We've all been lied to by Telcos about internet speed.
The Telco marketing machines have lead us to believe that the higher our bandwidth, the faster our internet connection will be. If that was the case, everyone who has migrated to the NBN onto a 100/40 Mbps (That's 100 Mbps download and 40 Mbps upload) would be overjoyed with the increase in productivity they are now enjoying and the blazing fast connections they now enjoy.
So why is it that so many people I speak to say that their connections are no faster and some even saying they feel slower?
Well that's because of the lie we've been told that having more bandwidth is equal to faster speeds.
Increasing your bandwidth won't necessarily increase your internet speeds and an ADSL connection that is working properly is more than enough for most people today if there was no or limited contention. An HD netflix movie will only use 5Mbps and YouTube states that to watch a HD video on their site only requires 2.5 Mbps. So if you have three devices in your house and two are watching YouTube and one watching Netflix, theoretically you only require 10Mbps with a couple extra for any overhead. Increasing your connection to 100Mbps would give you no added advantage unless you wanted to add more devices to your network.
The true measurement of internet speed is actually latency. Latency is the time it takes data to get from one point to another. It is measured in milliseconds and is represented as the time it takes your data to travel to a destination and for a response to be received (round trip time), and on many speed tests is refereed to as ping time. Think of latency as the speed limit on the highway.
Data can only travel at certain speeds and is affected by the medium that is used. For example a fibre optic cable transmits data as light and light, funnily enough, travels at the speed of light. Our data however doesn't travel down the length of a fibre optic cable at the speed of light because it doesn't travel down the fibre in a straight line. It bounces around the core and actually travels at around 2/3rd's the speed of light. Data travelling down a copper wire on the other hand only travels at around a third of the speed of light. The other factors that add to your latency are all the active equipment your data travels through. Each piece of active equipment needs to receive your data, decide what to do with it and send it on to the next destination. Each of these devices adds a few more milliseconds to the "speed" at which your data travels.
Now that we've dealt with the technicality of internet speeds, we need to discuss why bandwidth is really important and also why it isn't the solution to your slow speeds.
If you think about bandwidth as a highway and your data as cars travelling on that highway, latency will be your speed limit on that highway. If we have a one lane road, only one car at a time can travel past a certain point on that road. So we have latency (ie. the speed limit) restricting how fast the cars are travelling and bandwidth (the number of lanes on the highway) restricting how many cars can travel past a certain point on the highway.
So to increase our bandwidth, we just need to add more lanes to our highway. If we increase our highway to six lanes, we can now have more cars travelling past a certain point at the same time. The speed at which these cars are travelling doesn't increase due to the speed limits, but because we've added more lanes, ie. bandwidth, we've increased the amount of cars, ie data, that can travel past a certain point at the same time. This is the reason why increasing our bandwidth seems to be the answer to increasing our internet speeds, however all we are doing is allowing data throughput to increase.
So why is my internet still slow even though I now have more bandwidth?
This my friends is the million dollar question.
ISP's since the dawn of time have been telling us all manner of excuses as to why our internet might be under performing, but none of them will ever tell you the truth, much less actually do something about it! The answer is really quite simple. Returning to our highway scenario, if we imagine a set of tolls on our highway, the old school tolls we used to have to stop for and scrounge around our ashtrays for the change to pay them, and these tolls are operated by our internet service provider. What they are doing is limiting the amount of toll gates that are open. So when there aren't many cars on the highway, the limited amount of toll gates that are open isn't much of an issue, but when the highway is full of traffic at peak times and there's only a limited amount of toll gates open, all the cars need to slow down as they fight to get through.
It's exactly the same thing with our internet. During the day in a residential area your connection might be fine but once it gets to around 6-7 O'Clock at night, it slows right down. That is called contention and it is the number one problem we face. As more connected devices are added to each household, we stream more video and demand more bandwidth from our network, the more congested our networks are becoming.
The reason ISP's do this is because that's the easiest way to increase profit margins because the more toll gates they open or the more lanes they add to the road, the more it costs them. It doesn't matter if you're on an ADSL connection or an NBN connection. That is the reason why your experience is poor. A lot of people are experiencing this even worse with NBN connections and the reason for this is the extra expense it costs ISP's to connect to the NBN.
So how do we get around this?
Well, this is the hard part because we really are at the mercy of our ISP. There is only one ISP in Australia that I trust to provision enough bandwidth, ie. open enough toll gates, so that their customers experience is the best in the country. I know this because I have seen the model that they are using and I know that it works well.
For those people out there that want, or need, to have a certain amount of bandwidth at all times, there are dedicated services you can order that don't have any contention whatsoever. You have a dedicated amount of bandwidth that is for you and you alone. You have your own lane or multiples of lanes on a highway that only you can use. These connections however come at a greater cost. This is especially so in regional areas but times are changing and I, among others, are fighting to bring affordable options to regional areas.
So we've all been told that we require more bandwidth to make our internet faster but that, is a lie. Although an increase in bandwidth might help on the surface, it is contention that really needs to be addressed before our experience will improve.