Internet Bandwidth — What is it, really?

Probably one of the commonly used yet most misunderstood technologies is the Internet.  And perhaps its most misunderstood element is the capacity of a user’s Internet access subscription often termed as Internet Bandwidth.  With the proliferation of Internet access services priced at around Php1000 per month or even lower with bandwidths published as “up-to” 2MBPS or even higher, many frustrated users ask why is a 2MBPS connection still slow to load a normal webpage?

Internet connection from the Philippines going out to the world is done through submarine fiber optic cables going from the Philippines to Taiwan, Hongkong and other countries that serve as hubs for interconnections.  Just image the cost of laying out thousands of kilometers of expensive cables submerged into deep ocean, then include the cost of operating it and repairing any cable faults.  That’s not going to be cheap to use this interconnection service.

The very large bandwidth specifications published by many Internet Service Providers, including telcos like PLDT, Smart and Globe, is generally a marketing ploy.  It gives you an illusion that your connection is going to be very fast.  And this is true, when you are the only one using it.  When you look at the fine print, most likely you will see a zero committed information rate or CIR, which technically means they are not committing to any service rate at all.

So in order to be able to offer Internet access at Php1000/month given that the international connections is expensive, the service providers “share” the connection among its subscribers.  A 2MBPS connection with zero CIR is probably shared by a hundred or so users, although of course, the service providers will not divulge this information.  Zero CIR can also mean if there is no service (or zero information rate), then there is no obligation by the provider to fix the issue because they are not committing to any information rate.

Even if CIR is published, you should note where the CIR is measured.  If it is measured at the provider’s facility to your facility or home, then that’s not yet the real CIR because that CIR doesn’t include yet the data traffic going out of the country yet. It can only mean data traffic from you to the provider’s facility.  CIR should be measurable up to at least the US border connections.  A CIR of 64kbps and bandwidth of 1MBPS means you can use 1MBPS if it is available but if there are many simultaneous users, you can still use 64kbps, because the service provider has committed to provide that.  This also means that the service provider can only serve 16 clients per 1MBPS bandwidth.

Shared connections is subject to congestion when many users use the service at the same time, yet it is not necessarily a bad thing though since it allows cheap access to the Internet for many users.  But if your business or transactions require consistent Internet access service 24×7, you need to consider Internet access service with CIR measured at the U.S. borders.

1 Comment

  1. This is a common way of doing business in most countries. Since a lot of Philippine oriented websites are hosted in the US (since hosting in the US is considerably cheaper), a lot of traffic goes out of the country. The server for the Bohol.ph website is in Jacksonville, Florida.

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