All About Speedtests

Interpreting Speed Test Results and Which Company is Responsible for What

The internet is a chain of connected circuits, each owned by one of a group of companies, an organization similar to the State Highway System (SHS) (not the Interstate which is owned by a single entity, the US Government).  The SHS is owned by each of the 50 states, each responsible for their own roads.  The Internet is similarly organized.  At one end, you have the servers that you are trying to access, such as Amazon, NBC News, Google, Yahoo, your Email Server, and your gaming servers.  They are connected to the Internet by relatively small circuits (pipes) provided by a local or regional provider (analogous to the SHS).  Those circuits are collected at regional aggregation points and the traffic is the funneled onto very large transcontinental or at least Trans-Multple-State (TMS) circuits that interconnect the aggregation points. Eventually, traffic arrives at the other end, at a regional aggregation point to which your ISP is connected. In AireBeam’s case, this is the IO Data Center in Phoenix, where every major provider of transcontinental and trans-multiple-state circuits has a presence.  AireBeam has four (4) fiber circuits, each taking its own route and owned by a different carrier, that connect our Network Head Ends in Casa Grande and Buckeye, AZ to the IO Data Center.

AireBeam’s Network

Once the traffic hits AireBeam’s head end, it departs Casa Grande on a gigabit FCC Licensed microwave network to 11-Mile Corner, Coolidge, South Florence and Florence Gardens to the North, Eloy Airport, Picacho to the South East, East Casa Grande, Arizona City and Silverbell to the South, West Casa Grande, Stanfield and Maricopa to the West and over smaller circuits to 11 points in within Casa Grande.  In Buckeye, traffic departs West on a gigabit FCC licensed circuit to a mountain (extinct volcanic cone) in Wintersburg, just north of the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant and from there to each of the Tonopah Valley towers, and East to towers throughout Buckeye.  Consumer connections are built from the roof of the consumer’s house to the nearest Network Connection point on that network.

What does your ISP provide?

Your ISP, AireBeam, provides a PIPE consisting of microwave radio and fiber links from your home to our Internet hand-off at the IO Data Center in Phoenix.  We do not provide content. The best analogy is that what we provide is equivalent to the electrical cable, the natural gas line and/or the water pipe that enters your home.  If the Electric Company has an outage or runs out of energy, your lights either go out or go dim.  If the natural gas company stops pumping gas (as it did in New Mexico in 2012), the pilot goes out, and if there is a water shortage, the water coming out of your faucet slows down to a trickle or stops.  However, in none of these cases did your utility service(s) diminish because the “pipe” to your house had insufficient capacity or was broken.

Under most conditions, the situation is the same with your ISP, AireBeam.  We build and continuously maintain, expand and test our network, all the way to the transceiver on your home, to assure that the “pipeline” is operating and that it has the capacity to deliver the content that you access at the speed that you have purchased, if and only if:

  • The provider of the content can push that content to you at the speed that you have ordered (while also pushing it to all of the other users accessing their server(s) at the speeds that they have ordered);
  • There are no incidents of traffic congestion along the route that your traffic has to flow, including AireBeam’s part of that pipeline;
  • Your home network is capable of delivering the traffic to your devices at the speed that you have purchased and finally
  • Your device is operating correctly and is capable of receiving and transmitting (pushing) return (upload) traffic at the speeds that you have purchased.

Speed is Capacity, not a Speed Guarantee

All ISPs including names that should be familiar to you like Cox, Century Link and yes, AireBeam, sell you a service with the capacity to deliver the speed that you are paying for under some but certainly not ALL conditions.  No ISP, not even AireBeam, guarantees your ability to receive the speed that you are paying for.  We described some of those conditions and reasons why above, but let’s restate them here:

  1. How many cable miles the server you are using is located from AireBeam’s network.
  2. How much traffic is on that server
  3. How much traffic is congesting the route between your home and the server
  4. How much traffic is on AireBeam’s network along the route that your traffic flows.
  5. How your home network is configured, the condition of the home network appliances and computers.

That said, you need to know that most carriers, including AireBeam, are obsessed with making sure that we have the capacity to deliver the traffic at the speeds that our customers are purchasing.  You can read about AireBeam’s constant upgrade activities on our home page on the left side in the News column.

Testing

The most frequently used Speed Testers are those running Ookla Speed Test software, on Servers owned by private entities, connected to the Internet via the circuits that we described above.  Ookla owns NO network and NO Public Access Servers. They are simply a software company that earns revenue by selling their speed test software to private entities that in turn provide the Speed Testers, including AireBeam.

Latency and its Effect on Speed Tests

Latency, measure by a ping test, is the time that it takes a packet to transit from the device that issued the Ping to the target AND BACK.  It is a two-way measurement.  If there is zero traffic on a glass fiber circuit, the ping travels at about 67% the speed of light or 124,188 miles per second.  In other words, it takes:

  1. 4ms to go from Casa Grande to Phoenix and back
  2. 43ms to go from Casa Grande to Denver and back (on a fiber that is the shortest route between Phoenix and Denver.

Neither you (the customer) nor we (the ISP) can determine or control the route that traffic takes between two points in the Internet, assuming that multiple routes are available.  Routers located at each circuit junction point on the Internet use various algorithms to determine the best route.  The most frequently used algorithm determines the route with the LEAST number of hops (transitions over routers).  But, that algorithm and all others in use do not take into consideration fiber cable length, which is, alas, the component in the calculation that potentially contributes the largest amount of delay.

Bottom line, the more latency there is, the slower your Speed Test Results will be.

Location of the Speed Test Server is Critical

When you test, if you use a speed test server that is NOT located directly next to the point of connection between your ISP and the Internet, you are testing not only your ISPs connections to your home but also the Internet between the point where your ISP hands off the traffic and the location of the Speed Test Server, and you are increasing the latency because of the cable distance and thus diminishing your result. Moreover, the speed test server you are using is performing tests for multiple people at the same time.

  1. When the speed test server becomes congested, it will deliver to you results that appear to be slow;
  2. If you test with a server located beyond the ISPs handoff, the results will be tainted by the congestion and transit time from that server back to your computer.

So, use AireBeam’s Speed Test Server

To eliminate the variations caused by testing with speed test servers located out on the Internet, AireBeam has installed Ookla Speed Test software on a server located in Phoenix at the IO data Center, just before we hand off your traffic to the public Internet.  You should see latency that is under 30ms most of the time and you should see speeds that are at least 80% of what you are paying for, again, most of the time.

Analysis

So, use AireBeam’s server and test at a minimum of 4 times in a day, 8am, noon, 5pm and in the evening.  Compare those results. If you get the speed that you are paying for some of the time but not all of the time, those are results are consistent with what you should expect.  If you never get what you are paying for, the reasons could be your inside network, devices or it could be your AireBeam connection.  So, to try to eliminate your home network, plug your device into AireBeam’s service cable (which may mean removing it from your wireless router or Ethernet switch if you have either).  Then reboot your device and conduct the speed test multiple times at the times of day documented above, making sure that you have disabled the wireless adapter on your device or powered off your wireless router(s). If again you never get at least 70% of the speed that you are paying for, go to https://portal.airebeam.com to report the issue.