Friday, November 27, 2009

How Fast Is Slow?

Results Are In

Wow - that was a whirlwind tour - but the timing was perfect. Got to meet some first class people and talk to some enthusiastic motivated locals. It only strengthens my drive to move out to Powell River sooner than planned.

Anyways sitting in Victoria now, on a high speed connection. The view is not as nice and it's definitely noisier, but I have time to type everything in as promised, before returning to Calgary on Sunday. At the bottom of this post, please leave your comments, personal thoughts and findings so others can benefit.

If you haven't had a chance to read the PRRD report prepared by Joseph McLean (from Second Flux), please make an effort to get a copy from the PRRD office or download it (1.6MB). You'll be very impressed with his work - all the areas, options and topics were covered in depth in a very very short timeframe.

My testing took place over two days - all on the North side - but was fairly consistent throughout. It differed from Joseph's testing as I went into the homes or at the very least into the driveways of the users that requested testing. I'll summarize my results and recommendations right off the top. For those that want details, I'll enclose those at the bottom of the post. I won't get into many technical details - those are explained very well in Joseph's report.

As you may have read in the previous post, I tested Bell's new product which is supposed to use the same high-speed network as the new Telus 306 Aircard, and a lower speed Telus Compass 597 (almost identical to their current Compass 598 offering).

Although I really went in wanting to prove Bell's product as comparable or even better than Telus, it's hard to recommend anything they're offering right now to the majority of rural users outside Powell River in the Lund area. The main reason I say this is that they offer no stick with an external antenna option - and my testing showed that this was an absolute requirement for almost every case. The only exceptions were those that already had clear unfettered access to a strong cell phone signal - in those cases the new HSPA network showed remarkable speeds up to 1Mbps (1000k/sec).

Even in that scenario, unless you have a Bell plan already, I'd still recommend the Telus High Speed product offering, the (Aircard 306) over Bell. My reasoning being the low cost of Telus's 1Gb plan and the Aircard's external antenna option.

However, for the majority of residents situated in amongst big cedars with a line of sight to nothing other than the stars at night, I think the only choice is to go with the Telus Compass 598 and a 500MB ($30/mo) or 1GB ($35/mo) plan. Even though these are the CDMA cellular modems that the report suggests may become obsolete, it is highly unlikely that this technology will disappear for several years - especially since it seems to be more reliable in poor line of sight conditions.

Right now, there is little downside at all to this option. For $0 down on a 1 year contract, and a monthly fee similar to the dial-up fee being charged right now, you can free up a phone line while using Internet and increase your download speed from 20-40 k/second to 120-500k/sec with an antenna and extension cable. Telus is also offering free shipping (2-5 days) and the first two months of your contract with unlimited data - so you can assess your needs.

I've posted a summary of the Telus web page where they summarize a good data comparison of what can be done for 500MB and 1GB and up.

Finally, the antenna. I haven't done any antenna research so if people can report on what options they found, that would help. If anyone wants to buy the same antenna I did, they can do it through the eBay seller "sunsunsun". I've sent him an email to see if his company will give a discount for multiple users. Let me know if you're interested in this option and I'll see if there's a local company that'll bring them in with a bulk order. If you just can't wait, here's the links - seller is in U.S. but ships USPS Express Post, so it arrives fairly quickly (5 days?) and you shouldn't have to pay any duties like you do with FedEx and UPS:
11 db antenna (same one I used) US$28 + $34 shipping
13 db antenna (stronger signal booster) US$35 + $34 shipping

One more thing I'd love to heard more about is Bill Norris's cell phone signal booster - referred to in the report, and apparently purchased from a company in Powell River for around $300. Bill reported a large gain in signal strength and you aren't tied down to an antenna cable. I'd like to get more details on this and if it adds to cell phone signal as well. Please report back.

Thanks a lot to everyone.

Details of Testing

Speeds measured at, typically choosing either the San Franciso server or Toronto server.

Jean McKenzie (7970 Southview Rd)
Location: End of driveway by chicken coop
Antenna: Truck Roof
Download: 200-320 kb/sec
Upload: 50-122 kb/sec

Martin Mitchinson/Jurgen Koppen (end of Plummer Creek Rd - at Okeover Inlet)
Location: indoors
Antenna: inside window ledge (Martin), rooftop (Jurgen)
Download: 390-490 kb/sec
Upload: 35-60 kb/sec

Pete Tebbutt (Craig Road)
Location: indoors
Antenna: inside window
Download: 116 kb/sec
Upload: 43 kb/sec

Location: upstairs
Antenna: rooftop
Download: 200+kb/sec (testing results not noted because of excessive plum wine)
Upload: ? kb/sec

Quarry Place - Lund (2 locations)
Location: indoors
Antenna: outdoors
Download: 200-380 kb/sec
Upload: 56-66 kb/sec

Steve Ervington (9510 Malaspina Road)
Location: end of driveway
Antenna: on truck roof
Download: 380 kb/sec
Upload: 20 kb/sec

Peter Parlevliet (3893 Lund Hwy)
Location: indoors
Antenna: inside window (facing Vancouver Island)
Download: 350-500 kb/sec (Telus); 940 kbs (Bell)
Upload: 70-125 kb/sec (Telus); 275 kb/sec (Bell)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quest for Speed

The Holy Grail of Rural Internet

Let me start by saying that I live in Calgary - hardly rural, and rarely short of Internet high speed options. Yet the property we bought two years ago, north of Powell River, at the end of the Okeover Inlet, is far from any Internet connection, let alone a telephone at this point.

With 3 years left on our 5 year plan, it's a struggle to get time to move quickly, hard to see the end in sight for our full time move out to our property. Right now we do our best to keep in touch with Powell River. It happens mainly by frequent phone calls to my brother and future neighbor, Martin Mitchinson, working on a joint micro-hydro application, and waiting patiently for the weekly subscription to the Powell River Peak to show up in my email box.

It was in an October Peak article that I first heard about Peter Parlevliet's work to get a committee together to look at rural internet options. I jumped at the chance to join just keep on top of any developments. After Peter setup a Google Group for this interest group, the meeting minutes and emails showed many first-hand horror stories of slow and sporadic dialup connections. So many residents in Lund, Powell River A and Powell River C had no apparent options for high speed Internet access - much like our co-op and neighbors in Okeover Inlet.

So now, I'm staying overnight in Comox, waiting to head out for the 6:30 am ferry to Powell River. The morning is slated to go over our micro-hydro group application, but I'm also looking at investigating options for high-speed Internet in the Powell River areas.
Armed with a couple of "3G Internet Sticks", one from Telus, another from Bell, a high gain antenna, and some enthusiastic customer service rep opinions, I'm hoping I'll find a suitable alternative to what's out there now.

The two "sticks' I'm looking at are the Novatel Wireless U998 from Bell Mobility and the Sierra Wireless Compass 597 from Telus, picked up used from Kijiji for $50.

Stay tuned for test results. I plan to document success and failure from these sticks recording as many tests as I can - noting location, download speed and upload speed. I'm using the Telus one right now in Comox - they have an unlimited usage promo on right now.