January 10, 2008

Richi Jennings changed physics, and I didn’t even notice

While ego-surfing, I found something I let slip by last April. Responding to my views on network neutrality, Richi Jennings pooh-poohed my claim that low latency is important. Specifically, he said:

Here’s the thing… Those of us that live the other side of the Atlantic live with 250ms latency every day, when we connect to services hosted in North America. I dare say the same is true for those on the other side of the Pacific. There’s not much getting around the speed of light.

Now, I’ll confess to not being the greatest of networking mavens, my networking startup and my various relationships with Network World notwithstanding. Truth be told, I dropped out of a physics major when the only uncompleted course was electronics lab. But before I dropped out, I did get the speed of light drilled into me. It’s 186,000 miles/second, aka 3 x 10^10 cm/sec. (“Not just a good idea; it’s the law!”). 186,000 miles, I’m quite convinced, is a lot more than 4 times the difference across the Atlantic Ocean. And the same remains true even when you knock off 50% or so because that light is traveling through glass rather than in a vacuum.


2 Responses to “Richi Jennings changed physics, and I didn’t even notice”

  1. Richi Jennings on January 10th, 2008 4:45 pm

    As I recall, you did pick up this last time.

    Of course a round-trip delay is twice the distance. Also, many of the U.S. servers I talk to end up being on the West Coast, or perhaps colos. in places like Nevada. Plus there’s all the mucking around the electrons have to do in routers and such. Pings from here to servers out West typically run in the 150-300ms range.

    But we quibble about minutiae. The point I was making was that applications like VoIP work just fine with these sorts of latencies. For example, when I Skype people in California or Australia, it’s no less reliable than when I Skype people in Europe. And it’s not as if the brain perceives the delay (unless Skype breaks the echo cancellation in an upgrade, as they sometimes do).

    Also I was saying that the reason some ISPs are fighting the net neutrality meme is that they’re too lazy/cheap to go and add the bandwidth required and expected by their users.

    Looking again at my final paragraph, I guess we’re about to go though another painful expectation-versus-overcommitment transition here, as the DSL infrastructure migrates to ADSL2+ with a headline rate of 24Mb/s. I have that here, but the best I can squeeze out of it is 6 down and 1.1 up. Grumble. Moan. Whine…

  2. Curt Monash on January 11th, 2008 12:00 pm

    Sorry about repeating myself.

    I agree that things are never quite as they seem they should be. I have a nice venerable 10 megabit cable in my home, but for some reason I top out at about 5 MB/s while my wife, upstairs, gets 10+ of the 20 MB/s Verison FIOS promised us.



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