Lion and Internet bandwidth

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
April 19th, 2012 • 1:37 pm

Less than a week ago, we moved to a new house here in southwest Nova Scotia, in a part of the province that is a bit more “civilized” and actually has a couple of real alternatives for Internet access. (As regular Betalogue readers might remember, in my previous location, for many years I was limited to dial-up. Then I had to use satellite-based Internet access. And finally I had access to a local wireless service. But none of these options was ever “real” high-speed Internet access. The last one came close, but I was still limited to 1.5 Mbps at best, and the wireless antenna was still sensitive to certain types of weather, particularly wet snow and ice build-up.)

So finally I have choice, and I have opted, for now, for ADSL service with the local phone company. The best that they offer here is what they call High-Speed Ultra, which is not great, but is OK. The download speeds are “up to” 7 Mbps and the upload speeds are “up to” 640 Kbps.

One of the reasons that I chose ADSL over cable is that, theoretically at least, you don’t have to share your connection with other people in your area. I had to do that with my local wireless service in my previous location, and there was a definite impact on available bandwidth at peak times, i.e. in the evenings and on the week-ends.

Much to my disappointment, however, I have since found that, at least in this area, there is definitely an impact on available bandwidth during peak hours, even with the ADSL service. While initially indicated sustained speeds of 6.5 Mbps or so, during our first week-end in our new house, I found that actual speeds could drop down to 3 Mbps or even less throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. Because of other issues, I had to call the company, and I inquired about this issue and was told that, indeed, in this particular area, depending on the number of people using the ADSL service at the same time, there could be an impact on download speeds. (The upload speed does not seem to be affected.)

So that’s one theoretical advantage of ADSL over cable that I am definitely not enjoying here either.

That said, I seem to be getting peak performance in my work day during the week, so things are not so bad. I might have problems if I try to stream an HD movie or TV show during the evening, but I haven’t tried this yet and I’ve lived without real broadband for so long that, overall, I am still quite pleased with the situation.

One of the positive surprises of this move is that I have also noticed some higher lever of snappiness in Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) itself. Speed is a rather subjective thing at times, but I am pretty sure that the move to real broadband access has had an overall impact on the performance of my system, beyond the expected speeding up of web browsing, downloads, and other standard Internet-based activities.

This would confirm what has become more and more apparent in recent years with Apple’s operating systems, which is that they have become so dependent on many Internet-based services that there is inevitably an impact on overall performance when your Internet access is, let’s say, less than optimal. Apple really has a rather poor history of accommodating users in low-bandwidth situations (see, for example, this post from three years ago), and it is quite obvious to me that their engineers are doing less and less testing of their technology in low-bandwidth conditions, and optimizing it for high-bandwidth conditions.

It is a rather elitist approach, but one that is probably, unfortunately, rather inevitable. (People with better Internet access probably tend to spend much more on Apple products in many areas.) After getting an SSD drive and buying more RAM, getting a better Internet connection is probably one of the best ways to get more out of your existing machine, not just for activities that are directly Internet-related, but for the overall performance of the system.

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