Did the internet slow down for you?

Was it just me or did the internet actually slow down last week? And when I say ‘slow down’ where I am, it was terminally slow to be exact. I’m in France, a purportedly first world country that can manage, at best, to deliver 2 Mbps ADSL connectivity to me. Even in Thailand I was able to get 12 Mbps!

It’s not that I live in a remote area either. My village is located 5 km from a major town and 20 km to two major cities. The two nearest villages boast speeds of 8 Mbps and 10 Mbps respectively. Hardly exciting in terms of speeds most of the UK, USA and most of the rest of Europe enjoy, but certainly better than my measly 2.

I’m told that it’s all a matter of economics and that when enough people sign up for ADSL service in the village my network operator might consider upgrading the service. I might be better off waiting for Neelie Kroes famed digital agenda to kick in, or install a satellite dish.

But I digress. You can imagine my concern on Friday last when my internet speeds plummeted to a level not experienced since the days of audio coupling. I checked to see if there was cosmic interference from unusually high solar flare activity and found nothing. I called my service provider but was unable to get through and I couldn’t use customer self-service because the link was to slow.

I tried my fantastically fast smartphone to access the internet but because I am in a poor reception area with 3G coverage at best I could only muster Edge speeds and the small cell that came embedded in my Wi-Fi router was all but useless with the low internet bandwidth.

The reason for my frustration was that I had received a message on my iPad that iOS8 had arrived and was ready to be downloaded and installed and I couldn’t wait to get it! I felt like the proverbial donkey with the carrot dangling before it – so near and yet so far.

Then it hit me. Maybe, just maybe all those millions and millions of iPads and iPhones around the globe, all wanting to be upgraded had been the cause of the slowdown.

Sure enough, The Guardian newspaper in the UK reported that “the launch of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, caused spikes in internet usage across the UK in its first day, as users rushed to download the 2 gigabyte file shortly after it was released at 6 pm on Wednesday evening.”

That, it seems, was not the full story. The upgrade needed 5GB of capacity clear on the device and, for many, that meant having to delete music, apps and photos to make enough space. That 5GB is equal to around half the user-accessible storage on a 16GB device, and essentially the entirety of the storage on an 8GB phone like the iPhone 5C.

For those relying on an over-the-air update, the process of ensuring all their stuff was backed-up to the cloud, or should I say iCloud, and then downloaded again after the upgrade would have added considerable load to the networks.

Some users reported taking between two and eight hours to download and install the update. That seemed inordinately long so further investigation was warranted. Lo and behold, I then discovered that Apple had used, for the first time on a major software release, it’s own content delivery network (CDN).

Until recently Apple had used Akamai and other CDNs to deliver a large portion of their network traffic to consumers. Akamai has the tens of thousands of servers around the world that would send you that update, but not so this time.

Could this have been the cause of the mass slowdown? Could Apple hope to equal the performance of Akamai’s well-proven caching and distribution technology or was its own version inefficient in managing the loads, therefore adding to overall internet traffic levels?

It was my understanding that Apple staggered upgrade notifications to avoid major hits to their servers but they may not have handled this one so well. It’s one thing to slow down your own customers but if non-Apple users had their Netflix or YouTube streaming affected then maybe Apple should own up.

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About Tony Poulos 48 Articles
Tony is a freelance writer, regular speaker, MC and chairman for the telecoms and digital services industries worldwide. He has founded and managed software and services companies, been contributing Analyst for IDC, a freelance writer and is a columnist and video anchor for Telecom Asia. In June 2011, Tony was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in telecom software worldwide.

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