Reliable, faster internet access from an apartment in Beijing.
September 3, 2008 10:29 PM   Subscribe

Will be moving to Beijing and would like to have high speed reliable internet service in my apartment. We'll likely be living in one of the US or HK developed apartments along Chao Yang park. I've worked with DSL connections in serviced apartments in Beijing and Shanghai and was not thrilled with the throughput (70kbs) or reliability. The Great Firewall is not an issue as far as completely blocking sites, but I'm sure it affects transfer speeds from the US sites I'd be accessing.

I've done some digging and have come up with:

1. Dual DSL lines and a load balancing router: wouldn't really increase throughput of a single connection but might help with simultaneous transfers and reliability.
2. Satellite internet: Pricier and legally shadowy. No guarantee that I could even put up/properly direct a dish.

Are there any other options I should consider? Are there "commercial only" options that may be possible?

Bonus question:
Is there some way I could increase the likelihood that I would be able to create VPN connections to the US. (In my experience, I was able do so with 1 out of the 2 DSL connections I used in China).
posted by bleecker to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've always used China Netcom DSL getting speeds similar to the 70kbs you mention; I have looked around for other possibilities but the only other option for domestic customers seems to be a fibre optic cable service called 北京宽带通 which if you do a search for brings up lots of forum postings saying it's rubbish - slowing to a trickle by third day of use - and support is terrible. Checking out similar questions on Baidu Zhidao the standard answer still seems to be that DSL is the best bet. But I've only ever looked into changing fairly cursorily so will be interested to see if your question elicits a better solution.
posted by Abiezer at 11:19 PM on September 3, 2008

I'm sure there are commercial solutions, but unfortunately don't have any specific info for you. At my apartment in Bejing I also had similar speeds, but at the office I recall downloading at over 300 KB/s. Also, in my experience the problem with the internet in Beijing is latency rather than throughput, so I don't think either of your proposed solutions would much. If you need to do some heavy duty downloading or something, then maybe go with the dual DSL solution, or look into getting a commercial connection.
posted by benign at 5:40 AM on September 4, 2008

Best answer: I get pretty good speed over my Beijing Netcom connection -- nothing near the 2 MBps Netcom claims, but I've seen speeds of 300+ Kb/s from overseas sites and upwards of 800 Kb/s from domestic sites. Anything out around Chaoyang Park is going to have modern wiring, and I imagine all of the apartment compounds there offer fairly decent 小区网络 residential area networks.

If you really want to get a leased line, it is definitely doable -- one of my previous jobs was out of an apartment in the Jianwai Diplomatic Apartments compound that had four ISDN lines. Don't know anything about the fiber-optic service Abiezer mentions, but the ISDN lines we had were not all that terribly impressive.

Satellite internet is probably not an option here - there are periodic crackdowns on unlicensed satellite dishes, so you'd be running a risk (albeit probably a small one) of getting your dish taken down the next time the police pretend to do their jobs.

VPNs are totally doable here. Witopia is very zippy (fast enough to stream music from Pandora, which becomes accessible through Witopia thanks to the US IP address the service gives you), works on my iPhone as well as my PC, and is $40 a year. (My one complaint is that their Mac support is not all that great.) If you want to go for a free, ad-supported VPN, Hotspot Shield will do the job too, and it's not too terrible speed-wise either.

When's the last time you were in Beijing, and whereabouts were you staying? Overall net connectivity in the downtown areas has gotten about a million times better over the last couple of years.
posted by bokane at 9:19 AM on September 4, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses. I would be happy with 200-300kbs from the US so I'll start with the one DSL line and then explore getting a second with a load balancing router or leased line as needed.

Whom should I contact regarding getting a leased line (if that time comes?) Beijing Netcom?

I've used Witopia and am happy with the Great Firewall workaround aspect of it, but the throughput didn't improve as some have stated on random net forums. My (poorly worded) bonus question was regarding a specific VPN I was trying to access, which was possible from one site (Shanghai Center), but not another (Beijing Kerry Center). I suppose it was idiosyncratic behavior and I'll just have to hope for the best.

This was in May/June of this year and I had ~70 kbs at both sites, but they are both older buildings (10 yrs or so) so maybe they still have some older wiring/hardware.

Would be happy to hear any other net/computing solutions people have come up with.

Thanks again.
posted by bleecker at 5:19 PM on September 4, 2008

I'm surprised connectivity was so lousy at the Kerry Centre, but maybe it's all just shared bandwidth.

So far as contacting people for a leased line: it's been a while and I wasn't the one doing it, so I'm just guessing, but Netcom does offer leased lines for businesses, and they seem to have the least-bad connectivity of anyone around here. Should have noted that the 200-300 kbps I mentioned was variable depending on the site and the current crackdown level -- some periods have got crappier overseas connectivity than others -- but it's been pretty consistent over, e.g., well-seeded Bittorrent connections, and sites like Youtube (and Hulu through a Witopia connection) are quite fast.

Odd that your VPNs weren't accessible. I hadn't heard about that happening before.
posted by bokane at 3:43 PM on September 5, 2008

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