Netflix’s multibillion-dollar streaming business relies entirely on high-speed Internet connections — networks which, of course, it doesn’t control.
Now the company is launching a new tool to keep broadband providers honest. Netflix’s Fast.com is a free, cleanly designed website that simply does one thing: measures how fast your Internet download speeds are.
“When you’re experiencing streaming issues, fast.com allows you to check the download speeds you’re getting from your Internet service provider,” David Fullagar, Netflix’s VP of content delivery architecture, wrote in a blog post announcing the feature.
For Netflix, part of the message is: If you’ve got a bandwidth problem, don’t blame us — blame your ISP. “If results from fast.com and other speed tests often show less speed than you have paid for, you can ask your ISP about the results,” the company explains on the new site.
Netflix’s efforts to bring transparency to the speeds ISPs deliver for streaming video kicked off in early 2011, when the company began ranking providers based on its internal measurements. It has released the info to publicly shame poorly performing Internet providers, and to push them to install Netflix’s caching servers in their networks to provide better streaming.
The Netflix ISP Speed Index measures average monthly speeds of actual streams during primetime hours. The Fast.com speed test is different, because it measures an individual’s Internet connection at any given point in time, Fullagar noted.
But why is Netflix launching Fast.com, when there are other free speed-testing sites online like Ookla’s Speedtest.net? Short answer: Netflix believes advertising is antithetical to its brand.
“We want our members to have a simple, quick, commercial-free way to estimate the speed their ISP is providing,” Netflix says. (Dish Network’s Sling TV, for example, is currently a featured advertiser on Speedtest.net.)
Fast.com measures only download speed — and not other metrics like latency or jitter — because downstream bandwidth is the most critical factor that determines video quality. The website “is not a network engineer’s analysis and diagnostic suite,” Netflix says in its FAQ section.
For standard-definition video quality, Netflix recommends a minimum 3 megabit per second downstream connection. For HD, the minimum suggested speed is 5 Mbps and to watch the select amount of Ultra HD content on Netflix it recommends at least 25 Mbps.
Fast.com works on any device that has a web browser, including smartphones, laptop computers and smart TVs, and is free for anyone to use whether or not they’re Netflix subscribers. To calculate speeds, Fast.com performs a series of downloads from Netflix servers.