Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Fast is Fast?

We've come to expect high speed Internet service in our homes and just about anywhere.

The days when I was dialing up on a phone line and a modem I thought was pretty impressive. I even recall making my very first phone call over a (fast at the time) dial-up connection saying to myself: This making phone calls over the Internet will never fly.

Well, most homes here have high speed Internet connections, typically provided by Cablevision. The standard service is about 12 Mbps download speed and 2 Mbps upload speed.

Cablevision offers higher speeds through their "Boost" service that yields 30 Mbps download speed and 5 Mbps upload speed. Cablevision always says their speeds are "up to" a certain amount.

But due to some work I've been doing lately, I decided to opt for Cablevision's "Ultra" service that offers 101 Mbps download speed and 15 Mbps upload speed. Again, the numbers are "up to."

The biggest difference with these services — other than the speed — is the price. The basic Optimum Online service is about $45/month. The Boost service is an extra $9.95 per month. The Ultra service is about $99/month. The Ultra service also requires a $300 activation fee plus a $34.95 installation fee.

So when the Cablevision installer arrived Sunday morning, the installation included a new cable modem and went quite well. As I also have Optimum Voice, he had to leave a second cable modem, since the cable modem that supports Optimum Ultra doesn't support Cablevision's voice service.

After the cable modem powered up, we tested it from one of my computers. We received 35 Mbps download speed and 15 Mbps upload. Quite a disappointment from the 101 Mbps advertised.

The technician suggested that I plug a computer directly into the cable modem. By doing so, the Internet speed jumped to a blazing 75 Mbps download and the 15 Mbps upload. Much better, but that meant that could only run one computer at a time off of my home network.

What I've determined is that my Motorola router provided with my Vonage service is probably not capable of handling the high speed connection that Cablevision provides. I've reached out to Vonage to see if they have a replacement router that I can use, but I have found that downloads throughout my home network are substantially faster, including web page loads and e-mails. (Update: after replacing my router, download speeds typically measure higher than 80 Mbps.)

Within a few years, we'll all be expecting Internet speeds higher than the 100 Mbps that is considered really fast now. Google has been offering to provide Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbps) to people's homes on an experimental basis.

But for now, I'm enjoying the ability to get my work done faster.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 30 November 2010.
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