Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Who's Gobbling My Bandwidth?

I don’t want to become one of Nexflix’s rabble of helpless victims. And I don’t even use their service.

But according to Sandvine (via, one of those really neat-o Internet companies that have a lot of acronyms and Klingonese in their “about” page (see it here) Netflix already gobbles up 20 percent of “downstream Internet traffic” in the United States, and is poised to grow even more as more and more people subscribe to their movie and TV show streaming services.

Will the nation’s broadband network hold, folks? Can it hold out? Can we resist the shiny, candy-like Netflix logo that already beckons us? Stimpy probably can’t.

Sandvine and Slate point out that, more and more, we’re using the Internet for synchronous use, rather than asynchronous use. We’re watching TV or movies as they arrive, rather than downloading them and watching when we want. We’re also using services like Skype (which I use occasionally) and other services that gobble up network bandwidth.

And that could cause trouble, according to Slate’s Farhad Manjoo and a few others he quotes:
Well, maybe there is one dark cloud: Will there be enough available bandwidth for Netflix to keep growing?'s Ryan Singel points out that in the hours when Netflix hits 20 percent of broadband use, it's being used by just under 2 percent of Netflix subscribers. That stat has huge implications for how ISPs manage their lines. If 2 percent of Netflix customers account for one-fifth of the traffic on North American broadband lines, what will happen when more and more Netflixers begin to watch movies during peak times?

The outcome might actually not be that dire. Theoretically, broadband capacity isn't fixed—as people begin using bandwidth-hogging services like Netflix more often, they'll subscribe to faster Internet lines, and that will push ISPs to build out their capacity.
In other words, they won’t really do anything to fix current capacity, just encourage us to spend more money on more capacity, and then they’ll install it for us. Given I live in the sticks where competition for broadband Internet isn’t all that good, I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve already blogged here about my difficulty in rationalizing paying for cloud storage of my photos (I’m too cheap to pay $25 a year for a professional Flickr account, for example.) And at Uncharted, we’re having a jolly time keeping up with having enough server space for our stuff. I’m beginning to think I could make some money just opening up a local server farm and finding customers. That would be an interesting adventure, because storage capacity for cloud computing, and the bandwidth to access it all, are only going to be bigger concerns in the future.

No comments: