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 A guide to understanding your internet connectivity while working from home.

 

This is our best effort to provide a super simple guide to home networking, how to do some basic troubleshooting, and some suggestions on upgrades that may improve your work from home experience.  While much of this is available in different forms across the internet, there’s a lot of conflicting data, noise, and extraneous information you simply don’t need as a creative professional working from home. 

 

As such, we may gloss over some details and round numbers at times.  This is neither meant to be a thorough technical analysis of all the parts involved, nor address the myriad nuances of a complex system with many interdependent parts.  Our intention is to add to your technical vocabulary and understanding, resulting in a quicker path to resolution with future technical issues.

 

The Basics (5 Minute Read)

This section alone will give you some of the most important concepts to understand, negotiate, and troubleshoot your home network and its capabilities. 

 

Upload, Download, and Bandwidth

Network speeds and files are measured and discussed differently.  Network speeds are expressed as bits, and files on your computer are expressed in bytes.

 

1MB (megabyte) = 8Mb (megabit) – note the subtle difference in denotation!

 

An internet connection with a 100Mb download speed has the capacity to download at ~12MB/sec.  A 10Mb upload speed can upload files at ~1MB per second (or 16 minutes per GB, 11 days per TB).

 

It’s important to note these two components of bandwidth: upload (sending files out), and download (pulling files down from someone else). There are bandwidth trade-offs that have been made by consumer internet service providers (ISPs), which means you typically have much more bandwidth available for download than upload. This is usually fine – for browsing the internet or watching Netflix – but when creating content locally where you will probably need to upload files to other users, that lower upload speed will become a bottleneck.

 

Here’s a real world example: again, a 100Mb download speed has the capacity to download data at ~12MB/ sec. That means if you have this type of connection – and everything goes perfectly – you should expect that your 1GB Photoshop file takes 85 seconds to arrive on your computer.

 

Some ISPs fail to advertise their upload speeds.  You can evaluate your connection through Netflix’s Fast.com or a third party like  SpeedTest.net or Cloud Harmony.  To locate the fastest ISP in your country check out Netflix’s ISP Speed Index site

 

Fastest Network Speed at Home 

Hardwired connections from your computer to your modem or router will always be the fastest and remove a lot of variables inherent in wifi systems.  If you are having connectivity issues and unsure if wifi is your problem, plug your computer in and disable the wifi on your computer.

 

Keep in mind that your internet connection is shared with all of your devices in your home.  Your child watching Netflix, the streaming music service filling your home with sound, and you trying to upload or review content for work are all competing for limited space on the freeway.

 

Consumer Hardware Considerations 

If you have not upgraded your home wifi device in the past 3 years, you may want to do so as the technology has improved quite a bit.  If it is provided by your ISP, you can contact them to see if you are eligible for an exchange or upgrade.

 

Newer wifi radios (even non-mesh ones) operate on newer technologies that result in improved performance.  Look for 802.11ac or the newer 802.11ax (wifi 6) if upgrading.  Your device (laptop/phone/tablet) must also support the standard to leverage the improved performance, but most devices are generally backwards compatible.

 

Everything is Broken. Help.  

We’ve provided some basic troubleshooting steps in the next section. Getting familiar with these methods will help solve some basic issues or provide a foundation for escalating technical support.

 

If you are unable to access any site on the internet, contact your ISP.  If you need support with a Netflix product please leverage the built-in help utilities.  Otherwise please contact the Netflix NPS support team support@netflixstudios.com

 

Having Internet Trouble? Try These Basic Troubleshooting Steps.

If you’re having any internet issues, your best first step is to unplug your modem and router (they may be one device) from the power, wait 30 seconds, and plug them back in. Yes, turn it off and on again – it really does solve a lot of issues. 

  • If you have Internet connectivity but it is slow:
    • Try a hardwired connection and disable your wifi
    • Ensure no one else on your network (your kids, spouses, or guests) are using bandwidth.  For example, people watching Netflix, playing games, or listening to music on the TV, phone, tablet, or computer. 
    • Check other computers to see if they are downloading large files or updates
    • If you must be wireless, try moving near the WiFi access point.  Radio signals can sometimes struggle through walls and around corners.  Your neighbor’s WiFi channels may be interfering, so the closer you can get to your access point, the stronger your signal will be.
    • Check to see if you are connected to another network via VPN.  If so, please disable your VPN and see if that improves your experience.

 

  • If you have no internet connectivity and the above reset steps did not help:
    • Contact your ISP.
    • Many ISPs may be overloaded with calls to the general support number, but may have a hotline for specific issues like activating a new device.  They may also have online chat or callback options you can access leveraging your phone connected via mobile data.

 

  • Have the following prepared prior to a contacting any technical support:
    • Your ISP (Spectrum, Verizon, Jio, Telmex, etc.)
    • Your purchased level of service (ie 100Mb down, 10Mb up)
    • Your current connection type (wired vs wireless)
      • Remember...if wireless, try using a wired connection
      • If a wired connection is not possible, estimate your distance from the WiFi access point
    • Your modem and router make and model
    • Measurement(s) from fast.com and speedtest.net
    • A brief description of what you are trying to do, the experience you are having, and what your optimal outcome would be
    • A list of other users in the house that may be utilizing the connection
    • And if you’re comfortable doing so, you can also get a “ping” and “traceroute” result to the service you’re struggling with – see the appendix for a step by step guide.

If you are having trouble connecting to, or getting good performance from, a Netflix Service like Content Hub, please utilize the help utilities built into those services.

 

If you are working on a Netflix Production and otherwise require support, please contact NPS by emailing support@netflixstudios.com with a description of your issue.

 

The Digital Freeway: A Deeper Dive into Home Networking Concepts (10 Minute Read)

If you’re a little more interested in understanding the what and why of the digital freeway that is the internet, this section will go a little further into the concepts mentioned in the basics section.

 

Bandwidth Latency and Jitter

If you think about your internet service as a multi lane freeway delivering pixels and files to your devices (made up of many bits = cars), bandwidth would be how wide the freeway is, latency would be the time it takes for a car to move between two towns on that road, and jitter would be the fluctuations in how long it takes different cars to make it to their destination. A wider freeway equals higher bandwidth ( more cars ). Closer endpoints equals lower latency (faster cars). More consistent times for different cars to move between the same two towns equals less jitter.

 

Each time a car makes it to a new town (a network switch), it has to be processed and then directed on towards the next town.  High levels of jitter disrupt the efficient assembly line and cause network congestion which slows things down while the town figures out which car needs to go to which other town.

 

Since these freeways are bi-directional, you will have both upload and download lanes.  If you think about cutting a freeway through a limited plot of land, you may have room for ten lanes.  Dividing those up into 5 up and 5 down would be a symmetrical link and provide the same amount of traffic in each direction.  This is common with fiber connections.  Cable and DSL leverage different kinds of freeways that require tradeoffs in how they divide the lanes.  

 

The vast majority of users are consumers of data (rather than deliverers of data) and so tradeoffs have been made by DSL and cable internet service providers (ISPs) to skew the division to more consumption (download) lanes. This has resulted in the vast majority of ISPs delivering “asymmetrical” bandwidth: for example, 100/10 (100Mb down and 10Mb up).  In a typical consumption model (for example, watching Netflix), this is fine.  However, when creating content locally, you may find it necessary to upload files to other users and that lower upload speed will quickly become a bottleneck.

 

Transfer Speeds and Calculators

Internet speed is sold and discussed in Megabits (Mb) per second, but that video file you are transferring back and forth is displayed in Megabytes (MB) on your computer.  There are lots of historical reasons for this, but suffice to say that it is the cause of much confusion.  1 MB (the file on your computer) requires 8Mb (of transfer bandwidth) for a 1 second transfer.  In other words, your 100/10 connection to your ISP (100Mb down, 10Mb up), is really ~ 12MB per second down and 1.2 MB per second up.

 

There are transfer calculators out there that can help you estimate the amount of time it will take to transfer files and we have linked them below.

 

Wireless vs Wired

KISS (keep it stupid simple) is highly relevant to the networking world.  The more variables involved, the harder it is to identify the root cause.  If you are able to connect your machine directly into your router or modem, you can eliminate the myriad of variables and ambiguity inherent in wireless connectivity.

 

Most devices can be connected to both wireless and wired networks, so it is incredibly important to double check that you have disabled your wifi connection when you do this.  Otherwise, traffic that you think is traversing the hardline may in fact be going over the wireless network.  This is overlooked frequently, so please double check.

 

Your ISP (Fiber vs Cable vs LTE vs DSL)

Generally speaking (yes, there are caveats and nuance: we know!) the amount of speed available to you will be dictated by technology.  DSL is slower than Fiber with LTE and Cable in the middle.  DSL < LTE < Cable < Fiber.  If you are able to locate a provider that can service your area with a faster freeway, it may be worth looking into.  Most providers have an address lookup tool.  You can find examples below or leverage a search engine to locate ISPs that service your location.

 

There are also businesses that provide point to point fiber-over-air solutions although these tend to be focused on businesses and multi-tenant buildings.  The advantage is they can be deployed in a few days rather than the months required to dig up streets and lay physical fiber cable.  Examples of such businesses can be found in the appendix below.

 

The future of connectivity

There are some exciting developments that will extend and improve network connectivity when working from home.  You can’t benefit from them right now but we have included some information in the appendix if you are interested.

 

Advanced Terminology and Processes: Bonus Points Awarded

Mesh networks

These used to be limited to enterprise networks but have recently found their way into the home.  Instead of having a single hub radiating outwards with wifi connectivity, multiple nodes in mesh networks talk between themselves to improve connectivity, spread the processing load out between nodes to handle more devices in the home, and employ intelligent systems to adapt in realtime to changing wireless conditions by directing more energy in certain directions, changing the wireless channel they speak on, and tuning the devices on the fly.

 

Orbi Wifi 6, Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD, Google WiFi, and Amazon Eero are all examples of mesh systems that provide improved wireless experiences.  They can be used with just a single node for small apartments, and can be expanded with multiple nodes to cover dead spots, larger homes, and outdoor areas.

 

Traceroute vs Ping

Many users will use the “ping” command to diagnose network connection.  This measures the time needed to send a car from one town to another and then return to the starting town on the digital freeway.  It is usually measured in milliseconds (ms) or 1/1000 of a second.  

 

There also exists a tool called traceroute.  This will provide output of all the towns your car drives through and can provide valuable information on figuring out which town slowed down the overall trip or if the driver took a non optimal route.  You don’t need to go through Denver to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

 

On Windows this is done with the tracert command.  Linux and macOS use the command traceroute.  Both of these are included in their respective operating system by default.  There exists another tool MTR that provides even more information and may prove very useful when speaking with technical support.  On macOS, if you have homebrew installed, you can install MTR via the command brew install mtr 

 

We’ve provided a step-by-step guide for traceroute and ping in the appendix of this document.

 

Fast File Transfer

There are many network protocols (languages) out there but let's focus on two of them: TCP and UDP.  Think of TCP as sending a letter to someone with a return receipt.  You send the message, wait for a reply, and know that the recipient received it before sending your next letter.  It ensures delivery at the expense of time as you must wait for the reply before sending another letter.  UDP on the other hand is like sending a message out and assuming that the other person got it without the return receipt. You can send them as fast as you want without waiting for a reply.

 

To be clear, network protocols are how information travels through the network. Because some network protocols perform faster than others, this does not increase your physical bandwidth. You will always be capped at whatever service level you have subscribed to.

 

Years ago, transfer protocols (FTP, for example) had the ability to fill the single lane roads with cars and maximize their use.  As our freeways added lanes and began connecting to systems farther away, older protocols like FTP that are based on TCP were unable to keep up.  This evolved into UDP based data transfer protocols both open source (Tsunami for example)  and built by industry recognized companies like Aspera, Signiant, and FileCatalyst.  They use special algorithms and on the fly network tuning to flood the freeway with data while also guaranteeing delivery.

 

More recently, the development of QUIC and http/2/3 have enabled the broader internet to take advantage of multiplexed (multiple lanes), forward error correcting, UDP based transport options that improve speed for all sorts of connections without requiring the proprietary protocols of the aforementioned companies.  For example Google Drive File Stream leverages  QUIC enabling “Aspera like” access to your files.

 

Appendix

The future of connectivity

Much as the United States western expansion was driven by the building of railroads, the cities of tomorrow that can provide the best connectivity will thrive.  

 

There still exists a large part of the world (including vast plots of the United States) that lack the connectivity required to effectively operate in the digital world.  You will hear terms like “the coming 5G revolution”.  5G in this case is referring to the 5G-NR band that will allow telecommunications companies to provide high bandwidth, low latency connections over the air (OTA).  The future is strongly pointing to a system where devices of all types will not connect to your home which then connects to your ISP, but rather will connect directly to the ISP itself OTA much like your cellphone does today.  We are excited about the opportunities this technology will enable for both the creation of content and globally distributed teams.

 

In the United States a parallel effort is also being undertaken by Microsoft to bring connectivity to the masses. Microsoft’s Airband is working hard to bring connectivity to rural america.  

 

Another developing effort is Elon Musk and SpaceX’ Starlink program deploying thousands of small satellites into low earth orbit (LEO) to provide continuous internet service to the majority of the populated areas on Earth.

 

Steps to produce a “ping” result

Ping Using Windows

1) Right-click Windows Start Menu button and click "Run"

 unnamed__25_.png

2) Type "cmd.exe" into box and click "OK" to load Windows Command Prompt.

 pasted_image_0__1_.png

3) Type "ping" + [space] + [IP Address or Domain Name or Fully Qualified Domain Name] to initiate a ping request.


Examples:

  • IP Address
    • 1.1.1.1
  • Domain Name
      • netflix.com
  • Fully Qualified Domain Name
    • hostname.domain.com
 pasted_image_0__2_.png

4) When done, the Command Prompt window can be closed.

 

 

Ping Using Mac

1) Open "Applications" folder, then open "Utilities" folder, and load the "Terminal" application.

 unnamed__27_.png

2) Type "ping -t 4" + [space] + [IP Address or Domain Name or Fully Qualified Domain Name] to initiate a ping request.


Examples:

  • IP Address
    • 1.1.1.1
  • Domain Name
      • netflix.com
  • Fully Qualified Domain Name
    • hostname.domain.com
 unnamed__26_.png

3) When done, Quit Terminal application.

 unnamed__28_.png



Steps to produce a “traceroute” result

Traceroute Using Windows

1) Right-click Windows Start Menu button and click "Run"

unnamed__29_.png 

2) Type "cmd.exe" into box and click "OK" to load Windows Command Prompt.

 unnamed__30_.png

3) Type "tracert" + [space] + [IP Address or Domain Name or Fully Qualified Domain Name] to initiate a traceroute request.


Examples:

  • IP Address
    • 1.1.1.1
  • Domain Name
      • netflix.com
  • Fully Qualified Domain Name
    • hostname.domain.com
 unnamed__31_.png

4) When done, the Command Prompt window can be closed.

 

 

Traceroute Using Mac

1) Open "Applications" folder, then open "Utilities" folder, and load the "Terminal" application.

 unnamed__32_.png

2) Type "traceroute" + [space] + [IP Address or Domain Name or Fully Qualified Domain Name] to initiate a traceroute request.


Examples:

  • IP Address
    • 1.1.1.1
  • Domain Name
      • netflix.com
  • Fully Qualified Domain Name
    • hostname.domain.com
 unnamed__33_.png

3) When done, Quit Terminal application.

 unnamed__34_.png

 

File Transfer Calculators

Aspera File Transfer Calculator (note this can be used for non Aspera Transfers)

 

Mesh Systems:

NYMag best wifi mesh systems (2020)

Engadget: My quest to fix my terrible home WiFi (2020)

 

Connectivity

Find your ISP

Netflix’s Global ISP Speed Index site

Netflix Internet Connection Recommendations

Verizon Fios Fiber Availability

Spectrum availability

UK Broadband Speed Test

Fast.com

Speedtest.net

Cloud Harmony

 

Point to Point “Air Fiber” Providers

Fireline Broadband (Southern California)

BelAir Internet (Southern California)

Tower Stream (USA)

 

Change Log

2020-04-08: First Version Released








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