Speed Matters: How Ethernet Went From 3 Mbps to 100 Gbps … and Beyond

Dark Lord of Tech

Retired Moderator

[color=ff0004]Speed Matters: How Ethernet Went From 3 Mbps to 100 Gbps … and Beyond[/color]

Although watching TV shows from the 1970s suggests otherwise, the era wasn’t completely devoid of all things resembling modern communication systems. Sure, the 50 Kbps modems that the ARPANET ran on were the size of refrigerators, and the widely used Bell 103 modems only transferred 300 bits per second. But long distance digital communication was common enough, relative to the number of computers deployed. Terminals could also be hooked up to mainframe and minicomputers over relatively short distances with simple serial lines or with more complex multidrop systems.

This was all well known; what was new in the ’70s was the local area network (LAN). But how to connect all these machines?

The point of a LAN is to connect many more than just two systems, so a simple cable back and forth doesn’t get the job done. Connecting several thousands of computers to a LAN can in theory be done using a star, a ring, or a bus topology. A star is obvious enough: every computer is connected to some central point. A bus consists of a single, long cable that computers connect to along its run. With a ring, a cable runs from the first computer to the second, from there to the third and so on until all participating systems are connected, and then the last is connected to the first, completing the ring.

In practice, things aren’t so simple. Token Ring is a LAN technology that uses a ring topology, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the network cabling, because computers are hooked up to concentrators (similar to today’s Ethernet switches). However, the cable does in fact form a ring, and Token Ring uses a somewhat complex token passing system to determine which computer gets to send a packet at which time. A token circles the ring, and the system in possession of the token gets to transmit. Token Bus uses a physical bus topology, but also uses a token-passing scheme to arbitrate access to the bus. A token network’s complexity makes it vulnerable to a number of failure modes, but such networks do have the advantage that performance is deterministic; it can be calculated precisely in advance, which is important in certain applications.

But in the end it was Ethernet that won the battle for LAN standardization through a combination of standards body politics and a clever, minimalist — and thus cheap to implement — design. It went on to obliterate the competition by seeking out and assimilating higher bitrate protocols and adding their technological distinctiveness to its own. Decades later, it had become ubiquitous.

If you’ve ever looked at the network cable protruding from your computer and wondered how Ethernet got started, how it has lasted so long, and how it works, wonder no more: here’s the story.
Brought to you by Xerox PARC

Ethernet was invented by Bob Metcalfe and others at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center in the mid-1970s. PARC’s experimental Ethernet ran at 3Mbps, a “convenient data transfer rate [...] well below that of the computer’s path to main memory,” so packets wouldn’t have to be buffered in Ethernet interfaces. The name comes from the luminiferous ether that was at one point thought to be the medium through which electromagnetic waves propagate, like sound waves propagate through air.

Ethernet used its cabling as radio “ether” by simply broadcasting packets over a thick coaxial line. Computers were connected to the Ethernet cable through “taps,” where a hole is punched through the coax cladding and the outer conductor so a connection can be made to the inner conductor. The two ends of the coax cable—branching is not allowed—are fitted with terminating resistors that regulate the electrical properties of the cable so signals propagate throughout the length of the cable but don’t reflect back. All computers see all packets pass by, but the Ethernet interface ignores packets that aren’t addressed to the local computer or the broadcast address, so the software only has to process packets targeted at the receiving computer.

Other LAN technologies use extensive mechanisms to arbitrate access to the shared communication medium. Not Ethernet. I’m tempted to use the expression “the lunatics run the asylum,” but that would be unfair to the clever distributed control mechanism developed at PARC. I’m sure that the mainframe and minicomputer makers of the era thought the asylum analogy wasn’t far off, though.

Ethernet’s media access control (MAC) procedures, known as “Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detect” (CSMA/CD), are based on ALOHAnet. This was a radio network between several Hawaiian islands set up in the early 1970s, where all the remote transmitters used the same frequency. Stations transmitted whenever they liked. Obviously, two of them might transmit at the same time, interfering with each other so both transmissions were lost.

To fix the problem, the central location acknowledges a packet if it was received correctly. If the sender doesn’t see an acknowledgment, it tries to send the same packet again a little later. When a collision occurs because two stations transmit at the same time, the retransmissions make sure that the data gets across eventually.

Ethernet improves on ALOHAnet in several ways. First of all, Ethernet stations check to see if the ether is idle (carrier sense) and wait if they sense a signal. Second, once transmitting over the shared medium (multiple access), Ethernet stations check for interference by comparing the signal on the wire to the signal they’re trying to send. If the two don’t match, there must be a collision (collision detect). In that case, the transmission is broken off. Just to make sure that the source of the interfering transmission also detects a collision, upon detecting a collision, a station sends a “jam” signal for 32 bit times.

Both sides now know their transmission failed, so they start retransmission attempts using an exponential backoff procedure. On the one hand, it would be nice to retransmit as soon as possible to avoid wasting valuable bandwidth, but on the other hand, immediately having another collision defeats the purpose. So each Ethernet station maintains a maximum backoff time, counted as an integer value that is multiplied by the time it takes to transmit 512 bits. When a packet is successfully transmitted, the maximum backoff time is set to one. When a collision occurs, the maximum backoff time is doubled until it reaches 1024. The Ethernet system then selects an actual backoff time that’s a random number below the maximum backoff time.

For instance, after the first collision, the maximum backoff time is 2, making the choices for the actual backoff time 0 and 1. Obviously, if two systems both select 0 or both select 1, which will happen 50 percent of the time, there is another collision. The maximum backoff then becomes 4 and the chances of another collision go down to 25 percent for two stations wanting to transmit. After 16 successive collisions, an Ethernet system gives up and throws away the packet.

There used to be a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt surrounding the performance impact of collisions. But in practice they’re detected very quickly and the colliding transmissions are broken off. So collisions don’t waste much time, and CSMA/CD Ethernet performance under load is actually quite good: in their paper from 1976 describing the experimental 3Mbps Ethernet, Bob Metcalfe and David Boggs showed that for packets of 500 bytes and larger, more than 95 percent of the network’s capacity is used for successful transmissions, even if 256 computers all continuously have data to transmit. Pretty clever.

In the late 1970s, Ethernet was owned by Xerox. But Xerox preferred owning a small piece of a large pie rather than all of a small pie, and it got together with Digital and Intel. As the DIX consortium, they created an open (or at least multi-vendor) 10Mbps Ethernet specification and then quickly ironed out some bugs, producing the DIX Ethernet 2.0 specification.

Then the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) got into the game. Eventually, it produced standard 802.3, which is now considered the official Ethernet standard—although the IEEE carefully avoids using the word “Ethernet” lest it be accused of endorsing any particular vendor. (DIX 2.0 and IEEE 802.3 are fully compatible, except for one thing: the layout and meaning of the Ethernet header fields.)

Even right at the beginning, engineers realized that having a single cable snaking through a building was limiting, to say the least. Simply branching the thick coaxial cable wasn’t possible; that would do bad things to the data signals. The solution was having repeaters. These regenerate the signal and make it possible to connect two or more Ethernet cables or segments.

The 9.5mm thick coaxial cable also wasn’t the easiest type of cabling to work with. For instance, I once saw a two telecom company guys hammer on a couple of thick coax cables that went through a wall in order to bend the cables downward. This took them the better part of an hour. Another one told me that he keeps a nice big piece of the stuff in his car: “If the police find a baseball bat in your car they call it a weapon, but a piece of coax works just as well in a fight and the police never give me any trouble.”

Although less thug-repellant, thin coax is much easier to use. These cables are half as thin as thick ethernet and look a lot like TV antenna cable. Thin coax does away with the “vampire taps” that allow new stations to attach anywhere to a thick coax segment. Instead, thin cables end in BNC connectors and computers are attached through T-connectors. The big disadvantage of thin coax Ethernet segments is that if the cable gets interrupted somewhere, the whole network segment goes down. This happens when a new system is connected to the network, but it also happens often by accident, as coax loops have to run past every computer. There had to be a better way.

In the late 1980s, a new specification was developed to allow Ethernet to run over unshielded twisted pair cabling—in other words, phone wiring. UTP cables for Ethernet come as four pairs of thin, twisted cables. The cables can be solid copper or made of thin strands. (The former has better electrical properties; the latter is easier to work with.) UTP cables are outfitted with the now-common RJ45 plastic snap-in connectors. 10Mbps (and 100Mbps) Ethernet over UTP uses only two of the twisted pairs: one for transmitting and one for receiving.

A slight complication to this setup is that every UTP cable is also its own Ethernet segment. So in order to build a LAN with more than two computers, it’s necessary to use a multiport repeater, also known as a hub. The hub or repeater simply repeats an incoming signal on all ports and also sends the jam signal to all ports if there’s a collision. Complex rules limit the topology and the use of hubs in Ethernet networks, but I’ll skip those as I doubt anyone still has interest in building a large scale Ethernet network using repeater hubs.

This setup created its own cabling issues, and they’re still with us. Computers use pins 1 and 2 to transmit and pins 3 and 6 to receive, but for hubs and switches, this is the other way around. This means that a computer is connected to a hub using a regular cable, but two computers or two hubs must be connected using “crossover” cables that connect pins 1 and 2 on one side with 3 and 6 on the other side (and vice versa). Interestingly, FireWire, co-developed by Apple, managed to avoid this failure of userfriendliness by simply always requiring a crossover cable.

Still, the end result was a fast and flexible system—so fast, it’s still in use. But more speed was needed.

The need for speed: Fast Ethernet

It’s hard to believe now, but in the early 1980s, 10Mbps Ethernet was very fast. Think about it: is there any other 30-year-old technology still present in current computers? 300 baud modems? 500 ns memory? Daisy wheel printers? But even today, 10Mbps is not an entirely unusable speed, and it’s still part of the 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet interfaces in our computers.

Still, by the early 1990s, Ethernet didn’t feel as fast as it did a decade earlier. Consider the VAX-11/780, a machine released in 1977 by Digital Equipment Corporation. The 780 comes with some 2MB RAM and runs at 5MHz. Its speed is almost exactly one MIPS and it executes 1757 dhrystones per second. (Dhrystone is a CPU benchmark developed in 1984; the name is a play on the even older Whetstone benchmark.) A current Intel i7 machine may run at 3GHz and have 3GB RAM, executing nearly 17 million dhrystones per second. If network speeds had increased as fast as processor speeds, the i7 would today at least have a 10Gbps network interface, and perhaps a 100Gbps one.

But they haven’t increased as quickly. Fortunately, by the 1990s, another LAN technology was ten times faster than regular Ethernet: Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI).

FDDI is a ring network running at 100Mbps. It supports a second, redundant ring for automatic failovers when the primary ring breaks somewhere, and an FDDI network can span no less than 200 kilometers. So FDDI is very useful as a high capacity backbone between different LANs. Even though Ethernet and FDDI are different in many ways, it’s possible to translate the packet formats, so Ethernet and FDDI networks can be interconnected through bridges.

Bridges are connected to multiple LAN segments and learn which addresses are used on which segment. They then retransmit packets from the source segment to the destination segment when necessary. This means that, unlike in the case of a repeater, communication (and collisions!) local to each segment remain local. So a bridge splits the network into separate collision domains, but all the packets still get to go everywhere, so the bridged network is still a single broadcast domain.

A network can be split into multiple broadcast domains using routers. Routers operate at the network layer in the network model, one step above Ethernet. This means that routers strip off the Ethernet header upon reception of a packet, and then add a new lower layer header—Ethernet or otherwise—when the packet is forwarded.

FDDI was useful to connect Ethernet segments and/or servers, but it suffered from the same “oops, didn’t mean to step on that cable!” problems as thin coax Ethernet, coupled with high cost. CDDI, a copper version of FDDI, was developed, but it didn’t go anywhere. So the IEEE created Fast Ethernet, a 100Mbps version of Ethernet.

10Mbps Ethernet uses “Manchester encoding” to put bits on the wire. Manchester encoding transforms each data bit into a low and a high voltage on the wire. Then, 0 is encoded as a low-high transition and a 1 as a high-low transition. This basically doubles the number of bits transmitted, but it avoids issues that can come up with long sequences of only zeros or only ones: transmission media typically can’t maintain “low” or “high” for extended periods—the signal starts to look too much like a DC potential. Also, clocks will drift: did I just see 93 zero bits or 94? Manchester encoding avoids both these problems by having a transition between high and low in the middle of each bit. And both coax and category 3 UTP can handle the additional bandwidth.

Not so much for 100Mbps, though. Transmitting at that speed using Manchester encoding would be problematic on UTP. So instead, 100BASE-TX borrows from CDDI a 4B/5B MLT-3 encoding. The 4B/5B part takes four bits and turns them into five. This way, it’s possible to ensure there are always at least two transitions in every five-bit block. This also allows for some special symbols such as an idle symbol when there is no data to transmit.

The Multi-Level Transmit 3 encoding then cycles through the values -1, 0, +1, 0. If a bit in a 4B/5B block is one, a transition to the next value is made. If the bit is zero, the signal stays at the previous level this bit period. This limits the maximum frequency in the signal, allowing it to fit within the limitations of UTP cabling. However, the UTP wiring must conform to the tighter specifications of category 5, rather than category 3 for 10BASE-T. There are many other Fast Ethernet cabling specifications than 100BASE-TX over cat 5 UTP, but only 100BASE-TX became a mass market product.
From bridges to switches

Fast Ethernet uses the same CDMA/CD as Ethernet, but the limitations on cable length and numbers of repeaters are much more stringent to allow collisions to be detected in a tenth of the time. Soon, 10/100Mbps hubs started to appear, where 10Mbps systems were connected to other 10Mbps systems, and 100Mbps systems to 100Mbps systems. Of course, it’s helpful to have communication between both types of computers, so typically these hubs would have a bridge between the 10Mbps and 100Mbps hubs inside.

The next step was to simply bridge between all ports. These multiport bridges were called switching hubs or Ethernet switches. With a switch, if the computer on port 1 is sending to the computer on port 3, and the computer on port 2 to the one on port 4, there are no collisions—the packets are only sent to the port that leads to the packet’s destination address. Switches learn which address is reachable over which port simply by observing the source addresses in packets flowing through the switch. If a packet is addressed to an unknown address, it’s “flooded” to all ports, the same as broadcast packets.

One limitation that applies to hubs and switches alike is that an Ethernet network must be loop-free. Connecting port 1 on switch A to port 1 on switch B and then port 2 on switch B to port 2 on switch A leads to immediate catastrophic results. Packets start circling the network and broadcasts are multiplied as they are flooded. However, it’s very useful to have backup links in a network so that when a primary connection goes down, traffic continues to flow over the backup.

This problem was solved (for switches) by creating a protocol that detects loops in an Ethernet network and prunes connections until the loops are gone. This makes the effective network topology look like what mathematicians call a tree: a graph where there’s no more than one path between any two points. It’s a spanning tree if there’s also at least one path between any two points, i.e., no network nodes are left unconnected. If one of the active connections fails, the spanning tree protocol (STP) is executed again to create a new spanning tree so the network keeps running.

The spanning tree algorithm was created by Radia Perlman at DEC in 1985, who also immortalized the algorithm in the form of a poem:


I think that I shall never see
a graph more lovely than a tree.
A tree whose crucial property
is loop-free connectivity.
A tree that must be sure to span
so packet can reach every LAN.
First, the root must be selected.
By ID, it is elected.
Least-cost paths from root are traced.
In the tree, these paths are placed.
A mesh is made by folks like me,
then bridges find a spanning tree.

Even more speed: Gigabit Ethernet

Fast Ethernet was standardized in 1995, but only three years later, the next iteration of Ethernet came around: Gigabit Ethernet. As before, speed was increased by a factor of ten and, as before, some technology was borrowed elsewhere to hit the ground running. In this case it was Fibre Channel (apparently of British descent), a technology mostly used for storage networks. Gigabit Ethernet is extensively used over different kinds and lengths of fiber, where it hews more closely to its Fibre Channel pedigree.

But for 1000BASE-T, the IEEE needed to open a new bag of tricks borrowed from 100BASE-T2 and 100BASE-T4, Fast Ethernet standards that never got any traction, as well as 100BASE-TX. For one thing, the UTP cabling requirements were upped again to category 5e, and 1000BASE-T uses all four twisted pairs—in both directions at the same time.

This requires some advanced digital signal processing, similar to what happens in dial-up modems but at some 10,000 times the speed. Each wire pair transmits two bits at a time using 4D-PAM5. The 4D means four data symbols (two bits), the PAM5 is Pulse Amplitude Modulation with five signal levels. This happens at a rate of 125 million symbols per second—the same rate as Fast Ethernet. There’s also a complex bit scrambling procedure that makes sure that various properties, such as possible interference, are optimized.

The CSMA/CD mechanism depends on the first bit of a packet traveling all the way across a collision domain before a station transmits the last bit of a packet so that there is a shared notion of “transmitting at the same time.” With transmission times much reduced by the higher bitrate, the physical size of collision domains already had to be reduced for Fast Ethernet, but for Gigabit Ethernet this would have to shrink to maybe 20 meters—clearly unworkable. To avoid this, Gigabit Ethernet adds a “carrier extension” that more or less pads packets to 512 bytes so that aggregate cable lengths of 200 meters remain usable.

However, as far as I know, no vendors implement the above scheme; they assume the presence of switches instead. With a switch, or with a direct cable between two computers, CSMA/CD is unnecessary: the two sides can simply both transmit at the same time. This is called full duplex operation, as opposed to half duplex for traditional CSMA/CD operation. The UTP Ethernet variants support an additional autoconfiguration protocol that allows two Ethernet systems to negotiate which speed to use, in full or half duplex mode.

Before the autonegotiation protocol was widely used, people would sometimes manually configure one system to use full duplex, but the other would use half duplex. With little traffic, this causes few problems, but as traffic increases, more and more collisions occur. These will be ignored by the system that is in full duplex mode, leading to corrupted packets that aren’t retransmitted. Autonegotiation works very reliably these days, so there is no longer any reason to turn it off and invite problems.
Ludicrous speed: 10 Gigabit Ethernet

A common way to create a LAN in a building or office these days is to have a series of relatively small switches, perhaps one per wiring closet where all the UTP cables come together. The small switches are then connected to a bigger and/or faster switch that functions as the backbone of the LAN. With users on multiple floors and servers concentrated in a server room, there’s often a lot of bandwidth required between the switches, even if individual computers don’t come close to saturating a Gigabit Ethernet connection. So even though computers with a 10 Gigabit Ethernet connection aren’t common even today, 10GE was badly needed as a backbone technology. The standard was published in 2002.

In the telecom world, a technology called SONET or SDH (Synchronous Optical Networking, Synchronous Digital Hierarchy) was/is used to transmit large numbers of phone calls and also data in digital form over fiber. SONET is available in speeds of 155Mbps, 622Mbps, 2.488Gbps… and 9.953Gbps! That was too perfect to resist, so one form of 10GE adopts a low level SONET/SDH framing. This is called the WAN (Wide Area Network) PHY (as in: physical layer). But there’s also a LAN PHY, which runs at 10.3125Gbps. 10 Gigabit Ethernet no longer supports half duplex CSMA/CD operation; it’s only full duplex operation at this speed.

Both the 10GE WAN PHY and most LAN PHY variants use fiber. Making Gigabit Ethernet run over UTP as well as it does wasn’t easy. This is even more true for 10 Gigabit Ethernet; it works very well over fiber, even over fairly long distances, making it very popular with Internet Service Providers. But it required quite a bit of magic to make 10GE run over UTP—it took until 2006 for the 10GBASE-T standard to be published. 10GBASE-T needs even better cables than 1000BASE-T—category 6a to reach 100 meters. Cat 6a uses thicker insulation than Cat 5e, so it doesn’t always physically fit where older cables went.

10GBASE-T also increases the number of symbols per second from 125 million for Fast and Gigabit Ethernet to 800 million and the PAM levels from 5 to 16, encoding 3.125 instead of 2 bits per symbol. It also soups up the echo and near end crosstalk cancellation and other signal processing that was introduced with Gigabit Ethernet over UTP and adds Forward Error Correction (FEC) to repair incidental transmission errors.
Reaching for 100 Gigabit Ethernet

After 10 Gigabit Ethernet, 100Gbps was the obvious next step. However, transmitting at 100Gbps over fiber has numerous challenges, as the laser pulses that carry information through fiber become so short that they have a hard time maintaining their shape as they travel. The IEEE therefore kept open the option to make a smaller step towards 40Gbps instead of its customary tenfold boost in speeds.

Currently, there are a large set of 100GBASE-* standards, but many of them use four parallel data paths to reach 40 or 100Gbps and/or only work over short distances. Work is still ongoing to create the one 100GBASE standard to rule them all.
Ethernet’s future

It’s truly mindboggling that Ethernet managed to survive 30 years in production, increasing its speed by no less than four orders of magnitude. This means that a 100GE system sends an entire packet (well, if it’s 1212 bytes long) in the time that the original 10Mbps Ethernet sends a single bit. In those 30 years, all aspects of Ethernet were changed: its MAC procedure, the bit encoding, the wiring… only the packet format has remained the same—which ironically is the part of the IEEE standard that’s widely ignored in favor of the slightly different DIX 2.0 standard.

All this backward compatibility is actually a problem: at 10Mbps you can send some 14,000 46-byte packets per second, or 830 1500-byte packets. But even at GE speeds, the 1500-byte maximum is an issue. Many modern Gigabit Ethernet network cards actually let the TCP/IP stack transmit and receive much larger packets, which are then split into smaller ones or combined into larger ones to make life easier for the CPU, as most of the processing is per packet, independent from how large a packet is. And sending as many as 140 million 46-byte packets per second at 100GE is ridiculous. Unfortunately, allowing larger packets would break compatibility with older systems, and so far the IEEE has always punted on changing this.

LANs are now everywhere, if only to provide an onramp to the Internet. Ethernet in its various flavors has been spectacularly successful, pushing out all competing LAN technologies. The only reason Ethernet growth has slowed over the past decade is because wireless LANs (in the form of Wi-Fi) are so convenient. (And Wi-Fi is very compatible with wired Ethernet.) But wired and wireless are largely complimentary, so even though more and more computers go through life with an unoccupied Ethernet port—or even lack one altogether—Ethernet is always there to deliver the speed and reliability that the shared wireless ether keeps struggling to provide.
Terabit Ethernet?

Will there ever be Terabit Ethernet, running at 1000Gbps? On the one hand, this seems unlikely, as transporting 100Gbps over fiber is already a big challenge. On the other hand, in 1975 few people would have guessed that today’s students would go to class carrying affordable computers with 10Gbps ports.

CPU designers solved a similar problem by using multiple parallel cores. Gigabit Ethernet already uses parallelism by using all four wire pairs in a UTP cable, and many 40Gbps and 100Gbps Ethernet variants over fiber also use parallel datastreams, each using a slightly different wavelength laser light. Under-sea cables already transport multi-terabit aggregate bandwidths over a single fiber using dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), so this seems an obvious opportunity for Ethernet to once again take existing technology, streamline it, and aggressively push the price down.

Or maybe it doesn’t have to. When I e-mailed Radia Perlman to ask permission to use the Algorhyme poem, she mentioned a new technology called Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL), which should allow for building flexible, high-speed Ethernet networks using “lots of links” rather than a single fast link. In any event, it seems likely that the future of high speed Ethernet involves some form of parallelism.

I can’t wait to see what the next 30 years bring for Ethernet.



Salty crackers

Jun 25, 2011
Well it's nice to know that the ports can accommodate all that speed.. But the real problem is these ports WILL NEVER be used to their full potential. And by that I mean home and personal computers. I myself currently have a 6megabit 768kilobit DSL connection to my home. So that gives me a 600-700Kilobyte/s download and 70-110Kilobyte/s upload.

Instead of building these ports that can use un-heard of speeds we need to work on the network backbone of the world.

I remember back in 2010 Barack Obama announced that before 2020 all Americans would have at the very least 100Megabit home connections. This sounds fine and dandy, but in reality ISP's are just now starting to roll out Fiber optic home connections. Sure, cable companies like Time Warner are promising speeds up to 50Megabits per second, but that is only offered to customers on their new lines. Most of America still transmits data on telephone lines that have been converted to use much higher digital data speed.


"Instead of building these ports that can use un-heard of speeds we need to work on the network backbone of the world"

The backbone is fine. It's not even close to over-loaded and there is tons of room to expand.

I've read interviews of chief engineers for companies that roll out terabits of bandwidth each year, and they say about 80% of their fiber is dark because there just isn't enough demand. Because supply is outpacing demand, bandwidth prices are dropping about 50% per year on the backbone.

Nearly all of the issues with internet speed and congestion has to do with ISPs not keeping up their infrastructure.

You can buy dedicated internet bandwidth for $1/mbit/month, in increments of 10gb. These are the prices ISPs pay for bulk, or even less when you include peering. Then they turn around and charge your $100/month for 50mbit of non-dedicated bandwidth and give you a 250GB cap. 1mbit is about 300GB/month. When they give you a 250GB cap, it costs them less than $1/month of bandwidth. They themselves claim their average customer uses under 20GB/month. That's about $0.07/month of bandwidth from a customer who probably pays over $50/month.

Yes, last mile infrastructure is expensive, but when you hear about ISPs saying "bandwidth hogs" are costing them money, it's mostly BS. Profit margins are huge for ISPs.


Jul 6, 2011
The number that you see on your broadband plan (i.e. 512Kbps, 100Mbps, etc.) is only referring to the “last mile” of your Internet journey. Think of it like getting from your home to the Woodlands checkpoint. But it does not tell you the condition of the roads on the rest of your journey beyond Woodlands.
The ISP's are not putting up the money to upgrade their networks to support higher capacity.

What it boils down to is this, ISPs do not see infrastructure improvements as "investments" they see them as "expenses". Being private companies they are for-profit, meaning the money left over after expenses have been paid is give to the owners of the company to take to the bank. Thus management is under pressure to cut expenses to the minimum amount required to turn a profit, and thus unnecessary (as they see it) expenses such as infrastructure improvements are put off as long as possible. Even if it means they have to leverage their available capacity 100, 200 or even 300x to the users.
100Gbps or even 100Mbps connection hardly matters to me for internet connection. I currently only get about 3.5-6.5Mbps.

I just hope that in where I am, Australia, the current government's plan for fiber to home (National Broadband Network) will pass the point of no return so that even the opposition government elected will not be able to rip them out and have to continue building it, for exactly as the same reason palladin9479 because ISP don't give a *** about infrastructure.

All they want is profit. If the infrastructure still works and can bring in income, they will force their unreliable and obsolete technology down their customer's throat with a big price tag.

This is my personal experience. My line is so bad, internet used to drop out in bad weather. Now, it was fixed but slows down in bad weather. My ISP is reselling service from a privates company in Australia which owns all of the phone line infrastructure (yes, all of the phone line, a monopoly and the opposition government, which was in power back in the 90's, commercialized the public infrastructure to one single privately owned company. FFFFUUUU).

So now Australia has patchy cable connection which was being built sine the 90's but never complete because of low density of users in some area and the ISP cherry pick the profitable area to build their network, not to mention it costs a premium. 3G connection that no one can afford or you have to compromised by having tiny quota and terrible ping and speed due to shared spectrum. ADSL2+ which is patchy because the FFFFUUUU monopoly saving money by putting in RIM, not proper line exchange even in suburb near major cities. Finally, a few luck bastard on the new government proposed universal fiber optic to home network still in trial and about to be rip out because the FFFFUUUU opposition don't like it (they say it costs too much and 12Mbps fiber to node and 4G wireless is good enough for the future. They are deluded and don't understand ping and upload is also important in internet experience) and they are likely to win the election.

I am not the only victim. There was a small business owner who want to get wifi but she is not very tech savvy and told the ISP she wants wireless. The ISP (the same monopoly company) just give her 3G without further consultation. She didn't know she was paying a lot more for a service she didn't intent to get (more expensive and slower) until someone in the family told her about difference between wifi and 3G wireless technology.

Wake up Australian! We are in deep *** in the broadband catagory, especially we are surrounded by technologically advance nation with fast internet (Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore).

Probably some Australian users will post their unsatisfying story here now as well. Please do, I would like to see who is unhappy with their internet in Australia.

Sorry area51reopened, got carried away. I hope you don't mind us sharing our internet experience.
6.5mbps, may be just good enough for now (3 regular internet users at home), but I really don't see how the service can get any better in long term without fiber.

That is why I think it is important for the government build infrastructure because they have to maintain the fairness for everyone, unlike telco build network where they only cheery pick the profitable area to build it.

The biggest problem of that monopoly is that the company is both a whole seller as well as a retailer (they sell their product to other company to resell, and they also sell their product directly to home users!).



Perhaps you don't have fiber coming into your home, but the backbone of the company can very well be fiber. In america, comcast uses a fiber backbone and uses regular cable for each persons home.

I think Verizon Fios is the only true-100% fiber network in the U.S.

However, comcast can deliver speeds of 25mbps easily...

The biggest problem of that monopoly

I think it would be far more effective if the government just split the company to create competition or regulate it, then have a government-built infrastructure, because it will likley be extremely inefficient and expensive.
The government cannot do that because the monopoly is privately own on the share market. Any decision for separation will have to get vote from share holders and they keep on blocking the split proposal. Too much interference on a private company is a no go in free market.

The government only manage to brake the wholesale monopoly by building the NBN and establish a new government organization/company to out compete monopoly company in wholesale, so the monopoly company will be for retail only, which has many resale competitor.

I know the backbone is fibre, but the last mile, from the exchange to home is old copper connected some 30-50 years ago, for many household. The adsl line from the exchange is also long. Many people are connect to a RIM, like a small exchange in a cabinet on the street which doesn't have sufficient bandwidth to provide adsl to all of the lines (even you are lucky to get adsl connection there, you will get bottle-necked when more users are online).

We tried to connect everyone by cable in the 90's but the company only put cable in profitable area. So many people are stuck with bad adsl, no cable, expensive wireless situation. That is why government unified the network. They could use cable for the implementation (which the opposition say if used in conjunction with wimax, provides sufficient speed, coverage and cost less).

But if that happen, the opposition is operating exactly the same as the monoploy, providing fast access to the most densely populated area with the highest profit (our opposition party is run by businessman and rich kids so...). but fiber optic is obviously a much better choice. If the government wants to provide an infrastructure for public use, it needs to be equal for everyone and last long, with potential for future upgrade. How would you feel if the council say that you are the last house on your street and not many car travel that far up, so usage will be small, and that they decide to not seal the stretch of road in front of your driveway with bitumen?

The project is about 53billion over 10 years so it is quite cheap compared with other infrastructure project (e.g., a local tram overpass that stretches about 50m coasts about 250 million over 2-3 years) and we are talking about the entire nation connected here.
Holy **** you guys area's suck. Talking about 6.5Mbps being "good enough" and "25Mbps" as being outstanding.

Here let me tell you exactly what I have at my home. I am an American engineer working in Daegu, South Korea. The city has a population of 3.0 to 3.5 million people depending on the time of year, its the third biggest city in the country. The capitol is Seoul and it has 12 million people in the city and 20+ million in the metropolitan area / region (the city grew to absorb many nearby city's). So right off the bat Daegu is considered a "country" city to most Koreans even though it was high population.

I live in a high rise apartment, my ISP provided me with a cat-5 line into my apartments patch panel. This line goes to the floor's concentrator switch where it's connected into the apartments fiber distribution layer. At the ground floor is where each ISP has their own backbone 10G connects into the apartments core switching fabric. There is no DSL / Cable modem for me, just a Cat-5 line going to the back of a router that I purchase. The original apartments design had the Cat-5 line going into the apartments switch (every apartment has a 100base-T switch built into the communications panel), I put by router between the ISP's line and the apartments switch so that everything inside the apartment is behind my router / firewall.

My connections "bandwidth"? 100Mbps is exactly what you get. Their guy who comes out to hook up your apartments line will go to your computer and have you run a java based speed test. To a server in Seoul (a few hundred km away) my download speed was 90Mbps with uploads of 78Mbps. Later when I get home from work I'll post my DSL Reports stats. I download torrents / movies in megabytes per second, 10min for a multi gigabyte movie is common provided there are enough seeders (and in return I
offer my own bandwidth back to the community).

The cost for all this? 36,000 KRW a month, or about $33 USD. All apartments built in the last 8~10 years have core switching fabric built into them as it's 100 times easier and cheaper to do during design / build time then to install later after construction.

For users in older homes / apartments they have access to VDSL / HDSL service with the common one being 48Mbps at $20 USD a month. Also have cable which runs 10Mbps at $6 USD a month to 40Mbps at 18~24$ USD a month.

The take away is that because the ISP's have to compete with each other constantly, prices are lowered and capacity's are expanded constantly. You guys in other parts of the world are having the piss taken with you from your ISP's their plainly greedy and exploiting the local populations.
100Mbps is exactly what the government in Australia now try to get. Fiber straight to home with the last wiring bit at home being cat5/6 ethernet. No modem, just plug ethernet cable to router or your network card. I had that 100Mbps when I was in Hong Kong as well, 98 of 100 Mbps in test, similar cheap price.


Right now I have 43mbps download and 35mbps upload...which according to speedtest.net is faster then 99% of the U.S. Full fiber optic btw.

100mbps is ridiculous also...not to mention, your connection may be fast, but it can also suck.

Go to www.pingtest.net and post your results from here...this tells your jitter, ping and other important statistics that matter just as much as speed.

Moreover, palladin9479, very few servers worldwide provide an upload rate to match even my download rate...so your increase download speed is quite useless to be honest...even for aggressive downloads and web browsing, the download speed both me and you have is overkill anyway.

at my speed, downloading a standard 4mb song takes less then a second anyway...thats assuming a server has the guts to provide such a ridiculous upload rate.

The only servers I've found that can provide me my full speed is Microsoft, Apple, Google and mostly very large and rich companies...which aren't all that common.
100mbps is ridiculous also...not to mention, your connection may be fast, but it can also suck.

Go to www.pingtest.net and post your results from here...this tells your jitter, ping and other important statistics that matter just as much as speed.

Well, nothing can be sucker than an adsl connection which slows down and may one day dropout again in bad weather.

Just done a test:

DL:5.5Mbps, UL0.85Mbps, Jitter 0ms, Ping 28ms, Packet loss 0 and score a B- (63%) in world rank and I am in a first world country but getting developing country internet speed. Also I am testing on my ISP's server which hosted the test, as well as connected to a premium ISP and the speed is still very average. I am not living is some rural area, but in a suburb only 7km from the state capital.

I have to tell the you, Australian got a raw deal on internet because of the stupid way things run here.
[quotemsg=8134102,13,132602]Right now I have 43mbps download and 35mbps upload...which according to speedtest.net is faster then 99% of the U.S. Full fiber optic btw.

100mbps is ridiculous also...not to mention, your connection may be fast, but it can also suck.

Go to www.pingtest.net and post your results from here...this tells your jitter, ping and other important statistics that matter just as much as speed.

Moreover, palladin9479, very few servers worldwide provide an upload rate to match even my download rate...so your increase download speed is quite useless to be honest...even for aggressive downloads and web browsing, the download speed both me and you have is overkill anyway.

at my speed, downloading a standard 4mb song takes less then a second anyway...thats assuming a server has the guts to provide such a ridiculous upload rate.

The only servers I've found that can provide me my full speed is Microsoft, Apple, Google and mostly very large and rich companies...which aren't all that common.[/quotemsg]

And this is where I get to laugh. You did read the part where I said I wasn't in the USA? I live in Daegu, South Korea, and my posted DL/UL speeds were to servers in Seoul, South Korea, a few hundred km away. I download things in MEGABYTES per second not megabits, also I download multiple things at once.

Anywho, now to make you more angry, my "pingtest" results.

Grade: A
Packet Loss: 0%
Ping: 8ms
Jitter: 1ms

Now from Daegu South Korea to San Francisco, USA, a few thousand miles away, literally the other half of the world.

Grade: C
Packet Loss: 0%
Ping: 195ms
Jitter: 5ms

Second Test:

Grade: B
Packet Loss: 0%
Ping: 166ms
Jitter: 7ms


From Daegu to Seoul
Ping: 10ms
Download Speed: 89.33 Mbps
Upload Speed: 32.61 Mbps

From Daegu, South Korea to PA, CA (The San Francisco server sucks, 400+ms)
Ping: 169ms
Download: 19.39 Mbps
Upload: 1.98 Mbps

So tell me again how my connection sucks? To anything inside South Korea I get ludicrous speeds, to anything in the region I ridiculous speeds, and to anything in the USA, on the OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD, I merely get fast speeds.

The problem is not in the backbone, there is plenty of backbone capacity. The problem is from you to first hop beyond your ISP, as in your ISP is choking you off at their core routing level. If I can pay $33 USD a month and get those speeds, then there absolutely zero reason for the crap connections in the USA.

And btw, I did these tests while playing an MMO RPG and through a SE Linux firewall device I built (slows upload bandwidth considerably but is extremely secure).


^...no no, don't give me text...actually post your results in the picture they provide...so I can actually believe you.

After taking the test, it will ask "do you want to share your results"...copy/paste the "forum code" and it will display it...or just copy the "forum link" no need wasting 30minutes typing up your essay :)

It should look like this:

^Thats mine...thats my proof, now show me yours :).

And here is my regular speedtest

Not sure why it was low, the download seems correct, but uploads are usually at 35mbps...oh well.

So tell me again how my connection sucks?

I never said your connection sucked...i simply said it "can" suck which is why I offered you to take ping test :).
Whether you believe me or not is irreverent. Later tonight I'll post the links from Speedtest / DSLreports.

My only concern is those sites don't know the difference between Daegu and Seoul South Korea, they list everything in South Korea as "Seoul" which is horribly inaccurate.


That is 146miles, or 235km, definitely not the same location.


Aug 4, 2011
[quotemsg=8134039,7,132602]3.5 to 6.5mbps is a very good speed for even two people...if you are doing lots of downloads, thats a different story.

All they want is profit.

You can't blame them for that...they are a business...they exist for profit.[/quotemsg]
If I start saying about big companies and start talking about the socialism-communism solution it will take us years so I don't start this topic:p.It is not only the profit it is difficult,can you imagine AT&T or how it is called in America start upgrading their network all over again?It is difficult and many of their active users might go mad if they don't have internet for 3 days lets say.
No such problem in the Australian fiber optic upgrade. The adsl line will continue to run for some years parallel to the fiber optic network until everyone gets them, and then they start to rip the copper out (only if our opposition don't get into power).
[quotemsg=8134179,18,539688]If I start saying about big companies and start talking about the socialism-communism solution it will take us years so I don't start this topic:p.It is not only the profit it is difficult,can you imagine AT&T or how it is called in America start upgrading their network all over again?It is difficult and many of their active users might go mad if they don't have internet for 3 days lets say.[/quotemsg]

Your confusing tier 1 network providers and ISP's. AT&T is a tier 1, their own the fiber lines running from city to city, region to region across the USA. They don't lease their lines out to home users, not at a home rate anyhow, it would cost you at least a few grand a month for their cheapest service. On top of that you'd have to provide all your own core routing, switching and distribution layer equipment, not cheap. You'd have to get your own IP's registered with the IANA and run your own DNS suite.

Home users don't have that kind of equipment and much of it is redundant. In steps the middle man, the Internet Service Provider. They provide you with IP space, DNS service and server as a network concentrator to connect you to the tier 1's and the internet as a whole. They buy bandwidth in bulk from the tier 1 providers, connect it to their own distribution fabric and then serve it out to you, the user at a fee. If it's DSL then it's most likely the phone company doing this, as the DSL switching boards and Telco equipment required for the connections would be part of their suite anyway. If it's Cable then it's the cable company as the DOCIS equipment and lines are owned by them and part of their network.

Where the connection problems are arising are inside that DLS / Cable providers networks. Their switching equipment is old and their not adding capacity. For Cable they need to provide more area node's, basically concentrators that convert the limited bandwidth of a coax cable into high capacity fiber optics. These aren't cheap and their reluctant to add anymore then absolutely necessary. Everyone user connected to an area node shared the same bandwidth capacity of that node. DSL on the other hand suffers from line length problems, Telco's would have to upgrade the DSL cards in their switching banks, they would also have to build line boosters and mini-banks (small enclosed metal box's that contain DSL cards and switching equipment that is put on the side of the road near a telephone pole) and spread them out to extend their area of service. These are expensive options that they simply don't want to do. Wifi providers are new, they've seen what happened to the DSL / Cable providers profits when they went to "unlimited bandwidth" service. The Wifi providers don't want the same happening to the, so their already finding ways to dodge that bullet through caps and tiered rates.

There has been a huge explosion of internet social activity in the last 10~15 years, and because of "unlimited bandwidth and net neutrality requirements" the ISPs have missed out on much of the profits. They would love nothing more then to segment services into different price categories, like cable does with TV channels. "Basic" internet service would be $12.99 a month and include only HTTP/FTP type access. If you want to stream movies you'd have to buy the "Media Option" for another $5.99 per month, and to stream HD movies with higher bandwidth they want you to instead upgrade to the "Power Media Option" for $8.99 per month. To play video games you'd have to pay for the "Gamer Option" at another $5.99 per month, but due to QoS if you want the really fast pings and access to the faster servers your gonna have to buy the "Gamer Pro Plan" at $13.99 per month. Ohh and this only counts for two PC's, if you want to connect anything more your gonna need to buy the family plan option, and each console will also need to be registered and paid for. Phones and other media devices get a discount on their connection service fee.

The doomsday scenario I outlined above is currently impossible due to the ISP's using IPv4 and not being able to see into your home network. This all changes once they can enumerate and monitor / meter individual system access and connections.


Aug 4, 2011
I just said AT&T as an example I don't know your isps in America since I am from europe I tottaly agree with you with the things you say