Everyone talks about being more customer-centric these days. And the incentive for focusing on customers is growing in part because customers are becoming more empowered by technology than ever – even when it comes to things like guaranteeing broadband connectivity levels.
Evidence: a new tool from university researchers in the US that allows people to see the bandwidth being consumed by all the devices on their home network – and to find out if they're getting the broadband Internet speeds they were promised by their ISP.
The tool, called Kermit, was developed at Georgia Tech University with support from Intel, Microsoft and the National Science Foundation, and helps customers diagnose apparent slowdowns in Internet speeds by identifying likely congestion bottlenecks inside and outside the home network (to include things like ISPs shaping and throttling traffic).
According to the researchers:
Kermit provides a visual display of every device using the home network at any given moment, and it logs usage and total bandwidth over time. It also shows how much bandwidth the connection is delivering. The tool is designed for at-a-glance simplicity, and slapping bandwidth or time limits on any given device is just a click away (prioritizing devices is also an option).
The key word is ‘simplicity’. Kermit developer Marshini Chetty says that the goal was to make something useful to people without any real network experience or hacking skills, which they made a point of testing in trials:
“With one husband-and-wife couple, the wife actually limited her husband’s machine because she worked from home. Before, she wouldn’t have gone to the router Web interface to do that, but because Kermit made it easier for her, she was feeling more comfortable to do it. Of course, her husband didn’t really like that.”
Also, he adds, Kermit allows users to view historical data on their Internet connection such as how much bandwidth different machines use over time, making it easier to spot patterns:
“So, by the end of the study, they started to question: ‘Am I getting what I paid for?’ Or they knew a little bit more about it and realized, yes, they were actually getting what they paid for. I think Kermit was successful in actually making them more informed about these issues, which is one of our goals.”
That's a good goal. Few ISPs would be impressed with any customer using third-party connection monitoring software to support complaints of slow connection speeds (especially if the service contract has sufficient disclaimers written into it), but at the very least Kermit could help users better understand the data traffic patterns and congestion issues that impact download speeds.