Will There Be Enough Bandwidth?

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On one hand, we continue to hear about fiber-to-home, expanding wireless access networks, Internet2, and bandwidth being added to the overall mix via private IP-based networks. On the other hand, planners discuss their fears that it won't be enough.


Actually, the voices extolling the advances are louder, since they generally are associated with folks pushing their products or making sure broadband conduits are big enough for new services.


But the voices of caution are there. One came through loud and clear this week with the release of a Nemertes Research report entitled "The Internet Singularity, Delayed: Why Limits in Internet Capacity Will Stifle Innovation on the Web." The report -- or, at least, the press release announcing it -- is downbeat.


It says that Internet capacity could be passed by demand in a bit more than two years. Bandwidth-intensive applications such as voice, peer-to-peer and others are the cultprits. The study says that in the U.S. alone it will cost $42 billion to $55 billion beyond the $72 billion already budgeted to meet the problem.


The challenge will grow as high-capacity networks get closer to homes and businesses. The executive summary of this report on fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) suggests that the platform is emerging as "a serious broadband platform" in Japan and South Korea and that great progress is being made in the United States and parts of Europe. The report obviously is detailed and deep but, curiously, the release doesn't say who published it.


The summary has several bullet points, including the point that incumbents need "to upgrade their access and core networks." This dovetails with Nemertes' thesis. The proliferation of FTTH and other high-capacity pipes into homes and businesses means that more people will be using high-capacity applications which, of course, will put further pressure on the core of the network.


The potential capacity issues are among many factors behind the much publicized battle between Comcast and BitTorrent and a less publicized confrontation between Cox and eDonkey over peer-to-peer traffic. This story has a nice roundup on the fracas. The bottom line is that this fight has a lot to do with the control over the valuable commodity of bandwidth.


The necessary bandwidth will be added as long as the justification -- in terms of potential revenue -- is there. The path won't be smooth, however. At times, there will be a surfeit of bandwidth and at others times scarcity that will likely temporarily impact service levels.