What if DSL modems could run speed tests?

As a tech support agent for a nationwide Internet service provider, I’ve worked with customers experiencing a wide range of issues with their DSL service. The most common problem seems to be slow connection speeds. Some customers are tech-savvy speed nuts who are so insistent on a fast connection speed that they periodically run a speed test to make sure they are getting the speeds they are paying for. I find these customers easy to work with as we both are on the same page in technical terms and computer know-how.

However, there are customers who know next to nothing about computers and Internet, and getting them to a speed test web site is often a monumental task that creates needless stress and frustration. That led me to thinking about ways to make this task easier.

DSL modems have a built-in interface which you can access using your web browser. From there you can change your modem’s settings and test your Internet connectivity. What if this same interface had the ability to run a speed test directly from the modem without the need to even go to any speed test web site? That would make troubleshooting so much easier for both the customer and the agent.

To help with troubleshooting, I run some special software that tests the customer’s line, and if any errors are found, it applies an error-correcting profile to the line to fix those errors. The results are often nothing short of miraculous as the customers notice a significant improvement in their Internet connection.

In some cases I can even remotely reset the modem and re-configure it with the customer’s login credentials, so I know the software I use has the ability to interact with the modem directly. If modems did have speed testing capability, the troubleshooting software would be able to issue the command for the modem to start the speed test and have it transmit the results to my computer when finished. I would be able to see the results on my screen and then report to the customer whether or not they are getting the proper line speeds. No more time-consuming frustration with the task of walking the customer through the steps of typing in a simple web site address.

While there are advantages of running a speed test directly from the modem, I’m also aware of the disadvantages. The test might not be fully accurate due to the computer itself being left out of the speed test. The computer could very well possess numerous factors that affect the connection speed, such as the computer’s age, how much memory it has, the presence of spyware or how many other devices in the same house use the same shared connection.

But running the speed test from the modem does help confirm the line is in good working condition and helps narrow down the cause of the slow speeds to the computer itself. The speed test would also come in handy to just test the line for errors for other connection issues such as intermittent connections or having a good connection but not being able to browse the Web.

Hopefully this post was of inspiration to someone working for the telecommunications industry looking for ways to improve the functionality of DSL modems. If the speed test functionality does get written into the modem’s firmware, I can expect to get heartily compensated for my idea so I can quit my job and retire to a lavish ocean side mansion in Palm Beach with the Atlantic Ocean as my backyard. At least I can dream.

The speed of me.

I was helping a customer troubleshoot her slow connection speeds to the Internet. Part of the troubleshooting workflow involves having the customer run a speed test, so I have the customer go to Speedtest.net and have them run the test there. I use the test results to make sure the customer is getting the proper speeds they are paying for.

While my customer did make it to Speedtest.net, she could not get the test itself loaded. I know that site uses Flash to load the testing interface and the fact the customer couldn’t see any links to start the test suggested perhaps she didn’t have the Flash software installed. I would have had her go to Adobe’s web site to install the Flash player plug-in, but I didn’t want to overwhelm her with technical jargon and complex software installations. She had extremely limited computer skills and I wanted to keep the troubleshooting as simple as possible.

So I did a search to see if there if there’s a speed test site that does not use Flash or Java. At the time I did the search, I thought it was wishful thinking but I was pleasantly surprised to come across such a site. This site is called SpeedOf.Me and uses HTML5 instead of Flash or Java to run the speed test. It claims to be the most accurate bandwidth test online, which sounds a little like marketing hype but it does work.

Speedtest.net reports my download speed is 0.67 mbps and my upload speed is .10 mbps. Speedof.me on the other hand reports my speeds are 690 kbps for download and 120 kbps for upload. Interesting. Yes, I don’t have the fastest connection in the world but I don’t have all the money either.

My customer eventually did get Speedtest.net to run and I verified that she was getting the correct speeds. I also walked her through clearing her browser cache, which helped her pages load faster. Amazing how that does the trick.

In the meantime, SpeedOf.Me has earned a place in my bookmarks. I just may start sending my customers there to have them run their speed tests from now on.