Is our Internet future in danger?

Signs point to a bandwidth shortage, and avoiding that may mean you'll pay more for broadband usage

Regardless of how the usage costs are apportioned, the broadband providers could do much more to better use the capacity they already have, Telware's Voellinger says: "What I see is a need for better optimization of the provider network and broader delivery of broadband capacity. There's room in the bandwidth right now to do a lot more." Forrester's Pierce agrees, noting the carriers are very "uneven" in their network-management capabilities. Because the Internet is a shared network, a carrier that underinvests in capacity or is inefficient in its network management becomes a bottleneck for all the Internet traffic that passes through it. And Internet traffic passes through dozens if not hundreds of networks on its way to the user, so the chances of hitting a bottlenecked segment is fairly high. "To get the best experience, you need to look at the weakest link," she says.

"IP traffic is notoriously unpredictable versus ATM and frame relay," says Forrester's Pierce. So carriers reserve 50 percent of the capacity for peak burst traffic over IP, she says, compared with 30 percent for frame relay. The use of network-management technology would help broadband providers reduce the amount of capacity left "dark" for peak usage, Pierce adds. She believes tiered pricing would make Internet usage more predictable, also helping providers hedge their capacity less and thus free up existing capacity.

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