The importance of contextualization of crowdsourced active speed test measurements.

ACM/SIGCOMM Internet Measurement Conference (IMC)(2022)

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Crowdsourced speed test measurements, such as those by Ookla ® and Measurement Lab (M-Lab), offer a critical view of network access and performance from the user's perspective. However, we argue that taking these measurements at surface value is problematic. It is essential to contextualize these measurements to understand better what the attained upload and download speeds truly measure. To this end, we develop a novel Broadband Subscription Tier (BST) methodology that associates a speed test data point with a residential broadband subscription plan. Our evaluation of this methodology with the FCC's MBA dataset shows over 96% accuracy. We augment approximately 1.5M Ookla and M-Lab speed test measurements from four major U.S. cities with the BST methodology. We show that many low-speed data points are attributable to lower-tier subscriptions and not necessarily poor access. Then, for a subset of the measurement sample (80k data points), we quantify the impact of access link type (WiFi or wired), WiFi spectrum band and RSSI (if applicable), and device memory on speed test performance. Interestingly, we observe that measurement time of day only marginally affects the reported speeds. Finally, we show that the median throughput reported by Ookla speed tests can be up to two times greater than M-Lab measurements for the same subscription tier, city, and ISP due to M-Lab's employment of different measurement methodologies. Based on our results, we put forward a set of recommendations for both speed test vendors and the FCC to con-textualize speed test data points and correctly interpret measured performance.
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