Understanding Internet Speeds PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Science & Technology
Written by John Ogren   
Tuesday, 10 January 2012 15:48

By John Ogren, President, SpeedConnect, www.speedconnect.com

--- On the Internet, speed means everything. It is the time it takes to receive and send data. Speed on the Internet is measured in terms of bits. Bits is the electronic time it takes to go from zeros to ones in the computer world we live in.

When a connection is advertised as being a 10 megabit or a five megabit or a three megabit service, that turns into the millions of bits--or the millions of times that the switch rate from on to off on a data transmission is changed. Bits are captured or consolidated into bites. There are eight bits in a bite, and actual data throughput is measured in bites. For example, a simple e-mail that someone might send might be as little as 20 bites, whereas a full feature-length movie might be as much as three gigabytes. When you are looking at the speed of your Internet connection, what speed gives you is a lot of bits transmitted very fast, and those bits are assembled into bites, and the bites are the amount of information that you are downloading from your connection.

Generally speaking, speed is better because, of course, you want a very fast connection to be able to watch a movie live without buffering, or to put a Web page up very quickly. But at the same time, it is very important that the connection that you have be able to maintain or sustain your speed. A flash or a quick splash of data is relatively easy for an Internet provider, but to keep that speed up over a long time, like what it takes to watch a movie on-line, is much more difficult. You need to look for the rate that the information comes up and then the sustained rate, the steady rate, that your Internet service provider provides.

Upload and download.

That's the time it takes for the data to leave your computer and get to someone else's server. Most of the time, we are concerned about download speeds because these days you are either downloading a movie or downloading a file that someone has sent you, so downloads are typically advertised. You will hear Internet service providers advertise three or four or five, or maybe as many as 20 megabit speeds. They are usually talking about download speeds.

Few of us talk about uploads, which are typically, in residential services, quite a bit slower. Very often, you might have speeds that are as much as 10 megabits download, and only maybe one or two megabits upload. In slower connections, you may see one megabit as a download and as little as 128 kilobits as your upload speed.

The reason is that the networks are typically built to provide a high download, and that is at the sacrifice or compromise of upload. Upload speeds become important when you have a bunch of pictures that you have taken and they are now on your computer, and you want to send them to a relative. That's where upload would become important. You might notice that it would take a lot longer for your pictures to upload than the pictures that had been sent to you to download.

More bandwidth, please.

With more of us grabbing increasing amounts of data from the Internet, Internet service provider (ISP) speeds will determine whether your browser responds quickly or sluggishly. Again, speed is important. The ability of your ISP to sustain speeds, or provide steady speeds, is even more important. But, the fact of the matter is, as more and more people are using a connection simultaneously for more and more of the same high-demand multimedia--applications like video, music, gaming and others--the pressure on us as ISPs to increase our capacity is great. And that, of course, means money.

The more robust--the more capacity that the network has--the greater ability it has to support multiple uses at the same time. That's the challenge: To provide our customers with a very fast experience, but also an experience that has enough capacity to meet all their needs at the same time.

I think that anyone that has been a consumer in the modern information world that we live in knows that, where once upon a time a dial connection seemed like more than enough, that isn't even broadband today. In order to raise a family and put kids through school and do a little work at home, you need a very high-speed connection. Even what you might have needed a couple years ago, maybe a 1.5 megabit service, would have seemed fine because most of what you did was e-mail and some Web surfing. Today that doesn't begin to be enough. You're looking for three, five or seven megabits of information so that you can do the multimedia stuff that we all want the Internet for.

Of course, that isn't going to stop. Everyday there are more and more new high tech multimedia applications that become available to us. Just the download of applications to our multiple devices takes a lot of bandwidth. Those applications, once they are downloaded, take bandwidth. Our software is constantly being upgraded by the manufactures that sold it to us and, of course, there is the endless multimedia that we are shooting from videos to still pictures. All of that means more and more bandwidth.

I don't know what the future holds, but I would not be surprised if someday we all wake up and think that 50 megabit service is just enough to get by.

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