Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Need for Speed

Broadband Internet service has become the norm for every connected home today. We expect high speed Internet service, with web pages loading in an instant and live videos playing without a hiccup. But are you getting what you are paying for? Every ISP labels its service as "high speed", be it a DSL connection, or a cable connection or a wireless "air card".

Your overall Internet experience actually depends on throughput and not just speed. A higher speed does not necessarily mean a better Internet connection. The quality of the connection matters equally, if not more. When evaluating an Internet service, one has to pay attention to three factors - speed, error rate and latency.

Speed refers to the amount of data that can be transmitted per second - measured in Kilobits or Megabits per second. A high speed connection in my view should provide a minimum of 256 Kbps speed, for decent performance.

Error rate refers to the percentage of messages lost during data transfer. This term is also referred to as "packet loss". Data networks are not perfect, and from time to time messages get dropped. Fortunately, the networking software in our computers will automatically re-transmit the messages if no confirmation of delivery is received. Error rates should be minimal. Anything above 1% is not acceptable. The performance of a 64 Kbps connection with a 0.5% error rate is way better than a 512 Kbps line with a 2% error rate.

Latency is the time it takes for data to travel from your computer to its destination, measured in milliseconds. It is analogous to the delay we perceive in an overseas phone conversation. A higher latency implies that your quality will suffer more under errors. An average latency of 300 milliseconds is acceptable. Anything higher than that will severely impact throughput during errors.

It is easy for us to evaluate the quality of an Internet connection. The Broadband Speed Test website measures the latency, upload and download speeds of your Internet connection. Before you purchase a new Internet service, ask for a demonstration and check out the performance yourself.

More details on how to use the Broadband Speed Test can be found here on the Cyberwatch blog along with a comparison between popular Internet services available in India.

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