Do We Need 10 Gbps?

wraparound-glassesWe are just now starting to see a few homes nationwide being served by a 1 Gbps data connection. But the introduction of DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems and a slow but steady increase in fiber networks will soon make these speeds available to millions of homes.

Historically we saw home Internet speeds double about every three years, dating back to the 1980s. But Google Fiber and others leapfrogged that steady technology progression with the introduction of 1 Gbps for the home.

There are not a whole lot of home uses today that require a full gigabit of speed – but there will be. Home usage of broadband is still doubling about every three years and homes will catch up to that speed easily within a few years. Cisco recently said that the average home today needs 24 Mbps speeds but by 2019 will need over 50 Mbps. It won’t take a whole lot of doublings of those numbers to mean that homes will expect a lot more speed than we are seeing today.

There is a decent chance that the need for speed is going to accelerate. Phil McKinney of CableLabs created this video that shows what a connected home might look like in the near future. The home owns a self-driving car. The video shows a mother working at home with others using a collaboration wall, with documents suspended in the air. It shows one daughter getting a holographic lecture from Albert Einstein while another daughter is talking with her distant grandmother, seemingly in a meadow somewhere. And it shows the whole family using virtual / enhanced reality goggles to engage in a delightful high-tech game.

This may seem like science fiction, but all of these technologies are already being developed. I’ve written before about how we are at the start of the perfect storm of technology innovation. Our past century was dominated by a few major new technologies and the recent forty years has been dominated by the computer chip. But there are now literally dozens of potentially transformational technologies all being developed at the same time. It’s impossible to predict which ones will have the biggest influence on daily life – but many of them will.

Most of these new technologies are going to require a lot of bandwidth. Whether it’s enhanced reality, video collaboration, robots, medical monitoring, self-driving cars or the Internet of Things, we are going to see a lot of needs for bandwidth much greater than today’s surge due to video. The impact of video, while huge today, will pale against the bandwidth needs of these new technologies – particularly when they are used together as implied in this video.

So it’s not far-fetched to think that we are going to need homes with bandwidth needs beyond the 1 Gbps data speeds we are just now starting to see. I’m always disappointed when I see ISP executives talking about how their latest technology upgrades are making them future proof. There are only two technologies that can meet the kinds of speeds envisioned in McKinney’s video – fiber and cable networks. These speeds are not going to be delivered by telephone copper or wirelessly, and to think so is to ignore the basic physics underlying each technology.

Some of the technologies shown in KcKinney’s video are going to start becoming popular within five years, and within twenty years they will all be mature technologies that are part of everyday life. We need to have policies and plans that look towards building the networks we are going to need to achieve that future. We have to stop having stupid government programs that throw away money on expanding DSL and we need to build networks that have use beyond just a few years.

McKinney’s video is more than just an entertaining glimpse into the near-future; it’s also meant to prod us into making sure that we are ready for that future. There are many companies today investing in technologies that can’t deliver gigabit speeds – and such companies will grow obsolete and disappear within a decade or two. And policies that do anything other than promote gigabit networks are a waste of time and resources.

5 thoughts on “Do We Need 10 Gbps?

  1. Doug – hope all is well. Thank you again for coming all the way up to SD to present for us.

    This is fantastic content, keep it coming. Very much appreciate the candor regarding shortsighted governmental policy related to the building of networks.

    Rich Coit

    605-224-7629 O

    605-222-2246 M

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  2. Dear Doug:

    Your question reminds me of the notorious quote from the owner of Digital Equipment Co., a once-raging computer company that was pumping the “Massachusetts Miracle” in the 1980s, who famous quipped that no one needed more than 45 Kbits of data…

    Of course, the better questions he _*should*_ have asked were, “How much data can you SELL to customers?”, “How much are they willing to pay for?”, and “Once we have it, can we find ways to use it?”

    So, do we need 10GBPS? Probably not. However, are we willing to pay for it, and can some one sell it to us? And once we have it, will our computer use rise to envelope 10GBPS? The answer to these question is a definitive “Yes”.

    ~ R

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  3. Doug,
    Thanks for the link. I’m presently writing about this topic, with a bit of a contrarian viewpoint. It’s good to see a concrete vision for how real consumers might use edge computing in virtual environments over low latency networks. These all look plausible and likely to be attractive to consumers at a reasonable price point.

    What I’m not convinced of is how much goodput these applications are really going to need. Also, we are at a point that prop delay is the overwhelmingly dominant component of end-to-end latency — especially in rural areas and especially in the downstream direction — so ever-faster links no longer help as much as they used to.

    I hope to get this published in the next week or so.

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    • I don’t disagree with you. 10 Gbps is an immense amount of speed. But there is going to be a lot of bandwidth involved in simultaneously doing the things presumed by that video. But perhaps 1 Gbps or even something less might suffice. I’ll be interested to see your ideas.

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  4. Pingback: Home broadband use doubles every three years – ask not what you need today but what will you need tomorrow | Blandin on Broadband

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