Wednesday, April 23, 2008


We never did get around to having our two 100 megabit connections installed in our new apartment, because the requirement to lose our standard landline in favour of an Internet phone proved too problematic. In any case, our work is winding down now as we prepare to leave Korea next month, so our requirement to have a backup connection diminished.

But the preparations for leaving threw up an unexpected Internet-related problem. During my time here I've taken around five gigabytes worth of photographs and sixteen gigabytes worth of videos, which amongst other things I'd much rather back-up somewhere safe on the Internet as opposed to trusting to carrying with me on numerous DVD-ROMs or an external USB hard drive. I'm also not happy that border officials in various countries now seem to have the right not only to search through one's baggage for dangerous items, but also to search through one's electronic devices for dangerous ideas.

Encryption, of course, is no barrier to search since there are precedents for passwords being demanded. Personally I object to governments rummaging through my private life on paranoia-fuelled fishing expeditions, so on principle I'm committed to keeping as much of the detail of my dull and largely uncontroversial life out of their hands as possible if only to avoid being held up by immigration officials. Perhaps that makes me the paranoid one, but having spent over six months embroiled in a legal battle with the British Government, my relationship with my government is not exactly a happy one these days.

After some fairly exhaustive testing of various online backup solutions, I came to the conclusion that none of them actually seemed to work very well. Yes, various services were ruled out because they lacked features or added annoyances, but fundamentally they all had one thing in common - they were very slow, some incredibly so. The fastest option I found was via improvised 'Google Drives', either via 'shell extensions' or Firefox addons, but there are bandwidth limitations, and such techniques are beyond GMail's terms and conditions so continue to exist at Google's whim. My preferred commercial option, Amazon S3 in conjunction with Jungle Disk, could apparently only transfer files at 32kbps per second, which meant the 36Gb's-worth of files I wanted to back up would take 128 days of continuous operation to complete.

I never suspected a problem with my ISP, because the 'GMail Drive' transfer was quick enough, as were my uploads of large amounts of files to YouTube and Flickr. But eventually I was directed to try to do some testing. The results were consistently poor - LG Powercom might have decent download speeds, but uploading outside of Korea seemed to be a real problem. I could only surmise that my fast speeds uploading to the likes of Flickr and Google might be due to the variability of various servers or the possibility that unlike my backup servers, Flickr and Google were benefiting from directing me to more local servers behind the scenes. I'm not a network engineer so I don't know, but either way, what it certainly did mean was that I couldn't realistically use Amazon S3 or any other backup service I'd tried.

So I took a chance on dumping LG Powercom in favour of Korea Telecom's (KT) MegaPass service, which I hoped might have better international connectivity by virtue of being owned by the national telecomms company. My wife phoned LG, and the operator told her that KT wouldn't be any better when the reason for leaving was given. When that tactic didn't work, we were offered a permanent 15% discount.

We had to take the chance though, and fortunately KT didn't disappoint. While it doesn't consistently beat LG Powercom in every area, there's no doubt that upload speeds are vastly in excess of anything LG could provide. The results below are inevitably snapshots of the two Internet service providers (ISPs), but I tested both more than once at different times, and I'd say these offer a consistent picture of the differences.

The above results notwithstanding, it's hard to say whether this really matters to a foreigner choosing an ISP in Korea. I used LG Powercom for a long time ignorant of its poor international upload speeds, and while there's little doubt in my mind that KT's Megapass is faster both technically and noticeably in actual use, the reality is that the download speeds they provide are so fast it's questionable whether it really makes a great deal of difference. Upload is another matter, and while I only took to undertaking formal speed tests fairly late in the day, I'm satisfied that the problems I experienced with various services for two months before the realisation, suggest that LG has been poor in this area for weeks if not months. In other words, it is not just a recent technical problem which is causing the slowness, but rather a more permanent infrastructural issue. I'm also mindful of the fact that when we experienced some routing issues with LG last year, that it transpired that the connection from Busan was quite likely inferior to the one from Seoul, so the LG Powercom upload problem may not manifest itself to the same extent in the capital.

As for Amazon S3, I'm now uploading twenty times faster at around 640kbps, which maybe still isn't that great relative to what the above tests suggest could be possible, but at least it reduces my backup's total upload time from 128 days to 6.4. Meanwhile, LG have lost a customer and I'm afraid on this experience I'm not likely to be back even if I return to Korea at some point in future.


Mosher said...

1) Buy memory stick
2) Copy files to memory stick
3) Post it to where you're going

Got to be quicker than changing ISPs and spending 6.4 days uploading stuff ;)

Mike said...

Didn't losing people's personal data in the post get the British Government into a lot of trouble recently? :-)

I did consider burning DVDs and posting them, but the thought of my financial files amongst other things getting ending up in someone else's hands, even if encrypted, made me a bit nervous.

Memory sticks would probably be out for 36Gb because of the cost, but I've carried my absolutely critical files with me everywhere on a stick for about four years now.

I'm transferring 20Gb to S3 which should cost around $4, and then $3 per month storage. I like the service and will keep using it for now - so I bought Jungle Disk for $20.

I've already dumped the 16Gb of video files on - an almost too-goo-to-be-true service with little in the way of security and even less in the way of information about who's behind this mysterious company. Temporary solution.

Come on Google, launch the GDrive, I'll happily pay for it.

Eliot said...

Those are more than decent speeds. I miss the internet in Korea. Here, I'm just running @ 128kbps. -_-

And yeah, if you find my blog entries at Everything Kimchi worthy of a technorati fav, or a linkex, please don't hesitate to do so. I shall return the e-love. Cheers!

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