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High speed wireless internet, anyone?

by Paul Cooper

I think most users of the Internet are looking for high speed access to the web. The limitations of the telephone system make surfing the web and downloading big files a frustrating business - particularly in rural areas where 56 kbps means realistically 30 kbps+ is the most you can hope for.

Sitting out here on a farm near Metcalfe I had long ago resigned myself to dial-up service with the faint future possibility of a high speed satellite hook up. This dream connection was promised to users of Expressvu and Star Choice, but so far hasn't come on stream. Imagine my surprise when I read an article in a local rural paper that indicated that High Speed Wireless Internet was now available in the Metcalfe area and a number of other Eastern Ontario locations. A quick phone call confirmed this.

The local hub is on a Bell tower in Metcalfe, a scant two miles from my house with a perfect line-of-sight path for the signals. What speed could I expect? "Oh, our residential system will handle up to 2 Mbps", was the reply... Wow! This was really tempting, but what would it cost? Well it turned out installation (which includes a rooftop antenna, a radio modem, an Ethernet card in one's PC and configuration of the computer) was $400. Monthly charges for unlimited access were $50. I hesitated until a phone call to my accountant confirmed the fact that all the expenses could be written off against the farm. That decided it, and a few days later the installation crew arrived and got everything set up in just a few hours.

So what is it like? Well its certainly a lot faster than that old 56 kbps dial-up modem, but the speed is all over the place. I spent several hours trying out the various speed tests available on the web and the results - no surprise - are highly variable. The same test repeated gives different answers each time. Some web pages snap onto the screen almost immediately while others take several seconds to load. Mail, downloaded from a local server, comes in at blinding speed. I'm now encouraging my friends to send me e- mails with lots of attached photos! For example 15 JPEG images arrived this morning (750 kb in total) and took about six seconds to download.

My McAfee virus DAT updates - a file of just over 1Mb - took 20 seconds to download as compared to 10 minutes over phone lines. Another good example is the radar weather scan I get from Rochester, New York. A great picture of precipitation right across the province. The scan can be "animated", essentially six hourly scans are displayed in sequence so you can see those rain showers moving across the screen just like on TV. With the old modem it took 3-4 minutes to download the images before the animation began. With the High Speed connection, its up and running in about five seconds.

Well, enough of these generalities. I've spent some time on my two modems to give you some comparisons of performance using some of the speed tests available on the web. Bear in mind what I mentioned earlier that test results are variable but I hope the figures below will give you a little better idea of the improvements I'm now experiencing. Where possible I have bracketed the 56k phone line modem results for the same test.

1.  MSN bandwidth speed test 2472 kbps (26 kbps)

2.  Cable modem speed test [10Mb file from Winnipeg] 700 kbps

3. Sympatico [1 Mb file] 2091 kbps (93 kbps)

4. CNET speed test 132 kbps (26 kbps)

5. Modem speed test page [700 kb image] 179 kbps (3.31 kbps!)

6. Interland, Atlanta Georgia [1 Mb image] 965 kbps

7. CNET (MSN) 75.7 kbps

By the way, my PC is an older 133 MHz Pentium with a not- very-fast video card. The internal bus speed seems more than capable of handling anything the High Speed modem can feed it.

Where can you get this service from? Well the company is Storm Internet, www.storm.ca,  and they are strictly in the rural areas of Eastern Ontario. No service is available within the City proper. Click on "map" www.storm.ca/corp_services/corp_services.html and you can see if you are within their projected coverage. You need a line-of-sight path to the local tower. Trees in the way are a no-no at these frequencies.

Well is it all worth it? I think I would have to say "It depends..." If you regularly download large files or receive big attachments to e-mails it could be worth the extra money. As far as the web is concerned, the faster web surfing is nice to have but not worth the expense. On balance I wouldn't have upgraded without the assurance that the whole package would be a farm expense. So if you are running a home business, go for it, but otherwise read a newspaper while you wait for the next web page to download! 


Bottom Line:

Storm High Speed Wireless Internet (Proprietary)
$400 set-up fee + $50 monthly access
Storm Internet
http://www.storm.ca

Originally published: March, 2001


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