Technical: More About Connectivity


Compression is an easy way to increase bandwidth. You can apply general purpose compression (such as StuffIt) to the data. Even better, you can apply data-specific compression (such as JPEG for still images and MPEG for video), which can provide much higher compression ratios.

These compression techniques trade off use of CPU power for lower bandwidth requirements. However, there's no equivalent way to trade off use of extra CPU power to make up for poor latency.

All modern modems utilize internal compression algorithms. Unfortunately, having your modem do compression is nowhere near as good as having your computer do it. Your computer has a powerful, expensive, fast CPU, whereas your modem has a feeble, cheap, slow processor. In addition, as we noted last week, a modem must hold on to data until it has a block big enough to compress effectively. This requirement adds latency, and once added, latency can't be eliminated. Also, since the modem doesn't know what kind of data you're sending, it can't use superior data- specific compression algorithms. In fact, since most images and sounds on Web pages are already compressed, a modem's attempts to compress the data a second time adds more latency without any benefit.

This is not to say that having a modem do compression never helps. When the host software at the endpoints of the connection is not smart and doesn't compress data appropriately, then the modem's own compression can compensate somewhat and improve throughput. The bottom line is that modem compression only helps dumb software, and it hurts smart software by adding extra delay.