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Getting Wired for Long Distance Teaching Part 1: Internet Connectivity

Setting up a long distance teaching environment can be intimidating to even the most veteran technology users. Here are some setup tips we have discovered along our way! 

Who will provide the Internet service? 
The last thing you want is a slow connection frustrating the whole experience. So, start by making sure you are taking advantage of the very fastest speeds available to you. Even if published speeds seem adequate, always try and account for slowdowns during heavy-traffic times or shared use on your local network.

If you are in an independent studio, this usually means a cable provider. At a minimum, you want to look for CONSISTENT 3-4 Mbps (Megabits Per Second) in DOWNLOAD speed, and at least 1-2 Mbps in UPLOAD speed. Though DSL claims adequate speeds, in many cases, the UPLOAD speeds are considerably slower. Additionally, think about whether your family members might be streaming movies during your teaching time, for instance, or whether your phone line is Internet-based, or VoIP. Either of these situations will use considerably more bandwidth than your online lesson and may compromise its quality. When in doubt, go large! If you are on a campus, think about what times of day are likely to suffer from sudden mass-usage (like when popular classes are over or when everyone turns on their computers in the morning). Although you may or may not be able to ask your IT department for faster speeds, you can try and schedule long distance lessons around the busiest campus usage. At many institutions, you may also run into regulations regarding the use of a peer-to-peer network. Yamaha can provide a special document to explain to the campus IT and security how you are planning to use this service (and why it doesn't pose a threat). You may also have a bit of a wait to get that permission cleared, so be cautious in scheduling important long distance events--always make sure the right people on your campus can provide the access you need.

Perez Student Berklee croppedHardware Choices
Again, with an indpenedent studio, you will have to make more choices than on a campus where those choices are often made for you. First, you'll need a modem to get the Internet service into your home. Your Internet service provider may offer to rent a modem or a modem/router combination for a monthly fee. Whether you decide to rent or purchase, try to get the fastest unit that is compatible with your Internet Service Provider. Some providers require specific models. Look for a modem with the DOCSIS 3.0 standard (as of 2014). This new specification includes the capability of channel bonding, meaning it is possible to combine several broadband streams into one for faster service. This is especially useful in urban areas where cable speeds suffer during peak-usage.

Many current cable modems offer at least 8x4 banding (4 banded channels for download and upload), and a few even claim a 16x4 specification. This means if every kid on your block gets so excited about a live Detroit Symphony broadcast 
(hey, we can dream, right?) and all of them log on at the same time, your modem will behave as if it is 16 modems, but give you all of the bandwidth as a single user. Slick. 

As you are narrowing your modem choices, also consider whether to get a modem or a modem/router combination. As with most technology decisions, you'll usually be weighing convenience versus performance. All-in-one products rarely provide the full set of speeds, WiFi range, or configurations you would get with separate modems, routers, and switches. The fastest modems may not have the farthest reaching WiFi capabilities, and the most robust WiFi routers may not offer enough WIRED connections. So, shop carefully--you could easily get sucked into buying a low-priced device, only to find out that it doesn't support the latest technology standards. Regardless of which router or modem/router combo you choose, look for the 802.11AC designation for its wireless signal. Even if you don't have a lot of devices which can currently take advantage of this more robust signal, you probably will before long.


Wired Connections Are Best
Whether you are on a campus or an independent studio, it's best to install a WIRED connection for your long distance teaching. If your Disklavier is also used for DisklavierTV or PianoRadio, you should try to get TWO wired Internet jacks in your space--one for your piano and one for the computer which will be running the video conference (such as Skype or Messages), or the video stream for DisklavierTV. A WiFi signal may be super fast when you test it, but interference can still be a problem, especially in highly populated areas. So, it might be acceptable for occasional use or casual connections, but probably not reliable enough for regular lessons or performances. 

Goldstein Judges Festival cropped 1

In an existing space where you already have a single jack on the wall, you probably can install a network switch to split the wired connection. (think of it as the same kind of thing that multiplies power outlets on the wall) You'll want to, you guessed it, get the FASTEST switch available, right now known as a "gigibit" switch (capable of transferring 1Gigabit per second). 

Test Your Connection
Once you have all your devices in place and configured, you will want to test your connection thoroughly. Remember that a reliable, consistent connection is more important that pure speed for an extended connection as in teaching or performing. To complicate matters, many ISPs boost speed for the first few seconds of a connection--meaning that media-rich pages load faster and downloads are zippy. This boost can trick a speed testing site (like www.speedtest.net) into artifically fast results. Therefore, it's best to use a test that measures connection CONSISTENCY as well. A good one is at the Visualware site, where you can choose the kind of test you want to perform. If you aren't satisfied wiht the results, you should start at the beginning of the chain--the modem--and test speed at each device: modem, router, switches, etc., adding a connection until you find the speed-sucking culprit. We hope these tips will help you get the most out of long-distance teaching with your Disklavier. If you have questions, comments, or tips of your own, please let us know via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or in our closed Facebook group

 

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