Suspicions confirmed: you're not getting the bandwidth you pay for

August 18, 2010 by Dave Haynes

This will shock you to your core – there’s hard evidence that telecoms and cablecos are stretching the truth about their service delivery.

Ok, it’s actually more of a “Well, no kidding” moment.

Lifehacker posted this morning about the US Federal Communications Commission’s new report on broadband performance. The focus of the technical paper is on consumer delivery, but I doubt many would argue the experience is shared on business accounts, as well.

In a nutshell, you ain’t getting what you’ve been sold. You’re getting maybe half.

As noted above, in 2009, average (mean) and median advertised download speeds were 7–8 Mbps, across technologies. However, FCC analysis shows that the median actual speed consumers experienced in the first half of 2009 was roughly 3 Mbps, while the average (mean) actual speed was approximately 4 Mbps. Therefore actual download speeds experienced by U.S. consumers appear to lag advertised speeds by roughly 50%.

The actual speed that consumers experience influences their ability to access and utilize applications and content. The most commonly cited speed for broadband connections is the maximum advertised speed.29 But maximum advertised speed does not take into account congestion or degradation of service over the connection line. This metric also does not account for performance degradation due to user devices (i.e., slow- or low-performing computers, under-functioning wired and wireless home routers, etc.) or the performance of websites and applications, all of which are typically outside of the control of the ISP.

Yet this “up to” speed is commonly the only metric that can be used to compare the speeds of different broadband offerings.

The “up to” speed, however, does not provide an accurate measure of likely end-user broadband experience. That experience depends on multiple factors, including the actual speed that consumers realize, taking into account the impact of network congestion; and other metrics like the availability of the network, latency, jitter and packet loss.

Why does this matter?

Well, if you are planning a screen network you need to understand how much content you are going to be moving around and how long it will take to get there. If you have a network with short dwell times and therefore a short loop, then crappy connect speeds are  not a biggie. If you are moving a lot of files, or doing things like streaming any of your content, potentially big biggie.

It’s a nice technical document but not too technical (I “get” a lot of it, so it passes the lowest common denominator test). Among the good stuff are some graphics that show what kind of broadband speeds you need to maintain a necessary quality of service.

The PDF is available here …

BTW, I just tested my connect speed. It is 1/4 of what’s advertised, but actually way faster – 3 MBs down – then I thought I was getting. Cogeco says I can get up to 14 MBs down. Hah. If everyone in southern Ontario goes to France on holidays.

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