News Column

Soaring or crawling? Internet speed tests are the answer

July 25, 2014

Speed might kill on the regular highway, but when it comes to the information superhighway, you want to be zooming along smoothly, without interruption and as quickly as possible.

"That is especially true for businesses and consumers who wish to switch to, or already make use of, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for their voice telecommunications needs," said Mitchell Barker, founder and CEO of, a directory website containing a comprehensive list of South Africa's top VoIP providers.

"Broadband speeds in South Africa have increased over the past few years, with recent Net Index statistics from broadband testing company Ookla revealing that the average download speed in the country has increased from 1109Kbps (kilobits per second) in January 2008 to 5616Kbps on 9 June, 2014, while the upload speed has jumped from 266Kbps in January 2008 to 2658 Kbps in June."

Yet despite the reassuring increase, South Africa still lags far behind the rest of the world, for which the average global broadband speed is 18.52Mbps (Megabits per second). According to a recent report on, the average download speed in the United States is 24.5Mbps, compared to South Africa's 5.6Mbps. This means that, if the Federal Communications Commission in the United States follows through on its plan to upgrade its definition of broadband from the current 4Mbps to 10Mbps, South Africa will not even make the grade.

A NetIndex monthly ranking of global internet speeds, which was recently revealed by Ookla, shows that South Africa's broadband speed trails behind the rest of Africa too, where the top spot belongs to the Seychelles - which ranked 72nd out of 192 countries worldwide.

SA not even in African top 10

"South Africa did not even crack the top 10 in Africa's rankings, meaning that countries like Rwanda and Zimbabwe have faster broadband than we do," Barker said. "Yet I remain optimistic that the national broadband speed will continue to increase - especially now that fibre is being rolled out in several metropolitan areas nationwide."

In the meantime, Barker suggested that South African broadband users should conduct regular speed tests to hold their internet service providers (ISPs) accountable to ensure that they do get the upload and download speeds that are promised to them. "In fact, one of the ISPs that we list on WhichVoIP, BitCo, is in full agreement with that."

BitCo defines an internet speed test as a web service or application that is able to determine the bandwidth available for a device connected to the internet. "It measures the bandwidth (speed) and latency of a visitor's internet connection against one of many geographically dispersed servers located around the world," explained Brian Wolfaardt, BitCo's technical and operations manager. "Since service inception, over 5 billion speed tests have been completed."

According to Jacques du Plooy, BitCo's junior project manager, the process works by sending one or more files of known size over the network/link to a distant computer. "[It] measures the time required for the particular file/s to download at the destination successfully, and thereby obtains a theoretical figure for the data speed between two or more points, usually in Kbps or Mbps," he said. "On some speed test apps you may specify 'international speeds' or 'local speeds'. This starts the download from different servers to suit your diagnostic need."

BitCo's junior wireless technician, Wander Floor, added: "The tests are performed within the user's web browser using the HTTP protocol."

Although BitCo does not have its own online test application, all the BitCo representatives highly, and unanimously, recommend using, which is what they tell customers to run when they experience latency issues, as it is the first step taken to determine faults. The speed test can be run, and the results seen, by anyone.

However, James Farnell, BitCo's interconnect manager, cautioned that an internet speed test showing bad results might not always be indicative of a fault. "BitCo may use this information to diagnose faults and issues on a network, but it is not a foolproof method," he said. "If a user is downloading a huge 20MB email, and then a different employee tries to run a speed test [at the same time], he may only see a portion of the allocated bandwidth on the speed test. The average Joe may see this as a very slow internet, but in the meantime, his colleague is using up all the bandwidth on his email."

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Source: Bizcommunity (South Africa)

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