Saturday 29 August 2015

NightShift - An Application To Make Xplornet Netflix Viewing Better

Long time readers will realize that I seldom provide links to third party value added applications or commercial offerings. However, occasionally I find out about something that I deem may be of value to broadband (high speed) Internet users in the Algoma District.

My colleagues at Northland Consultants recently sent me a link to an application and product I feel may fit my referral criteria. The product is called NightShift and applies to users who are still stuck with Xplornet satellite service as their primary means of connecting to the Internet.

The concept of NightShift is that it uses a WiFi router and memory stick to download and record Netflix shows during the unrestricted off-peak hours. The product site claims that once recorded, the show can be played back as HD without buffering.  

There is a monthly charge for the service but some users may find it worth the cost.

Monday 10 August 2015

Are Data Caps the New Rural Internat Divide

Complaints about broadband (high-speed Internet) in the Algoma District area have quieted down considerably over the past year. I attribute this mainly to the activation of the Deferral Account services have come on line under the marketing name Bell Wireless Internet 5.  

As far as I can tell, there are about 300 subscribers to the service spread over the five areas covered by the program.  As to the service itself, all indications are that the Deferral Account network can handle the load. I have only heard one or two complaints about dropped connections and speed degradation but they are rare.  I am glad to see that even with the growth in the number of users, the Deferral Account service is consistently delivering downloads and uploads that is in excess of the CRTC/Industry Canada 2017 target of 5/1 Mbps.

I have had to remind some people that they should do a data hub/router/modem reboot on a regular basis to clear out the "corporate memory" that is built up over time as this can negatively affect speed.  I recommend every two weeks. It could require action more often depending on use.  This action appears to resolves speed and connectivity problems people have contacted me about. Recent third party studies have found that poor wireless LAN performance and congestion at major Internet peering points can be a major cause of slow network speed.

The major draw back to the Deferral Account (BWI 5) service is the data cap.  Latest statistics show a huge increase in the average webpage size in the past 5 years: 

Nov 2010 = 626 KB;
May 2012 = 828 KB;
  May 2013 = 1246 KB;
 Nov 2014 = 1935 KB.

One can attribute much of this increase to growth in the use of images and video. Video's contribution to the data cap overload is insidious as in many cases website "designers" are causing videos to start automatically upon page download. In addition, it is common practise for the video to default to the data hungry HD standard.  I have carried out various local tests that indicate it is possible to reduce a daily data usage in the multi-GB range by controlling the display of video. In many news and technical sites that I access, the sound track from the HD video is almost identical to the written story on the webpage. You can get the information without huge hit to the data cap.

This means that routine web browsing can cause a significant hit to data caps. Of course, the other major hit to the data caps is the growth on popularity of the streaming video services such as Netflix, Crave and Showmi.  User numbers for all three streaming services continue to grow in an almost exponential manner.  

The use of cloud-based services can also cause a user to burn through a data cap quickly.

Overall, Deferral Account (BWI5) users have to monitor their data usage.

Many of these challenges do not exist for users with terrestrial connectivity with the availability of large or unlimited data caps.