Setting your own pace

There are those who say WWW stands not for World Wide Web, but for World Wide Wait. The increase in Internet usage has led to frustrating lag times, particularly when viewing Web content. But industry observers say that isn’t a sufficient reason to leap into high-speed Internet access.

“You have to look at what you’re doing on the Web. If all you’re doing is e-mail, I don’t really see the point of having high-speed access,” said Mark Quigley, an analyst with the Yankee Group of Canada in Brockville, Ont.

Having a high-speed modem connection such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or cable service won’t speed up a lagging server elsewhere on the Internet. If a site is busy, it doesn’t matter how fast a given connection is; you’ll still wait in the queue and the download could still crawl. You could have the hottest, newest, fastest car on the road, but if it’s rush hour and there’s a traffic jam, you’re going to sit still with everybody else.

Brady Gilchrist, a consultant with advertising/PR firm Marshall Fenn in Toronto, recently subscribed to Sympatico’s Asymmetric DSL (ADSL) service. “One of the things that becomes really apparent when you move beyond 56Kbps modem connections is how slow some of the connections are out on the ‘net, and what the really busy ones are,” he said.

But when sites aren’t busy, high-speed access can make a difference for large downloads, especially for things such as QuickTime, Real Audio and Real Video. “If that’s something you’re interested in and you find you’re using a lot of, then that high speed is going to make a tremendous difference in the quality of the broadcast and the sound and picture,” Quigley said.

While there are business-related possibilities for such content, much of it will be geared to the consumer market. The benefits for business aren’t often substantial enough to warrant going to high-speed services. Few companies offering high-speed services are able to provide business customers with adequate service guarantees in terms of throughput rates and reliability, according to John Girard, vice-president and research director at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. And in some cases, throughput and reliability are guaranteed but with disclaimers involving the connection of servers, and even with rights to limit the customer’s bandwidth usage.

“There’s not a good justification to try to run your business on services without guarantees regardless of their speed, because if they’re not there when you need them, then you can’t get your business done,” Girard said.

“If businesses want to look at trying the higher-speed services…they should start by using it for non-mission-critical work or casual access. They should not tie any of the company’s liability for its overall performance to its customers, suppliers or partners to the use of any network type that is not made reliable by business-class guarantees.”

When it comes to travelling, Girard said, the convenience of analogue modems still beats the speed of other modems, and will continue to be the connection of choice until about 2002.

“The reason analogue is still attractive is because that technology — even though it’s not fast — does work, and it works everywhere. Maybe not perfectly, but everybody understands it and you can use it on any phone line anywhere, just about,” he explained.

“Unless you’re a real communications expert, you can’t walk into a hotel that has a cable modem and hook up and use it comfortably and securely immediately, and then switch that off and go to the next place and use the DSL, and then go to another place and use their cable modem and so on.”

Even for those who don’t travel, unresolved standards issues among the modem varieties could cause connection problems. “You can go off and buy whatever modem, but if your ISP doesn’t support that, then you’re stuck,” said the Yankee Group’s Quigley.