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Broadband Forum Building More Accurate Open Source Speedtest

Monday, September 21st, 2020 (8:50 am) - Score 6,000
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The Broadband Forum has kicked off the development of a new standards focused open source and User Datagram Protocol (UDP) based broadband speed test, which aims to deliver “more accurate results” and “updated methods and metrics which are more suited to the gigabit services now being deployed.”

Accuracy has always a problem with testing any kind of internet connection. For example, traditional web based speedtests can easily be impacted or polluted by issues such as slow WiFi, local network congestion (e.g. background updates or other users consuming bandwidth at the same time as the test being run) and various other problems (e.g. any limitations of the remote server used for testing).

One way around this is to place the testing equipment before the WiFi and have it run during periods of idle connectivity (i.e. low network traffic), which can usually be achieved by either installing a custom modified router into the network (e.g. the SamKnows approach, as used by Ofcom and Virgin Media etc.) or adding custom firmware code into the ISPs bundled broadband router in order to do the same (as used by BT and other ISPs).

Many of these testing systems tend to harness the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), which defines how to establish and maintain an IP network communication through which software programs can exchange data, but the forum notes that they become “less accurate” at speeds over 500Mbps. Some tests may also harness a bit of UDP, which is better at creating low-latency and loss-tolerating connections between internet applications.

At first glance this might suggest that the Broadband Forum’s decision to focus on UDP (with a touch of Google’s QUIC) is intended to target issues of latency and connection reliability, instead of raw data speed, but they actually plan to tackle both via what they’re calling the UDP-based IP Capacity metric (PDF). The forum claims that this new tool will “enable the replacement of many existing test tools, some running over TCP.”

broadband forum udp speedtest tool results

At present we still know very little about the underlying approach and implementation plans for this. The forum merely states that the speed test’s adoption will be fostered through an open source implementation, with the base running code provided by a US network operator, AT&T. Several major international and US operators are also already signed-up and backing the project.

Robin Mersh, CEO of the Broadband Forum, said:

“User experience is at the core of any service provider’s offering, and today’s consumers expect their broadband service to deliver speed, low latency and seamlessness. A benefit to both providers and consumers, the UDP Speed Test is a game-changer, providing a criterion to ensure next-generation networks meet industry-wide expectations and can deliver the connected services we consume every day.”

Internet service providers are currently facing increasing regulatory demands to provide consumers with efficient demonstration of their maximum subscribed speeds, which is likely to be what has driven the forum to kick-start development of the new tool. We suspect this sort of tool would work best inside the code of a broadband router.

In the meantime, the Broadband Forum is planning to host a webinar to discuss this on 21st October 2020 (here).

Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Avatar NE555 says:

    What they are really building is a tool to make the ISP look good.

    TCP’s congestion control algorithm is very sensitive to packet loss: a dropped packet is considered an indication of congestion and causes the speed to back off. There’s a formula for it here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TCP_tuning#Packet_loss

    Current speed tests mask this by running 4, 6 or more TCP streams concurrently, each of which responds to packet loss in the same way but the total bandwidth consumed is higher.

    UDP doesn’t have congestion control, so they can happily fill the pipe at gigabit speed, and who cares about a few dropped packets along the way? Except of course, most of the real-life applications that you actually care about use TCP.

    1. Avatar CarlT says:

      ‘The UDP-based measurement of Maximum IP Capacity simultaneously measures the packet loss, round-trip delay, delay variation, and reordering present. This is superior information to that provided by TCP and Ping measurements made separately.’

      As far as the Wikipedia link you provided goes most of us are using OS running CUBIC congestion avoidance to try and mitigate some of the shortcomings of standard TCP mentioned in the article.

  2. Avatar Sarcastic Wombat says:

    UDP gonna deliver more accurate test?
    Because all my file uploads and downloads are using UDP not TCP right..

    1. Avatar CarlT says:

      Speed tests aren’t representative of application performance at gigabit speeds anyway. They’re a dubious measurement of connection capacity, nothing more.

      Source: that basically nothing besides speed tests can get anywhere near maxing out either of my gigabit services as they aren’t intended to.

    2. Avatar Sarcastic Wombat says:

      CarlT torrents (copies of linux obviously) give me full dl speed (350mbit) and so does steam downloads, anything from microsoft/apple does.

    3. Avatar CarlT says:

      The torrents that, assuming you’re using a reasonably modern client, run at least partially over uTP?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_Transport_Protocol

      I mentioned gigabit for a reason. Neither MS, Apple or Steam saturate it in my experience.

      TCP has limitations, especially across distance and at higher capacities. Speed tests are measurements for measurement’s sake so may as well make them reflective of what you’re trying to test.

    4. Avatar Andrew Clayton says:

      > Because all my file uploads and downloads are using UDP not TCP right..

      Perhaps more than you think, especially going forward. Heard of HTTP/3 (QUIC)?
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP/3

  3. Avatar Connor says:

    I know my ISP won’t be signing up to this, Excessive UDP makes their modem fall down and die.

    1. Avatar Andrew Clayton says:

      > I know my ISP won’t be signing up to this, Excessive UDP makes their modem fall down and die.

      Best get a new modem… the use of UDP is only going to increase…

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