FIOS, So Fast It's Slower?

FIOS, So Fast It's Slower?

Gregory Han
Feb 4, 2009
Verizon One' Home Command Center for FiOS
When we first moved into our apartment we were immediately bombarded with offers for DSL service, offering modest speeds for a modest price. Since we weren't transferring huge files, unless you counted the occasional iTunes movie download, we were happy enough with the price to speed ratio. Unfortunately, our ISP had a frequent outage issue, so we eventually switched over to a cable provider. It's been equally hit and miss. What we've always really wanted was a big fat pipeline of fiber optic love via FIOS, but our older Los Angeles hood will probably not see a roll out of the service or something similar far into the next decade at the rate things are going. But it seems like sometimes faster can be slower?

Although Philip Greenspun's page is barebones, it's detailed in observations about certain issues with FIOS service, making a firsthand comparison with his previous "Comcast 768 kbps up/8 Mbits down" with Verizon FIOS' "5 mbps upload (8X faster than Comcast) and 20 mbps down (2.5X faster than Comcast)" offering. Sounds like one notable step up. Or so he thought:

How does the [FIOS] experience compare to Comcast in day-to-day surfing? Oftentimes, much slower. How can that be? It is measurably 2.5X faster for downloads!

The simple answer is "latency". Bandwidth is the advertised measure of Internet speed, but latency is more important for most consumers. If you click from a Google search results page to view a text page hosted at "www.foobar.com", you're not asking for a mountain of information. The page might contain only 4000 characters of text. At 20 mbps, that should take 1.6 milliseconds to receive. Your computer, however, cannot make a request directly to "www.foobar.com". Communication among computers on the Internet is based on IP address, a 32-bit number, e.g., "69.89.31.56" in the case of www.foobar.com. Your computer needs to talk to a name server in order to get a translation of www.foobar.com, nytimes.com, philip.greenspun.com, or whatever, into a 32-bit number. The name server is run by your ISP. Suppose that the name server takes a few seconds to respond. Your browser might display something in a corner "resolving www.nytimes.com". With Comcast, this is never noticeable because their name servers are very responsive. You'll get your text Web page after a latency of a few milliseconds to resolve "www.foobar.com" into a number and then another few milliseconds to receive the text.

Peter ends up concluding that FIOS is best for users who depend upon fast upload speeds, alongside users who want access/stream home DVD-quality content while on the road. Sadly, our dreams of Autobahn speed web surfing has been knocked down to the reality of the limitations of infrastructure and hardware that bottleneck's fiber optic's best virtue: speed.

Read the complete review and comparison at Philip Greenspun's page.

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