Bandwidth Angst

The closed door couldn't contain our boss's profanity. His muffled yells spilled through to the outer office where three of us worked. Each time we heard a new tantrum begin, we paused to listen for the frustrated fist that would slam down on his desk a moment later. Some outbursts struck us as funny and we'd hurry outside with our hands clapped over our mouths until it was safe to laugh as loud as we needed to.

It was 1997 and our boss had popped open his computer and upgraded his snail-like 14.4 modem to a new, blazing 28.8 model.
He was giddy about doubling his Internet access speed and bragged that he could now download a whopping one megabyte file in less than eight minutes. He soon began to ambitiously download enormous four and five megabyte files. These attempts usually resulted with his predictable screaming, desk pounding and, occasionally, some pathetic whimpering for all the time lost.

The problem, and source of our entertainment, was that dialup at any speed was unreliable. Phone line static, ISP service problems and a host of other factors made dialup connections precarious. Interruptions could occur at any moment, but usually chose to happen 29 minutes into a 30 minute download. Back then our boss had no ability to resume interrupted downloads, hence, his predicable screaming when the download percentage bar stalled at 98%.

Internet service has come a long way. Bandwidth (amount of data transferred per unit of time) available to us in our homes has increased much like storage space on hard drives has. The most common Internet service for residential consumers is cable or Digital Subscriber Line (DSL).

The debate over which is better for Internet service, cable or DSL lives on, however, it isn't as heated as it was a few years ago. Phone companies that offered DSL used to run commercials warning that cable Internet was a shared connection, implying a risk of sluggishness. These commercials disappeared when cable began to offer bandwidth up to 10x that of DSL. I use cable for my Internet access and have never suffered a slow connection. I'm sure I would be as happy with DSL. For simple emailing and web browsing, it really makes no difference.

Both services offer bandwidth that exceeds the needs of most home users. The bandwidth available for DSL may be limited to your home's location, but cable is not distance sensitive. DSL is a dedicated "private" connection, where cable is shared -although most users will never know it. Each service is different, but the product (high speed, full time Internet access) is virtually the same. Buy the best deal.

A new technology on the horizon called VDSL (Very High Bit-Rate DSL) offered now in only a few cities. It will spread as more phone lines are converted from copper to fiber optic. VDSL will introduce a bandwidth over 10x faster than cable with download speeds of 52 Mbs.

To illustrate, VDSL will download 1,856 times faster than my boss's 28.8 modem did. If he had VDSL in 1997, he would download his five megabyte file in less than half a second. That would have cleaned up his language and kept his fist from getting sore.

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