Monday, March 31, 2008

My portable internet

In November, 2007 I enrolled in Rogers' portable internet operation and promised at the time that I'd post something about my ongoing experience later. Well, here we are, a little over four months later, and I'll give you a quick rundown.

Overall, the system has worked. I can recall only one down period, and it didn't last long. Since portable means wireless, the system involves a wireless modem. The signal frequency spectrum is fairly high (in the gigahertz), and for that reason it behaves more like light. This means that you need a more-or-less direct "line of sight" to the transmitter. Personally I don't know where the transmitter to which my modem is "talking" is located, but I get a reasonable strength signal, as indicated by a series of LED's on the modem.

This signal strength appears to be influenced by the weather. I have noticed that, when snow is falling, or when it's raining heavily, the number of active lights on the modem goes from a normal of 4 to 2, sometimes even just one. This seems to affect the connection speed (bandwidth) to some degree. I notice a slowdown especially if I'm watching an on-line movie (for instance, shuttle launches, other NASA "live" broadcasts, or Derek's podcasts). At that time, the buffers on my computer don't load up quickly enough, and the display "stutters".

What accentuates this problem is the in-house networking setup I have. I connect about 4 different computers through a wireless router, which in turn is connected to the wireless modem. In order to maintain security, my network signals, at least those which go "through the air" are all encrypted with WPA keys (some of my computers connect to the router by RJ45 Ethernet cables). The wireless router has to deal with the encrypted signals and other overhead, such as address translations - as do the computers - and that takes time (very short by human standards, but not in the world of computers). In addition, I also have the standard antivirus, firewall, and adware programs running which "analyze" the signals before accepting them. This all contributes to slowing down the received signals.

I've found the speediest reception when I connect one of my laptops directly to the wireless modem via the built-in network card. This connection does not use WPA keys and security is a matter of both my own, and Rogers' protective software arrangements. In most cases, this "wired-to-wireless" connection allows the buffers to "outrace" the playback speed of the movies; you can see the buffer indicator move faster than the playback marker.

So, in my opinion, if portability or independence from wired Internet supplier (ISP) connections is a requirement for you, or if you are unhappy with your current ISP supplier, this wireless arrangement may be useful. The connection speeds are not "blazing", but they are acceptable. If download speed is critical for you, then a wired connection (cable, say), may be better.