For those of you too young to remember the days of dial-up internet, that means our mobile devices can sometimes respond in a sloth-like manner, usually due to a slow Internet connection. Today, we’ll look at a simple and free way to test and troubleshoot Wi-Fi and Internet speed using an iPhone or iPad.
How to Test Internet Speed and What the Results Mean
One of the longtime benchmarks of internet speed has been Ookla’s Speedtest website, and the company created a mobile version of Speedtest for checking Wi-Fi or cellular data speeds. The Speedtest app is available on the App Store and is as easy to use as pushing a button (see image below).
Tap the big yellow “Begin Test” button, and the Speedtest app goes to work. It finds a test server for your iOS device to work with based on proximity and availability, runs a ping test (the amount of time it takes for a simple packet of data to go from your device to the server), and then tests both download and upload speeds in megabits per second (Mbps).
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Ping time is important, as it tests network latency. If you see lags while videoconferencing or playing multiplayer games, your network connection may be exhibiting latency issues. Normal ping times are under 8ms (milliseconds), and you’ll definitely notice latency if that number is over 150ms on a regular basis.
So what about the bandwidth numbers provided by Speedtest? They’re useful for comparison to the advertised numbers that you get from your internet service provider (ISP); if they’re consistently lower than advertised, it’s worth contacting your ISP to troubleshoot the issue and get what you’re paying for.
For any broadband data connection, whether over Wi-Fi or cellular data networks, anything below about 3Mbps is considered slow. HD streaming requires at least 5 to 8Mbps, and it’s worth having at least a 10Mbps connection to prevent dropouts in your viewing. 4K and UHD video downloads require at least 25Mbps of bandwidth.
Music streaming and web browsing aren’t as bandwidth-intensive as video streaming, so 3 to 5 Mbps in usually sufficient. Even a 1.5 Mbps cellular data connection can produce excellent audio from Apple Music and other streaming music services. As you can see from the test results shown in the image below, even a “three-bar” 4G connection can provide almost 3.6 Mbps.
Searching for Wi-Fi ‘Dead Zones’
Having Ookla Speedtest installed on an iPhone or iPad is useful for checking for Wi-Fi “dead zones” in the home and office. Unlike some of my friends who use mesh Wi-Fi routers to cover their entire homes with strong Wi-Fi signals, I use a single Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station that’s on the other side of the house and one floor below my home office. I wanted to know my computers were getting less bandwidth in their location as a result of having wiring, ductwork, and walls between them and the router.
To begin the test, I ran five Speedtest runs on my iPhone while standing within five feet of the AirPort Extreme (note, there’s nothing statistically special about the number of tests I ran. If you see a lot of variation, you’ll probably want to run more tests. If each run is similar, you’re probably good with five tests or so). The average of the runs for the tests was 125.52Mbps for downloads, 12.16Mbps for uploads (see image below).
In the office, my ping time was consistently 12ms, the average download speed was — remarkably — the same 125.52Mbps and the average upload speed was 12.26Mbps. This gives me assurance that I’m getting the best possible speeds from my AirPort Extreme despite my location in my home.
Some locations aren’t as good, of course. I checked an area of my house that always seems to have a somewhat weaker signal, and the upload and download speeds — although still quite good — were definitely lower: 85.7Mbps down, 12.18Mbps up. Those are still nothing to complain about.\
Troubleshooting a Slow Connection
Before you get on the phone to your ISP, consider that slow speeds might be due to your Mac, iPhone, or iPad. Even though it’s suggested so many times as a fix that it sounds like the punchline to a bad joke, start by rebooting the sluggish device. If that has no effect, try resetting the network connection.
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On an iOS device, this can be done by launching Settings, then selecting General > Reset > Reset Network Settings (see image at right). You’ll need to have your Wi-Fi password on hand to log back onto the network, so be sure you know it before you commit to the reset.
For a Mac, launch System Preferences, then click on the Network icon in the third row. Click on the Wi-Fi connection in the left sidebar of the Network pane, then click the minus sign ( – ) to remove that network device (see arrow in the image below). Next, you’ll need to add it back in. If you’re not familiar with how to add a Wi-Fi device to your list, select “Assist Me…” from the row of buttons at the bottom of the Network pane and the Network Setup Assistant will walk you through the process.
If all else fails, it may be time to call your ISP and find out if there’s an issue with the outdoor cabling, cable or ADSL modem, or other ISP-supplied equipment.