LUS has launched a nifty new intranet speed test page. It tests the speed of the intranet portion of LUS’ internet offering. (And you can only get to it if you are already on the network.) The decision to treat all of Lafayette as a “campus” to make the full speed of the local network available to all subscribers—regardless of what they pay—is probably the most unique and impressive aspect of LUS’ service. It results in a single very high speed community within Lafayette of 100 mbps of service. Whether you buy into the lowest speed package or the highest one; whether you are the mayor or plain Joe Citizen you get 100 mbps to talk to your fellows on the network. That’s something to be proud of both technically and socially…Campus networks are typically something you can only find within large college campuses or the “campus” of large corporations like Microsoft.
That 100 mbps is the technical limit of the hardware currently in use (as I understand it) and techy types here have always been curious as to how close LUS can get to that limit. For instance for 100 mbps “fast” etherenet—ethernet being the usual reference standard for networking—is theoretically capable of 100 mbps but in real-world situations achieving 80 mbps consistently is considered good by the technical sorts that administer these things.
On that score LUS must be working with some good engineers…I got 94 mbps out of my connection on this test:
What’s more its rock-steady…look at the tiny variations in the blue speed line over the test:
But the most surprising part of the above speed graph is that inconspicuous red line right at the bottom…1 ms of “delay” aka “latency.” That’s every bit and maybe more surprising than getting so close to the 100 mbps barrier. Latency is crucial in making next-generation interactive audio and visual applications work well. If you want to actually talk to and see someone in real time it is crucial—and is seperate from simple “speed” which might better be described for these purposes as “capacity.” You need the transit time from you to the person you are talking to and back to you to be as low as possible. You do need enough speed/capacity for good video resolution and audio; but you also need a very quick response–you need low latency to make the whole experience worthwhile. (You’ve recall those nice clear pictures of on-scene reporters from the other side of the world talking to show’s anchor. You also recall those long pauses and akward starts and stops? That’s the latency part.) 1 ms of delay is astounding. Even more astounding the absolutely flat line in that graph—every point reports at 1 ms—indicates that 1 ms is simply the lower bound of this testing setup. LUS’ delay varies somewhere below 1 ms. The company that designed the software clearly didn’t think that it needed to ever worry about reporting delay any smaller and so is reporting all delay below 1 ms as “1 ms.” LUS has confounded the expectation that delay below 1 ms isn’t practical. Wow again.
So, in its summary, the software tries to tell you what your connection is good for…and in this case the decision rendered has to sound like a laconic understatment:
With 94 mbps and and at 99% consistency the service is “high enough to support a high quality” voice conversation is a vast understatement. That’s enough to support, without strain due to the connection, an HD video conversation….or several. Within the network you simply won’t have to worry about the network limits on what you can do. These limits are far beyond what the current hardware and software is designed to handle. —The falsely high report of 1 ms from this test software is an example of how really high speed/high quality networks expose that weakness.
Looking For A Downside
In fact that hints at the dark lining on our silver clound: We’ve gotten so far ahead of the curve that we are finding new choke points—choke points that few others have to worry about. In practice the most serious choke points are usually local—in the last mile network or in your ISP’s regional feeder system that supplies that last mile. Server delay sometimes figures in to a slow-loading page but is usually transient. The people who run the popular servers know that slow-loading pages drives the traffic they want away and fix any issues that might arise. Even rarer is within-premise delay. Your local network has typically been so much faster than what your ISP supplies at the wall of your house that misconfigurations and out-of-date hardware don’t effect your perceived speed.
But with the sorts of speeds that LUS is providing, especially on the intranet, all these formerly unimportant server issues and local network messes suddenly become the new bottleneck. For instance: I’ve noted before that I haven’t felt obliged to upgrade my WiFi to the newer, faster N standard because I simply couldn’t get enough real bandwidth from Cox for two of us to saturate my wifi’s ability to push bits. That’s no longer true. The 94 mbps that I got above was what I got when I connected directly to LUS’ ethernet connection. When I tried the same thing through my WiFi my connection dropped to 44 mbps. I lost half of my available speed! Frankly, I’m not upset—my current WiFi hardware is set up as an a/g network. When I tested it both my wife and I had connections open. The theoretical limit of an a/g setup is 54 mbps and and the typical achieved rate is about 22 mbps. My setup is working fine. It’s just old-fashioned. I need to segment the network leave my wife’s old laptop connected to an a/g node which is all her ‘puter can handle and connect mine to the N version. (hey! Don’t look at me like that. I tried to get her a new laptop. She won’t let go of the one she has.) 802.11 n is supposed to get, in practical situations, 144 mbps…plenty enough for now.
When I talked to LUS about this they said they’ve had a lot of issues with routers not being able to push LUS’s speeds out to the laptops. This problem emerges not only in old a/g wifi routers and even some N ones but more surprisingly also over the ethernet ports in some of those routers. (Pure 10/100 ethernet routers can generally handle the speeds on wired networks, I’d presume. My wifi router, an Apple Time Machine, happily doesn’t have the weakness some combined routers do but you should check yours if you use any ethernet.) So…all that speed is going to put pressure on our creaky local area networks (LANs). It’s my intention to rewire my house with cat 6 wiring and install a new gig ethernet (1000 mbps) router—all our working puters can use that speed. And since I’ve now got the speed I’m gonna trade out the old WiFi and put in new ethernet connections to my nifty new LUS box, media computer, the newer TiVo, my PS3, and hey the TV has an ethernet port, why not? (The day is coming soon when I’ll video conference on my big screen TV with folks here in Lafayette…) They’ll join my printer and kid/server ‘puter on the faster wired network.
So…Lafayette, the good news is that you’ve got a fantastic network to use—at astonishing prices too. The bad news, such as it is, is that you’ll have to start paying some attention to your end of the connection for probably the first time in your life. There might be some work involved.
I’m kinda enjoying having that kind of “problem.” 🙂 Have fun!