Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cable modem v. DSL

Conventional wisdom tells us that switched networks are better, right?

Those of us who have been using networked computers for a while surely remember thicknet or coax ethernet (aka thinnet). The adapters for these usually had a "collision" light, which told you when a packet you were trying to send collided with someone else trying to send a packet. I'm no networking engineer, but I think the fallback on a collision was to wait some random amount of time and try sending the packet again. In short, a busy network was a slow network.

Now we are all used to 10-, 100-, 1000-base-T, which is switched, and works amazingly better than thinnet or thicknet ever did.

The geeks pick DSL over cable for exactly this reason: it's switched. You don't share your bandwidth with your neighbor (well, at least until both of you get to the DSLAM, then you share the common bandwidth from that point).

Here's the problem, it's not true in practice. Every time I've sat on a cable modem, it's been faster than my DSL ever has been. I've even paid a lot extra for a measly 3.0 mbit, which I never reached. My last DSL could only get as high as 1.6 mbit if I was very lucky -- and I paid $72 a month for that service. Granted, some of that expense was having a static IP address.

Well today I got my first cable modem. Guaranteed 6.0 mbit. I expected 3 if I was lucky. Guess what? So far it is always 6 mbit. As I write this, I'm downloading Solaris 10 in another window. It's averaging 6.1 Mbit per second. The latency is way better than DSL has ever been.

Oh, and it's $43 a month.

Of course, it requires dealing with the cable company. So far, they've actually been pretty good to me. They've answered the phone quickly when I've called and the service has been good. I really wish Comcast wouldn't insist on installing malware to activate your cable modem (they change the name of your internet explorer, your home page, etc). Other than that, the process has been pretty amazing.

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