Choking on Network Bandwidth

Wayne Rash

Elsewhere on this site we have a feature about the Top 10 Emerging SMB Technologies.

It's a good list, and my company uses about half of them. In some cases, those technologies have been beyond emerging for some time. 64-bit workstations, NAS and networking technology have been in the office as an integral part of day-to-day operations for years. WiFi has been in the office since it was invented. But the problem with emerging technologies is that they depend on other technologies to be useful.

Item number 7 on the top 10 list highlights what is probably the biggest issue for all but the largest companies, and affects even some of them. That issue is the sad state of network bandwidth in the U.S. The fact is that the communication companies that provide the local delivery of the Internet to businesses and consumers don't seem to feel any urgency in delivering acceptable bandwidth to customers.

For example, my area is served by Verizon. No doubt you've heard of its much-ballyhooed FIOS service that can deliver up to 20 megabits per second. What they don't talk about is that you can't get that speed everywhere. In fact, you can't get FIOS most places. The two-or-three-times-a-week pitch I get from their business sales people is a suggestion that I should upgrade my business to their best business Internet plan that offers a whopping 768 kilobits per second (download only) speed. This is high-speed Internet?

Fortunately, I have other options, but still the best I can do is a paltry 20-megabits-per-second download only speed (about 2 mbps the other way). This might not seem like a big deal, but I'm located in an area that handles about 70 percent of all global Internet traffic. Think how it must be for people who are located farther from the centers of technology.

While there is some hope on the horizon, such as Comcast's claim that it may deliver 100 Mbps Ethernet some day to some customers, maybe. (You can see the ads during the Olympic broadcasts.) But the chance that your business will actually see a usable access to Fast Ethernet speeds is unlikely in our lifetime.

Now contrast this sorry state of affairs with network access in the rest of the civilized world. Fast Ethernet speeds are common in Western Europe and in much of Asia already. China has made a commitment to upgrading its national infrastructure and the work is well under way.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we have great local networks. Gigabit Ethernet to the workstation is commonplace. 802.11n provides enough WiFi bandwidth to support HDTV. Our local storage is fast, efficient and cheap. Storage in the cloud is also readily available and cheap, but your data is being forced through a pipe that's got the effective bandwidth of a soda straw. Backups to cloud storage providers can take days to weeks.

And what are our communications providers doing to solve this problem, and in the process help U.S. businesses stay competitive? They're spending money on advertising to explain why Verizon is better than Comcasst, or why Cox is better than Verizon. You get the picture. Serving their customers and providing the products they need isn't on the radar of any of the major providers. Instead of spending money making themselves more useful to your business, they're spending money to make themselves feel better.

I'm sure you'll appreciate how much better your communications provider feels about themselves the next time you're watching the progress bar creep along as you download those engineering drawings or product specs. You should be having a nice warm feeling about them. I'm sure you'll want to call them up and tell your provider how happy you are that they have cooler ads than say, Comcast. Let me know how that works out for your business.

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Jul 14, 2010 10:07 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
I agree completely, I have never gotten close to 2MB/S download even on close Internets. It is completely unfair that in some areas of the US (according to can get as much as 30MB/S download... Reply

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