AOL leads in busy signals, study says

Just how hard is it to log on to America Online? Very hard, according to up-and-coming Web measurement company Inverse.

CNET News staff
3 min read
Just how hard is it to log on to America Online? Very hard, according to a new Web measurement company Inverse.

AOL had by far the highest call failure rate of the 14 major Internet service providers Inverse tested during peak hours, 6 p.m. to midnight, in March. CompuServe (CSRV) had the best connection rate, with IBM (IBM), Sprint (FON), and Concentric following. While their call failure rates were 6.5 percent, 6.8 percent, and 11.6 percent, respectively, AOL's call failure rate was 60.3 percent, with most of those failures accounted for by busy phone lines. The next-to-worst failure rate was 32.7 percent; the ISP is not named.

AOL's busy signal rate increased dramatically after it moved to flat-rate pricing and members stayed online much longer than they did before. Inverse's numbers show that connection rates steadily improved from January, when they hit their low, to March.

These are typical of the kind of intense measurements of Internet service performed by Inverse. The year-old company, an independent company that sells its results to ISPs and now businesses, aims to become the J.D. Power of the Web, known for its independent, thorough, and objective measurements, Inverse CEO Michael Watters said.

As part of that plan, Inverse today announced two new services in its pursuit to lead the industry. So far, it has sold its detailed statistics to ISPs, which primarily use the data to gauge and adjust their services.

Now, it will be selling information to businesses that want to know exactly what they're getting before they select a provider, Watters added. Inverse also is launching a service whereby it will measure email performance, a service which many Netizens consider to be vital.

Inverse's key to success lies in its rigid testing procedures in which banks of computers are set up in a room to mimic the things actual users do on the Net, such as dialing into services using various modems from various locations.

The rate at which people can connect to their ISPs is only one aspect that Inverse measures. It also, for instance, measures how fast a user can surf once he or she gains access to the service.

The strategy to branch out to sell data to businesses as well as ISPs is crucial to Inverse's success, according to Watters. "We can't be the standard for the industry unless we serve everybody."

Kate Delhagen, an analyst with Forrester Research, said consumers are hungry for such information. Large ISPs, such as AT&T WorldNet and Netcom, already use Inverse not only to report numbers to their customers but also to find out how they can improve their services.

"The time is right for some objective reporting on performance of ISPs," Delhagen said. She added that she's been impressed with the scale of Inverse's operation, especially with the fact that not all of the 17 services Inverse currently is testing are clients.

"The essence of our business is establishing trust," Watters noted. Because of that, ISPs have to adhere to a very extensive agreement on how they can use the data with which they are provided.

Watters explained ISPs usually subscribe to his service thinking they will simply find out where they stand among comparable ISPs. Since they already test their own systems, they generally don't think they'll be able to use the data to improve their systems. But Watters said several ISPs have made major changes based on the deep data that Inverse supplies.