Your Internet Connection is Your Commute
Disclaimer: This transcript is provided as a courtesy for accompanying the associated episode it represents. The content of the transcript may provide errors or incorrect statements from the recorded episode. Portions of the episode such as opening or closing comments may be excluded for brevity.
Jonathan This episode, I'm joined by guest co-host Ben Collins, who's a friend of mine living in the great nation of Texas. Actually, it hasn't become its own country yet. For our overseas listeners, that's a joke, as Texas is always talking about becoming its own country and seceding from the United States. Ben, welcome to the show, and thanks for being a guest co-host today.
Ben Thanks. Actually, just a quick point of information. We have been our own nation. We were grafted into the United States. It would be like going back. [Laughs]
Jonathan Ah, so there's a little bit of truth to that, then.
Ben There's a little truth, yeah.
Jonathan We'll cut that off right there, to not get into the discussion of politics right now.
Ben Right, yeah.
Jonathan Let's keep this tech focus. Today, we're talking about, "Your Internet Connection Is Your Commute", and really, Ben, why don't we start off by bragging about what our Internet connections are like? What do you have?
Ben I just checked, and I have 100 up. I'm sorry, 100 down and 10 up from a local municipal ISP, which is pretty nice, because they mostly operate like a [INAUDIBLE 00:01:52], so that really is what I get.
Jonathan Excellent, and do you mind? What price are you paying for that?
Ben I am paying $95.95.
Jonathan That is not bad, in my opinion.
Ben Sure. It's a little high. I could get spectrum for a little bit less. Just the convenience of a [INAUDIBLE 00:02:15] is nice.
Jonathan It just works. For my connection, as of a day ago, I used to have a 24 down 1.6 up, but my cable provider just upgraded all their network, so they gave me a new modem, and I now have a 24 down 5 up, which, it's been amazing. I didn't realize how much upload affects, and we'll get into that a little bit, but I'm paying about 120 a month for that. I have a quarter your speed and I'm paying more.
Ben Yikes. This is residential, right?
Jonathan Yeah, this is residential.
Ben I once, a couple summers ago, I was in the middle of transitioning between houses, and I have to rent a little office, or I borrowed an office from a friend, and it was at an insurance company building. I had to get my own Internet at this place, so that I could use this office, and I had to go get a business-class service from Time Warner. It was awful. The service was 14 down and 2 up, and I was paying $200 a month for it. It was absurdly expensive and just a terrible, terrible service.
Jonathan They try and find everything else to add. They're like, "Oh, we'll get you a Wi-Fi access point. It'll only cost you $20 a month."
Ben Right. [Laughs] Yeah, exactly.
Jonathan Before we go too much further, Ben, why don't you give us a little background about yourself, and more than just, you live in Texas.
Ben I live in Texas. That's the most important part. No, so I am a software engineer. I've been working professionally as a software engineer since 2005. That was when I got out of school. I worked for a defense company for a while, and then I jumped ship from there and found a consulting agency in Dallas that allowed me to work from home most of the time. That's where it started, for me. I started working from home in 2008. Ever since then, this conversation exactly, has been a little bit of a mini obsession, finding the best Internet connection.
Jonathan I think we're turning into twinsies, because I graduated in 2005 and I started working remote in 2008. I think we're been living parallel lives.
Ben Maybe. Yeah, it could be. I was with the consulting agency for a while, and then I had a couple of startup adventures, including Stack Overflow and all of these place we worked out remote work arrangements. Now, I am working for, I did freelance, just sort of independent work for a little while, and now I'm working for Olo, out of New York, so obviously, for me, remote still.
Jonathan For our listeners, Olo was, we actually had an employee of Olo on the show before, Chris Krycho. You work with him, now.
Ben We work for the same company and we know each other obviously, but we don't actually work on the same projects.
Jonathan Oh, okay. Excellent. I think one other point of fact, this is probably where we differ a little bit. I have two kids, and how many kids do you have?
Ben Ah, yes. I have six, and seven almost. I have almost seven. I'll have seven in a week.
Jonathan You crushed me in that regard.
Ben We had dinner with some cousins last night, and they have three kids, and at the table they said, "Man, when we're with you, we feel like we're not even a real family."
Ben Which, obviously is unwarranted, but I thought it was funny.
Jonathan At home, there, what's your setup for your office? Are you in the middle of all those kids and everything else?
Ben No, that's a great question, yeah. Office setup is a whole other podcast episode, I believe.
Ben Just to summarize, at the house I'm at right now, where I live, my office is a separate building. It's an accessory building in my backyard.
Jonathan That's excellent.
Ben It's basically an old converted garage from decades ago that's been finished out on the inside. I've got a ductless air conditioner/heater in here, and it's wired for power obviously.
Jonathan That's very important in Texas.
Ben Yes. You can't. There'd be no way to do this without an air conditioner. Anyways, the most important characteristic of this setup is that it's separate from the house. Being separate from the house means I don't have to have my wife playing defense on the door all day long, or have an episode like the BBC interview where the kid spills into the room and then...
Jonathan That's the nightmare.
Ben Oh, man. Yes, I just laughed hysterically at that video, over and over.
Jonathan In your case, it would be six kids instead of two.
Ben That's exactly right. I have my oldest are twelve and my youngest are three, so I have a range of dynamics, how that works for me. They do still interrupt some. There's no way to be on the property and not have any interruptions ever, but being separate from the house means it's really not a big issue. I used to have a little toy stop sign that I would put out in front of the door when I really needed them to leave me alone. I don't even really have to do that anymore, because they learned to not come out here unless my wife is gone and I'm the only adult, or...
Jonathan The family culture is really adapted to, "Dad needs to do some work."
Ben When I leave the house, I'm done. I've gone to work. But, the really cool thing is, I come in for coffee, I get to see them real quick. I get to eat all my meals with my family, so I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, most days, with them.
Jonathan Aw, cool.
Ben A lot of people don't get to do that, so, that's a huge blessing for us, is to just be able to have that time together.
Jonathan That really is a big benefit. When I first started working remote, I was so uptight about getting my hours in and getting my time in, so much so that I don't use that phrase anymore in the vocabulary. It's a trigger for our family, of, "Oh, my goodness, just settle down." Once you realize that, "Yeah, I can go eat lunch and meals and stuff," it's like, "This is awesome." One other point I want to add is, I just want to thank my wife and my daughter, who are being quiet during the recording of this episode as they are upstairs, because school is out for the summer. I went up and said, "Hey, I'm recording a podcast, can you turn the TV down a little bit?" My daughter rolled her eyes at me and said, "Yes, dad, I'd love to."
Ben Of course.
Jonathan So, thank you. Let's get into actual, the meat of this episode. It was once famously said that Internet is a series of tubes. I believe that was Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, and you can look that up on YouTube, and it's one of those moments where the full technical understanding, what was being described was not understood. It's actually a very helpful analogy, thinking about the Internet as a series of tubes. Starting off, we're going to go through a number of terms that we're going to through around in this episode, and we'll define them up front, so that way you have a good understanding as we dig into some of the meat of it. We'll talk about differences of speeds, and recommendations, and what type of connection, and how to test your connection, and a lot of really good stuff. Kicking off the first term. The first term is upload. Ben, do you want to take a stab at defining what upload is, with...?
Ben Upload is usually the second number whenever you see a service advertised. You'll see 20/5. In my case it's 100/10, is what shows up on the bill. That second number is your upload. That's the data that you sent from your computer to wherever, to something on the Internet.
Jonathan There's upload, and then the other part is download. I think that's what... Download is the number that everyone talks about the most, and so...
Ben People tend to focus on that because you're thinking of all the things you're consuming on the Internet. You're thinking of movies and you're thinking of games, media, which take a lot of bandwidth coming down from the Internet, and people don't think about what they're actually producing [INAUDIBLE 00:11:07].
Jonathan Then, so far, we have upload, download, and then the next term is latency.
Ben Right. Latency.
Jonathan Take a stab at that.
Ben Yes. Latency affects, is a measurement of how long it takes for a message to go out, and then come back. If you're having a voiceover IP phone conversation, like an Internet conversation, Skype, or something like that, you will actually hear the latency in the conversation, because it's laggy. You'll say something, and then the other person takes too long to talk back, and so then you talk over them, and then you realize, of, they heard me, and then they were talking back, but it took a second for that to happen. That's latency. Latency can be determined by a lot of different factors. Probably the more important ones are if you are on a medium that's not reliable, like a wireless medium or if you're on satellite especially. Satellite's the worst, because you're having to send...
Jonathan Go to outer space and back.
Ben Yeah, you're going to outer space and back, so there's a huge amount of latency on those.
Jonathan Excellent. We'll get into more detail on that as we get further on in the episode. Then, the next term we've got is quota. Define that for us.
Ben Quotas are usually expressed in terms of data catch. That's how you hear it talked about with these various services. That just means the total amount of data that they will allow you to download, and most services, in a billing period, sorry. The total amount that you can download in a billing period, and typically that's going to be a soft limit. Usually what would happen is, if your limit let's say is 10 gigabytes, on some hotspot service that you have, or on your cellphone, they will not just shut off your data access when you reach that limit. They will slow down your download rate when you get there.
Jonathan Really, that's the amount of data you can transfer before, or the amount of data you're allowed transfer for what you pay.
Jonathan When we talk about different connection types, we can... How quota plays into that, and that type of thing. The last thing I want to call out is bits versus bytes.
Ben Yes. That's a great one.
Jonathan This is, if you want to sound like an educated, snazzy, up-to-date individual, who can talk about Internet connections, being able to distinguish between bytes and bits is the key factor with that. What is a byte, and how does it relate to a bit?
Ben A bit is a single one or zero, little bit of information. Everybody knows that computers operate on ones and zeros. A bit is what is represented, I'm sorry, a one or a zero is represented as a bit in memory or on disk, or something like that. A byte is eight of those. A byte is 8 bits. The reason it's important to recognize the different is because data transmission rates are typically denominated in bits. You'll hear, "My connection is 100/10." It's 100 megabits download. But most media and things that you would consume are denominated in bytes.
Jonathan If you've got let's say a thumb drive, for example. It says eight gigabytes on it. That's measured in bytes, but your connection is bits.
Ben That's correct.
Jonathan Yeah, excellent. Recapping our terms so far. We've had download and upload, latency, quota, and bytes versus bits. I'll make a little interjection, here, that the show notes for this episode will be very helpful. You can check those out at remote.works/15, for episode 15. The difference between download and upload, we've talked about here, and you mentioned this as we were defining it, but, there are really two parts to your Internet connection, and you can think of them as two physical pipes coming into your house, except these two pipes are different sizes usually. Most likely your download pipe, which is water flowing to your house, will be much larger than your upload pipe, which is water that flows away from your house. I think in the majority of marketing of Internet connections, they really only call out the download speed. They don't really mention the upload speed. Have you found that to be true?
Ben Yes. Most residential Internet connections are asymmetric, so that's what you call an asymmetric Internet connection, is when you have the download is bigger and the upload is smaller. When they're the same, that's called symmetric, which is available. You can get those, but they tend to be more expensive.
Jonathan For the majority of Internet connections, as consumers on the Internet, we are consuming and downloading information, which is why our download portion of the connection is so much faster. For example, if we're streaming Netflix, and we're receiving a movie that's being played on our computer, the majority of that data coming down is the movie, and then we still use that upload portion of the connection, but that's just to acknowledge that we received data, really.
Ben You have to support the protocols with the upload. You're right, the amount of data coming down is going to dominate the amount of data going up in that scenario.
Jonathan Talking about download and upload, I think one other key point is ideally a ratio of 10:1, is what I've seen in the research that I've done. For example, if you have 10 down, how fast would you be looking for an upload?
Ben At least one. Although, I would say on the extreme ends of Internet services, on the really slow end, that ratio may not hold. If the only thing available to you is three down, you might get three down one up. The ratio would be a little off. But if you're in the middle majority, where most people are going to be, then yeah, 10:1. It's pretty normal.
Jonathan I think for the idea, that's, especially if you're maxing out that download speed, and if you're just solely downloading information, the upload connection should be adequate enough to acknowledge that you're receiving it, but if you're downloading and you're trying to send an email or something like that, that's using your upload side of the connection, that's when I think you can run into situations, there, if you have a very bad ratio. For example, my previous Internet connection of 24 down and 1.6 up. I noticed that. There were times where, if I was downloading something and trying to send something, the connection would slow down at it sorts itself out.
Ben You'll also find that if you [INAUDIBLE 00:18:55], so if you're sending a lot of information, even if you're not consuming a lot, you'll find that the download is affected.
Jonathan That's very true. It's got to be able to balance itself out well. Ben, what would you say are the recommended Internet speeds? As a general baseline, if I'm looking at Internet connection numbers, and I'm like, "What is adequate in megabits for download and upload?"
Ben If you're working from home like we are, then the thing you want to plan around generally speaking is video calls. To me, that's the threshold. If I don't have an adequate connection for video calls, I'm done. I'm out. I have to go bigger. I would say, in just really general terms, I would probably not want to be less than 10. You probably want to be more like 15 or more even, but 10 to me would be the rock bottom minimum, and probably two or three [INAUDIBLE 00:20:06].
Jonathan I would say 15 down and 3 up is really ideal. I would say that the bottom threshold of your upload speed is really one megabit.
Ben That one's more important, really.
Jonathan You're definitely going to have a harder time finding a reliable connection with adequate upload speed than you will with something that has download speed. One thing that was interesting that happened recently, within the last I think six months to a year, is that in the United States the definition of broadband, the federal government's definition, is now 25 megabits down and 3 megabits up, which means that, to be able to call your service broadband, it has to be at least those speeds. Which, in my case, knocks my previous Internet connection off the definition of broadband, because it wasn't three megabits up.
Ben That was an interesting move, too, because all of the ISPs were all very much against it, because they liked being able to market their terrible services, call them broadband. [Laughs]
Ben For the longest time, anything that was more than dial-up could be considered broadband.
Jonathan Yes, and there's, yeah, it's not much faster than dial-up, to be honest.
Jonathan We've talked a lot about numbers and the definitions and backgrounds behind it, but let's get into the practical. I've got an Internet connection and I want to test how fast it is. How do I even go about doing that?
Ben There are a few services on the Internet that allow you to do this. What they've done it, they've set up servers geographically distributed. Then, you go to their website, one example is speedtest.net. It sets up a little download from some geographically close server to you, if it's available, and then they download a file just to see. How long does it take? They measure that, and then when that's finished, they'll go back the other way. They'll upload some data, and then measure how long it takes to complete that upload, and then take that recording for you, and tell you, and give you a little badge that says, "Your connection is this fast."
Jonathan This fast. It really is very simple to do. You hit speedtest.net, and you basically click a button. I think the button is labeled "Go", and you click it, and it finds a server, and it tests it for you. If you're more advanced, you can, I believe there's an option where you can change the server, and manually pick where you're testing against. One thing worth note is, while your Internet connection between you and that closest server may be fast, if you, let's say, are in Northern Wisconsin, and you pick a server out in California, in San Francisco area, that may be a whole totally different speed, because of the number of connections between here and there.
Ben Absolutely, and so the important thing with the speed test is to not just take one test. If you're on speedtest.net, pick a couple of different servers and see how that goes. Also, another tip I would suggest is use more than one kind of service. There's speedtest.net, which is the one everybody's heard of, and they probably collect the most data, but there's fast.com from Netflix. I also just popped over to Google and did a search on speed test alternative. There's six different services that you can go to. There's SpeedOf.Me, there's openspeedtest.com, and there's testmy.net, and we could click through the results and find more, I'm sure, but the point is, ISPs have kind of gotten wise to this. They know what speedtest.net is. They can actually cheat.
Jonathan They can, yes. You can think of, basically, a police escort for all of that traffic to speedtest.net.
Ben Exactly right. Yep, but they're not going to keep up with all the different services, so you should try a few. Try two or three. Try different servers if you're really trying to get accurate measurement. Then, you've got some variation here.
Jonathan One other thing that's, now that our listeners are really well educated, because we've gone through some terms, when you see that speed test run, you'll see the download portion, you'll see the upload portion, and then you'll also see the latency. That's usually measured in milliseconds, so, a thousandth of a second. Usually it's somewhere between 30 and 100, if you have a pretty decent connection. One other note about fast.com, which is run by Netflix. That exclusively tests the download side only. It doesn't test the upload side at all, because Netflix really only cares about the download side when they're streaming you a movie. Talking about different types of apps, now. We're basically four different types of apps, or I guess three that are heavier on the outlines. We'll talk about Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom video conferencing. We'll break down, I did some research and pulled out the bandwidth requirements, and you'll notice that across these three services, there's a wide spectrum of what they require. The majority of my work, I've used all three of these before. Google Hangouts is probably the most common one used now, but in my opinion the quality of it is really pretty horrible when you're on a multi-group call. It dances around. It gets the job done, but compared to another solution which I'll mention, it still has a ways to go. Google Hangouts, it recommends from the download side, for a group video call, between 2.6 and 4 megabits down. Which is, I'd say that works well with the majority of connections. The thing that's a hang-up, though, is on the upload side, it recommends 2.6 megabits up, which I think is far beyond the majority of connections that are out there.
Ben It could be, yeah, I believe it.
Jonathan I noticed a difference since my Internet connection got upgraded. Like I said, it was 1.6 before, and now it's 5. Before, it was always very choppy, and if there's one participant on the call that has a poor connection, that really severely affects the overall call quality. I've noticed a nice improvement with that. Going on to Skype. Skype is a little different. They, depending on how many people you have on, if it's just a peer-to-peer or just one-to-one call, then recommend .3 megabits down, and then if you're on a larger group call with seven or eight people, they recommend at least 8 megabits down. Which is, again, within the range of most people's Internet connections.
Ben Eight probably, I would guess that includes a video component as well, if it has to be that high.
Jonathan That's a great point to point out. That is a video call specifically. I looked at video-only for these numbers. Skype on their upload side is .3 megabits up to as much as 1 1/2 megabits up. Again, if you're on a group call. The third service that we have here is Zoom. That's zoom.us, and they're a video conferencing provider. I've used them, and I have been amazed at the quality of the experience.
Jonathan Maybe, if you've used it, maybe you can talk to that a little bit.
Ben Yes, so, I've used Google Hangouts pretty extensively. Skype, not as much. It just doesn't... It's just not as easy to use in a business environment where you need to very easily get into a group call of people. I don't know why that is, but still, Skype is just not something I use that much for this particular scenario. Hangouts, I've used quite a lot, and I've also used Zoom quite a lot, and what's really interesting is you get used to Hangouts, which I did, and then you start using Zoom and you realize, "Oh, man, you can keep adding people to this call, and it doesn't just choke." There's actually not... What's the upper limit? 25? You can even do more than that without video. Hangouts, the upper limit is 15, and that's only if you jump through some hoops to have this standing calendar meeting, where a normal ad-hoc meeting is limited to 10. Zoom, I've been very impressed with how well it maintains video quality without lag, and skips, and people dropping. Hangouts has a problem with people just losing their connections because their authentication expired.
Jonathan The best part's when they drop off but they come back and there's two of them.
Ben There's two of them, yep. If they're really having problems you'll have more than that. Then, you don't know which video to look at. Zoom never has that problem. For a while I was really irritated at Zoom, because I couldn't figure out how to get more than four thumbnails of people on the screen. When someone's doing a screen share. If they're not doing a screen share, you get a Brady Bunch view, where it's a grid of people. When there's a screen share, it snaps it all onto a line, and then you only get four. Then, I realize, if you go into settings and check the "use multiple monitors" settings, it actually splits the video...
Jonathan Expands it out.
Ben It splits it into its own window, and then you get the screen share on a separate window. Even if you don't have multiple monitors, you can just move them around. You don't have to have multiple monitors to do that. Now, I'm like, that's the holy grail, because it's great quality, and it's cheap. The free tier of Zoom, the only limitation...
Ben Person to person, the only... No, no, no. The only limitation of the free tier is that group calls can only last for 45 minutes.
Ben That's the only limitation. One on one calls can last forever.
Jonathan Oh, that's awesome.
Ben It's really awesome. If you're having a group call longer than 45 minutes, you have a business problem anyway.
Jonathan That's right. Every meeting should be five minutes long.
Ben That's exactly right.
Jonathan Looking at the specifics of the bandwidth for Zoom, now that we've talked them up so much. They're...
Ben I'm not getting a kickback on this.
Jonathan Yeah. If Zoom would like to come sponsor an episode, I will gladly take their money. We'll shout out to Zoom after this. Their bandwidth for a person to person call is .6 megabits per second. For when you get into larger group calls, and it's like if you're more than three people, it qualifies as this group call. It's only 1.5 megabits up and down, which is phenomenal to me. Comparing that, Google Hangouts is looking for 2.6 up and that is a pretty hard requirement. Zoom can do the same with a lot more people for 1.5 up.
Ben A lot less, and this also doesn't even mention Google Hangouts is very resource-hungry. It'll use up your CPU resources and it uses a lot of memory.
Ben Zoom doesn't have those same issues.
Jonathan That's a great point, too. It's [Laughs] We always have to, when we're on a Google Hangouts call, we have to find someone to, "Who hasn't muted?" Because, their laptop fan [INAUDIBLE 00:32:23] up and it sounds like a wind tunnel. We talked about this a little bit earlier in the show, but just getting into some of the math. Theoretically, let's say I have one gigabyte of data that I want to transfer over a one-megabit connection. A gigabit is a thousand megabits. This is a thousandth of a gigabit. If my math is correct, transferring one gigabyte of data over a one-megabit connection would take 2.1 hours. That's a significant amount, because when you're dealing with business, it's not unheard of to be able to have to transfer that much data.
Ben I think that's about right. What is that? You divide it by 1,000, and you [INAUDIBLE 00:33:24] divide by another 1,000.
Ben Then, you've got to divide by eight.
Jonathan Yep. I used the online calculator to [INAUDIBLE 00:33:33]. Assuming that it is right, our listeners there, can check my math. Make sure I'm correct. To put this in perspective, I previously had a 1.6 megabit up connection, so transferring one gigabyte up would take roughly 80 minutes. I had the 1.6. Now that I have a five-megabit connection, it only takes 25 minutes. Which, is a huge difference. If you're one of those people that has a crazy-fast fiber connection, it can be measured in seconds.
Ben It's pretty amazing. If you're on a fiber connection, to see a gigabyte file show up on your desktop almost instantaneously. That's pretty amazing.
Jonathan That's great. Mentioning two other tools that are fairly common in use, which is Dropbox and CrashPlan. Because those are more... There's not any specific bandwidth requirements. Basically, as fast as you can get is the best. They'll use it, and they'll leverage it. In those terms, it's not a real-time video chat.
Ben Right, that was what I was going to call out as being the main difference, is it's not synchronous. It doesn't matter how fast it is, especially with CrashPlan. In my case, with CrashPlan, once everything gets downloaded, and you're synchronizing changes as you go, it doesn't take that much bandwidth. It can be really slow, and that's okay. My CrashPlan synchronization, if it's going to take a long time, I actually tell it to stop and wait until I'm not at my desk, and let it run overnight, something like that.
Jonathan That's what I ran into, too. I run a CrashPlan on a file server at home, where we back up all of our photos, and video, and all that stuff. It's probably about 350 gigabytes of data. This is something worth taking note of too, is if you install CrashPlan or Dropbox on your computer, when it first starts running, it may more or less kill your Internet connection, or what you perceive to be your Internet connection, because it's just uploading everything as fast as it can. You can actually go into the preferences of both these programs and limit how much bandwidth it uses. You can say, let's say that you have a two-megabit connection upload, you can go in and say, "You know what? Use only one megabit of that for transferring files up." Which can then make it usable. When I first started out, it took I think 25 days before I had full back up.
Ben You should have just put it on a disc and put it in the mail, right?
Jonathan I know, I should have. This is what happened, too. I got to 93% backed up, and one of my disks failed. It was...
Ben Oh, no!
Jonathan I had a backup on my backup. Another shout out to back up.
Ben I had something like that happen to me, and I didn't have a backup of my backup. I lost a lot of data.
Jonathan It makes you sick to your stomach.
Ben It made my wife even sicker, which is not good.
Jonathan Not good at all.
Ben I had one job.
Jonathan Yeah. Here's a tip for our listeners. To preserve your relationships, make sure you have a backup of your data.
Jonathan Talking about types of technology. We've talked about a lot of the mechanics of Internet connection and different types of apps, and that type of thing. Now, let's talk about the different types of technology.
Ben This is exciting for me, actually, I have some good stuff, here.
Jonathan I think you and I both geek out about this stuff. Why don't you take the first one? What is the holy grail of Internet connections?
Ben The best you can do, right now, in reasonably attainable Internet connections, is fiber optics. Most of the time this is referred to as just fiber. There are some commercial products out there that make this available. Google Fiber is one. It's a new service. There's another one, called Verizon Fios. That's F-I-O-S, which stands for Fiber On the [Razzes] I flubbed that! Fiber Optic Something.
Jonathan Yeah, it's F-I-O-S. It's a good marketing term.
Ben Fiber... Shoot, I can't remember what the acronym is, oh well. Doesn't matter. Fios.
Jonathan We'll leave that out. That's an exercise for our listeners, to look that up.
Ben That's right. AT&T has a similar service called AT&T U-verse. Fios is more available than the other ones. Google Fiber is probably the more superior product, but it's not very available.
Jonathan That's in select cities.
Ben Correct, yes. Google has only rolled out in a handful of cities. The lucky few that have it are like, "It's amazing. It's an amazing product."
Jonathan If you have a fiber connection, and you're a listener of ours, give us a shout-out on Twitter. We will clap for you, and cheer you on.
Jonathan That happens. Like I said, I live in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. I did choose to live here. I don't think I'll ever have a fiber connection in my lifetime. [Laughs] Cable is, I'd say, one of the most prominent technologies out there for Internet, and it came about whereas cable TV rolled out first, before Internet was really a thing. They invested heavily in this huge, nationwide network, or I guess it covers the nation more or less. Large companies realized they could sell Internet connectivity, and up until that time it was really your only options were some type of dedicated connection that had a wire running there. The thing with cable is, usually they are large companies that manage them, and they can have reliability and customer service issues with most large companies like that. When it works, and it works well, that's great, but then there are situations where it's not going to work.
Ben Cable tends to not be in the rural areas. That tends to be the limiting factor for a lot of people. At least, I'm speaking to it from my perspective, being rural myself. Where I grew up, I didn't have cable, as a kid, because we were too far out of town. There's a lot of people in that situation.
Jonathan You mentioned that your house was defined by your Internet connectivity available, and that was the case for us, too. When we moved up here, to Wisconsin, we ended up in town. It's a down of 1,500 people, but we ended up in town because a number of years ago there was a small-time cable operator that built out a cable network up here. He survived, but it's a challenge just because of the density of houses and the lack of density I should say. We have fiber, cable, the next one on the list is DSL. I like to say DSL stands for Digitally Slow Line.
Jonathan That's not technically correct, but what does DSL stand for?
Ben Digital Subscriber Line is what that stands for. DSL is actually a little bit like cable, in the sense that it is repurposing a network that was built up for other reasons. DSL is taking advantage of the telecommunications network that these big companies laid out for telephone calls.
Jonathan One thing to point out with DSL is typically we've talked about download and upload speeds, but I feel that this is the type of connection where it's most severely mismatched, where you have decent to adequate download speeds if you're close enough to get service, and then your upload speed is really severely limited. I actually have a DSL connection here at home as a backup, so I have two Internet connections, and my DSL connection is 24 down and one megabits up. Which is really a bummer, so it is really... It's squarely a consumer downloading data type connection. Moving onto the next one, which is fixed wireless. This is, up here in rural Wisconsin, we actually have a fixed wireless ISP that is ready to go live within the next week or so, here. They will probably be live by the time this episode airs. They are using a 4G LTE, which is the same technology as cell phone providers. But, they are running a pure data network, and they'll put a small receiver on the corner of your house which is maybe say six inches by six inches in size, so really pretty small. They've got a wireless network that they've built with towers that are usually around 200 or so feet tall. The thing that's great is, they don't have any data caps. There's no limit to that, and so they'll be able to offer speeds from five megabits up with a 35 down connection, which will be pretty decent.
Ben Assuming you get what you pay for. [Laughs]
Jonathan You can get what you pay for. It's important to note that, this is the latest generation, I should say the latest broadly-adopted generation of wireless technology. There have been previous generations like WiMAX, that have performed much more poorly, but this particular version, 4G LTE, has been really solid [INAUDIBLE 00:43:46] affordable. The next one we've got here is cell phone hotspot. The only note that I wrote in our outline here is that it's expensive.
Jonathan Cell phone providers, typically if you are within a major metropolis, you can get decent speeds over the hotspot. It's just expensive. You're usually paying per gigabyte of data transfer.
Ben And they tend to have very small caps, too, so an advantage to these services is, you can actually get them in a lot of places, not just in the city. They also have very low caps typically. You can get a T-Mobile, I think, has one that goes up to 50 gigabytes. I think that's the biggest one I've ever seen. Just for a point of reference. For me, I measured my Internet usage one month, just total usage. This is my professional usage as well as my family...
Jonathan Personal, yeah.
Ben Netflix. It's all mixed together. I exceeded 400 gigabytes in a typical month. That's not unusual.
Jonathan No, that's not.
Ben This is not like we had movie month. This is just normal usage, it's 300 to 400 gigabytes.
Jonathan We're in the two to three hundred range.
Ben Yeah. So, a 50 gigabyte cap is going to be very restrictive if you have normal usage. Right? So, you would have to be very careful about how you use it if you did that.
Jonathan Yeah. So, I guess, the big note on cell phones and hot spots—they’re expensive. They may get you through that presentation, but I wouldn’t rely on them long term.
Ben Right. No, and they’re good for travel, too. So, I’m going to New York next week. I’m going to be at a hotel, and the hotel Internet stinks. And so, I’m paying an extra 20 bucks or whatever for that month to have my phone be a hot spot.
Jonathan A hot spot?
Jonathan Yeah. Excellent. So, the last one we have on the list here is satellite. I guess, the only good thing I personally have to say about satellite Internet is that if you have no other options whatsoever, it may be an option. But really, we talked about latency before, and satellite is really high latency. So, on a wired connection, you may have 30 milliseconds of latency, and with satellite, I think you can have upwards of 1,000 milliseconds, which is almost a second.
Ben You could have more than that [INAUDIBLE 00:46:21] buffered. And that’s just a physical limitation. It takes that long for a radio wave to get from the surface of the Earth to orbit and back.
Jonathan Yeah. Because I think...I could be wrong...but I believe it’s almost 23,000 miles round trip...
Jonathan ...to space and back for your data. Along with that, satellite services usually have low quotas...which we were just talking about with cell phones...where you may only have 100 gigabytes of data to transfer, or 50, or 75, which seems like a lot until you’re working from home. Then you’ll blow through that really fast.
Ben Or watching movies. If you’re taking a lot of media, you’ll go through it really fast.
Jonathan Yeah. You will reconsider your binge watching of Netflix.
Ben Yep. You will be getting DVDs in the mail from Netflix at that point.
Jonathan Yes, that’s right.
Ben That’s what you’ll be doing. So, I would say satellite...The only practical scenario where satellite makes sense, from my perspective, is if you have a cabin in the woods in the Adirondacks, or you’re in the deep tundra in Alaska, or something, and there’s just really nothing else; that’s the only way.
Jonathan And at that point I would argue that treat it as a vacation property. Just go there and enjoy nature, and turn off all your devices.
Ben Yeah, don’t bother. Yep.
Jonathan And they also offer long-term contracts. So, they usually try and lock you into two or three years almost, sometimes, with penalty fees and all that jazz. So, do your research if you’re considering satellite.
Jonathan So, we’re getting closer to wrapping up our outline here. But while you’re traveling...and you have to find really good connectivity...there’s a resource I want to mention, and that is wifimap.io. So, that’s W-I-F-I-M-A-P dot I-O. That gives you a great option of where all the free Internet access points are. So, if there’s a coffee shop or a restaurant that offers it, it has a map. Some of it even has access tips. They offer... Wifimap.io is an app that’s both iOS and Android. So, definitely worth checking out.
**So, the last segment we have here is the future. So, the OneNotes that I made here are Google, fiber, and Facebook. So, two large Internet companies that are really investing in the future of Internet and connectivity, and really some interesting stuff. So, we talked about Google fiber previously. But it looks like end of last year, end of 2016, Google mentioned they were cutting the rollout to fiber, drawing it way back. So, like you mentioned, they still are doing it but just not as broadly as they were looking at. And they kind of made note that the future is really wireless for them in terms of being able to get high speed coverage. So, that’s kind of interesting. What were your thoughts on that?
Ben** So, wireless is sort of where most of the interesting stuff is happening. It has issues; so, there’s sort of an underlying basic reliability problem. Right? You’re throwing energy out into the air, and you’re kind of crossing your fingers that it’s going to get received at the other end. So, there’s a lot of challenges that come from just that basic reality. But the technology has gotten really, really, really good. So, LTE is obviously a lot better than what we used to have, which was 4G, which was a lot better than what we used to have, which was 3G. So, now we’re talking about things like WiMAX and then 5G. WiMAX and 5G are kind of the same thing. Those standards aren’t... From a high level view, those are kind of the same thing, really. The standards aren’t done. They’re not specified; they’re not industry standards yet.
Jonathan It’s not really consumer grade yet.
Ben No, no, no. It’s not ready. We’ll get there. That, the 5G, is sort of going to be the first time wireless really is offering competitive [INAUDIBLE 00:50:14] broadband rates that consumers might actually be able to use on a permanent basis.
Jonathan You know, here’s my prediction with it. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if Google still continues rolling out fiber, but they just don’t roll it out to homes, and they use wireless for that last mile problem.
Ben I don’t know. So, the hard thing about wireless is obstructions. Right? So, doing it last mile, I’m not sure it really makes much sense, because you have to put stuff up on towers to do that [INAUDIBLE 00:50:49] houses.
Jonathan Yeah, but I’m wondering if they...I wonder if they go smaller scale. So, they have a number of access points, but they’re putting them on telephone poles. It maybe only will cover 8 or 10 houses as opposed to a 200’ tower or something.
Ben Maybe, but in my neighborhood... I live in a neighborhood that has been established, and it has a lot of trees, for example. It wouldn’t be that great even if you did that, because the trees are bigger than the power poles.
Jonathan Yeah, that’s true. Well, you just need to cut down...
Ben And those houses aren’t tall enough.
Jonathan Just cut down all the trees.
Ben Cut down all the trees?
Ben Oh, it hurts so much. I just hate it when the utility company comes and destroys a tree...
Jonathan Prunes it.
Ben ...because they’re lazy, basically.
Jonathan So, I think one other thing worth mentioning, when we’re talking about Google here, is they have a project called Project Loon. That’s L-O-O-N. We’ll include a link in our show notes. But they’re basically looking at covering Internet...or providing Internet access with high altitude balloons. So, we’re still in the wireless space. But really, when you talk about covering Africa, for example, which Facebook looks very interested in right now; they’re looking and developing. So, I’m curious to see...as this is very research experimental at this stage...But I’m curious to see how that plays out going forward.
Ben Yeah, they and a couple of others...I think this is going to come up next on the notes here but... These kind of balloon initiatives, they tend to be more focused around underserved areas, trying to extend Internet access to people who don’t otherwise have it.
Jonathan Where there’s no infrastructure.
Ben Right. Yep.
Jonathan Well, and I think... The next point we have here is Facebook. They have autonomous drones which are not small. They are massive.
Ben No. People think drones and they think of the little toys. Right? But these are more like aircraft that just don’t have pilots in them.
Jonathan Yeah, these are large scale aircraft that are autonomous. They take off and land. I think they fly for 24 hours or more at a time.
Ben Are they solar-powered?
Jonathan They’re solar-powered and I...I mean, I could be wrong. I’d have to look at the specifics... But I think at one point almost 30 days at a time was their goal of what they were looking for. But the goal is, again, to be able to cover wide areas of a population that’s currently underserved. So, again, Africa is a very interesting focus in terms of this. I think it...From a remote work perspective, if Facebook succeeds in providing Internet access to Africa, it changes everything, because you suddenly have access to a massive talent pool that didn’t exist. It was just a technical barrier, and now that’s gone. So, I think it’s very exciting going forward looking at that.
Ben Yeah. There’s one other thing I wanted to get to here, if that’s okay with you?
Ben So, one thing I’m really interested in is municipal broadband initiatives. So, what I mean by that is scenarios where you have a town, like maybe where there’s a franchise given to some cable company or whatever. So, you kind of have a monopoly on Internet service, and there’s no reason for them to ever upgrade. It’s just not a good situation. Some people find themselves with that kind of a problem. Right? I think... I’m actually really interested in trying to convince cities. There are some that are already doing this. It’s a complicated thing; so, this is one of those could be a whole other show kinds of topics. It’s a big topic. But one thing I’m really excited about is the potential of getting cities to rollout municipal government-owned infrastructure. I don’t mean federal government; I mean city government.
Jonathan On a local scale?
Ben Yeah, local scale...and putting fiber in the streets when they do streets and putting...or on the power poles when they work on whatever, wherever is most convenient, but having the city rollout fiber that can serve as sort of a last mile medium, because fiber is... There is nothing better than fiber for all practical purposes. There are some science experiments, but fiber is where it’s at, really.
Jonathan They’ve kept pushing it further and further. They would hit a technical limitation and say, “Well, this is as fast as we can go,” but then they found a way to compress, and multiplex, and [INAUDIBLE 00:55:12].
Ben Right. Well, the beautiful thing about fiber is there’s no limitation on the medium. So, once you have a fiber in the ground, it’s infinitely upgradeable, because the only thing that matters is the equipment on the ends of the fiber, which you...
Jonathan Are sending and receiving signals.
Ben Yeah, exactly. So, from an infrastructure point of view, fiber makes all the sense in the world. It’s expensive to put in, time consuming, and all of that, but once it’s in, it’s in, and then...
Jonathan It’s really for the future.
Ben ...making your network faster. Yeah, it is.
Jonathan It’s future-proof.
Ben It’s future-proof. Exactly. So, it makes a lot of sense for cities to want to do this, because for them, it’s the same thing as a street. Right? They build a street, and they want it to last for 10 or 20 years. Well, they could do the same thing with fiber. You put the fiber in. The fiber itself is super cheap. You can buy miles and miles of fiber for a tiny fraction of what it costs to lay concrete.
Jonathan The expense is in the installation of it.
Ben Exactly. But cities are already in a good position to do this, because they’re already tearing up roads; they’re already doing that construction work. So, if you could convince them to lay fiber down as they’re doing this work, then it doesn’t take a long time before you actually have a functional network in some city. Then you can connect houses to this fiber network, and then all the city has to do is contract out to whoever, whatever providers want to make use of this network to provide services...
Jonathan To run it.
Ben ...to customers. Yeah. No, they don’t even have to run it. All the city really has to... Well, they can contract out somebody to manage the actual...
Jonathan To operate it.
Ben ...fiber network. Yeah. But on the other end of that, they sell... The city can sell the availability of this local network to any provider that wants to play ball. So, Verizon can show up; Time Warner can show up; anybody can show up with an Internet connection and say, “Hey, we want to be an ISP; we’ll do that.” You can have competition that way, and you sort of remove this artificial barrier of...well, not artificial...but the physical barrier of infrastructure to somebody’s house...
Jonathan Yeah. Around three different technologies.
Ben Exactly. That sort of is what drives the monopolies that you see, because you can only ever have really one or maybe two connections to somebody’s house physically. Have you ever seen these pictures on the Internet of these crazy electrical grid interconnections in India?
Jonathan Yes, I did.
Ben Nobody wants their house built like that. So, you’re only ever going to have one or two things come into your house that will be useable as an Internet connection. So, my vision here is if you could get cities to take care of that for you, then you could actually do more to level the playing field in terms of competition and fair market to get better services to the home. So, it’s a long-term thing. Right? It’s a long play.
Jonathan It’s a huge upfront investment.
Ben It is.
Jonathan I know in our particular area it costs between $22,000 and $60,000 to lay a mile of fiber, which it adds up real quick, and especially when...
Ben Right. But if they could roll that cost into what it costs to lay [INAUDIBLE 00:58:09], it would be a more appealing story [INAUDIBLE 00:58:14].
Jonathan It definitely would.
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