Virgin Media says broadband speed tests underperform: Sure, an ISP would like to tell you that the numbers produced by speed tests aren't accurate, that they undermeasure, but there's definitely truth in the statement. Virgin claims, via the BBC, that the faster the broadband, the less accurately the tests perform. Tests typically send large files or series of files of different sizes and measure throughput. Right now, Virgin says, the file sizes are too small to be meaningful. They're talking about latency here: latency and bandwidth are related but distinct properties. Bandwidth measures the diameter of the pipe, or its capacity to carry water, say; latency is the measure of how long it takes for water to reach the faucet after you turn on the tap. There's also the issue of congestion between a user's system and the testing location, which can have nothing to do with real-world performance for downloading media files or handling commercial Web sites. With 50 Mbps service on the way in the UK, they're apparently a bit anxious about being told they're slow.
Cisco releases Network Magic 5 for simplified network setup: The software's designed to take the frustration out of increasingly complicated home networking setups, where users don't want to take IT classes to get devices to talk to each other. Versions from from $30 to $50, with Mac support adding $25.
Manassas, Virg., takes over broadband over powerline network: The previous operator was unable to sell its network as planned, and about 700 customers would have lost service. The city wants to use the network to test automated meter reading, and thus makes sense to continue running. Manassas was the site of several complaints by amateur radio operators who found varying levels of interference from BPL gear. While the FCC wasn't highly sympathetic to the hams, BPL just hasn't played out as a viable, competitive technology. Every major use of BPL has been scaled back or dropped; smaller networks are starting to disappear, too.
Ecobee pairs thermostat with Wi-Fi: The Ecobee Smart Thermostat doesn't rely on a powerline network connection, but uses Wi-Fi to communicate. This lets the thermostat be programmed and controlled from a computer instead of through a mystifying front panel. I have a decent touchscreen thermostat installed last year, and even with my decades of programming and electronics background, I'm still confused at times about what button to push. The unit costs $385 and ships in 2009, but could be distributed by utilities, which could provide remote management and messaging through the units. The company claims the cost could be recovered through intelligent use within 12 to 18 months.