How to Calculate Bandwidth

by Cheryl A. Frost

Network bandwidth is the amount of data per second that travels between computers through a network. The Internet connection you pay for from your service provider includes a limited rate of speed to download and upload data. If you find it seems to take unusually long to upload a file or stream a video, use one of a number of tools to confirm the speed of your Internet connection.

Online Bandwidth Tests

The easiest way to check your bandwidth is by using one of the available online tools. The Bandwidth Place website has a very simple tool that will check your IP address, service provider and your current bandwidth speeds for uploading and downloading data. They also have a feature that lists all service providers in your area with a comparison of price and available bandwidth. Ookla’s Speed Test offers a similar tool; after you check your bandwidth, you can then compare the results to the rest of the world to determine whether your connection is up to par. Whatismyipaddress.com is a site that is commonly used to ping a person's own IP address, but it also has a bandwidth calculator and a lot of other useful information about Internet connections.

Ping Tests

Ping tests are similar to bandwidth test, but rather than just measuring speed, they test and rate your Internet connection’s overall performance. Ping Test is another Ookla service that tests the quality of your Internet connection. It does this by first testing how long it takes to “ping” your computer from another server. In other words, the other server says hello and your computer responds. Next, Ping Test calculates jitter, which is a margin of error between multiple ping tests. Lastly, Ping Test measures packet loss, an issue that may cause audio loss, game lag, and video stream freezing. The packet loss results should always return 0. When the ping test is complete, the tool will provide a letter grade for the performance quality of your connection. If you would rather not trust an online service to test your connection, you can do it from your own computer. Open a command prompt and type “ping 127.0.0.1” to test the performance of your network card. The results should indicate a latency of less than a couple hundred milliseconds and zero packet loss.

Internal Bandwidth Issues

If you are receiving quality Internet service and your network ping results are good, you may wonder why a certain online task is taking so long. It could be that someone else in your household is using a lot of bandwidth. Multiple computers streaming video on the same network can drastically bog down a connection. Online game playing can also slow the network, especially if it is a graphically intense game and multiple people in your household are playing. If no one else is on the network, take a look at your own activities. How many online tasks are you trying to perform? Each task must share bandwidth. File size is another issue. If you are downloading a large file, it may take a while. If you are uploading a large file, it could take a very long time, because upload speeds are usually significantly slower than download speeds. Firewalls, virus protection, browser add-ons and extensions can also cause bandwidth constraints.

External Bandwidth Issues

Sometimes, Internet performance problems have nothing to do with your computer. If a website is hosted on a server that does not have enough bandwidth to handle its incoming traffic, all tasks performed on that site will be slow. If you normally have excellent Internet speed and suddenly one day it’s slow on all sites, check if your service provider is performing a system update or if they are servicing the cables on your street. If not, ask them to come out and check your equipment for defects.

Unauthorized Users

If everything is functioning properly and your connection is still bogged down, you may have an intrusion. Open the Network and Sharing menu in Windows Control Panel and then click “View computers and devices.” If there is a device on this list that you don’t recognize, an unauthorized user may have gotten access to your network; you should disconnect your router and reset your network password. Even if there is no unknown device, run a virus and spyware scan to determine if your computer is infected.

About the Author

Cheryl A. Frost earned a Bachelor of Arts in writing and linguistics from Georgia Southern University with a focus on technical communications. She has served as a technical writer for 10 years, specializing in IT infrastructure, security and networking. Her recreational interests include robotics, computer programming, and general technology.

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