DSL is no longer “high-speed internet”

Back in the day of dial-up internet, where you had to use a modem connected to a phone line to get online, DSL speeds were incredible.

Dial-up internet data speeds typically capped out at about 30k/second. DSL, which uses a digital signal over the same wires, typically delivers just over 600k/second. A 20 times speed boost!

Fast forward a dozen years to today. Bell Canada has a service called Fibe that advertises 175mbps. That’s again about 20 times faster than the speed that DSL caps out at.

There’s a huge difference between 175mbps and 5mbps.

Much of the urban world has “high speed” Internet, and the internet has been tuned around users having DSL speeds available. YouTube streams well at that speed, so does NetFlix, and things generally work alright.

As long as you only use one at a time.

I had a problem the other day where I was trying to watch an movie on iTunes and it was taking forever to buffer. iTunes estimated that it would take over 8 hours before I’d be able to start watching. I started poking around my network to see what was causing the network congestion, and it turned out to be my iPhone. I’d plugged it in to charge, and it had started a backup. The backup consumed enough of my upstream bandwidth that it was interfering with the movie transfer. Once I turned off the phone, I could start watching the movie a few minutes later.

DSL is fast enough, but Fibe gives you a buffer so that if there are multiple users using the network at once in your house, any of the individual users doesn’t suffer. I think this is important. A digital future where our TV and entertainment is coming through the internet shouldn’t depend on whether or not the 6 year old is playing a game on the computer and the game is downloading an update.

I’d like to see DSL speeds relabeled as “mid-speed internet” or given some other term, so that when planning is being done to bring “high-speed internet” to new locations like rural communities, the plan is for something that’s really forward looking and not based on ten year old technology.

Where this hits home for me is I live just outside the city of Brantford, where good connectivity is available. But on my street, all that’s available is DSL.

There was a plan in the works by the county to bring “high speed internet” to everyone in the county, and what ended up happening is they granted the contract to a company that uses line-of-sight wireless transmission. This caps out at around DSL speeds, but this has satisfied the mandate and it’s all we’re going to get.

This is a huge upgrade for the folks who previously had dialup, but it’s a far cry from what’s available in the city. DSL is the new dialup, and it’ll be years before the rural users get another chance at “high-speed” internet.