Forget a bandwidth upgrade! Try these 4 things to make the home internet experience better

I work exclusively from home as a telecommunications consultant. And I have the smallest bandwidth package my ISP offers: 25 Mbps download & 2.5 Mbps upload.  I did have to upgrade at one point though. I initially had 0.5 Mbps upload. This is insufficient for video conferencing.

The house has two smart TVs, two workhorse desktop PCs & three tablets/smartphones. There can be concurrent sessions of Netflix running (Netflix running on HD only uses about 1 Mbps, Ultra-HD or 4K will require 15 Mbps – but that’s the future). I often use the internet for voice & video conferencing for work; connecting to the USA and abroad.

For all the techies out there, I should mention I live in western Canada, meaning all our internet traffic routes down to the USA (Seattle I think). All the Netflix and Google caching servers then are pretty far away. And if we need to reach eastern Canada the traffic routes down to the USA and then back up.

The principles I lay out here should work with any ISP and any geographic location. I need to stress this – Since I work from home my internet connection (and WiFi) must be highly functional. But only 25 Mbps? Here’s how I did it.

  1. Have the internet provider check the home’s internet’s *signal* levels. NOT bandwidth. They are required to repair any signal deficiencies, likely for free. This will help prevent packet re-transmissions and is particularly important for voice & video. This kind of problem is unlikely to show up on internet speed tests.
  2. Make sure the home computer is connected via wired Ethernet for performance reasons; especially if you feel that you don’t know what you are doing. This is because wired is a closed system where variables can be controlled. Wireless is an open system and the environment (and performance) is constantly changing.
  3. Make sure home routing/switching gear is top notch. $20 gigabit switches are fine, but routers under $200 will likely not function well. This is because routers are essentially PCs withpurpose built software. They make them cheaper by putting in less expensiveCPUs and less memory. A router above $200 will actually weigh more. This is a good thing. More CPU and memory takes more metal.
    1. WiFi – If integrating WiFi into the router, purchase an 802.11ac (latest standard) even though the consumer electronics cannot use the better bandwidth. Do not use the WiFi from the internet provider, if it was included with the ISP modem. The new technology in 802.11ac makes sure there is better signal to the device. Also make sure the WiFi router has 6 antennas (meaning 3 internal radios). Expect 2.4 Ghz to work better than 5.4/5.8 Ghz. This is due to physics and also, I believe that developers have spent less time ensuring 5.4/5.8 Ghz work as well.
  4. Have a good computer (good hardware). The processor and memory affect how fast bits & bytes can be converted and put on the internet. The rule of thumb is that if the consumer pays less than $1000 for the computer (desktop / laptop, not tablet), it probably is not that good and will need to be replaced in 2-3 years. With a computer over a $1000 expect it to last 3-5 years.

Prior to these changes I had problems all the time with Netflix. Now it is noticeably less frequent. I also had problems with video conferencing. Now when there are problems, I diagnose the problem as coming from the alternate party’s connection. That is, my audio/video is good on their end but their audio/video is bad on my end. It’s usually upload that is the problem and that is likely a result of each user’s upload rate with their ISP (asynchronous service).

The Oil & Gas industry needs to embrace new IP-based infrastructure for its fields

Brad Bechtold (@bradbechtold2) of Cisco via @CiscoCanada explains why the Oil & Gas industry needs to embrace new IP-based infrastructure not currently in oilfields. The concept he references is a “connected field” in which multiple IP communications technologies work together as a system. These technologies include UHF, VHF, LMRS, microwave, WiFi, fiber and satellite which are all today hotly debated as to “what works best” (answer: none, it depends on what you need to do).

Geographic Smartphone Use

In your city, how many users are iPhone, Android, Blackberry? Twitter use has revealed geographic usage patterns The statistician in me always questions this though. Maybe Blackberry & Android users are less likely to use twitter? (of my extended family, who has ~ 2 iPhones & 5 android – none of us tweet from our phones) However, it’s better than nothing. Here’s the city of Calgary:

You know you have a smart oilfield when…

Petroleum Development Oman (66%) / Shell (34%) Joint Venture adoption of IHS CERA’s 2003 study’s recommendations for a Smart Oilfield and a connected field has enabled them to deploy technologies that:

  • Increased a mature oilfield’s production by 100K barrels/day. At $90/barrel this is $3.2 Billion/year in additional revenue.
  • Reduced drilling time from 39 to 14 days ($40K/day savings = $1M per drill saved). Saved $5M per-well cost (includes drilling and completions).

The cost of a connected field to one year of savings and revenue increase: less than 1%. Perhaps a smart oilfield is better than simply making educated guesses to increase reservoir pressure via water injection?

Redline’s Connected Field for PDO/Shell Joint Venture – This mature 45,000 sqr km brownfield contains:

  • 6600 broadband connection points
  • 52 base stations
  • 13 Gbps total capacity
  • 130,000 end devices

Source: CommTech West, Redline Seminar, Calgary, AB, May 28, 2014.

A Passion for Quality

I confess, I really like stuff that works. I don’t appreciate bugs and workarounds. Computers and software are particularly bad offenders. That’s why if I can’t control component quality myself (I build my own desktop computers), I’d rather trust vertically integrated products (e.g. Microsoft Surface, Google Nexus, Apple products). Vertical integration in its purest form is where the supply chain of a company is owned by that company. From a consumer perspective that means a greater focus on quality for all components of a service. In the computer world the Open System Interconnection (OSI) model describes all the components required to function optimally for services to work well. My passion for quality also happens to be why I have found my career focus on telecom (layer 1) and telecom engineering (layer 0), especially in a rural environment. If telecom does not work, not much else does.

Power is the most common cause of outages

Good infographic on data center downtime. What should strike you right away is the most common cause of outages is power. Also of note is that of the 7 causes, only 1 was IT equipment failure (e.g. networks, servers). This aligns to what I’ve seen with Oil & Gas field networks. The best two techniques for managing power issues is to add network redundancy and ensure qualified electrical engineers correctly design the network power sources.

Goodbye Moore’s Law

Move over Moore, it’s Cooper’s turn to shine! Moore’s Law and CPUs have enjoyed a wild ride but the S-curve states that all good things come to an end. However, Cooper’s law (or the law of Spectral Efficiency) continues to enjoy momentum. That is, data transactions will double over the same area of radio spectrum every 30 months. If you’re in Telecom you already know this maxim: build, rebuild and build again. And it’s been going since 1895!

Internet for the O5B

The fight for the other 5 billion escalates … The other 5 billion being the folks who lack affordable internet connectivity (2nd/3rd world – this is a long term investment obviously).  Google has “project loon” which will launch balloons to deliver internet. Facebook just made an acquisition to support their investment in the initiative. The acquisition will deliver flying drones with a 5 year continuous-flight capability. These drones fly in unregulated airspace (just climbing high enough to foil regulators) – a very low earth orbit satellite if you will. Another excellent example showing that internet is critical utility infrastructure and showing how the 1st world can provide “a leg up” to the 2nd/3rd world countries by using technology advancements.

Connecting everything is going to be painful at first

Excellent summary on the health of the “internet of things” (also called “Embedded systems“). “Embedded systems are commonly found in consumer, cooking, industrial, automotive, medical, commercial and military applications.” The title of the article actually summarizes the issue nicely: “The Internet of Things Is Wildly Insecure — And Often Unpatchable”. My personal experience confirms this. The problem is so large that the individual response is to shut down and not worry about it. The article further explains how this situation has come about and why there is no incentive for change.  My warning to companies and consumers is don’t expect “everything to be connected” to be a good thing at first. We’ll all likely be experiencing the pain of all this until purchasers become so angry as to finally form the incentive.

Article: IT Should Stop Trying to ‘Surprise and Delight’

As BAs / Architects, I think we see this a lot. Personally, it makes me sad, because I know there are many more efforts of higher value if only we didn’t focus on trying to “Surprise and Delight”.  Summary points: 1) Organizations Should Seek to Meet Customer Service Expectations, Not Exceed Them. 2) Low Customer Effort is the Key to Meeting Service Expectations.