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  • We've all been here.

  • You wanna stream a show, but when you go to load it, it does this.

  • In the age of high speed internet the circle can be maddening.

  • But before you call your provider know that you're probably already paying for faster internet speeds than you actually use.

  • We'll explain.

  • This is your computer, it connects to your router.

  • Your router is one of many routers which make up your provider's network.

  • Your provider's network is one of more than 70,000 such networks that make up the internet.

  • When you try to load a video or type really anything into your browser, your router sends the request on a journey across the internet.

  • Often, it's the journey back where things can get a little complicated and crowded.

  • Imagine a network of highways with delivery trucks running across it.

  • Each of these are packets, the basic unit of internet traffic.

  • Some are Amazon, some are Netflix and some might be a photo you're e-mailing to your aunt.

  • And they're all taking different routes based on agreements the networks have with each other.

  • Your video might be passed from one network to another until it gets back to you.

  • Or the content provider might pay a transit provider to carry the request back.

  • Either way, it's sharing the road with a lot of other content.

  • So there are plenty of places where things can get jammed up.

  • Anytime one network hands off content to another, there's potential for a traffic jam, which can slow down your video and cause a spinning wheel.

  • The important thing to understand is that you can't fix a bottleneck out here by paying your provider for higher speeds within your own network.

  • Your network is only responsible for this leg of the journey.

  • Paying for faster internet just because you encountered a spinning wheel is kind of like getting a bigger driveway in hopes you'll get to work faster.

  • So, what does all of this look like in real life?

  • In real life, these networks are made of millions of miles of fiber and cable running around the world and connecting with each other in big data centers full of servers.

  • Here's an actual request for the homepage of a local broadcaster in New Zealand, provided to us by researchers at The University of Chicago.

  • It starts in Vienna, Virginia, outside of Washington D.C. with a Verizon Fios user and travels across the country on Verizon's network.

  • In California, it connects to a different network which sends it to Austin, Texas and then back to California.

  • It then gets handed to a transit provider which sends it across the Pacific Ocean to Auckland, New Zealand.

  • It likely takes a similar path back.

  • See all the opportunities for traffic jams?

  • Other trips have few or even no hand offs.

  • Powerful tech companies like Google, Netflix and Amazon and content delivery networks have rolled out thousands of servers spanning the globe to get copies of popular content closer to you.

  • Smaller sites can rent space from some of these companies to speed up their journey.

  • Here's a request for that starts in Los Angeles, California.

  • It goes to a server in Calipatria, California.

  • That's it.

  • So why do you sometimes get a spinning wheel when you request content from Netflix or other big tech companies?

  • Well, sometimes their servers can crash and cause an outage, or maybe they took a longer route that got congested.

  • But the problem could be closer to home.

  • Are you trying to stream video during peak evening hours?

  • In many networks you're sharing bandwidth with your neighbors.

  • Or maybe it's your WiFi.

  • Maybe you're leasing an out of date modem or router from your provider that isn't capable of receiving the speeds you're paying for.

  • It might be worth an upgrade.

  • You may also have an interference problem from another device, like your neighbor's baby monitor or maybe you're just too far away from your router.

  • Or it just could be your own device.

  • Are you using an old laptop or phone, or an outdated streaming box?

  • Your device could be slowing you down.

  • It could help to restart your modem or router or even invest in a better one.

  • Same for your devices.

  • But a lot is still out of your control.

  • Like if your neighbor's son is downloading 15 video games one night.

  • Or a traffic jam out in the internet.

  • So next time this happens and you call your provider, they'll likely try to sell you more speed for your connection, but now you know better.

We've all been here.

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Why You’re Probably Paying For Faster Internet Speeds Than You Use | WSJ

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    Fibby posted on 2019/09/15
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