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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Back to the Phones! (Techie Stuff)

Warning: Contains graphic technical details.  Probably only of interest to serious nerds!

It has been a few days since we talked about our landline.  We had achieved a connection into the flat with dial tone back on the 4th of February.  Our next project would be to purchase a telephone.

But first, I should pause and answer the popular question posed in e-mails and in the comments, "Why on earth do you want a landline?"  It is not so much to get the telephone line as it is to gain access to a reliable Internet data connection via an ADSL connection.  That requires a landline.  (Back in the states, we just call it DSL - probably because our phone companies think that their customers are averse to complicated words like "asynchronous."  For a discussion of ADSL, follow this link which includes a reference to my all-time favorite telecom acronym, the DSLAM, pronounced as "dee-slam.")

According to this recent article in Cairo Scene, " there are more mobile connections than there are people in Egypt, as they register 94 million mobile connections" for their 92.5 million people - and that population count includes all the little children!  Many people carry multiple phones to take advantage of the many special calling plans.

But it does seem like everyone with a mobile phone hits the Internet in the afternoon and evening with the result that Cairo Scene presents this chart of Internet connection speed with Egypt ranking dead last in the world, just below Nigeria:

More irksome than the absolute speed, however, is the "throttling" of the 3G mobile connection.  One of the definitive articles on throttling was written way back in 2009 when speeds were much lower but it is still a great read.  Throttling is a mechanism by which an Internet provider gradually slows down "bandwidth hogs" in order to maintain adequate average service to everyone else.  I will describe it in very non-technical terms:

I began watching Super Bowl 50 over my 3G Vodafone connection at around 3:00 a.m. local time.  It was truly a marvelous picture with high-def quality.  Things went along smoothly for about five minutes and then the quality began to deteriorate.  The image quality degenerated - but props to the Firefox browser and the CBS site for dealing gracefully with the obviously slower speed.  After a half-hour, it became almost unwatchable as the picture degenerated into a blurry, jerky video like some of the first YouTube videos you might have seen.

I also have problems with uploads.  It hasn't been too bad this year, but in previous years anytime I would try to upload more than two or three pictures, I could count on the connection timing out.  It sometimes took a half-dozen attempts to upload the pictures I post on Flickr. 

Friends with ADSL connections report few of these problems.  I attribute that to "family throttling."  "Get off the Internet. I am trying to do some work," says Dad.  "You can watch that video later."

I will report on how successful the ADSL project was at a later date.

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