This is the first in a three-part series where we explore some of the technical problems with delivering fast-downloads and ever faster internet speeds. If you’ll pardon the pun, have we hit the buffers?
The worldwide web has come a long way from the early days of dial-up connections. Upgrades in telecommunications infrastructure and computer processing speeds have led to much faster connections, greater network capacity, which has built consumer pressure for files in much higher resolution and faster downloading and streaming of full-length movies. That things have moved and improved is beyond dispute, but even with the fastest internet connection you’re still likely to experience the annoying buffering whilst streaming a video on sites such as YouTube. With users continuing to demand increasingly fast download speeds and less waiting time, why does this happen and what’s the solution?
Fast Video Download Speeds?
Browse the websites of any internet service provider (ISP) or glance at their advertisements and you’ll see connection speeds of 100mb or more being advertised but let’s get straight to the point; this isn’t the effective speed of your connection.
Let’s be clear, no-one is suggesting that the ISP’s are pulling a confidence trick- the speed measured is accurate. The standard measured is the speed of the connection between your computer and your ISP’s servers but in practice this isn’t the only factor which results in the speed of your internet downloads. The problem isn’t deceitful behavior from ISP’s. After all, they are measuring accurately; the only thing is that they are measuring the first leg in a long journey.
Research by Google has shown that on a 10 megabyte line, the average performance they were able to work at is 1.6mb, which means that 84% of capacity is lost. Furthermore, whilst you may think that doubling your connection speed will double your download speed, Google established that on average you gain a 5% increase in performance when moving from say a 5mb to a 10mb connection. So if you’re looking for faster video downloads then upgrading your connection alone simply isn’t the solution.
The reason that upgrading your connection doesn’t really solve the problem is because the main problem isn’t the bandwidth, i.e. the capacity of your connection but rather latency on the line. Latency is the time it takes for a request to be sent from your computer to its destination and back again. Naturally, the further your computer from its destination, the longer this round-trip will take. Increasing bandwidth doesn’t address the issue of latency at all and if all you are doing is increasing the bandwidth, the law of diminishing marginal returns comes into effect. Indeed, SPEEDbit’s own research data shows that the difference in maximum download and upload speeds gained from a 100mb connection is negligible when compared to the speeds achieved on a 20mb line.
The failure to achieve optimal performance is also explained in part by the historical way that the system works. Data (sent in packets) is traditionally sent in single requests; only once the previous request has been completed can the next be sent. If this seems to be just a little bit 1970s, but too much moustache and not enough disco; well that’s because it is.
The standard communication ports and protocols in a home computer were not designed for the function of large-scale data transfer, yet this is how people have ended up using the internet. Whilst there is a way to use the standard communication protocols differently, the operating systems that interface with the TCP/IP continue to use the traditional system and this alone results in a significant loss of performance.
There is a way to mitigate the loss of speed but that doesn’t involve merely upgrading to a “faster” connection because as the research has shown faster connections above 20mb aren’t actually significantly faster at doing what people want the internet to do.
Local Solutions: Download Manager
The internet can be likened to the public water system. Water is pumped all over the city being divided up by the different users along its way, who are all connected to the same system. If you measure the pressure at source you’ll get a fantastic reading but that doesn’t help the guy who sees little more than a dribble when he turns on the tap. The internet is similar. Take a reading of the connection between your computer and your ISP and the figures look great but this is only measuring the first leg in the journey. When you want to download video the signal must pass through several servers (there can be often be 40 or more stages- called hops- from your computer to the server from which you are downloading). By time the signal has made its way from your house and back again the actual speed is much slower. Additionally you are restricted to the speed at which the slowest server is operating (we’ll discuss this in more detail in part two).
The fellow waiting to fill his tub doesn’t complain to the water company, so long as something is coming out of the faucet, because they can’t do anything. He calls a plumber who comes to fit a pump to the pipes in his home. Internet users need to find a similar solution because however good the connection speeds are from you to your ISP, the download speed you work with never comes anywhere close.
A solution that can increase download speeds significantly (the overall level of improvement depends on the starting point) is SPEEDbit’s Download Accelerator Plus (DAP) software. DAP is the next generation of internet communication; you don’t need to overhaul your hardware rather DAP makes your computer work smarter. Essentially, if you’re paying for a connection of more than 20mb and not using Download Accelerator Plus then you are far from getting value for money (skeptics please note: the basic version of our latest release is free to download and use and to date in excess of 250 million users have downloaded our software in its various incarnations).
In the upcoming section we’ll look at some of the other reasons that could be slowing down your internet connection and what you can do about it. Section three will look at the technological advances in download manager and download accelerator software.