KSU WiFi Testing

Thank goodness this semester is almost over!  I mean, it’s gone really well and everything, but it’s about time Christmas got here.  I’ve been busy with finals and end of semester projects lately, and one of those projects was actually pretty fun and interesting.

I’m an electrical engineering student, so for my first semester as a full-time freshman, I had to take Intro to EE.  Our final assignment was to write a research paper in IEEE format.  The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is the professional institution for EE, so the point of this assignment wasn’t really to write a paper, it was to learn how to use this format, since every paper I’ll ever write as an electrical engineer is going to have to be in this format.

Even though the real point of the assignment was the format, we had to pick a topic that answered a non-trivial question about electrical engineering.  As the professor was talking about the differenet types of research papers, I was thinking I’d take the easy way out and just do an “archival” research paper, meaning I just find other sources and put stuff together.  But then I got an idea.  What if I tested the WiFi on each campus of KSU?  This would not only be really interesting for me, but it would also put me into the “experimental” research category, which would get me some extra brownie points on the assignment.

So I started testing.  I used the SpeedTest.net app, testing three spots in five different buildings on each campus.  For those of you who don’t know, Kennesaw State University recently merged with Southern Polytechnic State University (the engineering school where I go).  The two universities are now both technically just KSU, but they’ve been dubbed the Kennesaw Campus and the Marietta Campus, respectively.  I tested each campus’ student center, dining hall, library, and the two buildings with the most classes.  I then averaged all the data and… the Marietta Campus has better WiFi!

But even though Marietta’s average was better, speeds varied wildly across the board.  I guess that’s just what happens when you have a network covering that large of an area with that many people connected to it.  The entire paper (which I did in a group with three other people) goes into more details about how the testing was conducted as well as the logistics of large-scale networks like that.  I’ve uploaded the paper here in case any of you are interested in reading it.  If you really couldn’t care less about the more boring part, you can just scroll down to the charts and see all the data as to how each campus stacks up.  Enjoy!  ••


What is Net Neutrality, Anyway?

“Net neutrality” is a buzzword these days.  To some people, though, it’s nothing more than that.  In our connected world, it’s important to know exactly what net neutrality is.  In my opinion, it’s also important to support it.

So what is net neutrality?  Simply put, net neutrality is the concept that all (legal) data on the internet is treated the same.  This was actually one of the core ideas of the internet when it was first started.  To the internet, data is data, all it does is pass it along.  It makes no different to the internet whether I’m watching YouTube or reading Six Colors, all it does it take data from those sites’ respective web servers and deliver it to my browser.  So basically, net neutrality has existed since the start of the internet.  Why would anyone want to change it?  The answer, as always, is money.

Let’s talk about some examples.  A few years back, Comcast customers were complaining that Netflix didn’t work well for them.  In response to this, Netflix paid Comcast a ton of money for Comcast to store Netflix content on Comcast’s servers.  This meant that Comcast customers ended up with a better Netflix experience.  So what’s the problem?  Netflix wasn’t happy with what they were getting from Comcast, so they paid more money and got better service.  Isn’t that just capitalism?  It is, but the problem is that it gives Comcast opportunities to extort money.  Suppose Comcast purposefully slowed down Amazon Instant Video on their network.  Now Comcast can go to Amazon and say, “Hey… you know… if you paid us some more money… maybe your content wouldn’t look so bad.”  This is technically capitalism, but then, so are monopolies.  Monopolies are illegal because someone who owns a monopoly is able to extort a lot of money from a lot of people.  In this scenario, Comcast can do the same.  People against further net neutrality legislation (like Comcast) say that current laws make it illegal to slow down someone on purpose; you can only pay more to get faster service.  This is true; Comcast can’t slow someone down if they don’t pay up.  All Comcast has to do, though, is not raise their baseline speed, and 10 years from now, it’ll be a joke.  This is why we need rules that outlaw any special treatment at all.

The other problem we have without net neutrality is a stifling of innovation.  For this example, we turn to T-Mobile.  T-Mobile recently launched a new feature where streaming music does not count against customers’ data usage.  (Full disclosure: I love this feature and use it all the time.  I’m a hypocrite, I know.)  T-Mobile included pretty much all major streaming services in this.  However, what if some new service pops up trying to make it big?  If they’re not included in T-Mobile’s deal, I probably won’t switch to them over Spotify.  This could be detrimental to anyone trying to launch a new streaming service.

So what needs to be done?  My understanding is that to really lock down net neutrality for good, Congress will have to reclassify internet service as a utility.  At that point, it will be subject the same regulation that electricity and water are.  When I first heard this idea, I laughed.  Internet service a utility?  A basic human right?  What a first world problem!  But then I started thinking: suppose you’re running a small business.  There’s really no way for you to run your business successfully without the internet, in the same way that there’s no way for you to run it without electricity.  I’m not convinced internet access is a basic human right, but I think utility fits it well for now.

So what’s being done about this?  A year ago, I would have said net neutrality was dead, since the legislation didn’t seem to be going anywhere (not that much legislation at all goes anywhere these days).  However, the FCC is now looking to potentially instate some new regulations that would reclassify the internet as a utility.  There’s also another proposition out there that wants to create some new regulations without actually reclassifying it.  This could potentially be a pivotal time for the history of the internet, and the next few weeks should be very interesting.  ••

Update 2/27/15: Yesterday, the FCC officially decided (in a 3-2 vote) to regulate the internet as a utility.  If you’re interesting in reading more check out this article from CNET.

The Dream of Gigabit Internet

I don’t think anyone would deny that faster internet is better.  Our world is moving to the internet at an increasingly rapid rate, and the faster your connection, the more you can participate.  Unfortunately, the average internet speed in the U.S. is just 10 megabits/second.  10 Mbps isn’t bad, but it’s not great either.  I’d say there’s plenty of room for improvement, and it turns out that Google agrees with me.

But first, some baselines.  Using the free Ookla Speedtest.net app, I clocked the internet speeds at my house.  Up in my bedroom, I got an average download speed of 30.03 Mbps.  Not bad!  (Especially considering we’re technically paying for 25 Mbps!)  We actually just put in a new router to get better signal, and I’d say it’s paid off big time.  Now on to cellular.  Using T-Mobile’s 4G LTE on my iPhone 5s, I got an average download speed of 35.66 Mbps.  I actually hadn’t tested T-Mobile’s speeds until I wrote this article, and I was blown away.  Both of those numbers are well within a comfortable speed range for now.  But what about the future?

Years ago, I’m sure someone with a blog tested out his internet speeds and marveled at how fast they’d gotten.  I’m also sure that his numbers were a lot lower than mine.  My numbers might be great now, but what about in 5 years?  20 years?  Obviously, we’ve got to keep advancing.

Enter Google Fiber.  Google Fiber is a project designed to bring super fast internet access, via fiber optic cables, to the U.S.  I knew Google was working on this in a few cities, but it was brought to my attention the other day by an article in USA Today.  Google is extending their program to Atlanta!  Now I live in the suburbs of Atlanta, so I’m not sure whether I’m within range of the program, but I’m still excited.  Google Fiber is promising gigabit speeds, or a whopping 1000 Mbps.

Of course, we’ve neglected the golden question: How much does this cost?  Google Fiber has three pricing tiers.  The basic level gives you gigabit internet for $70/month (the USA Today article says $80, but I saw two other articles that said $70).  Considering that my family is paying $67/month for 25 Mbps, Google Fiber is a steal.  But it gets even juicier.  There’s another plan that gives you gigabit speeds plus TV service for $120/month.  Considering cable can cost up to $100, this is an unbelievable deal.

But didn’t I say three pricing tiers?  I did, and the third one might be the strangest.  For $0/month, you can get 5 Mbps, guaranteed for seven years.  All you have to do is pay a $300 installation fee.  I’m not going to lie, this one puzzles me.  It’s so unconventional, yet so intriguing.  Google could offer this as a starter package, and then maybe people will upgrade to gigabit later.  This could also be a way to get internet to the (relatively few) people who currently don’t have it at all.  Even if these people aren’t paying Google for their internet, odds are they’ll start using Google’s services online (and, by extension, start seeing their ads).  Makes me wonder if Google is on to something here after all.  ••

What Comes After the Internet?

Last week I would have looked at that title and laughed.  Nothing comes after the internet, of course; the internet is the future.  Or is it?  Didn’t people say the same thing about TV, and radio?  I just finished reading From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Disruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet (which I highly recommend, by the way).  In the book, John Naughton (the author), while admitting that we can’t know for sure where the internet is going, tries to postulate where it’s going by looking at another enormous leap for technology: the printing press.  Turns out, there were doomsayers for the printing press too (they thought an avalanche of books would cheapen their quality), much the same way there are doomsayers for the internet today.  Looking back, we scoff at those who scoffed at the printing press.  Will future generations scoff at us for being afraid of the internet?  Or is the internet so special, so new, and so different that our fears are justified?

I can’t answer that question.  But I can answer the first part of it.  The internet is not different.  It’s just another medium, the same way printing, radio, and TV were before it.  This was the light bulb that hit me this week, the one that made me change my mind about this title.  I’d always thought that the internet would just continue to evolve, never ceasing, never being replaced.  However, the odds of that now seem rather low.  When television first came, it was thought to be the death of radio.  Radio didn’t die, but its heyday was over.  Ironically though, it seems television is also nearing a decline.  The internet is slowly (quickly?) taking over as our primary form of entertainment, but there’s no reason to believe it will last forever.  On the contrary, history indicates that almost everything will slowly become obsolete.

But what will replace the internet?  That’s the flip side of my epiphany: I haven’t the slightest idea.  This seems odd that we know change is so imminent, so sure, but we don’t even have a glimmer as to what it might look like.  I’m sure that, for now, the internet will keep improving (in much the same way television did).  However, at some point, something totally new is bound to come.

That’s what makes the future so exciting!  As I follow the tech world, every day I’m more and more aware of what an electrifying time we live in.  Everything is changing so fast, and we have no way of knowing where we’re going.  But maybe that’s the fun of it.  ••

How Apple can “Beat” the Competition

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2014

Apple has a lot to gain from their rumored purchase of Beats by Dr. Dre.  Even if you don’t think you know what Beats are, you’ve probably seen people wearing them.  The super-trendy headphones aren’t cheap either – they start at $169.95.  I don’t understand why the average Joe would need headphones that expensive (though I could understand someone in the music business wanting them), but Dr. Dre must know something I don’t.  I see those headphones everywhere.

So obviously, if the headphones are selling, it’s a good buy for Apple – just because it’s a money maker.  However, I think Apple has their eye on something else: Beats Music.

Beats Music is a recently launched subscription streaming music service.  With the rise of Spotify, Pandora, and other streaming music services (both paid and free), it is clear that people are becoming less and less inclined to buy individual songs and albums, and instead stream music buffet style.  We saw the same thing happen to movies with the rise of Netflix, and I personally think that streaming music is just getting started.  I for one know that internet radio is great when I’m really tired of all my music (even though I have a ton of it).  From what I’ve heard about Beats Music, it’s a great service.  Like most other internet radio services, Beats Music has computer algorithms to determine what kinds of music a person likes based on their listening history.  What’s more unique is that Beats brought in industry experts to hand-craft playlists of songs that go great together.  Supposedly, this features makes all the difference when listening.

Last fall, Apple tried to get into the streaming music business when they launched iTunes Radio.  I’ve never used iTunes Radio, but right off the bat I can see the benefits of using an Apple service.  For starters, you don’t have to make any new accounts, since pretty much everyone with an iOS device already has an Apple ID.  Second, I’m sure Apple made it very convenient to buy the song you’re currently listening to, in case you decide you want to own it.

For whatever reason, however, iTunes Radio hasn’t really caught on.  It may be because so many people already use Pandora, and they just didn’t bother trying out iTunes Radio.  I’ve also heard that Apple started iTunes Radio and then sort of let it fall by the wayside, instead of continually making improvements like every new service needs.

This is why Apple needs Beats.  Just as Netflix has revolutionized the way we watch movies, somebody is going to revolutionize the way we listen to music.  Apple wants to be that somebody, and Beats by Dr. Dre might be just what they need to succeed.  ••