Is our Internet future in danger?

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

Video usage could bring us to the breaking point

The main culprit today for high-bandwidth usage is video, both user-generated and commercially available. Carriers underestimated the growth in video usage, says Forrester Research analyst Lisa Pierce, who cites an AT&T claim that video counts for 40 percent of the Internet traffic it carries -- up from almost none three years ago. An AT&T spokesperson says that 5 percent of its subscribers account for half its broadband traffic usage, and cites those heavy users as why it's exploring new pricing models.

It's easy to miss how much media services eat up bandwidth. So Gartner analyst Jopling has come up with a rough consumption guide for what his provider's 96GB monthly usage cap supports: 32 hours of interactive gaming, or 48,000 photos, or 900,000 e-mails, or 24 HD movie downloads. Downloading a single high-definition movie eats up 4GB to 5GB, which also happens to be the total amount of data that the average broadband subscriber downloads in a month.

As video is increasingly downloaded over the Internet, carriers could see their customers' bandwidth usage quadruple or more. Video providers are egging customers on:, Blockbuster Video, and Netflix now all offer various movie-download services, including options that stream videos straight to TiVo digital video recorders. To customers, these are simply convenient delivery options; the fact that they consume so much bandwidth is rarely considered.

And today's 10- to 22-year-olds will push the envelope even further, notes Gartner analyst Amanda Sabia. In several focus groups she has run, this cohort says it expects to use video even more than today's typical user but expects to pay no more for the bandwidth. Forrester's Pierce agrees the bandwidth-consumption problem is only going to get worse as next-generation students make their way into companies. They've been weaned on the idea that video, music, and gaming are essentially free and unlimited, and thus act accordingly. "Students live in very wired areas," Pierce says, "which is great for education, but it's not the real world."

The real issue is not video, but the ever-increasing use of the Internet for content and services that take more and more bits each generation, notes Pierce. "What is 'high usage' will be a moving target for the rest of our lives," she adds. For example, Facebook traffic represents about 10 percent of the total Internet usage, she notes. Then there's the plethora of YouTube videos, online gaming, multimedia-rich sites like Disney, and sites like ESPN that automatically launch videos when people visit them, all consuming massive chunks of bandwidth capacity.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags managementinternet providersNetworking

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?