Tuesday 11 March 2014

Discussing broadband over the garden fence

A recent article in the online Telegraph about seeking better broadband speed, had me shaking my head. The news often does this, not because the subject makes me sad but because of the inane, dumbed down way it is presented.  In this case, it's the advice given that gets me typing.

Read the article if you like but I have paraphrased it here for you:
Question: Does broadband speed on the same exchange, vary between ISPs?
Answer: Yes, ask your neighbours for their recommendations.

All other things (internal wiring) being equal, I agree that the maximum (sync) speed you will achieve is going to be roughly similar to that of your neighbours, but ask your average neighbour for their opinion of their own Internet Service Provider and you will probably get such a biased, subjective view, it's almost not worth boiling the kettle.  It certainly is not advice I would be offering in a national newspaper column.

So if speed is not the end game, what else should you be looking for in an ISP?  For me, the biggest factor is consistency and quality, things that are much harder to measure and therefore advertise.  So if you do find an ISP that manages to measure and publish these things, surely they are worth a look.

I don't work for Andrews & Arnold (although they seem like a company I would like to work for) but I have recently become a customer of theirs, based purely on the fact that they provide measurable quality of my connection.  They have nothing to hide behind, and no basis for excuses when something isn't quite right.  Rarely have I found any service provider (Internet or otherwise) where I am confident that they are aware of something not being "quite right", before I am.  I hesitate to say "problem" because a problem occurs after something has gone wrong.  Measuring quality is about trying to prevent problems occurring in the first place, or catching them early and having the data to evidence it.

I too measure some aspects of my connection.  It may be basic, but the graph below proves to me that the consistency of throughput has improved considerably since my swap.

See if you can spot where I changed ISP!
More subtly shown here, but of arguably higher importance, is the reduction in packet loss too.
Even when averaged over 1 day, a packet loss reduction is clearly visible.  So clear that I circled it in blue!

So why isn't everyone using A&A?  It seems the vast majority do not have sufficient technical interest to care about how their ISP works or that it works well.  It's also because we have been conditioned (often by BT themselves) to expect something for nothing - £5 per month for 6 months is their current offer - but broadband is not a commodity like gas and electricity, it is just as important to many people, but the product you get out of the pipe is not the same quality and therefore not the same price - If you want broadband advice, and you don't live next door to me, read the educated, industry press!

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