Apr 13

The Need for Speed (tests)

Life in the Not-So-Fast data lane

Office Internet Speed Test

From time to time I run speed tests to see how my current connection fares in comparison to others with similar services. OK, full disclosure – I run a test for every new connection! I use internet-based tools in addition to Windows Ping and TraceRoute utilities when it seems like things are moving slower than expected, which is most of the time. My favorite flash-based speed test site is SpeedTest.Net. They recently upgraded the appearance of their test application and it’s gorgeous! Give it a try.

Internet connection speeds never seem to be fast enough. And the latest speed test of my office DSL is running almost as fast as advertised rates but continues to be slower than my Mediacom cable internet service of the past. But that’s OK. I’ll take a slight speed loss versus the nearly $40 more per month that Mediacom began charging one month before I switched back to AT&T DSL for their $25 per month High Speed Internet Direct Elite service. I’d bump the service to the next speed tier and give DishNetwork HD the boot if the U-verse High Speed Internet Max also supported two VOIP phone lines in my neighborhood. But they don’t . . . [sigh]

Speed testing services are extremely helpful in determining whether or not I’ll pay for internet access at hotels without free offerings while traveling on business. In many cases I stick with the cellular data options that I carry with me all the time instead of using local hotel WiFi offerings. Hotels networks are notoriously slow and routinely overloaded at peak times when guests are in their rooms (go figure). Even if hotel internet access is free, I’d swear I could deliver data packets by Pony Express faster than some hotel networks seem to get them out the data door. I’m usually better off from a throughput standpoint to use either my Verizon MiFi or the 3G Hotspot activated on my Verizon Droid Incredible phone (two business trips ago) than to access the hotel network.

Recently, my buddy Dr. Humm needed internet access for his Apple iPad while we met at corporate offices. Safari was coughing-up hairballs while attempting to login and connect to our (IE 6 is our CIS gold standard – ha!) corporate WiFi access in the building. Since I’d been toying with activating the service for an additional $20 per month (2GB data allowance) it was the perfect opportunity to test the 3G WiFi Hotspot function. It worked like a charm for Brother Phil, two other colleagues, and me too.

I’m so pleased that I took the chance to activate the 3G Hotspot  instead of penny-pinching and putting off trying it until a later date. The $20 extra on my cell phone bill for 2Gb of monthly data usage is so much better than the $40 per month of Verizon MiFi access which allows only 250Mb of data per month. On a few business trips I burned through the MiFi monthly data allowance in just two evenings of Netflix Instant viewing. The throughput rates supported by 3G cellular connections are marginal at best (small video windows have passable quality at a distance) but I’ll admit that I fell asleep during the second evening of Netflix viewing and the MiFi continued to ping the network while I snoozed. Retaining the MiFi despite its annoyances is enough information for an entirely different post.

All these words about connection speeds and mobile data connectivity experiences are based on interactivity while off the company clock. But the very best thing about the Verizon 3G Mobile Hotspot is that it also supports my company VPN client. That’s a major deal for me because in reality I’m always on the company clock checking something or responding to global requests which occur 24/7. The MiFi will connect to our company VPN but the connection only lasts a few minutes. Every time it goes into power conservation mode (no way to disable that I’ve found) the VPN connection drops and I’m constantly restarting the VPN client which totally disrupts my workflow. And hotel networks rarely have open ports to support VPN access which makes them useless for any internal company network access. Kudos to the 3G Mobile Hotspot feature for maintaining a rock-solid VPN connection when it’s really needed.

It boggles my mind that such a diatribe about office and mobile connectivity, at the speeds we consider slow today, is even possible. I remember the day when I managed a multi-line BBS many years ago with a bank of V.34 dial-up modems on analog phone lines. Those connections rarely reached their 28.8/33.6kbps throughput potential. Even then I was singing the speed test blues, wishing I could just GO FASTER! But the web was in its infancy then. We’ve come so far! But not nearly far enough . . .



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