As you may know, I'm in Barcelona for most of August on our annual home swap, and as is the case each summer, I try to ensure that I can work as normally as possible while away from the home office. But no matter how well I prepare, there's one thing I just can't do much about: The Internet access at the home we're swapping with. And more often than not, the low quality of that connection has conspired to make life difficult.
There's an irony to that, I guess. As I write about the future of computing and cloud-based services, I'm often reminded by people from around the world that this future relies on a level of connectivity that simply doesn't exist inexpensively—or at all—in some places. If this kind of disconnect does bother you, at least take heart in the fact that I get my comeuppance almost every year in August.
Almost every year. Last year, we stayed at a friend's home in Amsterdam for a second time. He's in the tech industry as well and has a modern, high-speed connection that is quite similar to what we have back home, and everything worked pretty well.
My "desk" in Amsterdam last summer: Great views, great Internet
But many summers we descend into what is, for us, with our many devices and connectivity expectations, a bit of a rude awakening.
The worst of these connections, perhaps, was experienced in Fontenay sous Bois outside of Paris several years ago, back when high-speed Internet wasn't so common. We were staying at the home of a friend of a friend that year, and these otherwise wonderful people simply couldn't understand the need for high-speed Internet, so we had a month of 256 Kbps DSL (or whatever), during which time I'd batch upload photos (very slowly) to a backup overnight. I had to record the podcast at my friend's home each week since the connection we had was simply too slow.
A couple of summers ago we stayed at an absolutely charming home outside of Rouen, France, which is probably an hour or hour and a half northwest of Paris. The whole thing was just so beautiful and amazing ... except for the Internet connection. I want to say it was 2 Mbps down and 512 Mbps up, or similar. We tried to record both Windows Weekly and What the Tech from this place, but had to turn off video more often than not, I believe. It was just very slow.
My "office" near Rouen, France in 2012: Beautiful views, slow Internet
And now it's 2014. And we're in Barcelona, a major, well-connected city. Surely, these people have a high speed connection. After all, they assured us that they do: It's a requirement for any home swap we do now for obvious reasons.
There's a home office in the Barcelona apartment, but I've set up shop temporarily in the kitchen
And they do, sort of. Just not by the standards of Boston, where a FIOS connection at 50 Mbps, in both directions, can be had fairly cheaply, and consumer grade 100 Mbps connections are likewise available at reasonable prices.
As you might imagine, I tested the connection here immediately. My first test, over Wi-Fi, was depressing: 5 Mbps down, but only 1 Mbps up. That last bit will be a problem for the podcasts, not to mention life in general. So I tested it with a wired connection (again, I come prepared). 10 Mbps down (good). But still just 1 Mbps up (bad, and not unexpected given the original results). (I was eventually able to hit 10 Mbps on Wi-Fi too.) Sigh.
Buried in the ads is the real news: You have slow Internet
My connection at home is 50 Mbps down/25 Mbps up on Comcast. So this thing is about one-fifth as fast, or 1/25th as fast on the upload side.
We'll see how it goes, but it should be fine, generally. In updating the site over the weekend, I've found the connection to be perfectly OK for the day-to-day stuff. It's mostly the podcasts I'm worried about. I'm taking a week off completely, so I'll need to record four of them while I'm here. Tuesday should be interesting.
With regards to the connection they have here, it appears to be some sort of cellular provider ADSL connection that includes both VoIP-based in-home phones (through a separate phone router-type thing) and a cellular extender, which I assume helps cell phones work better in the home. Looking at the company's web site, I'm irritated to see that they offer 100 Mbps connections too, for just 10 euros more per month. 10 euros!? (These folks are clearly paying for the 10 Mbps ADSL service. Which, you know, was nice about ten years ago.)
Lots of wires, little speed
OK, sorry. I get it. First world problems. But still. It's that close: 10 more euros for 21st century Internet speeds.
There are a number of related issues I'll write about later in the trip, including how we handle connectivity on our phones (expensively), my experiences with a travel router, and how we access our subscription services from Europe. Each has its own unique set of challenges. And getting over the hump with each makes our home away from home a little bit more like our real home.