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Internet speeds

March 28, 2010

When I was in Seattle at the WritersUA conference a week or so ago, I was able to get a high-speed wireless connection from the hotel room (not from the hotel itself, though). Well, it was high-speed for me, anyway. Compared to what I get in Australia, my internet speed there was blisteringly fast, though my US colleagues thought it was a bit slow. I was getting download speeds up to about 16 Mbps and upload speeds up to 11 Mbps — in Australia I can get up to 6 Mbps download and I get no more than 0.3 Mbps upload.

So why this discrepancy?

Australia has a variety of internet connection speeds. There’s what you pay for from your ISP, and there’s what you can get as a maximum even if you’ve paid top dollar to your ISP. And then there’s where you live. I can only speak about what I know for Western Australia — other states might be different.

Much of regional Western Australia has a maximum speed of 1.5 Mbps download (effective speed is up to 75% of that), with some parts getting 8 Mbps, and some very lucky (and very few) areas getting ADSL2 (24 Mbps). Perth varies, but much of it is covered by ADSL2. That said, there are some pockets in Perth where they can’t get broadband at all because of the age and configuration of the telephone exchanges. Some of the remoter areas of Western Australia use satellite, but I don’t know what sorts of speeds they get. Satellites can go offline if there’s a big storm. There’s no cable internet in Western Australia, as far as I am aware (I think it’s only available in certain parts of Sydney and Melbourne). Large businesses may be able to get much higher speeds than these, but those speeds are definitely not available to the average business or personal subscriber.

So when conference presenters make suggestions like putting much of what was previously in the self-contained and shipped online Help into blogs, wikis, knowledge bases, video, etc., I’m going to make a comment that assumptions about ‘always on, high-speed internet access’ is NOT applicable to everyone — even in the developed countries of the so-called western world. In the closing session of the WritersUA Conference, Leah Guren commented about the digital divide between those countries/regions that have decent internet access and those that don’t.

Update: On my return to Australia after the WritersUA conference, I stayed overnight at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Perth. They promoted their high-speed broadband (wired and wireless) in the rooms. When I tried to access it, the cost was a whopping 55c per minute up to a maximum of $29 for 24 hours!! I only needed to check email, so I figured it wouldn’t take long with high-speed broadband. How wrong I was! It was dog slow and when I checked it with speedtest.net, the download speed was around 0.24 Mbps and the upload speed was 0.03 Mbps. That’s probably less than dial-up speed! It sure wasn’t high-speed. I complained on checking out and the Hyatt did refund me my $10 charge for the 15 or so minutes it took me to do a 5 minute task, even though it comes through an external provider. Oh, and the Hyatt has no free Wifi in the lobby either. Australian internet/telecommunications infrastructure and hotel internet access sucks — big time.

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