Is our Internet future in danger?

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

"I am concerned that we're seeing a lot of stuff from Web sites being incredibly, overly rich," says Jack Wilson, enterprise architect at Amerisure Insurance, which has a large remote workforce dependent on residential broadband service to do their jobs. "It can even be a problem inside the network. Half a dozen people streaming audio could cause a big bump in our pipe even to one of our remote locations, even to a T1 line."

Contributing to the problem is how content is distributed. For example, peer-to-peer traffic -- whether to share videos, game-playing, or music -- is very inefficient compared to streaming content from a single provider, notes Pierce. The reason is that the network architectures weren't designed for peer-to-peer, which assumes as much bandwidth in each direction, while broadband networks give most of their bandwidth to downloading. That means the uploading channel gets clogged much faster, and the downloading channel may sit empty waiting for the upload to complete.

That's why Japan's telecom ministry is investigating a rearchitecting of its broadband network to work better with peer-to-peer traffic -- emerging peer-to-peer protocols may actually make that sort of traffic more efficient than traditional traffic on such a rearchitected network. But such a rearchitecture effort will be costly and take many years, so even if it is a better model, it won't be in place any time soon, Pierce says.

Companies are also adding to the capacity problem, although not on the scale of video. Many allow more and more employees to work from home, whether periodically or full-time. Remote tools such as VoIP, VPNs, and most notably, videoconferencing, consume bandwidth at little or no cost to the company. Such services don't consume nearly as much bandwidth as video, and the current broadband infrastructure could handle them, notes Gartner analyst Jopling. But video and future bandwidth hogs could get in the way of such services' availability. "It's unrealistic to have all entertainment be delivered digitally [over the Internet]," he says. "You would need fiber to the home [everywhere] to be able to have unlimited capacity."

The pressures against increasing capacity

It's no secret that Americans' appetite for broadband has been enormous ever since cable and DSL service appeared on the menu only a few years ago. Today, more than half of adult Americans have broadband at home, with nearly a third subscribing to a premium broadband service that gives them a faster Internet connection, according to a recent survey by Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The top 20 cable and telephone providers -- such as Comcast, Cox, and Time Warner for cable, as well as AT&T, Qwest, and Verizon for telecom -- boast nearly 65 million subscribers, representing about 94 percent of the US market, Leichtman Research Group reports.

With that level of penetration, the carriers are now moving to open up the pipelines. Verizon, for instance, is investing US$23 billion to roll out by 2010 in many parts of the country its FiOS fiber-optic network, which provides Internet, television, and telephone service at near-100Mbps download speeds. Meanwhile, AT&T is spending US$4.6 billion to upgrade its network with fiber optics.

Join the Good Gear Guide 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

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?