Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Broad Is Your Band?

I have this great app on my iPad called 'speedtest' or some such, which allows me to measure the speed of my broadband connection. Even in the wilds of Cromer, I'm happy to report download speeds of more than 5 Mb/sec and upload speeds of 300 kb/sec. This difference in download and upload speeds was news to me - but bear it in mind for what comes later.

The surprise was pleasant given that, whereas in the Grand Metrope one has fibre-optic cable, and in the 'burbs one must put up with old copper wire, up in Norfolk we have to make do with small pieces of wet bailer twine loosely tied together. It's no comfort when some of the bailer twine becomes unhitched, as it does from time to time, but, well, there it is, and it's quite sufficient to support the connectual needs all the Croxii, such as they are.

It is claimed that everyone in Britain now has access to broadband - yes, even Professor Trellis of North Wales - the only known exceptions being a few draughty doughty crofters in South Uist and a small dog in Upper Teesdale. However, access to broadband doesn't mean that broadband speed is any good - and speed declines sharply with distance from one's telephonic exchange, especially if one is reliant on copper wire and/or bailer twine. The signal leaks out on the way, you see, so that every point between the exchange and one's own computer is lightly showered with stray bits from one's emails, Facebook conversations, iTunes purchases, YouTube videos and so on, such that whereas the signal might very well surge with tumescent puissance from its sauce tzores source, by the time it gets to one's abode it can barely get to the end of the wire and fall off.

Therefore I am grateful to Mrs S. S. of Burley-in-Wharfedale, West Yorkshire, who ought to know, for telling me of a new report showing that in some areas, broadband can literally be outflown by carrier pigeon. In the test, ten pigeons carrying USB memory sticks were released from a Yorkshire farm, bound for Skegness, 120 km away. At the same time, a five-minute (300Mb) video was uploaded. By the time the pigeons arrived, an hour and a quarter later, only 24% of the video file had uploaded.

This is pretty amazing. Even considering the under-advertised fact that upload speeds are much less than download speeds, this translates as an upload speed of only around 16 kb/sec - slower than the most antiquated dial-up modems of yore. As broadband goes, that's fairly narrow, one might even say etiolated - and very much narrower than a pigeon.

Here's my working in appropriately small print. 24% of a 300Mb file is 72Mb, or about 72,000 kb. One and a quarter hours is 75 minutes or 4,500 sec, and dividing 72,000 kb by 4,500 sec gives 16 kb/sec.

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