Understanding Upload and Download Speeds

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.