What those words and numbers on your speed test result actually mean
Open Internet

What those words and numbers on your speed test result actually mean

Speed tests show us how quickly information is sent between our computers and servers but the results are often hard to understand.

So you ran a speed test on your computer and are now wondering what the results actually mean about your Internet speed. Let’s break it down. 

What do all these words and numbers mean?

The upload speed shows how much data (in megabits per second) you are able to send to the server while the download speed shows how much data (also measured in megabits per second) you can pull from the server to your computer.

Basically, the download speed tells you how quickly you can receive something from the Internet. Having a faster download speed means you can receive your files faster, stream more movies and TV shows at once (and in higher quality) and be less affected by others in your household using the connection at the same time.

A slow download speed means it will take longer to grab that hot new video game or receive those important PDF files from your work's servers.

When we talk about upload speed, we’re talking about how quickly you can send those things back out. A faster upload speed means you can upload a video to YouTube in less time, post a large album to social media in 10 seconds instead of 10 minutes and back up your pics to the cloud in no time.

Upload speeds also matter when you're making video calls and sharing your webcam or your screen. If your upload is too slow, your video quality will likely be reduced, adding unnecessary annoyance to your call.

The ping is the amount of reaction time it takes for the data to send, get to its source and come back. Ping is measured in milliseconds - so the lower the number, the better. 

Ping is the delay between cause and effect, from when you want to do something until it actually starts doing that thing. Ping times affect the responsiveness of the Internet. Even with extremely fast downloads, it can still take a moment for your computer to actually reach out and request a webpage—and the download speed only comes into play after the request has been made. In particular, low ping times are important to the gamers in your household because every millisecond counts in fast-paced online games.

Imagine an online game where you have to use a bow and arrow. You click the button and release your arrow to capture a moving target. If the ping is high, there would be a noticeable delay until the game server registers you shooting the arrow. By the time it does, your target may have moved elsewhere and your arrow would miss. 

Jitter reflects any delays or interruptions as data pings back and forth and could be related to a number of factors, such as too many people using the same connection. Generally, with ping and jitter, any number below 50 milliseconds will mean little to no lag in connection. 

Each piece of information you send back and forth is called a packet. Jitter is when there's variation in those packets over time. You can think of it in terms of your commute to work. If it consistently takes 20 minutes every single day, you've got low jitter. However, if that time changes every day in your five-day workweek, you've got high jitter! You wouldn't want an unpredictable commute —you would want a schedule you can consistently depend on.

If the trip that usually takes 20 minutes, starts to encounter accidents on the road or Construction, on parts of the highway, the flow of cars (packets) will change daily, giving you more jitter.

Ping is moment-to-moment, while jitter is over a period of time. Gamers don't just want a low ping so the swing of their sword or the firing of an arrow registers quickly, they want that ping time to be consistent so their gaming experience remains similar from A to Z. After all, you can’t be the best one day and then fall off your game the next. You also can’t spend hours uploading a video when you know it can take a few minutes, not if you’re on a deadline and not if you want to stay sane.

If you’d like to get into more detail with these definitions, you should definitely check out our help center where we offer more examples to help you understand the numbers you see on your screen.

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