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Can speed testers cope with 50 meg broadband?
Friday 31 October 2008 04:07:23 by Sebastien Lahtinen

Virgin Media have been getting a lot of press coverage over their criticism of speed test websites which struggle to measure the performance of their soon-to-be-launched 50 meg broadband service.

We've been providing users with a speed test tool for many years and it has always been designed as well as maintained with performance and reliability in mind; we are confident that it will continue to meet the demands of the next generation of broadband connections including the 50 meg offerings soon to be available from Virgin Media.

Watch our video to find out what happens when we plugged a laptop into a gigabit connection...

(click here to watch video)

Our speed tester has been developed by our staff and runs on a network we have control over, so we have a far better understanding of the underlying issues and we have a deeper level of access into the network to identify any problems than most other sites which offer speed tests which are, more often than not, based on off-the-shelf software available on the Internet. We are conscious our tester doesn't present a flashy interface, but our decision on the technology and platform has been to ensure consistency. Whilst no software can be free of bugs and problems, we believe we strike a good balance and we are confident in our results.

We are always monitoring our speed test platform and continue to upgrade its capacity to deal with demand. As always, any broadband service provider is welcome to contact us to discuss our speed test and how we can ensure a direct channel of communication in the event problems arise -


Posted by pje1979 over 8 years ago
Good addition to the site. I'm having problems though, the video player doesn't always appear when I click on a video link. Refreshing the page a few times seems to fix the problem and makes the video player appear. I'm using Firefox 3.0.3.
Posted by ceedee over 8 years ago
I'm confused: doesn't your video *confirm* that ThinkBroadband's speed tests under-report the available bandwidth of fast connections?
Posted by pje1979 over 8 years ago
ceedee, they explained in the vid, before they did the speed test, that they wouldn't get full speed as there were IDNet customers servers connected to the network using up bandwidth
Posted by timmay over 8 years ago
Sorry but wait a min you've only tested speed from the server hosting the speed test through a GbE switch and straight into the laptop and you don't have 1:1 there, that's not a good start!
Posted by therioman over 8 years ago
Hmm, not sure that you've proven anything here. Many of the speedtesters I could try would report a large number. It's not showing a large number though that's the problem, it's knowing the accuracy.

In the video you got a result of 270 megabits / 273 megabits.

How much bandwidth was *actually* available though? For all we know there could have been 25 megabits available in bandwidth, but your speedtester loses accuracy and showed 270 megabits.

Some testers can't report high numbers, while some report widly variable results which are inaccurate.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Do people really think we would not have checked that the figures shown in the video were not correct.

The point we are making is that we are happy with the tester at 50Meg and higher, and here is the current ceiling speed.
Posted by jelv over 8 years ago
It strikes me that Virgin know that their 50MB is not going to deliver anything like that and they are trying to get in first by blaming the speed testers!
Posted by kev445 over 8 years ago
If I do a speed test through my Virgin Media 20Mbit on thinkbroadband, I get roughly 1-2Mbit. If I do the same speed test on, I get roughly the full 20Mbit. However if I do the think broadband test through my UKOnline connection, I get the full 16Mbit and the same through

What it says to be is the link between Virgin Media and Think Broadband is saturated, however the link between UK Online (easynet) isn’t saturated!
Posted by ian72 over 8 years ago
And kev's comment shows the issue with speedtesters... If there are links in the path between the client and the speed test server then the slowest of those links will define the speed listed. All comes down to where the peering occurs - so an ISP with direct peering with the think broadband servers will get more accurate speeds than an ISP that goes through a number of layers.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Has Kev445 tried switching to a port80 test, traffic management can have the effect you are seeing.

Also we time the full data download for probably around 20MB of data on your connection (detailed output will tell you how much), so if the speed is variable we will report a lower figure than some testers that report the peak speed.
Posted by kev445 over 8 years ago
Yes I have tried port 80, with simular, if not the same results.
Posted by ian72 over 8 years ago
Andrew, does the tbb speed tester have the same level of peering links to all ISP networks?
Posted by john (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
ian72: We try to get and are happy to set up peering with all ISPs. We sometimes find that they won't peer with us though which could affect their results potentially, but there is little we can do if they refuse to peer!
Posted by john (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
ceedee: On my laptop, the processor is the bottleneck not the network connection.
Posted by john (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
kev445: Could you do a traceroute from yourself to us and e-mail this to me- This could help identify if there is a problem somewhere.
Posted by kev445 over 8 years ago
john: traceroute sent to your e-mail as requested.
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
well I would say is better, it does not need java!!
no problem here... :)

any chance of doing this for your speed test???

Posted by comnut over 8 years ago

another good tester is to use 'netmeter' while downloading those clips! - good solid download, unlike 'choppy' ones I have seen...

also be careful of 'out of country' speed tests!!!
using NY server, it only gives 5M...
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
@kev445:A similar situation for me. Until a month ago my three 'standard' testers (thinkbroadband, all produced consistent figures (between 10Mb and 12Mb depending on the tester). For the past month however thinkbroadband has often reported less than 7Mb. Sometimes as low as 3Mb.

This underlies the need never to rely on just one tester.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
Addition:Forgot to add that my ISP is BeThere. I'll try the alternative port but I'd be surprised if it made any difference for me.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Be has had some congestion issues, and since our tester times the full download it can give slower results if the download is varying in speed. Some testers just give you a 'best speed' figure, so an ISP that cannot sustain traffic will get good results.
Posted by ian72 over 8 years ago
@John: thanks for the response, it is really impressive how much influence you guys have in the industry.
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Peering-We have a generally open policy on this so all ISPs are on the same level; This gives us and the ISPs the best way to exchange traffic and diagnose problems quickly. Try to download our test files to see if it's a network related issue or a tester software one.

I would always agree that you should never rely on one tester.
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
@ceedee - We have achieved even higher results on our own network nearing gigabit but we are trying to say we do not expect to see any significant problems with 50meg broadband testing--There are various reasons why there are other limits which might kick in in the network as mentioned in the video.. We're just illustrating what our platform is capable of in relation to the 50 meg issue.
Posted by kev445 over 8 years ago
What the above demonstration shows is that the think broadband servers and links onto the internet can support an internet connection of around 200Mbit, which is way above the 50Mbit which is going to be on offer from Virgin Media.

Now if Virgin Media or any other ISP hasn’t invested in the bandwidth links out onto the World Wide Web, then the speeds experienced will subsequently vary wildly depending on web-site visited (even though the web-sites server may have plenty of bandwidth available).
Posted by bobby_valentino over 8 years ago
What speed is the thinkbroadband speedtester hosted on? It would take only 5/6 users on virgin who achieved theoritical maximum to cause slowdown on your speedtester. (from looking at your video you acheive 270mbps from a 1gbps switch)
Posted by kev445 over 8 years ago
Bobby if you think about the amount of time that the speed tester lasts, you would need an awful lot of users to start testing at the same time to overload a 1Gbit link. I’m sure if the system did start to become overloaded, then Think Broadband would limit the amount of simultaneous users that can use the test at the same time.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
The 5 or 6 user assumption depends on what the limit is, and as Seb has said we get even higher results on our own network. This indicates the 270Mbps test was not down to our speed tester, but many other factors.

Once you are pushing data around at this speed, even the speed of the computer comes into it, and for home users some will soon find that even those with 100Meg or Gigabit connectivity can struggle to route large amounts of traffic.
Posted by Rroff over 8 years ago
270Mbit/s is a lot of speed for a laptop to handle... and while the speedtest file is probably so small it will reside entirely in cache and be running at burst speeds - 270Mbit is over 30MB/s which is about the top end data transfer rate of a 5400RPM laptop HDD.

I have a gigabit enabled dedicated server with little other traffic on the link and I struggle to reach 400Mbit/s data transfer rates and typically its closer to 200Mbit - and thats mostly down to the hardware (dual core P4, 7200RPM HDD).
Posted by Rroff over 8 years ago
Trying one of the downloadable files off my 100Mbit work connection gives:

Connecting to||:81... connected.
100%[====================================>] 536,870,912 11.23M/s ETA 00:00

15:39:31 (9.82 MB/s) - `' saved

I think its gonna be awhile before 50Mbit links are a problem :D
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
:) :) it rather depends if downloading full bluray images starts happening! :) :)
Posted by bobby_valentino over 8 years ago
Well with Intel announcing their new SSD's their average reads are 200MB/sec for ONE single HD... so I doubt end user equipment will be much of an issue. Imagine raiding a pair of these...a nice speed of 3.2gbps. So it leaves the public network at a bottleneck again. The cycle continues.
Posted by john (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Or the processor. My laptop seems to fall foul on this, although it could also be due to Windows.
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
I wouldn't be hung on the 270Mbps as being "poor on 1Gbps" as that port is not being offered for sale as a "you can get a gig".. We did think of doing the test on a 100Mbps port instead but thought why not push it a bit. Beyond 100Mbps there are lots of issues that start taking effect.
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Our speed test server is connected to our core network on a gigabit connection, although I think it's sharing the bandwidth with our main site/forums as well.. There is no 270Mbps limit on the platform, but that's the limit of where we did the test from for one test. But I need to stress we aren't claiming it can test 200Mbps+ connections.. We're saying it can cope with 50Mbps--We'll be monitoring our tester including the core network port saturation/discards/errors/etc.. so we should be able to detect problems.. We may automate this more on the tester if needed.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
I have no doubt at all the speedtest here can measure speeds faster than 50Mb any well scripted test should..... HOWEVER for my connection (UKonline) the speedtest here does tend to under-report my speed by about 2-3Mb If i measure my speed at it reports far more accurately.
For me the speedtest here is fine but its nowhere near bang on accurate... Also from my experience it has a few niggles users can fall foul of (CONT)....
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
1 If you have a software firewall the speedtest even if you force it to port 80 can report some very strange figures, My connection is roughly 16Mb with certain firewall software the speedtest here will only report about 6Mb.
2 If you dont have a correctly set MTU and RWIN value again the test is wildly inaccurate, if you have a fast connection and as an example set your rwin to win xp's default value again it will wildly under report, in my case it thinks my 16Mb is more like 9Mb.... Whack the RWIN back up though and again it reports pretty accurately.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Carpetburn, the test is not under reporting, it is reporting the speed it can see between your machine and ours. If there is congestion at any point this will have an effect. can be more accurate when it uses a short time period to test the speed.

Using tools that monitor actual bandwidth can be revealing as to the results reported on screen.
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
There's a specific issue we've taken up with UK Online in relation to the network between ours and theirs.
Posted by jchamier over 8 years ago
Rroff, I bought a server at work recently, 3x146gb 15,000rpm SAS drives, with dual 1gb ethernet NICs built in and Windows server licence for £1500 (similar price for SuSE or RedHat OSes).

I think this disk system and caching controller can actually exceed 1gigabit, as the network cards can be teamed for performance.
Posted by Rroff over 8 years ago
Should do easily :D that setup would probably max out a SATA2 interface if it was on that.

I thought the video was great btw
Posted by jchamier over 8 years ago
Agreed, the video was A1, and for those of us with HDTVs, the 1080 footage was stunning :-)
Posted by bosie over 8 years ago
Good to watch a web video that doesn't look like the dreadful quality of You Tube. Well done!
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
Yah, the HD does look good. I've only streamed it so far so it was a little bit jerky with some motion blur. Then again at only 2Mb you'd expect that I guess. I'm downloading the single file (at 1.2MB/s :)) which I assume will resolve that issue.

Nice one, Thinkbroadband
Posted by uniquename over 8 years ago
Did anyone else notice it was using the earlier version of the tester that does the short transfer of 0.19MB first, and then used 64MB for the main test each way?

What is the highest main test size now the short one is 0.5MB?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
I think the maximum may be 256MB, John will confirm.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"There's a specific issue we've taken up with UK Online in relation to the network between ours and theirs."

Any more info on this Seb?
Oh and great job to you and all the staff with the new video features, love the way you can pick the quality to watch and the high quality stream is just that... superb quality :)
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Tester - Yes we have increased the maximum test size after the video was recorded; This is to further improve the accuracy on "very fast" connections. We constantly improve things where we can :)

@Carperburn - UK Online; I've prodded someone else there who has got back to me so should know something on Monday I hope.

I've been so impressed with HD TV myself I really feel everyone needs to see the difference in quality.. We want to see more content delivered online ;)
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Thanks Seb, looking forward to reading more about the issue, you have me wondering now :D
Oh and the video thing the site has planned as mentioned, superb idea. I also like the way it doesnt auto start playing and you have tagged each stream with the file size, something those with a monthly cap will appreciate. Keep up the good work.
Posted by CaptainW over 8 years ago
I'm with Sky LLU and usually get speeds on the tester here after 1am of about 10-12Mb but just tried after reading this forum with the firewall off and only got just under 4Mb and then just under3Mb :( I tried to be told my speeds are 12.5Mb.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Yep its a weird issue CaptainW what you have just experienced is the opposite to what i have LOL other than things like that though the speedtest here isnt that bad... Certainly alot more accurate than some out there.
Posted by Cockroach over 8 years ago
I tried the test on a iMac connected to the Gigabit LAN in a lab at uni in the middle of the day. It got 280Mb down and 180Mb up.

I downloaded the 1GB test file:
time curl > /dev/null
It took 35s (~230Mb/s)
Posted by andys999 over 8 years ago
Virgin media 50mb speed DONT MAKE ME LAUGH all the households round here have the internet tv phone go off when it rains!!!
Its like a new depot has been set up around here with vigin media vans running around frantically like active ants trying to sticky tape the problems!!YOUR CABLINGS CRAP!!lol
i get more speed from my voda laptop im using now
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