Not long ago I attended a dinner sponsored by my mobile home park. Conversation turned to how fast were people’s Internet connections. One person said that the local cable provider was delivering 7 Mbs. Another said that their DSL provider was delivering 3 Mbs but could deliver more at a price. A third said that his budget was large and that he would subscribe to the fastest connection available. It was obvious that NONE of these otherwise intelligent folk had a clear understanding of what they were purchasing. All agreed that their broadband service was a lot better than the dial-up that they had previously experienced. I could have given them a lecture on broadband, but it was not a good time or place, so I remained silent and just smiled knowingly.
In my storage shed there is a cardboard box with old electronic equipment including my U.S. Robotics 56K telephone modem. It was, and still is, a good telephone modem. The speed is contained in the name, 56Kbps. Quite enough for email and web browsing but not adequate for streaming media like videos or for downloading large files like movies. A CD has a capacity of about 700 MB. It’s what you need for a full length movie or complete operating system. The capital “B” in MB means bytes as opposed to bits (1 byte has 8 bits). The “M” means Mega (1000), so 700 MB is about 700,000 bytes. Divide by 56 and you will see that under otherwise ideal conditions it will take about 12,500 seconds or 208 minutes to download a full CD of information whatever it is. Ideal conditions are theoretical and are seldom achieved. It’s an overnight job for dial-up users.
Computer geeks often refer to speed as “band width”. Note the use of the word “width” and, in fact also note the inclusion of the word “broad” in broadband. The concept is that the wider an opening is, the more you can put or get through it. The real question is how much width do you need? There is no point in paying a premium for bandwidth that you do not use. It’s like paying for premium grade gasoline when your car runs fine on regular.
One standard broadband unit is 512 Kbps. Did you know that? That’s just a little less than 10 times dial-up speed. Just 1 Mbs is about 20 times dial-up speed. A typical DSL customer will be offered 3 Mbs (sometimes even less). This is more than sufficient for an average Internet user. Should a user accustomed to 3 Mbs have access to a 7 Mbs connection he or she will notice little if any difference in performance.
So who really does need the higher speeds? The answer is pretty simple and one that we tend to forget. Often, in homes and in offices there are multiple users sharing the same internet connection through the use of a router. Individually, the users may not consume large amounts of bandwidth, but when added together the total consumption can exceed the capacity of the system. A good analogy is to a well with a pump. The pump has a maximum capacity, let’s say of 5 gallons per hour. This is fine for a single family house, but if connected to an apartment building the result will be a bunch of slow running faucets.
Conclusion – Buy what you need, but understand what you are buying and don’t buy capacity that you will not use.