Over the past five years or so, our industry has expended a great deal of marketing capital on promoting Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), gigabit cities, etc. However, there is a potentially multi-layered cost associated with being able to experience gigabit service inside a home. Have we gone far enough to enable the public to experience the speed we promote or provided enough education on how to actually realize this speed? Arguably, the answer is no.
I recently spoke with a city official who lamented the complaints he consistently receives from constituents who have gigabit services to their home but only experience a fraction of the speed they are paying for. There are potentially many factors contributing to this frustration.
Factors Affecting In-Home Internet Speed
Network Interface Card. Quite simply, if you have a 10/100 Mbps network card in your computer, laptop, etc., then 100 Mbps is the maximum speed enabled by that device. This assumes, of course, your device is directly hardwired back to your router, as this is always going to be the best way to test your connection. Even on modern computers or laptops with updated network cards, there are still other settings to contend with that may impact the ability to realize full capacity – especially for those users who fancy their ability to manually hardcode network settings.
Cabling. If you are using Category 5 (Cat-5) cables, then you will need to upgrade, especially if you prefer to have some of your devices hardwired or for those connections between, for example, a cable modem and router. For consistent gigabit connectivity, Cat-6 is best, although Cat-5e does support up to 1Gbps. The point here is how many consumers understand the difference in cable performance relative to the speeds delivered to their device?
Router Ports. Older router models support 10/100 Mbps ethernet ports. Again, maximum expected throughput speed is 100Mbps. Of course, all modern routers now have 10/100/1000 Mbps capabilities. However, we should not assume all consumers have upgraded their routers, nor should we assume most customers would understand the handoff between an out-of-date ethernet port and a new computer hardwired back to the router and the issues this might cause.
Firewall. Firewalls can add a significant amount of complexity and may cause connectivity performance issues. What type of firewall are you using? Packet filtering, stateful, application, or circuit level? Do you have a hardware firewall, software firewall, or both? It would not be surprising that more advanced users move to hardware firewall solutions moving forward, as this provides a layer of security between smart devices and the internet.
Wi-Fi. What could possibly go wrong with the most preferred technology connecting our devices? Many things, unfortunately. Location of the router, wireless channel congestion, well-insulated homes, and interference from nearby routers are just some examples of what could cause poor Wi-Fi performance inside a home. The net result of poor internet distribution throughout a home is often perceived as poor service when it’s really a lack of understanding of the cause.
There are a multitude of online forums dedicated to in-home connectivity issues. If you take the time to review these, you’ll find there are even advanced users still having issues with one or more of the above items. What about the people who don’t use (or know about) these forums to troubleshoot their connectivity issues when their ISP fails to provide corrective solutions? As technology advances and we greatly increase connected devices, will there be additional interdependent device/hardware considerations, potential choke points, security concerns, and technology complexities to consider?
In the past few years, in-home network management solutions have finally started to find their way into our homes. While this creates ISP efficiencies and improves and balances distribution of connectivity throughout the home (among other great features), it does not solve all problems. First, it does not solve existing cabling/wiring issues. And I’m not even mentioning older and historical buildings, as this could be its own study. Second, it cannot resolve older and existing hardware-caused issues. While upgrades can help, we should not assume all customers are prepared to make the required investment to take advantage of their gigabit services or even understand where to start.
Perhaps the largest concern with some of the issues highlighted here is how this impacts service perception. We can deliver state-of-the-art connectivity to the outside of the home, but if there are any deficiencies inside the home, the consumer perception of service will be less than desirable. We need to consider mitigating circumstances and improving the education of our consumers while we continue to pour marketing dollars into our gigabit and FTTH campaigns. Otherwise, we risk potentially harming its intended purpose.
About Foresite Group
Foresite Group is a multidisciplinary engineering, planning, and consulting firm providing services to public and private sector clients nationwide. Our team’s collaborative process results in creative products and services that help our clients achieve their goals. Our team takes pride in enhancing and developing the cities and communities where we live, work, and raise our families.