For the first time, Inverse tested the Web page Time-to-Download (TTD) metric, which measures the average number of seconds it takes to download a Web page using a 33.6 Kbps modem.
AOL was the only provider, out of 28, to receive an A rating for the fastest download time of 27.64 seconds.
"AOL was way ahead of the pack on this Web download test," said Mike Watters, president and CEO of Inverse. "They [AOL] were about 20 percent faster than the rest of the industry on average."
Watters says AOL subscribers can thank two technologies for speedy delivery: caching and compression. AOL keeps local copies of Web site pages inside of their network. They also compress images within those pages, so when it comes time to download, they cross phone lines much faster than they would otherwise.
But, Waters says AOL needs to pull some new tricks in order to keep the momentum going, especially to retain its million new subscribers, who sign up each month.
"They've [AOL] got to keep building up the infrastructure because I'm pretty sure their competitors will deploy the same kind of caching and compression technology that AOL has."
But for now, AOL's competitors have some catching up to do. Prodigy and US West barely beat the industry average. Inverse's chart crosses out the names of the ISPs who fail to meet the industry average. Those who didn't make the grade include CompuServe, Earthlink, and Netcom.
Not surprisingly, the amount of graphics and bells and whistles on a site either speeds up or in some cases, dramatically slows down download time. Yahoo is the best performing URL, followed by Excite, Netscape, AltaVista and Symantec. Watters says the findings weren't surprising because search engines and portals need to be fast, from both a network performance and page size perspective.
The Comic Zone, CNN, and Games Domain--all loaded with graphical content--came in last place. "I'm not sure companies understand how long it does take to come down," said Watters. "Maybe they'll see this and realize for the big sites, 25-35 seconds is typical and if it's taking longer, then maybe they should be looking at redesigning it."
The study also tested call failure rates. In general, the quality of service is improving and the number of busy signals is on the decline. But last month, call failure rates increased. According to the report, the likelihood of a user's failing to connect to his or her ISP from 6 p.m. to midnight on the first try in December of 1998 was 8.5 percent. That's slightly worse than the 8 percent rate of December of 1997.
Watters says the additional busy signals were caused by the popularity of e-commerce and the proliferation of new users. He expects the "momentary hiccup" to subside.
For the October-December quarter, AT&T WorldNet Service earned nine out of nine possible A+ grades, measured for all three call failure metrics (24-hour, business-hour, and evening-hour). Bell Atlantic.net, Cable & Wireless, and Pacific Bell Internet also received high grades.
Inverse measurements are taken 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for at least a ten-day period each month. Tests are conducted on about 1,000 POPs (points of presence) using PCs running Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 and a 33.6-Kbps modem.