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App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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December 10, 2007 7:31 AM

The Exaflood's Coming, Whether We Like It Or Not

In the past I've shared my reservations about the exaflood, but what's surprised me over the last few months is how resistant many parties still are to accepting the fact that, like it or not, demand for bandwidth is increasing at a rate that may outpace investment.

A recent post I wrote about the growth in demand for online video cited the fact that 70% of Internet users watched a video online in the month of September. Well watching a video, no matter how short and low-res, is at least 10 times more bandwidth-intensive than emailing or web surfing.

Today 7 out of 10 Internet users watch online video, tomorrow that could easily be 10 out of 10 as it's getting hard to surf the web without bumping into video of one sort or another, especially for advertising.

Pretty soon, everyone who's connected to the Internet at 500Kbps or higher will be receiving live and on-demand video streams.

At the high end, I've written about efforts to start delivering fullscreen video over the Internet, which can be ten times more bandwidth-intensive than YouTube-quality videos. And there's a rapidly increasing amount of first-run premium content being made available online.

So we'll have more people watching more video that's increasingly higher definition, all of which adds up to individual users demanding a ton more bandwidth than they did when their only online activities were email and web surfing.

And you know what? All this talk only deals with the watching video aspect of broadband, the activity that most closely mimics TV. I haven't even touched upon the many other interactive broadband applications that also require copious amounts of bandwidth to survive and thrive.

The best evidence I've seen to date that the demand for bandwidth is growing at a substantial rate is this story about how after years of talk about the overcapacity built into the backbone of the Internet, ISPs are beginning to have to invest in their transport networks.

While I didn't necessarily find this news to be surprising, what was somewhat surprising to me is how relatively little play this has gotten.

The reason this sticks out to me is because no matter whether you think the exaflood's going to hit tomorrow or not for another 20 years, there's no denying that demand for bandwidth is growing, and there's little doubt that the only way to support that demand is through investment in the network.

But here's my fear: while some parts of the network can be swapped out and upgraded easily, others require time to deploy--like putting more fiber in the ground.

My worry is that if we spend too much time debating the existence and nature of the exaflood we're going to face a day where demand for bandwidth has outstripped supply but we don't have a quick and easy way to make more capacity available.

You could argue that this already happens rather frequently on a micro level as servers that host websites that gain viral popularity often become overwhelmed by demand and go down.

I'm not saying that I've yet discovered the ultimate answer for spurring more investment in the network, which is why I've come out in support of any entity interested in deploying fiber further into the network.

But for now, what'd be great is if we could stop talking about the exaflood as a hypothetical and start accepting the fact that demand for bandwidth continues to increase and that we need to continue investing in the creation of as much supply of bandwidth as we possibly can.


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Comments (1)

Right on, Jeff. Keep up the dialogue; demand will get us there, but probably much too late, when a great deal of time has been lost in the international economic development battle.
Jim Erickson, FiberFirst Minnesota

Posted by Jim Erickson on December 10, 2007 10:44 PM

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