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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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One of the really frustrating things when I moved was that the Internet service in my new apartment was … abysmal, especially at night. Whereas things were generally “good” at my last apartment, it was clear that I was sharing my Internet connection with a bunch of goons bittorrenting their life away all night long. Typically I was getting only about 1-2 Mb/s downstream, and a little under 1 Mb/s upstream.

In some parts of the country (world), that would be respectable, I found that pretty stifling. Netflix would rebuffer all the time when I was streaming video, and downloading an episode of Lost on my Xbox would take hours after I’d purchased it, before I could watch it.

I called Cablevision to inquire why I was capped, since the 1 Mb/s upstream cap never lifted, no matter the time of day. They said I wasn’t capped, but I immediately noticed an increase to 2 Mb/s upstream after my call. Weird, right? With some tweaking of router settings and testing, I was able to determine that I could get between 5 and 6 Mb/s down, and 2 Mb/s up, which was much better. Until the evenings, that is, when things dropped to 2 Mb/s in both directions. Neighbors.

So, I went ahead and called Cablevision and signed up for their next tier of consumer service. I heard from a friend that they were getting good results after the upgrade. Some research led me to believe that the limit class that everybody with normal service occupied was not shared with the next tier up, so one could get far nearer the theoretical limit.

After a couple more phone calls (of course things didn’t work correctly, but tech support sorted things out on their end to get things functioning), I was upgraded, and seeing 27 Mb/s downstream and 5.6 Mb/s upstream, and about a quarter as much latency as before. Bandwidth nirvana. I discovered that Netflix actually streams in HD, now that I have enough bandwidth to use it, rather than just getting choppy blocking artifacts that make it hard to tell a face from a wet puppy.

I plugged things back into the normal network hardware and brought up the Gibsons, and finally managed to hit the type of limit that’s fun to hit: My router’s CPU became saturated, and limited me to about 12 Mb/s down while maintaining 5.5 Mb/s up. Still very nice, but it means a fast download will kill my switching speed. Ouch. And, well, it means I can’t download things at 3 megs a second, and that’s a shame.

The Soekris net4501 that’s been running my network for the last three years or so (rock solid and issue free, I’ll add) only has a 486-class CPU at about 133 MHz. It does its best, but it can’t handle this sort of bandwidth. So, I’ve ordered some new routing hardware, that should bring me up to something based on a 586-class AMD Geode at 500 MHz; I figure it should be able to keep up with the newfound surplus of bandwidth.

Some part of me wonders whether it’s worth it to be paying $65 a month for Internet service. The rest of me bludgeons that part of me to death. I’m living in the future.

But, more seriously, Cablevision is obviously selling a service that is substantially better at a premium. It’s not just a matter of doubling the bandwidth, as stated, but putting users in an entirely different QoS tier (whatever it is, technically speaking, behind the scenes, I don’t have any clue) is all sorts of unfortunate.

Oh, and tomorrow I need to go get my third iPhone 3G. What the hell.