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How to avoid ISP call failures

A study suggests that Netizens frustrated with gridlock should consider logging on during a different sort of congestion--the morning commute.

A new study suggests that Netizens frustrated with call failures and network gridlock should consider logging on during periods of a different sort of congestion--the morning commute.

While overall call failure rates have decreased over the years, ISPs now face a choice between working together to streamline their networks or spending millions to beef them up independently, according to a study released today by Web performance research firm Inverse Network Technology.

Callers dialing their Internet service providers during the morning rush hour between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. reported better connection rates than they did when dialing during any other time of the day, facing busy signals only 2.6 percent of the time.

Bad connections

In addition, the study showed that the worst time to dial in--unfortunately and perhaps most obviously--is also the most convenient time. Evenings during prime time, between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., had the highest call failure rate, peaking at 10.7 percent during the busiest hours of between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Call failure rates are the percentage of attempted first-time ISP log-ons that fail due to busy signals, modem failures, or other network blockages.

The study logged performance unevenness hour by hour but showed a steady decline in failure rates year over year, according to Inverse spokesman Chris Roeckl. For example, September results showed an average 5 percent failure throughout the day for dial-ups, a figure that marks a significant improvement over the 25 percent average failure measured in January 1997.

However, the study underscored the ways in which usage patterns persist in taxing network infrastructures during certain periods of the day, while others see very little demand.

"You have all these valleys where very few people are on the Internet, and you have these peaks where it's very frustrating to get onto the Internet," Roeckl said. "As service providers look to differentiate themselves, I think they'll be focused on the bottlenecks in terms of the busy periods."

Roeckl proposed two solutions by which ISPs can address the wide range in traffic: create a shared network or build up the existing one. An ISP that focuses on business subscribers, for example, could lease its network to other home- and consumer-oriented providers during evening hours, Roeckl said.

Alternatively, any given network can spend millions to improve infrastructure so that it can support any capacity. A handful of ISPs have invested heavily in building out their networks and continue to maintain low failure rate, even during prime time periods of heavy usage. Many of these big-name access providers also have seen smaller fluctuations in reliability during peak and off-hour usage, according to the study.

AT&T WorldNet topped the performance list by marking a 2.5 percent failure rate during 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. The other four ISPs given high marks were Bell Atlantic at 3.1 percent, Sprint Business at 3.5 percent, IBM Global Network at 3.6 percent, and Ameritech at 3.7 percent

Those companies all are paying clients of Inverse Network Technology. They pay for results based on its independent research methodology, but none has invested in Inverse.