The Korean ‘net: not what you’d expect

By John Nixon 09/06/2010

seoul ftth 1More and more, reliable and fast broadband access becomes a must for the traveler.

A week in South Korea, then a week in Japan should have proven a pleasure as we all know that these two countries have the highest densities of fibre broadband delivery in the world.

The Ramada Gangnam Hotel in Seoul provided free broadband access, my only problem getting connected was power adaptors. I travel with three that cover most countries, but somehow Murphy got involved with earthed and earth-less wall sockets, necessitating trips to reception to find a solution.

But once connected surprise! No blazing fast speeds here! As slow as a wet weekend!

And Korea seems to have copied China’s vetting of the net, as several quite innocuous sites were just impossible to access. Anything at all in New Zealand was ’hurry up and wait’, and my New Zealand Herald headlines email just wouldn’t let me access the articles via my browser.

I had a couple of hours wait at the Seoul Incheon airport on my way to Tokyo. The business lounge had free WiFi of course, but I had power adaptor problems once more. Once connected, the speed was again very slow. I gave up and went to watch CNN news on a large screen TV. The picture was perfect at first, but as more people came into the lounge and logged online, the picture started to break up, to the point of it becoming unwatchable. (see top pic)

I guessed that the TV signal was delivered as IPTV and as the network ramped up, the available bandwidth just couldn’t cope.

Probably just as well they called my flight then so I left Seoul behind bound for the rising sun.

Any better in Japan? Not really. Two hotels and the airport lounge were all barely better than dialup speeds.

seoul ftth 2So why? Sure, I only experienced internet access in hotels and airports, not as a single subscriber to a fibre connection. No doubt the available bandwidth is split up, shared between numerous users. An office or home connection could be quite a different experience (and I would hope so).

But this just underlines again that fact that your very fat pipe (ie fibre) won’t get you the bandwidth if the switching capacity of the network behind it is not adequate. It’s the huge water main pipe with just a trickle of water emerging.

And the network is not just your local Ethernet hub, it’s the whole chain right back to and through the big cloud. So as new applications come along demanding more and more bandwidth, it will always be a game of ’catch-up’ as far as the switching infrastructure is concerned. Conclusion: FTTH is great, but it’s not the only factor in latency and throughput.

All of Asia has a huge aerial mess of wires everywhere. Even tidy Japan shocks with the entanglement of power and comms cables. The motto is ’don’t look up’…

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