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Enter the Net: Net ‘slows’ may not be carrier’s fault

December 13, 2012

By David Hughes

Every once in a while my son will holler, “Dad, why is the Internet so slow? I’m only about 25 (megabits per second.)” I know that’s a bunch of hogwash because we have fiber-optic-based Verizon FIOS and we pay a pretty penny for 75/35 (megs per second up and down, respectively) and unless there’s something really wrong it seldom deviates more that 10 percent – if that.
Usually, when he is complaining he is not on the wired Ethernet network inside the house which can provide up to 1000 gigs point-to-point from one device to another. Instead, he may be on the 2.4 MHz WI-Fi “G” circuit which does well to get 5-6 megs down, plus it is encrypted which slows things down a mite. I always recommend that if he insists on using Wi-Fi, stay on the 5 MHz circuit because it offers anywhere from 26 to 49 meg service – depending on how close one is to the transmitting antenna all the way at one end of the house.
Does all that give you a headache? If so, better open the migraine-level dosage headache powders for the rest of today’s column.
Probably the biggest lie told today by most Internet broadband providers (with few fiber exceptions) is how much consistent broadband bandwidth consumers receive in a 24-hour period. This is the case whether you have DSL (more reliable), cable-provided Internet (goes up and down based on time of day and how many folks are on a certain node. Even satellite provided service is a crapshoot because not only does your bandwidth fluctuate on time, but other factors such as sunspots, rain, ice and snowstorms can slow you down or cut you completely off.
It’s the old “up to” speeds advertised that’s the killer. That number is usually arrived upon by testing in laboratory conditions with one person online at a time using pristine equipment and very seldom reflects what “comes out” for you to use. Think of it this way: You pull into a gas station which advertises fuel for $2.00 per gallon* and in small print it says “* depending on time of day and number of people in line and the size of your gas tank you may receive up to four quarts per gallon, but at other times the volume will be less – at times close to zero.”
Something else many folks don’t realize is the fastest you can actually use the Internet on your home network is 100 megabits per second – even is all other equipment is 1000. That’s because cable modems and routers only talk to the rest of your network at Ethernet speeds. This is one reason I never recommend my readers use the cable modem/router which was installed to “switch” home network components unless they have a very simple setup.
Let’s use a simple situation where two computers – a desktop and laptop in different part of the home are on a wired gigabit network and they want to send files of any kind back and forth to each other. Going through a dedicated gigabit home router/switch could result in file transfers up to 10 times faster than a “standard” 100 meg Ethernet network.
I’m sure many of you have a favorite web site or app you use to ascertain how “fast” your Internet connection is. What you need to know is that these dedicated sites can tell you what you want to hear, but may not reflect actual connection speeds to sites you use consistently. Plus, I suggest when you check your speeds utilize several sites varying distances from your home. I think you’ll see those up and download numbers can vary wildly.
The old adage that “a connection can be no stronger than its’ weakest link applies in spades here. If you are connecting to a very popular site at the moment the chances are you may find the connection “slow” because of the number of people attempting to access it at the same time.
Don’t think if you wait a few minutes or hours speeds may increase for you. Remember, it’s always “prime time” on our planet. While we are asleep here, there are billions of folks in Asia and elsewhere on the globe wanting to get at the same new song or story about Justin Bieber as you (grin).
Another thing anyone with more than one device which attaches to the Internet needs to realize is that “the creep” can reach out and bite ya’ at any time.
What’s the creep? That’s the slow accumulation of Internet appliances that eventually overwhelm your purchased bandwidth – bringing everything to crawl or standstill.
A prime example is you have subscribed to a relatively slow Internet tier for a few years because all you used was one desktop or laptop computer. Later, you purchased a second computer for whatever reason.
Then you just had to have that new smart phone which handily utilized you home Wi-Fi network. THEN someone got a tablet because it was handy and fun. THEN the kids go smart phones and tablets.
Afternoon, after school, your kids and their friends fired up all their devices at once and were anguished to see no one could do a darn thing because “the creep “had gotten you.
Sound familiar at all?
So, dear readers, the next time someone in your household complains about the Internet “being slow,” your first call isn’t to your provider. If you don’t feel qualified to find the digital bottleneck ask around to friends you consider as geeks – they can probably help find the answer.

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