Internet access and email delivery have improved dramatically in the past year, according to annual results released today by Internet measurement company Inverse Network Technology.
But despite impressive technological improvements, end users are waiting longer than they did a year ago for Web pages to download.
Why? While Web sites are improving the technology they use to deliver the pages, they are more than making up for the improved load times by clogging the pipes with an increased volume of graphics, sound files, and other bells and whistles.
"Looking at the entire year, the average time required to download popular consumer Web pages crept up by 11 percent in 1997, even though throughput increased 2.6 percent," the report stated. "This could indicate that the complex graphics and Java applets now prevalent on Web pages are taking their toll on end-user perceived Internet performance."
Michael Watters, president and chief executive of Inverse, added that for the 60 percent of Netizens who get to the Internet by dialing through a modem, the long load times are an issue.
"I think content providers have to take a hard look at download times...and ask themselves what's acceptable," he said.
He added that in general, however, dial-up users--especially those who use online leader America Online--should be a much happier lot.
ISPs, the report states, improved their peak-hour dial-up rates by 58 percent from September to December. Users encountered busy signals 12.9 percent in September but only 7.9 percent in December.
AOL also improved its dial-up service in the last year. In January 1997, just after AOL switched to flat-rate pricing, users encountered busy signals some 80.2 percent of the time. The problem ultimately prompted lawsuits and other legal intervention. But AOL kept true to its word and has steadily improved rates. In December, users were only encountering busy signals 16 percent of the time--still higher than the industry average, but a vast improvement nevertheless.
Inverse also noted that email, which many call the "killer app" of the Net, also improved. Ninety five percent of email sent through ISPs arrived at its destination within five minutes. Upload and download times for email also improved.
Inverse also measured the best time and the best day to log onto the Net. Not surprisingly, the worst day to try to reach the Net is also the worst day of the week for most working stiffs: yes, no one likes Mondays--not even the Net.
On Monday, the call failure rates are 8.9 percent, compared to a 5.2 percent average during the week.
And the worst time of day is 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. in any time zone. If you have any control, don't try to log on at 9 p.m. on a Monday, when call failure rates peak at 18.2 percent.
But once you are on the Net, the time it takes to download Web pages remains fairly steady both by time of day and day of the week.
Overall, the news was good both for those in the business and the end user, Watters said.
"It is very clear the Internet has not fallen apart and, in fact, by every metric we have, it has become more reliable," he said. ISPs now are so confident about their improved service that they are willing to guarantee it in writing.