You’ve seen how Internet service providers (ISPs) advertise upload and download speeds. You hear numbers tossed around, like “20MB up and 20MB down”. You probably assume that this is a guarantee that data will come into your computer from the Internet at a speed of 20MB (download) and data will be sent to the Internet from your computer at a speed of 20MB (upload). However, you would be very wrong.

If you purchase a dedicated Internet connection (often called DIA, or Dedicated Internet Access), your ISP will provide you with the quoted upload and download speeds. However, DIA is many times more expensive than typical connections and is financially impractical for many businesses. Typical connections are not guaranteed at all. What your ISP is really saying is that they will give their best effort to provide that speed. However, your ISP often has a very different opinion of “best effort” than you, and that difference is spelled out in their terms and conditions.

For example, let’s assume that you signed up for a 20MB upload/download speed. At absolute best, you will get 20MB (and never anything more), but that only happens if everything is going exactly right. This will most likely only occur if network usage is at a minimum, not only by you, but also by the people around you using the same circuit.

The truth is that neighboring homes and businesses can and do impact your speeds. All Internet connections from a given ISP (and likely from several different ISPs) in the same geographic area all connect to some centralized point. Any connections that connect to that same point are using the same pool of bandwidth and therefore taking away from the total pool.

If too many users are connected at the same time, the bandwidth available to each user drops to a low level. This problem can happen with different stand-alone buildings in the same neighborhood, but it is often the most severe in large office buildings where many different companies are using the same infrastructure. When you think that you are getting the 20MB upload/download speed you were promised, you may actually only be getting 10MB or lower.

How big is the difference between advertised and actual upload/download speeds? In many cases, the advertised speed is the upload/download speed that the top 10% of customers reach, which means that up to 90% of customers do not reach that speed. The FCC found that actual upload/download speed for a typical residential plan is usually 50% of the advertised speed on average, although actual upload/download speed can vary substantially throughout the day.

This confusion is heightened by the Internet connection speed tests that are provided by most ISPs, many of which are available for free on the web. These speed tests provide connection speed measurements, but they only measure the speed at the moment that the test is conducted. This gives you a snapshot, but not the whole picture. Internet speed can vary tremendously throughout the day as local usage rates and other factors change. Depending on when you conduct the test, the results could be very inaccurate.

These issues led Star2Star to develop the StarNet Analyzer (SNA). SNA tests Internet connection speed over an extended period of time, usually a minimum of 48 business hours. This provides a more accurate picture of your true upload and download speeds as they change throughout the day and gives you a more reliable estimate of what you can expect. This greater accuracy is why it is so important to input the upload and download speeds provided by the SNA into your StarBox® Voice Optimized SD-WAN rather than the speeds specified by your ISP.


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