Oliver Twist on bandwidth…

The obvious quote is “Please, sir, I want some more.” However perhaps more apposite is another from the same book: “Some people are nobody’s enemies but their own.” A year ago, we moved from Santa Clara to our new apartment in downtown San Jose. We’d been using an old DOCSIS 2.0 cable modem together with an Apple Airport Extreme for Internet service, and for various reasons it hadn’t been very satisfactory. When we arrived in San Jose, I decided to replace them with an all-in-one solution: a DOCSIS 3.0 modem with built-in Wi-Fi router from Netgear.
For the last 12 months we’ve put up with the consequences of this misguided attempt at simplification:

  • My company VPN keeps dropping the connection, requiring a tedious security scan while it re-establishes the session.
  • Video and audio through WebEx (our standard collaboration tool) is so unpredictable that I usually arrange for a call-back to my cellphone.
  • While watching a movie on Netflix we can expect at least a dozen shifts between different video quality levels as the streaming codecs try to compensate for bandwidth and jitter.
  • Elder Scrolls Online is… challenging.
  • Speed tests routinely showed less than 15Mb down, which is a lot less than we’re paying for. (I’d love a good long-term jitter measurement tool…)

A couple of days ago I (again!) started poking around the net looking for solutions. This time, I discovered that a number of other Netgear users had experienced similar problems, particularly with VPN access. Moreover the consensus was now pretty overwhelming: all-in-one solutions are just too inflexible. So today I replaced the C3700 with a $99 Arris SB6141 – a simple, no-frills DOCSIS 3.0 modem; no Wi-Fi, no GbE switch. (OK, it does have efficient channel bonding (8 downstream, 4 upstream), but hopefully that will be completely transparent.) After calling Comcast to provision the new modem, I dusted off the old Airport Extreme and plugged it in. And then I ran a speed test.
66Mb down, 12Mb up.
Not South Korean speeds, or Google Fiber, but a lot better than I’d been used to. And this setup should be able to handle the 150Mb upgrade that Comcast is trying to tempt me with. In the meantime, it’s going to take a few days of testing – particularly streaming video during peak hours – to see if this kind of performance is sustainable. Fingers crossed…