A Tale Of Internet Speeds

Similar to the last two articles, this one is about the little improvements I’m making to my workstation. So far, I got a gaming mouse and a mechanical keyboard, a nice desk pad and a 24in full HD monitor from Dell to add to my existing setup (while we’re at it, do checkout my setup page here).

For this one, I’ll be talking about internet speed, and the upgrade associated with it. This upgrade is special in more than one way and hence, I want to go into a bit of history, my history with internet bandwidth.

Ever since adolescence, internet has been a basic necessity for me and the people from my age group (even before it becoming a source of livelihood for many of us). One of my first memories of the internet is this screen:

I distinctly remember this from my first computer*, an HP desktop PC with a Pentium Dual Core processor and 1 GB RAM, since it also had 100Mbps LAN card. Not knowing the difference between hardware capabilities and internet bandwidth, I naively assumed that when I get a broadband connection, that’s the speed I’ll see. But little did I know it would take more than a decade to reach this milestone.

*which practically didn’t exist by the time I started writing on this blog, and as a result there’s very little, if any, mention of my first computer here.

Life at 10KB/s

Back in those days, in around 2008-2009, we didn’t have broadband at home. My PC was barely 6 months old and I had realized that there’s only so much GTA Vice City one can play and be entertained.

My dad had this Nokia Expressmusic 5310 phone that supported Edge network, so slightly faster 2G. I figured out that if I can get internet on that phone, I could use the CD that came it to tether internet to my PC. I remember it was INR 98 or 99 for unlimited 2G data then.

It worked, but the speeds were really miserable. On a good day, keeping the phone on the window sill, I would get around 10KB/s or 80kbps which is close to the promised speed of 16.8KB/s or 135kbps. At those speeds, speed test websites like speedtest.net just don’t load, much less show you your network speeds. Facebook, which people used back then, took more than a couple of minutes, literally, to load. Needless to say, Youtubing or any sort of video streaming was out of question.

Even download small files, like a couple of megabytes, was a challenge, and I would almost never download directly using the browser. I would always use the fancy bloated download managers which supported resume functionality and parallel connections (not like it made a difference, but who knew).

I was on Windows XP, no firewall or antivirus software, downloading these shady browser plugin and download mangers. Those were the wild days!

Nmap download adventure

One incident worth mentioning is the download of Nmap, a network scanning tool. It was around 15MB in size, and believe it or not, it took me many months worth of trying to finally download it. The download would always fail and no download manager helped. But when it finally did, my joy knew no bounds and it genuinely made me happy. It is a bit weird that I still remember it so vividly, but it was special in a way.

So anyway, the struggle continued for a while. For the next couple of years I would ask friends or my aunt to download me anything that was more than 20MB in size.

Emergence of broadband

I finally got a broadband connection. It was a 2Mbps connection capped to 1GB of data. 1 whole gigabyte of data for the whole month. It definitely improved things a bit, but on the whole it was still painful. Now the internet was fast enough to watch a Youtube video in 720p. But if I did, that’d pretty much be the only thing I did that month.

I ‘upgraded’ to a 512Kbps unlimited connection which was a lot better. This was, in fact, my first real broadband. Usable, and unlimited. 65 kilobytes a second isn’t bad, especially for browsing the web or download a GB or two of data overnight. That also started this whole phase of my life when night time was download time. I remember the disappointment I used to have after checking the download progress first thing in the morning and realizing the download failed halfway through.

But yes, the internet was within reach.

Real broadband speeds

I changed ISP a couple of years later as the first one was too bad in terms of service, and got a local one with Google and torrent peering. Basically, any website owned by google would work at higher speed, which would typically be around a couple of MB/s. Even speeds of up to 40mbps weren’t unheard of, as long as you’re able to find it on a Google service. This same ISP later upgraded my connection to some 8mbps for free.

That was my first time breaking the 1MB/s barrier. Major achievement.

The upgrades after this were incremental, if I’m being honest. I think I was at 25mbps by the time I left for Germany. After settling down here in Germany, I opted for a 50Mbps link. 50Mbps is exactly like 16Mbps for 90% of the time (unless of course you’re downloading stuff in a hurry).

So in that sense, I already knew that going 100Mbps isn’t going to bring any meaningful change to most of my surfing habits. But it does feel like a big change, psychologically. Remember that image from before, the one which says 100Mbps speed on the LAN interface status page? I’ve finally maxed that out, a little over 11 years later.

My 13 year old self might find it unimaginable to think of what a 12MB/s broadband connection feels like, which is a bit of a jump from his humble 10KB/s flaky dial-up connection tethered off a 2G mobile phone.

Edit – 31/07/22

I moved into a new flat that supposedly has a gigabit internet connection. I’m getting 500+ mbps speeds consistently which is unbelievable. I also got a phone that supports 5G which also pulls data at rates upwards of 500 mbps. I’m living the dream!

In closing

I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but I’ll do it again. Adulting, getting a job and living on your own has little meaning to it if you don’t realize those childhood dreams, which for me is overkilling on tech stuff and buying 8 year old laptops off ebay.

Having said that, I might actually make use of the bump in upload speed, which does bottleneck my offsite backup plans. Stay tuned for updates on that front. Also, downloading ISOs and doing system updates are a delight these days.

Finally, I’d probably never feel the same level of joy that I felt on getting a real broadband after years of doing sub-10KB/s on mobile data. But that makes me think of all the things that I’m getting started on, my professional career, a new language that I’m learning, Chess, or anything that I’m a newbie at. With each passing milestone, the next one becomes a little less exciting. Keeping that in mind, I should try to celebrate any incremental progress that I make in any of these things. That was just a long way of saying that the journey matters more than the goal.

Thank you for reading!