Tuesday, May 05, 2015  

[Save some money, get the basic plan...]

Being an IT guy, every once in a while, someone (in real-life) will come to me and ask which broadband plan should they sign-up for. They bring out the price-plans and start comparing, you know the deal.

My advice is always the same. For the general population, it is this: Bandwidth doesn’t matter. Get the cheapest fibre broadband plan.

Let me explain.

Firstly, the concept of a 500Mbps plan being “faster” than a 100Mbps plan is somewhat flawed. Mbps is not speed, it’s how big your pipe is. Speed is actually latency. For most of us, latency is not that relevant as it is measured in milliseconds. 1ms or say, 200ms, wouldn’t make much difference to most of us (unless you’re a gamer, then it’s a HUGE difference).

So for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that latency/speed is pretty fast as it is. Not much difference. This is when the “thickness” of your pipe comes in. Using an analogy, assume that all cars travel at the same speed. Further assume that the roads are packed with cars. Would more cars come through on a 2-lane road, or a 10-lane road? Obviously the 10-lane road, isn’t it?

The number of lanes, is bandwidth. This is what you’re paying for. And now I will share with you why it doesn’t matter.

I was with one of our local telcos for the longest time. I was with them before fibre broadband arrived, and “upgraded” to their fibre offerings when it became common. My experience on both mediums was the same.

Before fibre broadband, I was on a 10Mbps plan. That translates to roughly 1.25MB/s. When I downloaded files from this one website, my download speed was about 200KB/s, which took up about 16% of my “lanes”.

For the longest time, without any other ISP for comparison, I thought the download speed from this website is maxed out at 200KB/s. One way to get around this and use more of my “lanes” is to use a download manager. The download manager would chop the file into different segments and download multiple segments at the same time, increasing the rate of download. For example, if the download manager downloaded four segments at the same time, I’m effectively downloading the file at 800KB/s.

This worked for a while, until I noticed that multiple connections to the same website seem to be limited. I would download six different files from the same website at the same time, and when I tried to download the seventh file, it simply won’t start. The moment one of the earlier six files is done, the seventh would spring into life.

Again, I thought maybe this was a limit placed by the admin of the website I was downloading from. When I upgraded to fibre, I got the 100Mbps plan and had the exact same experience.

When I moved to my own flat, I subscribed to a non-mainstream ISP. They promised no speed caps and better service. Long story short, that is when I found out the website I’m downloading from in the examples above could sustain downloads at 700KB/s to 1MB/s. Not the paltry 200KB/s I’ve been experiencing all these years. The concurrent download limits? Non-existent.

By now, it’s pretty clear what’s going on. The ISP I was previously with not only capped the individual file download speeds, they also capped the number of concurrent connections.

Unethical? In my book, yes. While I cannot say for sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if all mainstream ISPs deploy similar tactics. So there is really no need to pay more for “thicker pipes” or “additional car-lanes” which you’d have difficulty using. Furthermore, most consumers access the Internet via WiFi in their homes, and the speed of WiFi will usually never be able to allow you to fully consume the bandwidth of your plan anyway. (Of course, there are exceptions, if you know what you’re doing, you can configure your WiFi and your devices to get pretty decent speeds. But if you’re doing that, you clearly wouldn’t need to read this post nor would you benefit from it as you probably already knew all this.)

So no, bandwidth doesn’t matter. If you’re using the mainstream ISPs, anyway. Just go for the cheapest fibre broadband plan.

^^^ by Locksley @ 10:06 PM. 0 comments.
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