The Need For Speed
While nothing special in some other countries (like… New Zealand… let alone the USA), a better-than-100-Megabit Internet service at home has been an unattainable goal for me in the wilds of Adelaide, South Australia until now.
I have long had access to much faster speeds at the office, via path diverse gigabit fibre links that were installed back when I owned an Internet company, but not at home.
The companies who are giving the NBN a run for their money using fixed wireless services couldn’t help me, because I live in one of those leafy streets full of those tall things that leaves grow on. Our house has no radio line-of-sight to anywhere and no way to ‘fix’ that without the use of chainsaws. Not doing that.
Wait, but Why?
Why bother? To some extent this is for the same reason that I have a Tesla Model S P100D (Capable of accelerating from 0 to the open road speed limit in less than 2.3 seconds)… ‘Because’.
At least, that’s how I felt about it before I’d done it.
I have since found that there are some genuine benefits beyond mere geek bragging rights.
Our home is in the HFC network footprint. Back in December 2013 (!) I penned a blog post about how HFC (while definitely not as good as pure fibre) was still capable of speeds well over 100 Megabits per second, and definitely a dramatic improvement over (sigh) FTTN.
I don’t think I was expecting it to be a seven year wait (!) but at last, here in 2020, I have finally got there, via the very same HFC box pictured in that 2013 blog post.
To my great chagrin, I’ve not been able to obtain those > 100 Meg speeds with the ISP I founded, Internode. It seems that Internode is a prisoner of the the TPG group’s apparent disinterest in keeping up with state-of-the-art NBN home Internet speeds.
The fastest home Internet service currently offered by the TPG group companies is 100 Megabits, despite the release of higher fixed line speeds in the underlying network by NBNCo in May 2020.
This is a direct mirror of the long term TPG group decision to artificially constrain they speeds they offer on the NBN Fixed Wireless footprint, as I related recently. On the Fixed Wireless (FW) footprint, the fastest speeds being sold by Internode are 25 Megabits per second, despite NBNCo having offered Internet providers FW speeds of up to 75 megabits per second.
The TPG group have ignored higher speed options on fixed-wireless for more than two years so far (and yes, I have asked – repeatedly), so I have little optimism for the group to return to the forefront in fixed line speeds on the NBN in general any time soon.
Time to change providers. This was a decision I was sad about because, well, I did start Internode!
The changeover process on the NBN fixed line network is incredibly smooth and simple – such a contrast to the complicated realm that Internode and others had to navigate when it came to switching between ADSL2+ DSLAM networks.
Online signup took just a few minutes. A little later the same day I got an SMS to say that I had a 250 Megabit Internet service running with Aussie Broadband.
There was no physical change to anything. I simply got an SMS message to say it was done, and without even resetting or logging into the router, the world got…faster.
In fact, I was a bit shocked at how fast it was:
I’m used to real-world download speeds being lower than the ‘advertised’ line rate, because that advertised raw data rate typically includes TCP/IP packet overheads. By contrast, this service is achieving noticeably more than the advertised speed(!).
It is also amazingly consistent. At 8pm I tried again and instead of a 274 megabit per second speedtest result, I managed a ‘mere’ 273 Megabits per second. Indeed I am yet to see a speedtest result below 250.
“Nice upstream speed, kid…gonna miss it after the upgrade?”
One thing I am a bit sad about, and it is not Aussie Broadband’s fault, is the NBNCo decision to speed constrain the upstream direction on the NBN ‘250’ services to a mere 25 megabits per second. The NBNCo 100M service has a 40M upstream, and the loss of that faster upstream (and that’s what I used to have) real does peeve me a bit.
In my view, constraining the upload speed artificially is akin to a gangster charging ‘protection money’. This level of asymmetry (10:1) is a bit unreasonable when all of the underlying backhaul/CVC/etc links are full duplex (i.e. same-speed-both-ways) data paths, so the upstream pipes are mostly full of ‘air’. At the same ratio as the 100M NBNCo service, there really should be a 100M uplink speed on this service.
Anyway – it is what it is, and in this regard I am merely a paying customer.
(My Aussie Broadband Refer-A-Friend Code is 4549606 if you feel like doing the same thing and if you’d like a $50 credit when you sign up 🙂 )
Does it matter – can you tell the difference?
It turns out that you can.
Web browsing of even content-rich sites is now visibly ‘snappier’, which isn’t earth-shattering, but it is very nice.
It is (of course) in the downloading of large chunks of data that the speed difference really comes to the fore.
I found myself downloading the latest Mac OS X release, Catalina, that weighs in at around 12.5 Gigabytes (!). I hit the ‘Download’ button on the Mac App Store and went off to make a cup of coffee, being used to this sort of thing taking a fair old while, even on a 100M link.
I came back to the Mac a little over 5 minutes later and it was fully downloaded and waiting for me to hit the ‘start’ button to do the upgrade. I had to get the calculator out to decide if that was even possible…and it is. The speeds I am achieving equate to more than 2 Gigabytes per minute of achieved payload data rate. Mercy Sakes that is quick.
Another few hundred gigabytes of Dropbox folders needed to be synchronised over the Internet link into that same Mac. Sure, that took a few hours, but again it was way faster than it had ever happened before. A few hundred gigabytes.
Overall – I’m really loving this.
There is just no sense of conflict in usage by different household members, even when a few household members are are streaming high bandwidth 4K HDR content at the same time (and…they really do).
Even while that Mac was chugging away in a corner, re-synchronising hundreds of Gigabytes of Dropbox folders onto its onboard SSD, the Internet service remained just lightning-fast for everyday tasks.
The Weakest Link
Back in the ADSL2+ days at Internode, we would often have to chase down apparent Internet link speed issues that really turned out to be local (in-house) issues with WiFi base stations or other in-house network issues – even at a mere 10-20 megabits per second. The state of the art in routers and wifi at the time was a lot worse than it is today.
By contrast, the 270 megabit per second down speed test results I am consistently obtaining with my shiny new Aussie Broadband service are being achieved to a laptop over WiFi on the kitchen table – not even using a wired network port (!).
I have tried again on a wired port, just to see if it was different and it was exactly the same. Somewhere between my glass-half-full blog post about HFC in 2013 and now, the rest of the home network technology concerned has comprehensively ‘caught up’.
For interest, the on-site data path is:
- A Ubiquiti EdgeRouter-X. This router is more than up to the speed task, rock solid and reliable, has automatic backup link failover, and the 5 port model I have at home comes in at under A$90. Incredible. This is a disruptive, excellent value device that is worthy of a separate review in its own right.
- An old TP-Link rack-mount gigabit switch.
- Multiple trusty Apple Airport Extreme base stations spread around the house, all connected on wired ethernet back to the central switch. Also well up to the task, but Apple don’t make ’em any more.
- My (now) 3.5 year old MacBook Pro.
I’m intending to swap it all that out in a little while for a new set of Ubiquiti ‘UniFi’ series hardware (UDM-Pro, UniFi PoE switches and UniFi PoE Wireless Access Points).
I do not expect that change to create a speed gain. However, I deployed that full product set on our farm recently across a six site single mode fibre ring and – wow. That product set achieves everything on a complex site that used to take days of head-scratching with a Unix command line, and it turns it all into 10 minutes of point-and-click with a web browser. Again well deserving of a separate review sometime.
I am just loving the new 250 Megabit per second Internet service at home. Having spent most of my business career involved in the engineering of local, national and international many-gigabit-per-second networks, its nice to have something at home that – at last – feels like it is decently quick.
I’m hanging out for the full Gigabit service, though, on the happy day when NBNCo manage to get fibre down my street. Bring that on !