Gigabit Internet – What The Ads DON’T Tell You

If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area like I do, you’ve likely heard about how we have multiple Internet providers here in town that are rolling out ‘Gig’ internet service. For the small-town Midwest USA, this is a fairly big deal because we wouldn’t have expected to get this level of service at this time. A lot of people are pretty eager to jump on the ‘Gig bandwagon’ once it makes its way out to them.

But what’s the advantage of actually having that much speed? Could an average household actually use that kind of speed? Perhaps the biggest question to ask is: “How much are these providers oversubscribing their services just to offer the term ‘Gig Internet’ to the end user?”.

Let’s have a look at Gig Internet in more detail, and find out.

New Bands Need A ‘Gig’ – But Do I?

A Gigabit is 1,000 Megabits, or 1,000,000 Kilobits. For a lot of people in Lincoln that have Internet speed packages ranging from 6Mb up to 50Mb, this offers a speed increase of 20-180x what they currently have. And faster is always better..   right?

​The first question to ask yourself is ‘How is my current Internet solution not meeting my needs, and how would a Gigabit of bandwidth fix that problem?’. Truth be told, most people my age would be quick to tell you that their Internet service is “slow” even when it’s really not. Many times, slow Internet speed is either a matter of personal perception or is caused by bad WiFi signal, not by the actual Internet itself being slow.

While working on a job site a few years back troubleshooting a report of slow Internet for a college-aged student, I asked him to show me what was going slowly for him (as I’d checked our equipment and confirmed that the Internet was performing as expected, and was pulling the right speeds). He proceeded to open 8 browser tabs, open YouTube in all of them, then buffer 8 videos at 720p resolution all at the same time. He then tried to open a 9th browser tab to go to Facebook, and couldn’t. Looking over at me in disgust, he remarked, “See? The Internet’s so slow!”.

While it’s obvious to most as to why he couldn’t do this on only 8Mb of bandwidth, it conveys a point – that if there’s a misconception of the Internet or what it should be able to do, people would immediately think the problem should be fixed by simply paying more money for faster Internet. The same principle is true for food in a sense; you can spend $1,000 on the finest steak money can buy, but it still has very little Vitamin C in it to prevent you from getting scurvy if you eat nothing but it. Simply throwing money at a problem without understanding cause/effect isn’t a solution. Rather, it’s wasteful.

If you have a tech-savvy friend (or if you ARE that tech-savvy friend), it helps to get a second set of eyes on your network that have a better understanding of what you’re using your Internet service for vs. what you’re looking to get out of it. Gig Internet can’t fix terrible WiFi reception in your house, for example. If anything, it would only worsen your overall situation because you’d be locked into a one-year contract for more expensive service that you didn’t even need.

What Would I Use Gig Internet For?

I’m likely going to offend some people with this statement. As a disclaimer, it’s 90% joke:

Many people want ‘Gig’ Internet for the same reason they want the newest iPhone 8S on the same day it comes out. It’s because they’re either vain individuals, functioning more like sheep-people or “sheeple”, who have to have the latest/greatest “pretty” thing the day it’s released, or they want it purely for bragging rights among their friends.

While that sounds a bit laughable, it’s really true! I’ve seen the exact same thing happen for clients who caught “Gig Fever”. I calmly explain over and over to them that based on their historical bandwidth graphs on their router, they’ve never peaked out over 20Mb download usage. And they’re still 100% convinced that they need Gig Internet. Even though they don’t. Even though I’ve PROVEN to them that they don’t.

To get around the symptoms of ‘Gig Fever’, honestly ask yourself what you’d use 20-180x your current bandwidth for.

4K video streams are roughly 25Mb of constant traffic. Let’s suppose you’re downloading some games on Steam at the same time and Valve’s servers are doing better than most days, so you’re getting 150Mb of constant traffic there. Your kids are all watching Netflix in their rooms on 1080p TVs, so that’s another 20Mb of traffic there. You’re also lightly browsing the web and catching up on emails from the day, so another 10Mb for that. Your cell phone starts to download an update, so another 20Mb there..

The moral of the story is: you’ve barely topped 225Mb of traffic, and you’re hitting the Internet harder than most!​ You’re not even 1/4th of the way to utilizing your Gig Internet! In the situation you’d actually be doing all this at once, even 100Mb Internet is likely a better fit for your budget since you’re only hitting these traffic threshholds temporarily.

To play the devil’s advocate for a minute, let’s suppose you’re like me. You’re running an anime website that has Terabytes of videos for streaming. You’re running sync jobs for files between server clusters. You’re running multiple websites and messaging services on your environment. You’re running your own game servers. Realistically, I could use a Gigabit of bandwidth quite nicely.

The problem is that I can’t get Gigabit internet for the commercially advertised price that others can because my use necessitates that I have “Business Class” Internet and a static IP address. And if you want one of those, you’re in for a pricing treat…

Business-Class Gig Internet Isn’t Cheap

I contacted Allo Communications here in Lincoln about getting Gig Internet service at my recording studio in the downtown area, and they’re just finishing up running the under-street fiber at the time of this writing. I explained that I have a surveillance system that would require a static IP to give me remote access into my cameras. As soon as the salesperson heard that, he explained I needed “Business Class” Internet, which I was alright with.

Now, to offer some backstory, Allo’s residential Gigabit Internet service is $90/month. That service actually has some ports restricted on it so that residential customers can’t do things like host certain types of servers out of their house (that’s some fine print for you!). Because of that, I needed Business Class service that doesn’t have those restrictions.

They quoted me $760/month for Business-Class Gig Internet service.

Now, while that dollar amount seems staggering compared to $90 residential pricing, it’s not the worst price I’ve ever seen for 1Gb connection links. I will be honest and say I’ve seen quite a few prices lower than that. Needless to say, $760 is out of my budget for bandwidth.

The reason why it’s so much more expensive is that with a static IP address that Business Class service provides, you can actually host your own services out of that connection to the point you actually COULD use an entire Gigabit of bandwidth. And because of that, they have to offer it at something of a wholesale pricing structure for what it actually costs them to get the Gigabit of bandwidth at their datacenter, and then run the lines to get it out to me.

This is how ISPs make fantastic profits off of “Gigabit” Internet – by ensuring that most end users never use what they pay for. They’re gambling their entire business off of the idea that people will pay for service that they’ll use maybe 5% of. In bandwidth terms, this is known as ‘oversubsribing’. You can sell 100 people Gigabit Internet, but as long as those people never peak out over 5Gb as a combined group, you don’t have to actually pay for more than 5Gb of bandwidth on your backhaul. Business Class service threatens this balance, so they’re forced to charge substantially more for it to justify more backhaul capacity.

At The End Of The Day, Is Gig Internet For Me?

For the majority of people reading this, Gig Internet is for you if it’s cheaper than what you already have.

For tech-savvy people who would come closer to utilizing that much bandwidth, you’re going to be limited to what you can do with it as long as you have residential-class service since there are going to be port restrictions on your connection that you can’t get around.

For me at the end of the day, I’m happy with my two Internet connections (one a 75Mb residential and the other a 100Mb Business Class). I saturate the bandwidth to a good extent, and definitely get my money’s worth out of those connections.

​Here’s hoping that regardless of what option you go with, you can do the same.

Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, old-school guitar and amplifier builder, and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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