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Confusion reigns: when 20MB/s internet speed is only 2MB/s

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The technology industry loves its confusing terminologies and TLAs (three letter acronyms). Things had improved mainly because of the consumerisation of IT but yet there still exist a lot of different terms and definitions. Nowhere is this truer than in internet service provision. In this two part blog, I’m going to look at the definitions and explain what they actually mean to you as a business looking for an internet provider – and what you can expect to receive as a service – whether you’re buying ADSL, EFM, fibre optic broadband, contented or bonded. In the second part, I’ll turn my attention to EFM specifically and how it can provide a company with a cost-effective solution when positioned correctly.

Confusion still reigns in the B2B internet provision market. I believe this is due to mis-leading messaging by the consumer internet industry, where terms like ‘fibre optic broadband’ are regularly used in conjunction with phrases such as ‘we don’t share your line with anyone else’. The result is a mis-belief by consumers that they are getting a dedicated full speed service over fibre optic broadband, when in fact they are not! In reality nobody ‘shares the line’ because they can’t. The telephone cable that carries their internet traffic from their house to the exchange is not used for any other traffic than that specific consumer. Typically, this good old fashioned metallic cable (and not fibre optic cable) that leaves the house or business premises goes to a local ‘pillar’ or ‘connection box’ and then onto the fibre optic network back to the exchange (providing you have paid extra for that!) but where does it go from there?

The truth is that in most cases the cable that takes your internet traffic from your home or premises to the exchange is supplied by BT Openreach. You may be paying line rental to A.N. Other provider but they have paid BT a wholesale fee for the use of the cables. The broadband part of the service is the line that connects to the supplier’s equipment in the exchange and then travels over their local or national network to wherever they access internet. In the UK that is usually the London internet Exchanges known as ‘LINX’ or ‘LonAP’. So don’t be fooled by the advertising that hints it is ‘local’ or ‘honest Broadband from ——– . The quality and performance of your internet connection on broadband is not the result of your line from your house or premises but really down to how much capacity your supplier ‘shares’ with its subscribers.

Shares? What do I mean by ‘shares’?

This is the bit they don’t tell you or want you to clearly understand. There is only so much capacity available as it must all be paid for. Providers work on the principle that not everyone is actually passing data across those lines all the time so they share capacity out. This means that it’s highly unlikely that you’re getting the 5Mb/s or 20Mb/s the service provider’s ‘speed checker’ says you are. Having a ’10Mb/s’ connection does not mean you will get data transferred at that rate. The clock rate in many cases is based on a ‘ping’ rate – a simple exchange very different to receiving an email with an attachment.

It is not uncommon to have 50:1 rate of current users sharing out capacity. Known as contention rates, the trend is usually around 20:1 for both consumer and business. This means it’s possible that the clock rate shows you are getting 20Mb/s downlink and 2Mb/s uplink, but you are being contended at up to 20:1. So, let’s be generous and say it never gets worse than 10:1 (and it does vary all the time – does your broadband ever seem to run slowly then be OK again?), so suddenly my 20Mb/s is now 2Mb/s – and of course that is not even the data transfer rate.

Sharing that at home, or in many cases with three or five people in a small office is OK, but now you want to share amongst a lot of people using business applications, streaming video or even voice and all of a sudden it doesn’t work very well.

This is where ‘EFM’ and some other technologies work well. In my next blog, I’ll take a look at these internet services and show how they can work well in a business environment.

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