All over the country, the internet is getting faster and faster. In 2018, the mean download speed of a fixed internet connection increased by more than 35% and the mean upload speed increased by more than 20%. With these faster internet speeds, internet users can stream better quality video, have more fun playing online games, and start sharing their own online content with the world.
While many rural areas have access to better broadband connections than ever before, other areas still struggle with slow internet speeds. Almost 40% of rural Americans still don’t have access to high-speed broadband with a download speed of at least 25 Mbps and an upload speed of at least 3 Mbps. Rural Americans are ten times more likely to lack access to high speeds broadband than urban Americans.
So, how fast is rural broadband where you live? Let’s take a closer look at a few ways you can find out which internet provider offers the fastest connection in your community.
Broadband Speeds Reporting Across the Country
Each year, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and a handful of private companies release broadband reports that outline internet speeds across the country. If you’re looking for the fastest rural broadband connection in your area, these reports are a great place to start:
Unfortunately, reports don’t always paint an accurate picture of broadband speeds. For example, while the FCC publishes a list of the broadband speeds in each census block, these numbers don’t always reflect the real speeds of users in that block for two reasons. First, the FCC only considers the fastest internet plan in each block, even though many users may not be able to afford these plans. Second, if one address in the block has access to a fast plan, the FCC considers it an option for the entire block.
Other reports, like the annual reports by Tom’s Guide and Ookla, also have the same shortcomings. While crowdsourced data is useful when it comes to determining which carrier has the fastest nationwide, statewide, or city-wide networks, they aren’t typically an accurate predictor of internet speeds on a local level. And, with mobile broadband in particular, there are huge variations in internet speeds based on local signal strength.
How to Test Your Signal Strength with A Carrier
Because signal strength varies significantly, even within a single region, the best way to determine the rural broadband speeds on your property is to test them yourself. Luckily, it’s easy to conduct a signal strength audit of mobile broadband speeds with just a SIM card and your phone:
- Insert a SIM card from the carrier into your phone. You don’t need to purchase a plan from the carrier to test their service, instead use a prepaid SIM card or sign up for a free trial.
- Switch your phone to field test mode. The signal bars on your phone are just an estimate. For more accurate signal strength readings, switch your phone to field test mode:
On iOS, call *3001#12345#*. A signal strength indicator will pop up in the top left. Tap to switch between bars and number readings in decibels relative to one milliwatt (dBm).
On Android, navigate to Settings > About Phone > Network or Status to see numerical readings of your signal strength in dBm.
Your phone measures 4G LTE signal strength as a factor of Reference Signal Received Power (RSRP) in dBm:
- A strong signal with clear voice and fast data typically falls between -50dBm and -105dBm.
- A fair signal with good voice and reliable data typically falls between -106dBm and -125dBm.
- A bad signal with good voice, but unreliable data typically falls between -126dBm and -136dBm.
- A terrible signal with voice, but no data typically falls between -136dBm and -140dBm.
3. Test internet speeds across your property. To see where the mobile data is fastest, walk around your property, stopping periodically to take readings on your phone. Where the RSRP reading is high, run a speed test to determine the real download and upload speeds in that spot.