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Life in the fast lane: What gigabit Internet makes better

Glenn Fleishman | Nov. 27, 2015
An upgrade from a trickle to a flood has made your reporter feel like he's living partly in the future: The Internet can still be really slow, even with a fiber link.

I wanted to test out Amazon’s Cloud Drive option for photos, which is $12 a year for unlimited images and 5GB of other data, including videos, or free with a Prime membership. I pushed about 60GB there, but it took hours rather than minutes, due to throttling on Amazon’s end, not mine.

It was easy to see how unevenly various websites and Internet services perform—and how CPU and software limited I was. I’ve used Firefox for years, from the point that Safari still had odd behaviors related to re-opening pages with forms, and wasn’t compliant enough to work with some sites. But after quite a bit of testing, I found Firefox was holding me back: Safari and Chrome are both lickety-split with the web, while Firefox’s rendering time seems to drag it down.

Even with Safari, latency can be a killer when throughput is high. Latency is how long it takes for something to get underway, rather than how fast it occurs once it’s moving—like inertia versus momentum. Consider if turning on a water tap triggered a valve far away to open up and release liquid: even a huge, high-pressure pipe can’t make the water get to you faster if it’s “far” away. The same is true with some sites and services, where each interaction has a lot of handshaking back and forth, or in which the initial response is delayed.

Dropbox, for instance, isn’t slow by any means, but it does a lot of collating and indexing when changes are made, and is always seemingly uploading file lists and checking things. Once uploads or downloads commence, they occur with lightning speed over gigabit broadband, however.

Another clog, impossible to tell without a little sleuthing, is the interconnection between CenturyLink and the rest of the Internet isn’t possible always clear to use. CenturyLink can’t give me a dedicated 1Gbps channel, of course, and not every path between the telco and an Internet resource is going to be uncongested.

The difference between local area networking (LAN) and wide area networking (WAN)—i.e., the Internet—were sometimes profound in a direction I didn’t expect. Copying something to another Mac on the LAN could take longer than uploading it to a distant server. Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) is hoary and inefficient, while Internet services have streamlined their file-transfer methods.

It’s just like the air we breathe

So many things cease to be burdens. Downloading documents, files, or videos in the hundreds of megabytes to several gigabytes doesn’t require twiddling my thumbs and finding something to do in the meantime. They speed along and I can move on to the next activity right away. Uploading is the true dream, but I was so constrained—most people with broadband in America have more than 3Mbps upstream.


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