Where do/did my bullets go?


I think we have all been there, haven’t we?  Playing our favorite online shooter and suddenly you are shooting what appears to be confetti and marshmallows at your opponents.  As we have learned by joining the [Duma] Army; “Ping is King”.


But what really goes into that Ping?


This is going to be a multipart thread where I am, hopefully, going to try and explain a few things that you CAN control, and a few things you CAN’T control, when it comes to the caliber of your gaming and internet browsing experience.  This will start looking at your house, and then expanding to the street, down the street, and then into the ether where the “magic happens”.  I hope it helps. J


Who the hell am I?  (Nobody really J ) What’s my background?  Great question.


In my previous work experience I was a cable TV, Phone, Internet and fiber technician for various companies (TCI, AT&T Cablevision, Comcast) before joining the contractor ranks.  I have worked in 6 States (Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, Illinois, Indiana), along with British Columbia (Canada) and S. Korea (DoD for the military) building plant that carries all those precious 1’s and 0’s.  At last count, crews that have worked with me had built in excess of 15,000 miles of the cables and wires you see running from pole to pole, or pedestal to pedestal, around cities, neighborhoods and military bases.  I was last active in 2006, so if there have been advancements or technological breakthroughs specific to this work, I missed them, but please feel free to share or update the information.


The first part I am going to tackle is your home wiring.  Not that jumble of wires and cables you have cleverly hidden behind your entertainment center…

Everyone has a version of this mess to contend with, trust me. J  Believe it or not, this exists all over the place around the country because wiring correctly is one of those “never time to do it right, but there is always time to do it over” cases.


“But the inside of my house is all wire tied up and looks awesome”.  You are literally in the 3% club.  In all my years of going into people’s homes (rich, poor, other) about 3 homes in 100 would have a ridiculously awesome wired system that looked like it belonged in a picture definition and the problem was rarely, if ever, there. 


But let’s say you wired everything inside yourself and it is picture perfect.  Everything has been tested and you have the tightest house in the state for data.  You are the shining example of “wiring awesome”.


Congratulations.  You have done what you can to insure your signal is top quality!  Everything should be golden, right?


Not so much. 


But let’s have a bit of a primer here.  I am going to cover Co-ax or Coaxial Cable first, which is the standard cable used in about 85%+ of the standing structures’ wiring for “TV/Satellite” customers and about half of the internet subscribers.  I can tackle Cat-5; “Fiber to the Curb” and “Fiber to the Home” later on if there is interest, but odds are good this will apply to most users.


This is a Coaxial Cable ( stripped back for fitting installation):



And here it is with a fitting correctly installed:



Now, you have to realize that your house got a slightly skilled worker, who had a route of 20+ jobs to do that day as part of their normal route. The person that came to your house wired the place up like s/he has done to 1,000 other homes in the course of their career. 


Your home/apt/condo wasn’t special.  You didn’t get the “magic wire” or the Installer of the Month winner who was wiring your house for a photo-shoot.  

You got the person who was trying to get in, get done and get out of your driveway in less time than s/he was given to do the job.  If s/he went over in time on your house, the rest of their appointments are going to be pissed.  So if they had 40 minutes to work on your house, they most likely tried to be out the door and down the road in 30.  Real talk.  If you live in an apt or condo, you got about 10 mins of attention outside when it was “turned on” for your unit.  If you were REALLY lucky, the installer cleaned up some fittings and changed some aging equipment outside.


This is the first part of what you CAN’T control (without filing a complaint with the company, or having the tools & knowledge to rework it yourself).


That reoccurring fact is where you get shit like this:  (Note – There is something wrong in each of these pictures that would lead to “less than ideal” signal transmission conditions)


This is the connection at the side of the house.  For most cable, phone, internet provider companies, this is the “end” of what they consider “owner maintained plant”, where “owner” represents the company and “plant” represents the physical wiring/connections, etc.  If the line from the pole or street pedestal is damaged (unless you dug it up or your massive RV/Boat combo ripped it down – both true stories) the company accepts this as part of doing business and will usually replace it free of charge. 


Tree branches fall in a windstorm?  Free replacement.  Big rig/truck rip down a few lines because he was too tall for residential work?  Free replacement.   Act of God lightning strike?  Free replacement.  This is owner maintained, so having a quality outside line (this is called a “Drop” in the industry) is part of the service you are paying for, so it SHOULD be good quality. 


That doesn’t mean that it’s always brand new and in pristine condition.


Any of the pictures above could be replicated by most people that have worked on the “in home service call” aspect of cable/phone/internet service.  


These are all really common “home fixes” that lead to horrendous signal quality, poor internet quality, pissed off customers and a lot of them are self-inflicted by the home owners themselves.


Ideally you have to think about the wiring at your home or place of usage as small water lines.  If they have a break, a cut, an open point in any way, this will lead to INGRESS (which is a term for outside Radio Frequencies/other signals getting into the 1’s and 0’s you are trying to send or download - This is bad) and EGRESS (which is a term for the 1’s and 0’s you are transmitting getting outside of the cables and into the open air – THIS IS REALLY BAD).


What can cause INGRESS & EGRESS?










Customer “Improvements”



Local "projects"






“Local” Ingress and Egress, meaning this happens AT YOUR HOME, makes up about 75% of the trouble/service calls that are filed (or used to be when I was active).  I doubt that number has changed much as people LOVE to do shit themselves, even if they don’t have an idea of what the hell they are doing.  :huh:


These are just some "common" examples of small stuff at or near your home that can effect your internet and video services.  Having little breaks, or open ports, or flat damage (animal, natural or "man oops") to any of the wiring infrastructure actually at your residence can seriously negative effects on your quality of service.


One additional item to ALWAYS factor in!  Just because the wiring at your house is BRAND NEW and looks like the shining example of a perfect installation, it was still done by a human.  Shit happens when you build things.  Failures right out of the box do occur for cable, fittings and splitters.  


And the same is true for EVERY OTHER PLAYER HOST out there!


Let's see how this is received, then I can start plotting the follow up posts.  I don't know if this is too technical, or too simplistic, and I haven't offered any solutions, because even if you see about 1,000 of these problems, you can't really diagnose them in a broad brush stroke, one-tip-fixes-all sort of way.


However, if you have something that looks like a picture above, or have specific questions, I am happy to try and help.



Street View:


We have covered some basics of home wiring, and BTW Thanks to everyone for including pictures from around their homes to add to the thread.  That really helped this thread take off, so thank you all for participating!


What happens when the signal leaves that mess of wiring on your building?  What happens one step upstream? What happens when you look at the plant that was built on your street, and maintained by others? 


I am going to specifically address Fiber in this section, so the images I show you are going to represent what Fiber Optics look like in the wild, just like the stuff on your street.  Caveat*  If the transfer medium were coaxial cable, or phone lines, or power lines, they all look and get worked on about the same way, so while this will give you the basics, if you have specific questions, just ask and I will do my best. J


First, it depends on if you live in an OVERHEAD, or an UNDERGROUND connection.  Where the wires reside (on a pole = Overhead | In a trench, in conduit, with pedestals in your yard = Underground).



















Now fiber is the “wave of the future”, and it has been since the 80’s when it was so rare to actually get a contract to put it in place, the only place I know doing it was New York State.  Stuff used to be like gold, and cost about as much.


Fiber used to be terribly expensive to buy, install and maintain.  All of which required special tools and special training for the employees to have to be certified on, just like every other trade.  And because of the investment to have it in your plant, you also needed all the electronics to make it run, which is hundreds of thousands of dollars in gear and places to store it. 


In the 90’s when I was active, there were only about a dozen of us at any given shop or office that were certified to work with fiber.  The shit is fragile, it’s dangerous as shit if you aren’t careful, and doing simple tasks like splicing require a level of record keeping on par with a good CPA. 


Why didn’t Google Fiber spread the world over?  It’s a long, drawn out discussion, but the short answer is this:  No matter how much money you think you have, you don’t have enough to run your own fiber lines.  Google found this out the hard way and I could have told them that for a lot less money if they would have just asked. :D

When last we left our story telling, we were just getting ankle deep into the “world of connections” outside the home.  I think we have a pretty good understanding of the house wiring, so let’s move a little further UPSTREAM towards the source and discuss…..


Fiber vs. Coaxial Cable vs. DSL/Twisted pair/Phone offerings:


This is Fiber:


CplMuO6.gif (ßRibbon Fiber, really cool, but it was kind of a fad)


This is a Coaxial Cable (Cable Company):



This is a DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) style cable:



Here is what they look like at your house:



Based purely on how much data can be transmitted (both up and down stream), effectively, and with the least amount of errors/damage/service interruptions over a pay-back cycle (usually from 5-10 years), here is their ranking.

1.       Fiber

2.       Coax

3.       Twisted Pair/DSL


This does tie directly to their overall reliability, in that fiber is more reliable and less susceptible to interruptions that effect the other two, but when fiber is damaged, it takes a much longer time to repair, so it’s not really a 1:1 scenario.


In terms of operational costs, which have a multitude of variables for EXISTING services, here is their ranking.


1.       Twisted Pair/DSL

2.       Coax

3.       …*

4.       …*

5.       Fiber

*There are other mediums, like satellite to the house or short wave to the house, but I am not even a novice in these fields and I would rather NOT get into a technical discussion about it unless it’s really needed because I am not the definitive source.


There is a lot of interest in “fiber” and what makes it “the thing” right now, so I am going to concentrate on that for this post, however if you have other questions, please feel free to ask and I will do my best.


fi·ber op·tics (noun)

                The use of thin flexible fibers of glass, or other transparent solids to transmit light signals in digital form, chiefly for telecommunications or for internal examination of the body.


A street level fiber “line” is usually spec’d in fiber count of how many lines you want to give a distribution location (called a “node”).  All the work I ever did was based around a 6-fiber feed to each node location, or a multiple variable of that (12, 18, 24, etc).  So a 144-count fiber would have enough individual single fibers to drop (6) of them off at exactly (24) Node locations.

Why do you need six?  Can’t you transmit tons of data in each of the individual lines?  Yes, yes you can.  Let’s examine that for a minute.


A single count fiber has the ability to transmit: 1) Tons and tons of data both UP and DOWN steam, per second, and 2) can transmit that data in digital (which is the native code, right).


Coax and Twisted pair were DESIGNED to carry ANALOG signals and were expanded with functionality to be able to carry data in digital form.


Now fiber benefits in the aspect that the driving force is “light” (*Note, I don’t know how it works on the creation end, I only know how to make it get from over there to you, but it’s technical, expensive and has tons of Patents J).  For the record: the Speed of Light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 meters per second, or 186,282 miles per second. In any other medium, though, it’s generally a lot slower. In normal optical fibers (silica glass), light travels a full 31% slower, but it’s still really, really fast for data transmission.


Now in looking where I can go here, it gets technical fast, so I don’t know if that is needed for this thread, or if you guys have questions on “what is fiber” before I continue, so I am going to <PAUSE> here and wait for feedback.





Outside Plant:  The 201 class

Okay kids, buckle up for this one as I take the training wheels off and give you a shove down the driveway. 




For this section it might help if you think of everything flowing from one source, like the faucet on the side of your house, with the plant (Coax, Phone, and Fiber) acting like your hose.  We will be talking about just one flow of data traffic, from BROADCAST to CUSTOMER.  In the example, the faucet would be the broadcast and the flowers would be the customers. 

We have talked about the different mediums that physically bring signal to your house (coaxial cable, twisted pair/phone, and fiber), but now we are going to expand on their abilities and get our hands a little dirty.


The keys to selecting what medium will be used to build the plant for your customers, are dependent on a lot of items you, as the service owner, can’t control.  Examples of these are:

·         Miles of plant in your service area

·         Existing easements you have in place

o   Aerial

o   Underground

·         Easements you have to acquire (which is basically how much $$ are you going to have to give to buy your "Rights" or easements)

o   Aerial

o   Underground

·         Permits to build

o   City/Cities where you want to offer service

o   Counties you have to travel through between cities

o   Rural considerations (how many miles must I build to pass a pay-back number of homes)


Without going in a long, drawn out table and math formula, just take confidence that I have done this a time or two and I can assure you, assigning a random budget number before all these costs are in, will be a waste of your time. ;)


One of the greatest “failures” of this model was the Tacoma, Washington Public Utility, who in the late 90’s decided to OVERBUILD the entire city with their own fiber/coax hybrid plant to cut out AT&T Cablevision, who later became Comcast.  After selling excess power to California, and a couple of other states, during the energy crisis, the City was flush with a little more than USD $100,000,000.00 (That’s ONE HUNDRED MILLION 1997-ish US DOLLARS)  in “surplus” revenue, so they decided to build themselves their own backbone and call it  Click! Network


That is a little about the business side of determining HOW to service your area, but let’s talk about why.


All “outside the house” infrastructure, in this aspect as well as power and gas (I worked for them too), fall into a couple of categories.


·         Actives - Those devices or components which produce energy in the form of Voltage or Current are called Active Components

·         Passives - Those devices or components which store or maintain Energy in the form of Voltage or Current are known as Passive Components


The easy way to think about this, for me, is that an Active always need a power source to work correctly (it needs a few things really, but we will get into that later) and a passive will work if there is power on the line or if there is no power on the line.  (Passives also work backwards, meaning they are intentionally inserted output feeding input, but for different applications we will cover later on).


Examples of an Active:  Amplifier, Line Extender, Repeater, EDFA, etc.


Examples of a Passive:  Splitter, directional coupler/combiner, taps/ports/home connections, termination panels and connection lugs, etc.


Passives usually feed customers.  Actives are in place to combat “Attenuation” and insure everyone gets good performance/signal/low-loss of transmitted data.

So what’s Attenuation and why does it matter?


Well, let’s see if I can explain it here in a way that makes sense.


Let’s push pause on street view and just think about a single, lone carrier in a world full of time and space.  This next image is a JD Original, so if you want signed copies, you are shi’ite out of luck.



This represents (1) analog type signal, at one frequency, with a completely static noise floor.  In essence, this is the perfect world for one analog signal to live in and operate.  The signal has a clear peak, it has no other impediments at that level, and it has a good clearance from that horizontal state on the bottom, which is called the noise floor.


The noise floor is defined as (Wiki: In signal theory, the noise floor is the measure of the signal created from the sum of all the noise sources and unwanted signals within a measurement system, where noise is defined as any signal other than the one being monitored.  The noise floor isn’t “bad”, it’s just an unfortunate by-product of the delivery method.  But it does play hell on all those signals you want to broadcast.  (Note: it’s much rougher on analog than it is on digital, which is why digital suddenly got very busy in the 90’s as well). 


The difference between the measured peak of the signal, and that flat bottom line called the noise floor, is the "Signal to Noise Ratio" or SNR.  This will come up in a few posts, so don’t worry about catching it all right now.


Now that last image represents (1) signal, but the broadcast that comes to you from your cable or satellite provider, is actually hundreds and hundreds of these individual tee-pee shaped units, all along a bottom scroller, run to the right, type of thing.  The further to the right you scroll, the HIGHER the frequency level goes., so if you started at 50Mhz, where this example was, and went to the right to say, 85Mhz, there would be 5 or 8 “channels” in between.  (Again, this is an analog signal for ease of understanding – a real “analog channel” has more components, takes up more space and several other facets to it I haven’t broken down yet).


So at 50MHz the signal in the picture is measured at 40dB (decibels), this is a very strong signal.  Now imagine that for every 1,000 feet/metres that you push this signal through one of your mediums (coax, phone, fiber) and away from the source, you lose 1dB.  So at 5,000 feet/metres from the source, you have lost 5dB, so you now have 35dB.  At 10,000 feet/metres, you have lost 10dB, so you have 30db, and on down the line. 


The further you go from the source, the weaker the signal strength gets and the CLOSER it gets to that noise floor on the bottom. 


Now imagine the same picture as above, but the signal is located at 350MHz in the frequency band.  It’s much further to the right from the 50Mhz signal, and it actually loses about 1.5dB for every 1,000 feet/metres traveled.  So at 5,000, you actually only have 32.5dB and at 10,000 feet/metres, you only have 25dB

Then you have a signal like the one above at 600Mhz and it loses 3dB per 1,000 feet/metres traveled.  And the signals up around 800Mhz lose 5dB for every 1,000.  And so on the further you go OUT in the spectrum (higher in frequency).


This is called Attenuation.  The further you go, through any medium, the more signal you lose.  The higher the frequency you push through that medium, you lose even MORE signal going the same distance.   The more signal you lose; the closer you drive that crisp, clean signal down into the messy, problematic noise floor.  (*Note, if you picked up on the fact that the signals in question are ALWAYS going to be slanted, from a high point on the left (lower frequency measured), to a low point on the right (higher frequency measured), you get a gold star for this lesson :D )


And this is where we begin talking about ACTIVES and PASSIVES in the plant you chose to build with….

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