Really fast broadband requires Gigabit Ethernet

When I first upgraded from dial-up to a broadband cable connection I was in heaven, the speed was amazing. Many years later, I still putter along happily with a standard cable modem that offers roughly 9 Mbps downstream (to me) and .4 Mbps upstream.

But for some people, this isn't fast enough. Comcast, Time Warner and most likely other cable Internet providers, offer even faster speeds. But, there's a potential gotcha.

On the January 3rd edition of the Computer America radio show (36 minutes into the second hour), author Scott Mueller described his upgrade experience.

Mueller's book Upgrading and Repairing PCs is, to me, a classic. Consisting of well over a thousand pages, it documents the hardware inside PCs and is now in its 19th edition. 

Mueller started out with a Comcast service that offered 22 Mbps downstream and 5 Mbps upstream. Then he signed up for an even faster Comcast service, one offering a whopping 50 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream.

But, after the upgrade, speed tests showed he was only getting 27 Mbps downstream.

His problem?

A Linksys WRT54G router with a 100Mbps Ethernet WAN port (the WAN port is the one connected to the Internet).

According to Mueller, most routers have 100 Mbps WAN ports and to get download speeds faster than 27 Mbps you need the faster Gigabit Ethernet. Actually, both the cable modem and the router (assuming they are separate devices) need Gigabit Ethernet ports.

I mention this because Mueller first tried a Cisco DPC3000 cable modem which is supposed to have Gigabit Ethernet, but doesn't.

After upgrading both his modem and his router, Mueller's download speed jumped to 60 Mbps.

As the saying goes, any chain is only as good as the weakest link.

Update: January 16, 2011. Then again, maybe not. See Richi Jennings' blog posting Really fast broadband DOESN'T require Gigabit Ethernet where he points out that 100Mbps Ethernet should be able to offer 70 Mbps real world speeds and offers five reasons why Mueller may not have gotten the most out of his router.

Update January 20, 2011. Scott Mueller offers a detailed follow-up on his website: Really fast broadband "requires" gigabit WAN ports

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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