High speed broadband – it’s the uploads!

December 20, 2005

Om Malik is wondering just how much speed we need when it comes to broadband.

After years of being stuck in the slow lane, the US consumers are finally going to get a massive speed upgrade and taste the true broadband for the first time. From a 512 Kbps world to 6 Mbps, then 8 and soon 15 Mbps…. it seems the future has finally arrived. And with that, the question…. how much speed is enough? Can we the consumers really tell the difference between 15 and 30 Mbps? Or is it just a way for the broadband operators to get us to pay more… for something which we might use less.

After a couple of months on Verizon’s FIOS service (coming from Comcast), I have to say that I agree — to a point — with Om’s position.

The difference between 6Mbps and 15Mbps in (for example) loading a web page, or even downloading a song from iTunes Music Store is pretty moot — not only are you limited by how fast the other end is sending data, but it often probably takes longer to set up the connection than it does to transmit the data.

Where the difference does begin to matter however is in upload speed. On a good day, my (nominally 6Mbps) Comcast connection would let me send data -out- at all of 128Kbps.

FIOS’s 15Mbps service has an outbound bandwidth of 2Mbps.

That often makes a lot of difference.

Of course, I work on a lot of sites remotely and so a lot of my time is spent in uploading data here or there, and this makes an obvious difference in that regard.

It can also make a difference just in general.

Most of the time when you are “receiving” data over the Internet, you’re also sending back “handshaking” information — telling the computer at the other end that you received one block of information, and are ready for the next.

If your “upload pipe” gets congested, then this also slows down all of your “downloads” — if the other end of your connection is waiting to hear from you to send the next packet, you may not even get to use all of the “download” speed you’ve actually got.

I live on the end of a fairly busy connection — not only am I working here, but I’ve also got a pair of 20-somethings in the house who are often busy playing online games, watching videos, and doing the rest of whatever a 20-something does to amuse themselves online.

Add in a pair of VOIP phonelines that are often in use, and it doesn’t take a lot to “tip the balance” — particularly on a connection limited to 128K uploads.

Of course, your mileage will vary depending on how you use the Internet, but don’t be too quick to assume that going from “fast broadband” to “really fast broadband” won’t make a difference for you — it may not be the bigger number in the connection speed that really matters.

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