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SEACOM on why speed tests aren’t an accurate measure of ISP performance

Staff Writer's picture

This article was originally published on hypertext

Online speed tests are often the first port of call for anyone wanting to assess the quality of a network, or indeed the capabilities on an internet service provider (ISP). They are also big business locally, with South African carriers and ISPs aiming to claim the top spot when it comes to speed.

While these can indeed be handy when it comes to doing a quick assessment, online speed tests are not as accurate as you may be hoping when it comes to measuring the performance of ISPs.

This according to Mark Tinka, head of engineering at SEACOM, who says that many speed tests are flawed in terms of what they are testing.

“This fascination with connectivity speed probably stems from our history of bandwidth-limited legacy technologies coupled with highly oversubscribed networks, which have led to a great deal of frustration and distrust on the part of consumers in the past,” notes Tinka.

“The issue, though, is that these speed tests may not be adjusted to factor in all the complexities of performance assessment. This is especially true in the context of South Africa, located as it is on the southern tip of the African continent,” he adds.

The main problem cited by Tinka is latency, which has become an increasing concern as more businesses begin to migrate services from on-premise to the cloud. While the SEACOM exec acknowledges the local arrival of some big cloud players, he still says latency is a significant issue.

“Microsoft and Amazon may have arrived on our shores, but their data centres are largely serving a network function, for now, as opposed to hosting cloud services themselves,” Tinka highlights.

“The point is that the cloud – and the servers that host the cloud’s functionality – are still physically far away in Europe and North America,” he continues.

Shifting focus back to speed tests the SEACOM exec notes that many of the long-distance links, such as the ones from South Africa to the UK for example, are both high-capacity and high latency by nature, with the latter resulting from the time it takes for data to travel.

He also points out that latency is generally regarded as noticeable when it crosses the 80 milliseconds mark.

“When a conventional speed test is performed, the device is generally not set up to account for the innate latency of the system, nor how to overcome it. This optimised setup is not default, however. It requires a relook of system settings to achieve it,” Tinka explains.

“For South African customers to enjoy the most satisfying connectivity experience then, it’s time to stop focusing on line speed to the exclusion of everything else – especially when measures are not necessarily an accurate reflection of reality,” he stresses.

“Other factors, like service uptime, application performance and ISP support, are just as, if not more, important to ensure a solution that meets all of your requirements, whether for business or home,” Tinka concludes.

Whether consumers and businesses alike can begin to look past the speed factor alone remains to be seen, especially as it has been engrained into the way we measure performance of ISPs.

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