Unfortunately, as Canadians, we're not doing too well in speedy internet access. If there's a word to describe how our Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are doing in providing us with fast access to the net, we can safely say: middling.
According to netindex.com, average download speeds in Canada may be slightly ahead of nations like the United States, France and Slovakia. Yet as a country, we're far behind the world leader in Internet download speeds, Hong Kong. Canada logs in at an average of 16.16 megabytes per second, whereas South Korean net speeds average a whopping 45.94 megabytes per second.
There are a few reasons why net access speeds in Canada are so slow in comparison to nations like Hong Kong, South Korea and Sweden: bandwidth throttling (where ISPs deliberately slow down your internet connections) by big ISPs like Rogers or Bell and a much larger geographic space across Canada to connect servers and 'nodes' on a network, to name two.
Yet the biggest reason? The technology Canadians use to access the Internet is, by and large, outdated.
The majority of connections Canadians use to access the Internet is through DSL or cable connections, which run on copper wiring and legacy hardware. While bandwidth has been getting faster in Canada over copper, it's still nowhere near where world-leading nations' connections are.
The solution? Optical fibre connections.
This kind of Internet access works using data traveling over optical fibres as opposed to copper wiring, which means data can be accessed over the net at considerably faster speeds and over larger distances. The best part? We're finally starting to wrap our collective heads around fibre internet connections here in North America.
One company that's making some real noise about fibre internet is none other than Google, which has deployed an experimental service in Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri called Google Fiber.
Offering extraordinary (at least by North American standards) download and upload speeds of up to one gigabyte per second, Google's experimental service has been making waves across the tech community for a few years now.
There's even been chatter about Google looking for engineers in Canada to help on the Fiber service. Google Fiber is generating a lot of excitement, so much so that there are calls for more demonstrations of the service in other major U.S. cities.
Still, this kind of service is only available in America right now. What about in Canada?
So far, big Canadian telecom companies like Bell, Rogers and Telus have been offering fibre connections to consumers in small doses, mostly in apartment complexes in urban areas. But the country's dominant broadband providers are generally lagging behind many other industrialized nations' providers in terms of deploying fibre connections, and the cost for monthly access is extraordinarily high in comparison to a month of conventional broadband.
But here's a question: why is fibre internet really all that important when cable/DSL serves many of our needs just fine?
The Internet is beginning to choke on too many applications, with not enough bandwidth
You know all those wonderful applications you use online, like video calling through Skype or downloading movies over Netflix? Well, there are consequences to this in terms of bandwidth; innovating online can be a drain on the amount of bandwidth available across the entire Internet. Netflix alone is reported to be hogging 32 per cent of peak Internet bandwidth with no limits to growth in sight.
While many Canadian ISPs have much-loathed bandwidth 'caps' on the amount of data you can download per month, the need for more bandwidth keeps growing. Although both Bell and Rogers have recently unveiled 'unlimited' plans for those willing to pay a premium, most plans available in Canada still impose a cap on users. Cable and DSL are good in terms of surfing web pages, sending email and banking online. Yet they're becoming woefully inadequate for bandwidth-heavy applications like Video-On-Demand or online gaming.
In other words, if you want more out of on-demand services like Netflix, you're going to need to pony up for better Internet connections. That means fibre.
Fibre connections will give all Canadians faster Internet across vast distances
One of the big limitations of DSL connections is the fact they run on legacy copper wiring, which, while already in use for phone networks and doesn't cost Bell anything to install, can be a logistical nightmare to install across vast geographic distances.
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A large reason why Canadians and Americans have slower-than-average broadband is due to the huge geography of our countries; it takes time, money and effort to deploy and then maintain copper wiring that holds broadband connections together across a massive country.
Fibre solves this problem, being especially well-suited for big distances between connecting homes, offices and buildings. This is because fibre connects to the Internet via optical technology rather than copper, which is more fluid, faster and easier to connect with across bigger distances.
Our economic future depends on a better Internet
Let's face a few facts: while Internet usage in Canada is among the world leaders, it's becoming really important for our economy that we have a faster, better method to access the Internet.
Not only are outsiders taking notice of our less-than-stellar record on net access, but there's been an impact on our economy: The Internet contributed $49-billion to Canada’s gross domestic product in 2011 alone. That might seem pretty good, but we lag behind several other OECD nations in terms of the Internet's impact on our economies.
We need to have faster internet, not just for recreation and communication, but for productivity. As the rest of the world's Internet gets faster, can we afford to fall behind the pack with more and more of our business activities going online?
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