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Understanding Upload and Download Speeds

Posted by GNC at 11:46 AM on July 14, 2009

work_signA divine revelation came to me in a construction induced traffic jam on the interstate.  Three were lanes reduced to one and slowed to a safe speed as we passed construction workers.  New cars entering the road compounded the issue as we plodded along.  It was then I realized this was the example I needed to explain the speed of the internet to many people.

The problem?  Friends sign up for high speed internet say for example 6mb down and 1mb up.  Nothing spectacular but good for the normal user.  They become frustrated when experiencing slow downloads from say youtube, flickr, or a software updater.  “I have high speed internet and they don’t give it to me!  Youtube is always buffering and files download slowly.”  The interstate traffic jam should help explain it.

The travel on the interstate is only as fast as the slowest part of the road.  In the case of youtube, your internet is 6mb down, but youtube servers may not be able to stream the video faster than 150kb, much slower.  Facebook is notorious for being overwhelmed at the number of page requests.  As a result of so many requests it becomes like all of the cars trying to squeeze into one lane.

A personal example would be the upload speed to my blog.  It does not matter what my local internet speed is, I can only upload as fast as my host server will allow me.  For instance my wife and I went to the fair the other day.  Hopped on the highway and buzzed the 5 miles in no time (equal to our bandwidth speed).  We parked the car with no problem (opened up a connection port to a server).  And then we waited in a long line to enter through a narrow gate with only two ticket agents (the server speed).  It didn’t matter how fast we travelled to get there or how easy parking was.  The ticket agents could only go so fast.

So calm down everyone in this highspeed life of ours.  Yes everything is getting quicker, but there are still narrow places in the road.  Some servers are overloaded, some computers are slow, sometimes things break.  You can be assured that the average speed will continue to increase.

8 Comments

  1. From mace at 2:39 pm on July 14, 2009

    You’re not from Fargo are you? That’s what it sounded like getting into our fair.

  2. From Steve at 4:59 am on July 15, 2009

    Hi,
    The road analogy also works well when you’re trying explain why one website is fast and another slow, or even unavailable. ‘The roads closed’!

    S.

  3. From Dazed at 5:22 am on July 15, 2009

    Nothing like a pedestrian analogy to explain a concept that everyone already understands. This post contributed nothing of worth to my tubes.

  4. From Nolan at 5:32 am on July 15, 2009

    Mace,
    Actually I am in Fargo! Glad you enjoyed the line to the fair!

  5. From Nolan at 5:45 am on July 15, 2009

    Dazed, not every article is meant to give new information to the tech like yourself. The target of this article is to provide the tech an example that may somehow help you explain it to someone else, and for the reader who may not understand. As someone who is often helping non-tech people I love to discover new analogies to share. Hope in that sense that it helps.

  6. From susabelle at 9:51 am on July 15, 2009

    I had never thought of it this way, so thank you for the analogy. I can use this easily to explain things to my mother when she is frustrated by slow loads.

  7. From Gregg at 11:23 am on July 15, 2009

    Throw in a couple of toll booths “just because they can” (cable companies throttling bandwidth) and it gets even worse.

  8. From Chris at 8:23 am on July 30, 2009

    using your analogy, I can drive a tank(really FAST tank) at a constant speed from point A to Point B, anything slower than my tank(cats, Dogs, pedestrians and ticket agents) will be plowed under as I proceed unfaltered to my destination.

    Perhaps your next discussion will discuss how I can create a connection equivalent to my tank?.

    Ok, not likely, I know – but will you inform your readers that “They have real options” beyond just accepting “average?”

    How about manually adjust settings for their NIC?
    How about modifying Windows settings to overcome “preset” limitations in network connection settings.

    How about recomending powerful FREE programs such as Cablenut?

    How about recommending shutting down unneeded O/S services.

    How about recommending improved connections per server.

    The list goes on and on.

    And YES – they DO make DRAMATIC improvements in data transfer speeds.

    I have a 10meg connection and get as much as “17meg Download speeds” from certain web sites. Using widely accept speed test sitesa to verify. Before YOU suggest “impossible? understand my ISP admits they provide access to higher than advertised speeds “BUT” you must know how to take advantage of it.