Testing broadband connections has always been a problem for broadband providers and with no standard for doing this via the ADSL modem most attempts to measure this are end-user initiated or using third-party hardware.
The DSL Forum at its latest meeting in Montreal has approved a new technical report entitled "Network Service Provider initiated throughput performance testing". This report defines a way that software embedded within the xDSL modem or router can carry out performance testing and do it in a reproducible manner.
Next generation services like IPTV which are available now are cited as the ideal use of this technology. Certainly for customers of BT Retail and its Vision product customers would probably benefit from the decision on whether their line will support 2Mbps download speeds switching from simply looking at what the line checker says (which has a tendency to under estimate potential speeds) and look at the actual performance of a line. This testing can also be used to monitor connections, spotting areas of congestion, assessing the impact of firmware upgrades on the various points of the network and much more.
The biggest advantage of a comprehensive testing suite would be that if you phone up with a speed issue the provider can carry out tests there and then that actually use your ADSL line and avoid the need to hand hold people as they log onto various test websites. Alternatively a provider could pro-actively test a percentage of its users each day to build a picture of its network performance.
One immediate response from people on metered accounts will be whether this system when eventually deployed would eat up their usage allowance. Well yes any traffic across the connection counts, but since the testing is provider initiated there is scope for them to suspend usage monitoring when running tests, or simply subtract the expected usage from the running total for an account.