Installing Optus Supersonic Broadband

With the increased usage of the Internet in my workshop (updating Windows!) and our household (AppleTV, YouTube, iTunes, iABC, Xbox 360, PS3, streaming radio, catchup TV, iPhones, iPads,  on-line back-ups etc), I have decided to try out the new “Supersonic” broadband from Optus.  The following are my thoughts and experiences.

We used to just have one computer in the house.  Voice and fax used separate lines, video conferencing was just used in corporate offices.  My first modem was 300bps, then 1200, 2400, 9.6k, 28.8, 33.6  then 56k, then ‘broadband’ started at 200kbps, 1.5Mbps etc.  In hindsight, I am amazed at the rate the speeds have increased.  It wasn’t that long ago when it was possible to survive on dial-up, now we expect standard broadband access and are increasing the number of devices and applications sharing this all the time.  Certainly in a few years most people will just expect to have ‘Supersonic’ Internet available to them and won’t be able to believe the speed we ‘survived’ on in 2010.

I am fortunate enough to live in a street that has Optus cable.  In fact, I have chosen to live in a street that has Optus Cable, I think it is that good.   In my mind, and experience, Optusnet has always provided the fastest and most reliable Internet service in Australia, so if I have a choice of ISP’s, then it is a ‘no-brainer’.

The current Optusnet cable service shows I have had 19-20 Mbps down, 500 kbps up and a ping time of 9-10 ms.  These are are consistent and excellent figures.  I use www.speedtest.net to check Internet line speeds, try it if you want to compare with yours.  So we can say that my “Peak Speed” is currently 20Mbps but of course actual download speeds will always be lower than this and will vary depending on a large number of factors including: What condition my computer is in, what application I am using for downloading,  (e.g. Chrome is heaps faster than Explorer)  What else is being downloaded in my house, How busy is the rest of my street,  how busy are the connections from the local Optus ‘exchange’ to the broader Internet,   The connections within the Internet, locally cached or overseas website?, file type, congestion of source server etc etc.  The list goes on.  No single entity has control over, and is therefore responsible for end to end speed.

Optus ‘Supersonic’ broadband is advertised as ‘4x faster’ which seems a rather strange claim to me, because it has no reference point.  4 times faster than what?  If ones wants a ‘relative’ comparison, then it would be against whatever one’s existing Internet is at.   How does Optus know what my existing speed is?  I could have Telstra dial up!

There is a huge amount of misleading and confusing information circulating about Internet speeds.   IMHO:  In a world where you can’t compare ‘actual’ speeds for various reasons (I will skip the long explanation), then Internet speeds should be promoted with  the ‘Theoretical Maximum speed”, or “peak speed” (for short).  Optus has upgraded it’s HFC network to DOSCIS 3.0 .   So my understanding is that the OptusNet Supersonic product will have a peak speed of 100Mbps.  (Next fastest Peak speed where I live is Telstra Cable at 30 Mbps then Optusnet at 20 Mbps and then ADSL 2+ at about 12 Mbps)  Of course the actual speed improvement of various Internet activities will vary enormously (see above!), I wonder if any of them will be exactly 4x times faster….

25th Aug 2010  am  – Tried to order new plan on-line.  “Buy Now” button linked me to ‘page no available’ , sad.  So phoned Optus.  Spent some time navigating menus searching for a human to talk to.  Finally did, Ganesh may have been his name.  Was very helpful and with a few minutes had changed my plan and ordered supersonic broadband.  {Soapbox} I feel any company serious about customer service should have a couple of extra buttons on their voice menu ” Press zero for Local Help Desk, press  1 for overseas Help Desk, press 2 for automated system”.  This simple change would allow paying customers to navigate much more quickly and would allow the company to assess where to put their resources more effectively to reduce customer frustration. I digress.  Was told new modem is self-install – yay, no need to be home to wait half a day for a technician to do a 10 minute job.  It will arrive in 4 days.

25th Aug 10:19pm – received Text to say modem was shipped by Aus Post (yay – no need to be home to sign for a courier.)

26th Aug 11am  – Modem arrived !!!!!!!  Outragously fast.  Thank you Optus and Aus Post.   Unpacked the CISCO box, to reveal the components:

Modem:  The modem is twice the size of the Motorola – pity but it now contains a battery backup – nice one!  This saves some load on the UPS in my communications cabinet.  Well done Optus/CISCO.  Means that even in a complete power failure, iPhones and laptops can still surf the web, make phone calls etc.

Modem contains a USB port, CISCO, why?  Remove it and lower your costs a little.  There is no way it is going to keep up with DOCSIS 3.

Package contains some useful bits like a spanner to ensure your connection is tight, but some useless bits like CISCO set-up disks.  Seriously, who can rely on these disks?  Note to CISCO:  just put the IP address (along with default username/password) of the modem in clear writing on the outside (like Netgear do) and then spend your money on making the best, logical user interface if any settings do need changing by the user.

Telephone cable:  Why?  I asked the Optus Help desk if I can use the Telephone ports on the modem instead of the the ports in the CAL (?) inside the NTU.  The answer was, no, you can’t use the ports in the modem, so why include a cable…?  (And so why is half the Premium Speed user guide dedicated to Telephony – confused)

Cable modem Installation Guide:  Good document, minor quibble: when you dial the number to “activate the modem”, there is no option to do this…

26th August 11:30 am – modem installed. (easy) Activation process started.  Within 20 minutes, the modem bursts into life and I am back on line again.   Speed Test now indicates that my peak speeds are:  47-69 Mbps down, 1.8 Mbps up and 9-10ms ping time.

Supersonic

Supersonic

This is perhaps not as fast as I was expecting, but never the less, a substantial improvement on my previous (about 3 x) and a huge improvement for an average user in Australia (about 6Mbps which is about 10x)

What does all this mean in real operation?  Surfing definitely feels on average a little faster (say 25%). Complex pages like smh.com.au used to display fast, now the entire page displays immediately.   Google maps is now instantaneous as you move around, this is really cool. Downloading of files (by way of example I tested a 30mb file from the Microsoft’s website ) went from 30 seconds to 8 seconds with a maximum download speed of 9.5 Mbps verses 1.5 Mbps previously), this is huge.  Video’s (like YouTube) no longer ever buffer, they are always ready to start immediately and play fluently.   I need to wait for my gaming expert to come home from school before I can report on the subjective difference for gaming.   Certainly more people (and machines) in the household will be able to access the net simultaneously with more speed available to each and particularily background tasks (like downloading) will clear much much faster.  Overall, everything is faster, some activities a little (web surfing of oversea’s websites), some a lot (downloading files).

Summary

Is it worth it?  If you do a lot of streaming, downloading and remote access and/or have multiple users in the household, then it is great!  If you suddenly expect that everything will be four times faster, or that you will see deer flying along with sonic booms, then save your money.  And in my experience, most users have substantial additional ‘speed’ available to them byjust by having their computer serviced.

I assume as Optus optimise’s it’s network and increases back-haul capacity, my peak speed will increase closer to the 100Mbps I believe is theoretically possible with DOCSIS 3.

Of course as this happens, the load in the house will increase; reliance on Internet centric services will continue to expand and our expectations of speed will remain, even the Dish Washer will demand more bandwidth one day etc, and here we go chasing the dragon again…

FYI;  here is the Optus TV ad and here is an earlier ad for the same thing in the US Spot the difference!

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