DIY or Go Without Broadband: Part Three

Part One  and  Part Two

There are multiple online tools for testing internet speeds, in addition to the CPUC apps mentioned in Part Two. Some example here:

These tools test internet broadband or WiFi networks for download speeds, upload speeds, connects and pings. The download value tells you how much data a WiFi or broadband connection can move from a server to your computer. The upload value indicates how quickly you can transfer files from your computer to a server in the cloud. Upload is essential for those who regularly use cloud services to store data. Connects shows you the number of connections that can be established simultaneously. The higher the contact number, the better. Pings refer to the response delay, which is mainly attractive to gamers, lower values are preferable. The maximum possible data transmission speed depends on whether the user has broadband, fiber, WiFi or another connection, as well as the service provider pricing plan.

You can run these test any time of the day or night to check the speed of your network. It has been my experience; the systems start slowing down after school gets out in the afternoon and right after the dinner hours as people start download or streaming movies.

The major providers also list speed tests on their web pages.  But, are they accurate or do they fudge the results.  I have no idea, and that is why I wanted a dedicated recording device.  A device which can automatically test the speeds at regular intervals over long periods of time.

It eliminates the need to remember to do the testing during high use times. And, it provides a data record that can be discussed with the provider when a problem occurs, with precise times when the problem shows up.   

I started to build my recorder the day Make Magazine arrived in the mail, Use Raspberry Pi to Measure Broadband Speeds to Hold Your ISP Accountable, February 1, 2016.  I was already experimenting with Raspberry Pi computers, having built a device to locate RF noise which as creating radio interference in the house.  I had on hand all the components to make a recorder, except for the software which I could download from the sources listed in the article.

The author Alasdair Allan indicated the time required to build the device was 1–3 Hours and lists the difficulty as easy.  However, the article assumes that the builder is familiar with the Raspberry Pi and command line programming, making this a geek project.  The goal of Alasdair’s project was to hold an internet service provider accountable for advertised service levels. 

My goal was a modification of author’s, I wanted to build a recorder that could be plugged into the internet with an ethernet cable and power supply and start recording, creating a week of 24/7 data which could be downloaded for analysis.  A plug and play recording device that the Gold Country Broadband Consortia could loan to citizens so they can record their broadband speed and reliability.  The initial plan was to build ten of the devices and loans them out for a week at a time. The data analysis by GCBC, the information consolidated, plotted and then forwarded to the CPUC.

Raspberry Pi BB Recorder
Recorder box, Ethernet cable, and power wart

The GCBC proposed speed test monitoring to the CPUC in an extension to their work plan, but the proposal was not specific about the process and equipment to be used. Once the grant awarded to the Sierra Business Council, which had taken over the GCBC program management from SEDCorp, the program manager showed little interest in using the recording device which was in beta testing.  The ten loaner recorders were never built.

A sample of the recorder output when loaded into an Excel Spreadsheet.

Recorder Sample Output

At present, it is one of a kind recorder which I loan to friends and family to test their internet speeds.  According to contacts at the CPUC they are building a similar recording box capable of recording up to Gigabit speeds. The latest version of the Raspberry Pi  B+ has a Gigabit Ethernet port, but the processor speed limits data collection to about 300 Mbps. This is well beyond the minimum criteria set by the FCC and CPUC and could be useful in validating neighborhood internet speeds.  I am planning to build a next-generation recorder with the latest Raspberry Pi board to test the speed limits.  Stay Tuned. 

DIY Resources:

Make Magazine Article: Use Raspberry Pi to Measure Broadband Speeds to Hold Your ISP Accountable

Raspberry Pi Kit: Amazon CanaKit Raspberry Pi 3 B+ (B Plus) with Premium Clear Case and 2.5A Power Supply

GitHub, speedtest-cli-extras:  https://github.com/HenrikBengtsson/speedtest-cli-extras

Plug and Play Box:  Send me an email russ@russell-steele.com if you are interested in a plug and play box.

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