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Phuket Live Wire – Need for speed

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PHUKET: From time to time, I get messages from people who have looked at the Phuket Internet Speed Reporting site and wonder why we’re measuring international download speeds, using one specific test (DSLReports) to one destination, Los Angeles.

Here’s a typical comment:

Woody, why should I care how fast this test runs to Los Angeles? I’m happy. My torrents download fast, and video streams without any problems. When I run the test my Internet Service Provider recommends, or the test on one of the Thai web sites, I get speeds very close to what I’m paying for – 8 to 10 Mbps download, and 1 to 2 Mbps upload. What’s wrong with just taking my Internet Service Provider’s word for it?

First and foremost, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with running one of the other tests. Just be aware of the fact that the speed you’ll see is more indicative of the speed to Bangkok than the speed overseas. Even if the test site says you’re going to New York or Berlin or Singapore, the speed you see on the meter has a higher correlation with your domestic speed than your international speed. That isn’t necessarily bad. Let me explain.

The test we’re using now, at dslreports.com/speedtest?flash=1, is specifically designed so it can’t be cached inside Thailand. Caching is a technique for copying data from overseas and storing it here in Thailand, so the Internet Service Provider doesn’t have to pay for a lot of overseas access.

Look at it this way: if you and 100 other people inside Thailand are watching the F1 finals, live, over an internet connection, it makes no sense at all for TOT or CAT or True or 3BB to grab 101 copies of the live broadcast and hook each one up to a single customer.

It makes a lot more sense for the ISP to cache the broadcast here in Thailand – copy it onto a computer in Bangkok, say, and then dole out the signal domestically.

There’s a tiny fraction of a second delay in the broadcast when it goes through a cache, but you would never notice the difference. And your ISP only has to pay a fraction of the cost, because they’re only using the expensive international data pipes to handle one live stream.

The tests that the ISPs recommend have another shortcoming: instead of measuring one steady stream of data, they can send out and retrieve two or more data streams simultaneously.

There’s a reason why your Internet Service Provider wants you to believe the speed tests provided at speedtest1.totbb.net, bangkok.speedtest.thaivisa.com, speedtest.3bb.co.th or speed-test.trueinternet.co.th.

They’re all based on the OOKLA speed test engine, and they all show lightning-fast speeds to Bangkok – even if you can’t even get a page in Europe or North America to open.

So why are international data speeds necessarily superior to domestic speeds? The short answer is they aren’t.

Some people spend almost all of their time using web sites that are located inside Thailand. Many more people spend much of their time on Google sites (including YouTube and Gmail), Microsoft (Hotmail), Facebook, Yahoo and others. Even though those sites aren’t located inside Thailand, they’re hooked up through dedicated high speed connections.

If you look at the detail in the official Internet connection spaghetti chart at is.gd/rFboLy, you will find that Microsoft has direct, dedicated connections from Bangkok to the US, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Google goes direct to Singapore and Malaysia. Facebook connects straight to Singapore. Akamai, which is the largest independent web host in the world, has a direct connection from Bangkok to Hong Kong. Yahoo/Softbank also have dedicated connections to their own servers.

The net result: if you spend most of your time on Facebook, YouTube, Google, Yahoo and/or Hotmail, you’re more constrained by domestic speeds than international speeds.

Similarly, if you download torrents (or use other file-sharing software), the source of the torrents may be located inside Thailand or outside Thailand, or possibly a little of both. Torrents typically get downloaded in 10 or more separate data streams, so you may be constrained by domestic speeds, or international speeds, or an unpredictable and irreproducible combination of both.

Why do we track international download speeds on the speed reporting site? The first reason, obviously, is that many people in Phuket spend a large part of their time working with internet servers located outside of Thailand. But there’s more to it than that.

The speed of a single download data stream gives a more-or-less replicable benchline for measuring how well our internet’s running. By keeping track of how fast things are running day-to-day, we can spot real screw-ups, and warn people about them.

For example, two weeks ago in my Live Wire column I traced the demise of TOT’s Fiber 2U Optic service, and pinpointed a major drop in international speeds at the beginning of October. If it weren’t for all of the speed reports prior to that collapse, and the many reports since, there’s no way we could’ve isolated the problem.

The information’s there on the site for anyone to see. TOT may well bring its Fiber 2U service back to the levels we saw earlier this year. If they do, the numbers on the site will start rising again. If they don’t, potential customers can take a look at the speeds and decide if the service is right for them.

What to do if you’re happy with the speeds you’re getting? There’s an old saying in the computer industry that I take as gospel: Ain’t broke, don’t fix. You may be spending most of your time using domestic connections, or one-hop-shy of domestic connections, and not even realize it. Good on ya.

But whatever you do, please keep reporting your speeds on the speed reporting site. That way we can keep track of how things should be working, and blow the whistle if something starts heading south. Crowd-sourced speed reporting really works, if you’ll pitch in and help a little bit.

Live Wire is Phuket Gazette columnist Woody Leonhard’s weekly snapshot of all things internet in Phuket.

Follow him on Twitter: @PhuketLiveWire; “like” pages at facebook.com/SandwichShoppe; or facebook.com/phuketgazette.net, or visit his free Sunday morning computer clinics at Woody’s Sandwich Shoppes.

— Woody Leonhard

 

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