July 2009 Archives

Broadband speeds and broadband testing - get an SLA

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You may have read Cliff Saran's summary on ComputerWeekly.com of the newbie OFCOM report on broadband speeds recorded across the UK by the various operators.

While Tiscali (not surprised they were up for sale) came on the rocky bottom, it was not alone in underperforming. According to the report, nearly one fifth of UK broadband customers on an 8Mbps connection have actually been receiving less than 2Mbps.

Of course, testing of broadband in this way is pretty unscientific [unlike Broadband-Testing!], with time of day, week, month, geography etc all having major impacts, but it's pretty clear that the contention ratios set by the providers are not exactly in favour of the customer.

Let's face it, if you're subscribed to a service with a 40:1 contention ratio and you're paying for an 8Mbps service, at peak times you're doing pretty well to get a quarter of that, rather than 1/40th.

Not that this is acceptable, it isn't. The problem is that, with ADSL being a contended (shared) service, a service provider isn't going to offer you an SLA and without an SLA you're stuffed.

This is why I keep banging on about the many and various optimisation technologies I test because these DO provide a solution.

For example, with the recently tested Voipex VoIP over ADSL product I tested and blogged about, it IS possible for a service provider to offer you an ADSL service for voice and data WITH an SLA. Then you have a leg to stand on in the event of not receiving what you have coughed up for.

Of course, the service provider will charge MORE for a service with an SLA, not least because there are some inherent costs involved for them in acquiring the additional technology.

BUT - we've worked out that the ROI on the investment required with Voipex by a service provider is around 4 months. So I'm sure many of you would be happy to sign up for such a service if you only had to pay extra for, say, the first 6-12 months and then the tariff came down?

If so, start badgering your ISP/TelCo right now. The technology is here AND it is very affordable for both parties.

Of course, the UK isn't the only country to suffer underperforming broadband networks (from a customer perspective). I just checked my ADSL line to my apartment (where I'm working out of today) in Andorra and my 1Mbps downlink speed is actually 0.73Mbps and my 256Kbps uplink speed is 230Kbps - so 27% and a few wee % short of the mark respectively.

I have the option to switch to 100Mbps FTTH as I mentioned in a previous blog, but I've put this on hold on being told that I might be without an Internet connection for 15-30 days, less than ideal, especially when the mobile data option here doesn't extend beyond GPRS.

For a third reference, we've just tested the speeds of the feeds at the office in France, where we're paying for 8Mbps down and 1Mbps up and the results were: 7.29Mbps down and 0.82Mbps up.

So I guess the answer is, er, go live in France. Remember the wine's cheaper as well...

And Now Save Money On Your Office Calls...

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From the man who roams the length and breadth of Europe - well certain parts of Andorra, France and the UK - searching for networking products with instant ROI...

The latest is from a UK start-up called Voipex - www.voip-x.co.uk - which has developed a VoIP appliance range with some really clever header compression technology that really does the job.

On a boggo standard BT ADSL connection with an uplink speed of 512K that actually gaves us 442Kbps, where we would expect to generate around eight regular voice calls max, before giving up - and that without any data stuff going on that would, well, stuff the voice calls... with the Voipex technology in place (in this case a hand-sized 300 quid appliance) we generated just short of 50 calls while having a continuous data transfer ongoing, tested the call quality with live calls as part of the testing - absolutely zero degradation, at least to the human ear.

This stuff really works, is cheap, simple to set up and scales to TelCo levels of delivery. What's not to like, as they say...

Better still, the code integrates with a standard "off the shelves of PC World" type ADSL router from Netgear, D-Link etc.

Voipex is looking for channel partners, so if you're out there and can spot a good thing from a foot away from a browser, get in touch...

Has The Networking Industry Gone On Its Hols? Let's Do Phones Then...

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Just when I thought the days of everyone trekking off to Spain or France (I know - I'm the local there) in July had vanished, so the networking industry goes eerily quiet.

Lucky then, that I've just completed my pilot testing on smart phone performance (see elsewhere in CW news pages) for our soon to be launched Mobile Test Labs subscription service, so that I have something to talk about with various folks.

While I am keen to enthuse about the idea of a palm-sized device replacing a Netbook (let alone a laptop) and giving me 24x7 connectivity to the 'net and my emails wherever I am, the intriguing question is, can this be done without the cost of actually losing the capabilities of the phone itself? If the results encountered thus far are our benchmark for the future, then the answer is no.

Clearly there are major compromises at work here from the chipset up. Hardly surprising really, when a gadget barely larger than a fag packet has to be, not just a phone, but a web browser, email client and pseudo laptop replacement with integrated 2G, 3G, 3.5G (HSDPA), WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, camera, MP3 player, digital radio... The situation is so bad that vendors are having to locate stuff outside of the internal protective casing (and I dont't just mean the camera lens!).

And all this stuff does compromise performance,

Maybe then, what we need is an "on demand" service for building smart phones to our own spec. So, like buying a car, we opt for additional feature packs, so we get just the features we want and, ideally a smart phone that is not only smart but works as a phone.

Fat chance - but nice idea...

Meantime, more blasts from the past - on Monday I'm testing with a new client in the area of VoIP appliances. An oldy but a goody and one that no one has really cracked for the mass market, so I'll let you know how it goes.

Meantime, if you're into your smart phones and 3G dongles, then you'll soon be able to see this stuff appearing on mobiletestlabs.com along with a load of mobile data apps, so we're bringing the mobile and networking worlds together. You saw it here first...

Welcome to a non multi-million dollar testbed

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While I enjoy a fantastic - and fantastically useful - relationship with my two key test equipment partners Ixia and Spirent (the latter, for example, providing a $2m testbed for our soon to be launched mobile handset test labs), it's refreshing to hear of a low-cost alternative in the Ethernet world that should bring proper, scientific test capabilities to a far broader range of folks.

The company is question is Xena Networks, a start-up based in Copenhagen (a great place to be so long as someone else is buying the beer). I had a chat with Xena's Dale Smith (ex Force 10 so he knows a thing or two about Ethernet) and he explained that the aim of its XenaCompact product is to bring Gig/10Gig testing as close to the masses as possible, with a platform that is a fraction of the price of the mainstream competition but is still totally scalable in terms of port count and features.

Xena claims the price/performance breakthrough has been achieved without compromise, so long as L2/L3 is your game and not L4-7. I'm thinking, therefore, that a combination of the Xena hardware, to give you wire-speed Gig and 10Gig over copper or fibre, plus an Ixia iXchariot laptop-based L4-7 traffic generator sounds like a great, affordable proposition for any enterprise, let alone, service provider or product vendor etc.

Importantly Xena claims the product is very easy to use - important bearing in mind the broader target market. I'm thinking the only answer is to put it to the test in its own right. So which of my fine clients fancies putting one of its Ethernet devices into a Xena testbed? You know where to find me...

The Lows and Lows of Internet Access

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Apologies to any readers for the extended absence - lots of travelling, little in the way of Internet access other than WiFi hotspots that won't let you pay, neighbours of friends with annoyingly secure WLANs and other common (to me) failings.

Even when it's fixed and should work, as I referenced t'other week regarding my friend and colleague Phil Snell, CTO of NetNetTechnologies and his trials and tribulations with BTs business ADSL service. Back in France, le BT, AKA France Telecom, managed to completely screw Internet access for several days, website mysteriously becoming unavailable, access disappearing completely then reappearing, before going completely down for a morning - and we were blaming my pre-launch 3Com router that was roasting to death in 40+ centigrade temperatures. Sort your routers and DNS out garcons... so now back in Andorra and find that if I want to go fibre (a free upgrade) I am potentially without ADSL for 15-30 days. Useful that... And so, back with reignited copper, the weather decides to take control and bring a summer storm that keeps cutting the power...

Remember I said something about mobile data the other day!

More tomorrow, ADSL, Internet and weather prevailing...

Footnote: One of my few Internet successes this year was getting free - and working - WiFi on the National Express train service from London Kings X to Leeds. I see that National Express has now had the service taken into the public to stop them going under. Excellent...

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