Always More Bandwidth

UHDTV_resolution_chartNetFlix has announced that they will be shooting the second season of ‘House of Cards’ in ultra HD. This is a video technology that uses over 4,000 pixels per frame. Obviously this is going to result in really amazing picture quality.

But this is also going to mean a big increase in the bandwidth needed to deliver the show across the Internet. SONY is working on TV that can display this new technology and they estimate that it is going to require about a 15 Mbps streaming download in order to view an ultra HD video without interruptions. And long before TVs are ready to view this it’s going to be available on computers and tablets.

This is going to increase the pressure on networks to increase speeds yet again. There are a huge number of households in the country who can’t get 15 Mbps downloads. But even a household who gets 15 Mbps download speeds is going to have problems streaming this big of a stream. We all know that the amount of bandwidth that comes across an Internet connection varies constantly, and thus somebody who has a 15 Mbps data connection has that speed sometimes, but often has less than that.

Plus, households today routinely are using their Internet bandwidth for multiple functions simultaneously, and while one family member is watching ‘House of Cards’ it is likely that there are other family members who want to watch some different video, play a game, browse the Internet, offload data from a cell phone or make a VoIP call.

I am going to be the first to say that many network providers have worked hard over the last few years to increase their bandwidth. Cable companies have converted to digital to free up bandwidth formerly used for TV channels. DSL providers have gone to more bonded pair DSL and have also moved DSLAMs closer to homes.

But the unfortunate truth for network providers is that every time they increase the bandwidth available on their networks, the world finds a way to use the new bandwidth, and usually in short order. There is no end in sight of this escalation. Looking out just a few years it’s easy to see even more uses for the bandwidth in our homes. Modern security alarms are putting ubiquitous HD video cameras throughout the home that can be viewed remotely. Multiple companies are working on medical monitoring products that will constantly monitor our health. More and more devices in the home are being made smart and will be integrated into the Internet of Things. And there is already an 8,000 pixel ultra HD video standard on the drawing boards.

There is a move in the country today to create gigabit communities. This means communities that are capable of delivering 1 Gbps download speeds to homes and businesses. It is really hard to think of enough uses today to fill up a gigabit of capacity. But it is not a big stretch into the future to look at homes routinely needing wanting 100 megabits, 200 megabits and more.

It’s easy to forget that it was just back in the 90’s when we were all using dial-up Internet that got 56 kbps bandwidth at best. Homes have grown from that tiny trickle and twenty years later it’s not hard to find homes that need 50 mbps to function smoothly. That is a thousand-fold increase in bandwidth over twenty years. And we are nowhere close to the end game.

In the not too distant future we are going to routinely need to be delivering more than 100 Mbps. That is going to require fiber networks or cable networks that have been converted to a full digital capacity including IPTV. Both of those networks will provide the capacity to grow to a full gigabit. After that speed we probably exhaust the capacity of coaxial cable and ultimately everything is going to have to be fiber.

Communities that have fiber today are the ones who are not going to get throttled as the bandwidth needs continue to grow. The need for faster bandwidth is growing so rapidly today that cities that look to have good bandwidth today – say 15 mbps to 30 mbps networks  – are going to look very slow in five years. Network providers who are doing anything other than fiber are going to be constantly frustrated as people always want more bandwidth.

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