Editor’s note: Art Reisman is the CTO of APconnections. APconnections designs and manufactures the popular NetEqualizer bandwidth shaper.
More and more, Internet Service Providers are using caching techniques on a large scale to store local copies of Netflix Movies and YouTube videos. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this technology. In fact, without it, your video service would likely be very sporadic. When a video originates on your local provider’s caching server, it only has to make a single hop to get to your doorstep. Many cable operators now have dedicated wires from their office to your neighborhood, and hence very little variability in the speed of your service on this last mile.
So how fast can you receive video over the Internet? (Video that is not stored on your local providers caching servers.) I suppose this question would be moot if all video known to mankind was available from your ISP. In reality, they only store a tiny fraction of what is available on their caching servers. The reason why caching can be so effective is that, most consumers only watch a tiny fraction of what is available, and they tend to watch what is popular. To determine how fast you can receive video over the Internet you must by-pass your providers cache.
To insure that you are running a video from beyond your providers cache, google something really obscure. Like “Chinese language YouTube on preparing flowers.” Don’t use this search term if you are in a Chinese neighborhood, but you get the picture right? Search for something obscure that is likely never watched near you. Pick a video 10 minutes or longer, and then watch it. The video may get broken up, or more subtly you may notice the buffer bar falls behind or barely keeps up with the playing of the video. In any case, if you see a big difference watching an obscure video over a popular one, this will be one of the best ways to analyze your true Internet speed.
Note: Do not watch the same video twice in a row when doing this test. The second time you watch an obscure video from China, it will likely run from the your provider’s cache, thus skewing the experiment.