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The Myth of Dial Up Accelerators

Someone posted a question in a newsgroup:

Dialup Speeds

Question:

My question is how can other ISPs (Netzero) offer 2-5 times faster access speed over the dial-up line for $14.95 a month. Can't [you] provide the same thing?


I answered:

Please don't be upset to learn that these "accelerated services" are just "smoke and mirrors." 1 The amount of data that can traverse your phone line cannot - by law 2 - be any faster than 53,200 bits per second. These "accelerators" use your browser cache, your hosts file, and more caching servers at their location, to cache pages you've viewed before 3, others have recently viewed, and a few other tricks. You get no faster speed on a page no one else has viewed recently, other than the fact the server may compress the graphics before sending to you. Depending upon the actual size of the graphic files, the difference may be unnoticeable due to the time necessary for the server to compress the graphic in the first place. Their software also looks at the links in the page you are reading, and fetches those pages to your cache in the background while you are reading, just... in... case... you want to see them. This process tends to fill up your browser cache rather quickly.

http://www.dslreports.com/forum/remark,8314277~root=earthlink~mode=flat ↗

" Hey Doc. Is there a stand alone download for earthlink's dialup "accelerator"? Just curious, (like George)."

"Not that I've seen or heard of. It's just web caching anyway and the graphics are horrible due to the compression. "

More info: http://www.pcworld.com/resource/article.asp?aid=9522 ↗

Here is AT&T Worldnet's page describing how their new (25 Feb 2004) accelerator works:
http://www.att.net/features/accelerator/howitworks.html ↗
Again, read carefully. "Subsequent visits to the same page will be up to 5 times faster" Gee, my browser cache does that now! and instantly, not just 5 times faster.
The main page: http://www.att.net/features/accelerator/ ↗ It is free for AT&T users who are not on the discount price plans.

The 'accelerator' (or caching pre-fetcher) looks at all the links in a web page and pre-fetches the target pages into cache. This chews up HDD space at an enormous rate. It also keeps your line busy and chews up bandwidth for a purpose which may not be coincidental with your needs. I am usually researching something specific when I am using my Internet connection. When I hit a page with eighty-five links, I don't want my computer to load those eighty-five pages for me - I want to select the next place I go and am perfectly willing to wait for it ...

While using the Internet, the lazy finger of my left hand contantly hovers over the [Esc] key. Alastair Black, NM

Imagine landing on the sitemap page of a high-resolution photography site.

As this software depends upon your browser cache, Internet Explorer users who must clear their cache periodically to prevent "Page cannot be found" errors, will lose the "subsequent visit" advantage. The author of the accelerator FAQ is apparently not aware of this Internet Explorer bug.
http://www.att.net/features/accelerator/faqs.html#q11 ↗

Apparently, you can also get "accelerated" without your ISP providing (some charge you more) by spending a one-time fee or a small monthly fee and buying the software yourself. Here's a page from a company that sells accelerator software:
http://info.theriver.com/support/dialup/acceleratorfaq.html ↗
Read carefully. An old saw about a free lunch comes to mine. :-)

Note that the page says their software "removes banner ads and popup windows." You can do that yourself by utilizing your HOSTS file and browsing with a modern browser 4 that has a popup blocker built in. No charge. Another question: do you think your ISP is going to remove its own banner ads?

Here's how to use your HOSTS file.

Footnotes:

  1. dictionary.com ↗ for "smoke and mirrors:" Idiom: Something that deceives or distorts the truth: Your explanation is nothing but smoke and mirrors.
  2. FCC telco regulations limit this to 53.2 kbs. (53,200 bps)
    See this Usenet thread at Google Groups ↗ for lots of details.
  3. If the content just changed, you don't get to see it.
  4. I recommend the Firefox ↗ , and Opera ↗ browsers. All are more "standards compliant" and three years newer than the newest Internet Explorer, and are free.

Finally, just in case there is anyone reading who does not understand the transmission of bits, bytes, and electrons over a telephone wire: there is no way whatsoever for any means to increase the actual speed at which electrons travel through that wire. Unless... you hire someone from Star Trek.

Use of the word "accelerator" is a bit of a misnomer.

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