The Need for Speed

I never liked the terms "upload" and "download". I think "inload" and "outload" might be better, just because they don't carry implications of subordination or unequal required effort.

As it happens most of our home connections are asymmetrical: much higher coming in than going out.Om Malik reports how poorly his "high speed" connection works for backup over the Net: approximately 90Kbps on the outbound, even though the inbound is around 9Mbps &#151 the claimed speed for Covad's ADSLs+ connection was "up to 15Mbps".

I'm not sure why his connection is so slow. Is all ADSL sucky as well as asymmetrical? I dunno. I've never had ADSL.

Up until '96 I had dial-up. Then from '96-97 I had Metricom's wireless Ricochet, which promised 33Kbps, but rarely reached that speed. Then, at my last house in the Bay Area, I got Covad/Concentric's IDSL, which (as I understood it) was IDSN tricked up to resemble DSL. There the deal was 110Kbps symmetrical, plus sixteen IP addresses. I ran servers out of the house on that speed.

One reason I was glad to move to Santa Barbara was much higher-speed Internet connectivity through the local cable provider, which was Cox. At first the measured speeds were as much as 7Mbps on the downstream and 1Mbps on the upstream. That was when Cox was using @Home's backhaul. Then they switched to their own and "improved" service by making it slower: 3Mbps down and 300Kbps up. More recently I've been getting their maximum, which is 5Mbps down and 1Mbps up. And it delivers as promised.

Here at my apartment near Boston, my Internet is provided by Verizon FiOS, which delivers 20Mb symmetrical service for $60-something per month. I test it often, and it's solid. I haven't set up an offsite backup system yet (not for whole drives anyway — recommendations welcome), but I have no trouble uploading full-size photos by the bucketload, both to my own Flickr account (now approaching 28,000 shots) and Linux Journal's photo collection.

Still, it seems to me that the promise of "cloud" and "utility" computing remains conditional at best for those with connections as bad as Om's. Which is most of us, I presume.

I just got back from Freedom To Connect, where speeds are of the essence. A 65Mb fiber connection was shared there, and the connectivity in both directions was rock solid. This was almost a New Thing in my experience of conferences. The week before at SXSW, a much larger conference, the connectivity was also solid, though not quite as fast. That was the only conference I've ever attended at which the cell phone service (by AT&T at least) was hosed (by an abundance of iPhones), while the wi-fi was reliable. Usually it's the other way around.

Among the many iconic moments in the movie Top Gun, the characters Maverick and Goose, heading to their fighter jet, have an exchange that goes like this:

Maverick: I feel the need...
Maverick, Goose: ...the need for speed!

I sense that the whole culture is starting to feel the same way.

Starting, that is. Most non-geeks still hardly care.

But the time is coming when we're all going to want the connectivity equivalent of hot and cold running water, of paved roads, of 100+ amp electric service.

Much of F2C was about what would be done with the $7.x billion devoted in the "stimulus" plan to "broadband" upgrades. Right now I worry that the whole thing causes a market distortion that might do more harm than good. Or, put more kindly, might do less good than the plan hopes for.

Still, I think that the demand for better service will grow. And the market, in whatever shape it takes (which right now appears to include many more "munis" -- municipalities), will respond with better speeds.

Because the need will be there.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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I am from India and we get

LEADS's picture

I am from India and we get much slower connection than here in USA so I don't have any complaints about any connections.

I'm living in Asia (South

Anonymous's picture

I'm living in Asia (South Korea to be exact) where we can get a fiber connection (100+ mbs) for about $30/month. No caps. I'm on a cheaper plan (approximately $21 USD per month... again no caps) but I just ran a speed test and I got a result of 67 mbs. Listening to the speeds and prices people pay in other parts of the world is really really sad. Especially for America... I mean you guys invented the Internet so I'd expect you to be on top of the game there.

This is what happens when....

JimmyTheGeek's picture

....corporations are allowed to monopolize infrastructure and get fat in the wallet and lazy in the R&D department.

Even in Southern California

Portable Storage's picture

Even in Southern California the normal speeds for DSL and Cable are slow, not even close to symmetrical, and extremely unreliable. Something's gotta change.


60 dollars for 20MB??

Turgut Kalfaoglu's picture

I think I'll start crying. In Turkey, I'm paying close to $60 for a 2MB ADSL. Yes, there is no typo, it's just 2. :(

in Austria we pay nearly 115

Anonymous's picture

in Austria we pay nearly 115 $ for 2 MB (symmetrical)


Anonymous's picture

"Is all ADSL sucky as well as asymmetrical?"

Do you know what the "A" stands for?

A stands for....

JimmyTheGeek's picture

Okay. There are 2 types of DSL service, SDSL and ADSL. The SDSL stands for Synchronous Digital Subscriber Line, and is less common. This would be for services where your upload and download speeds are equal.

ADSL stands for Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line, and is the most common DSL service available. This is where you are getting your 16MB up/1MB down numbers. This service is cheaper to provide because the ISP doesn't have to invest in the equipment and infrastructure to ensure the up/down speeds are equal. Well, that and they save the best for themselves.

<S> and <A>

Lew's picture

The "S" in Sdsl means "Symmetrical". An SDSL service provides the same data rates on both the inbound and outbound pipes; the data rates are /symmetrical/.

The "A" in Adsl means "Asymmetrical". An ADSL service provides a different data rate on the inbound pipe from the data rate on the outbound pipe; the data rates are /asymmetrical/.

The literature claims that ADSL uses less bandwidth than SDSL. ADSL is (according to the proponents) "ideally suited" for home use, where there is little outbound data (such as HTTP GET requests) and a lot of inbound data (such as HTTP responses) because the SDSL outbound pipe has a lower data rate than the inbound pipe has, and the overall two-way connection is "balanced".

The cloud and speed

David Lane's picture

I must be an odd-ball. I find my pokey little DSL connection to be more than fast enough for my needs. Now, I will admit that I do not run servers from my house and I spend so much time in front of a PC during the day that when I get home at night, I really do not want to turn on the computer, even to check my emails. I only find it to be a difficulty during emergencies when I am monitoring a number of information feeds and doing a number of updates in a short period of time. So the fact that Verizon just installed FiOS in my neighbourhood is little more than an inconvenience, and a fervent hope that my grass will grow back.

However, when we keep hearing about cloud computing I keep shaking my head because the issue of both speed, cost and up-time, that dreaded business triad, is still not keeping pace. High speed lines are still hideously expensive and their reliability is still not quite what it needs to be for always on computing, especially grid style computing where the processing is shared, not between machines but between facilities. It is improving, but there is still a long way to go.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

Faster, faster, faster!

Khürt's picture

I would gladly pay $60/month for symetrical 10Mb/s. Right now I pay Comcast (Princeton,NJ) $50/month for 16Mb/s inbound and 1 Mb/s outbound. Online backup and uploads to Flickr seems to take forever now that I have a large megapixel digital camera. Uploading video to Vimeo? Forget it.

Faster, faster, faster!

Khürtrt's picture

I would gladly pay $60/month for symetrical 10Mb/s. Right now I pay Comcast (Princeton,NJ) $50/month for 16Mb/s inbound and 1 Mb/s outbound. Online backup and uploads to Flickr seems to take forever now that I have a large megapixel digital camera. Uploading video to Vimeo? Forget it.

Dreaming on.....

JimmyTheGeek's picture

....because _ALL_ the carriers are focused solely on areas that make them money the quickest, which leaves people like me in the dark, stuck with the choice of either slow dial-up or too expensive satellite Internet. We as a rural population are ignored by all of them because there are less than 40 households per square mile. Sure, I could move to the city and get basic DSL (512 MB up) or cable (768 MB up), but then I'd have to give up the large yard my kids play in, the peace and quiet, and the fresh air. My quality of life is more important than moving solely for Internet speed.

But part of me wonders, if the carriers brought DSL/Cable/Fiber out here, wouldn't our property values go up? Wouldn't we attract more people to our area because we have high-speed Internet? The question of high-speed Internet availability is one of the first ones brought up by potential buyers in our area, with them often choosing sites in town or in areas with at least basic DSL or cable services.

Until then, we are slowly browsing and BARELY getting any kind of meaningful work done on the Internet. It's nearly impossible to take online classes because the content is so richly based in video and even graphics -- try downloading a 10 MB PowerPoint over dial-up sometime.

If only AT&T or Comcast (in our area already) would listen....

I completely agree...

Benjie Gillam's picture

... more speed - NOW! I wish I had "20Mb symmetrical service for $60-something per month" I'm paying £30/mo (~$45/mo) and getting 7MB down, 400kb up, which is extremely frustrating... I'd rather have 2MB symmetrical, let alone 20MB! Unfortunately where I live there's nothing that fits my needs/wants.

I use gigabit inside the house, all file systems mounted over NFS to a 3TB RAID6 array, which is pretty darn swift... One day perhaps we'll be able to achieve something capable of backing this up "into the cloud" and fully encrypted. One day...