Internet Providers continually use clever marketing analogies to tout their burstable high-speed Internet connections. One of my favorites is the comparison to an automobile with overdrive that at the touch of button can burn up the road. At first, the analogies seem valid, but there are usually some basic pitfalls and unresolved issues. Below are five points that are designed to make you ponder just what you’re getting with your burstable Internet connection, and may ultimately call some of these analogies, and burstable Internet speeds altogether, into question.
The car acceleration analogy just doesn’t work.
First, you don’t share your car’s engine with other users when you’re driving. Whatever the engine has to offer is yours for the taking when you press down on the throttle. As you know, you do share your Internet connection with many other users. Second, with your Internet connection, unless there is a magic button next to your router, you don’t have the ability to increase your speed on command. Instead, Internet bursting is a mysterious feature that only your provider can dole out when they deem appropriate. You have no control over the timing.
Since you don’t have the ability to decide when you can be granted the extra power, how does your provider decide when to turn up your burst speed?
Most providers do not share details on how they implement bursting policies, but here is an educated guess – based on years of experience helping providers enforce various policies regarding Internet line speeds. I suspect your provider watches your bandwidth consumption and lets you pop up to your full burst speed, typically 10 megabits, for a few seconds at a time. If you continue to use the full 10 megabits for more than a few seconds, they likely will reign you back down to your normal committed rate (typically 1 megabit). Please note this is just an example from my experience and may not reflect your provider’s actual policy.
Above, I mentioned a few seconds for a burst, but just how long does a typical burst last?
If you were watching a bandwidth-intensive HD video for an hour or more, for example, could you sustain adequate line speed to finish the video? A burst of a few seconds will suffice to make a Web page load in 1/8 of a second instead of perhaps the normal 3/4 of a second. While this might be impressive to a degree, when it comes to watching an hour-long video, this might eclipse your baseline speed. So, if you’re watching a movie or doing any another sustained bandwidth-intensive activity, it is unlikely you will be able to benefit from any sort of bursting technology.
Why doesn’t my provider let me have the burst speed all of the time?
The obvious answer is that if they did, it would not be a burst, so it must somehow be limited in some duration. A better answer is that your provider has peaks and valleys in their available bandwidth during the day, and the higher speed of a burst cannot be delivered consistently. Therefore, it’s better to leave bursting as a nebulous marketing term rather than a clearly defined entity. One other note is that if you only get bursting during your provider’s Internet “valleys”, it may not help you at all, as the time of day may be no where near your busy hour time, and so although it will not hurt you, it will not help much either.
When are the likely provider peak times where my burst is compromised?
Slower service and the inability to burst are most likely occurring during times when everybody else on the Internet is watching movies — during the early evening. Again, if this is your busy hour, just when you could really use bursting, it is not available to you.
These five points should give you a good idea of the multiple questions and issues that need to be considered when weighing the viability and value of burstable Internet speeds. Of course, a final decision on bursting will ultimately depend on your specific circumstances. For further related reading on the subject, we suggest you visit our articles How Much YouTube Can the Internet Handle and Field Guide to Contention Ratios.