Why is my Internet Slow?

The first fact, of course, is that the internet isn’t fast enough. Any wait is too long for us impatient humans, but there are of course degrees of how slow is too slow.

Thailand’s ISPs are locked in an escalating arms-race to deliver the ‘fastest’ network speed, but what’s the real reason your YouTube video is staggering?  Well, it could be due to a number of reasons.

Your computer’s a wimp.
Web business managers don’t talk about web sites or web pages anymore, it’s about web applications, so the page you’re displaying may demanding more grunt to display than your computer’s willing to give, and as you keep open more windows or tabs this problem multiplies. Typically this problem arises on poorly designed sites (the people who made it probably have fast, shiny computers) on a machine that was old last year. Add to this the sad fact that web technologies value cross-platform compatibility over performance and it spells ‘Upgrade.’

Their computer’s a wimp.
If a site is being served by an under-classed machine or is particularly busy, you get what is called latency, which is the delay the server takes from receiving your request for a webpage or file, this can be as long as a few seconds and is pretty noticeable at your end. Latency also depends on the distance between you and the server, and a myriad of other factors that you need a physics degree to understand, but their server huffing and wheezing is the first one you’ll notice.

Network strangulation.
Now this is the bit that people are most familiar with, and where telecoms make their money. Be aware that if there’s a slow patch at any point in the route between you and the web server, that’s the choke point. This can happen at the server end, although these days it’s pretty unlikely, or in what telecoms engineers call ‘The Last Mile’ (from the exchange to your house), which is almost always the case. There is also the matter of the national internet gateways and the submarine cables that carry network traffic around the world. If you’ve ever been around when a ship’s anchor has severed one of these cables you’ll recall that internet traffic slows to a crawl when this happens. Yes, the internet was designed to be robust enough to survive a nuclear war, but can’t stand up to LOL Cats and chain-letter spam.

Speaking of submarine cables, it’s an important subject if you’re a net user here. Thailand is poorly cabled to the rest of the world (although this is changing) so, unless you’re hitting Thai websites, you’re sharing a spindly tube across the pacific with everybody else in the nation. What’s worse is that most of the Content Distribution Networks (‘CDN’s, provide copies of web content hosting in many locations around the world, reducing latency) don’t have a presence here. Why? Most Thais read websites in Thai, and they’re hosted here. There’s not a large international diaspora publishing stuff in Thai language internationally so most of the local traffic stays local. Also, telecoms networks charge by the byte and that has made international network capacity Baht expensive. This is changing as Thai telecoms sign peering agreements (traffic swaps) and new cable is laid.

But of course the thing that people are really interested in is how fast their home connection is. These days it’s almost always ADSL (short for Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line, by the way), and it’s an oft-misunderstood technology. But to give it its due, I’m going to write a full article on it… Next week.

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