Online video may or may not be leading us down a path toward future Internet slowdowns, but there is no debate that the Internet’s infrastructure needs an upgrade to accommodate today’s online usage patterns and multimedia content. But what exactly are the technical issues that are causing the infrastructure problems?
The bottom line is bandwidth. Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be passed along a communications channel in a given period of time. It is typically measured in bits per second. The hardware that is used to transport the data has a limited capacity (bandwidth), which varies depending on the technology that is being used (Ethernet vs. dial-up vs. T1 line). It is this limited bandwidth capacity that is causing concern.
Michael Kleeman explains the bandwidth issue quite well:
“The problem is that we have reached a point of disconnect between the traditional Internet’s architecture and the needs of today’s customers. The traditional Internet’s architecture was not designed, nor can it be expected to handle, the demands being placed on it. Bandwidth demand is growing rapidly, outpacing supply. It’s as if every home in America suddenly needed 10 times more water at 10 times the quality coming out of the same size faucet.
“Today, the average home uses as much bandwidth as a major office park did a few years ago. Remember when you used Internet access for just e-mail? Now, chances are you e-mail photos, download music and watch videos, often all at the same time. The bandwidth consumed by a popular YouTube video, “The Evolution of Dance,” downloaded 54 million times, equals an entire month’s worth of data network traffic in the year 2000.”
Upgrading the infrastructure to support today’s bandwidth needs is going to cost a lot of money – $55 billion more than planned, according to Nemertes Research.
“The bottleneck will be where Internet traffic goes to the home from cable companies’ coaxial cable lines and the copper wires that phone companies use for DSL,” says the research firm (by way of USA Today). To fix this issue, cable, phone and wireless providers are going to have to run new high-capacity lines and rethink the way that they are set up to serve bandwidth to their customers. Currently, most Internet providers are “devoted to sending data to users — not users sending data,” says the USA Today article. “They’ll need more capacity for the latter as more people transmit homemade music, photos and videos.”
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