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Summertime and the viewin’ is easy (depending on your broadband connection)

- July 18, 2016 - 0 Comments

Summer is my time to play catch up with TV. There is a huge list of TV shows and movies that will be streamed on Netflix and Hulu from the past year. Netflix may even allow you to download its videos, according to recent news. Over a gigabyte of data is consumed to watch an hour of “Game of Thrones” or “House of Cards” on Netflix via a device like Roku. Imagine if the whole world watched an episode together! According to the latest Cisco VNI Complete Forecast, global IP traffic will reach 194.4 Exabytes per month by 2020, up from 72.5 Exabytes per month in 2015. That’s an equivalent of watching 189 billion episodes up from 70 billion episodes in 2015! Once a full season of my favorite TV shows are on Netflix, I sometimes try to catch up with them in a single sitting. Binge watching is defined as 2-3 episodes of a single TV series in one sitting. If all global internet users binge-watched their favorite episode of TV today, it would generate over 10 percent of monthly IP traffic!

A lot more happens on the home broadband connection besides TV episode viewing that can cause Internet traffic spikes and surprises. We use nanny cams, pet cams, social media, online gaming, thermostats, home security solutions and much more. Besides the smartphone and tablets many of us now have, even our beloved furry friends have wearables, not just their owners.

On the business front, applications such as video conferencing, video surveillance, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), cloud storage, disaster data recovery and more with the focus on the many verticals. What seemed like nascent concepts such as smart cities, connected transportation, community hotspots and homespots are becoming mainstream.

The underlying need for all of these applications and services to be experienced in high quality by end users will drive improvements in broadband performance and reliability. Globally, the average fixed broadband speed will grow nearly two fold from 2015 to 2020, from 24.7 megabits per second (Mbps) to 47.7 Mbps. Faster connections mean faster downloads, which enable better experiences. For example, with a 10 Mbps connection, it would take 22 minutes to download an HD movie, and with 25 Mbps it takes 9 minutes. Whereas, for ultra-high definition (UHD) or 4K content, with a 10 Mbps connection, it would take 2 hours to download an UHD movie, and with a 25 Mbps connection, it takes about 48 minutes.

User experience illustrates the importance of broadband for high-bandwidth applications. However, the key to these experiences is not just download speed (typically measured in Mbps), but also upload speed (Mbps) as well as latency, which is measured in milliseconds (ms).

Lower latencies provide better experiences. Latency was characterized by Nielsen as follows:

  • 0.1 second gives the feeling of instantaneous response – that is, the outcome feels like it was caused by the user, not the computer.
  • 1 second keeps the user’s flow of thought seamless. Users can sense a delay, and thus know the computer is generating the outcome, but they still feel in control of the overall.
  • 10 seconds keeps the user’s attention. From 1–10 seconds, users definitely feel at the mercy of the computer and wish it was faster, but they accept it. After 10 seconds, users start thinking about other things, making it harder to concentrate on the task once the computer finally does respond.

Real-time voice and video communications require network latencies between 100 ms. and 170 ms. Loading web pages typically involves multiple requests to multiple servers, which results in network latency requirements lower than 50 ms. Today’s networks are supported by DSL, cable, partial deployments of fiber, 3G, 4G, 802.11 b/g/n and similar technologies that enable users to experience applications such as in the following figure.

Figure: Applications of today and the future: Speeds (Mbps) and Latency (ms) requirements

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Advanced apps like cloud gaming, remote office, real time video services streaming, virtual reality, touch response applications and others can push latency requirements down to single digit milliseconds. Autonomous or driverless vehicles that are remotely controlled or high frequency stock trading need single digit millisecond latency or even lesser. These applications require access to the computing and storage distributed across the globe and also in close proximity of the user, therefore reliant heavily on not only fast but also low latency network connections. 5G, 802.11ax, pervasive fiber deployments and others will provide the next iteration of major connectivity improvements, with many of these technologies slated for ratification and/or commercial deployment 2020 and after.

There are many applications today that are well poised to take us into the future, Facebook supporting 360 degree videos, Periscope, Twitch, VR with Oculus and others, as well as the new and very trendy augmented reality game Pokémon GO and the like. I can’t wait for the immersive experiences that future broadband innovations will bring. But in the meantime, I’m simply looking forward to several seasons of TV shows that I’ve been too busy to watch. Ahh, Summertime….

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