Thursday, March 20, 2008

Will Video Kill The Internet Star?

Streaming video and video downloads have grown to the point where they are now the biggest bandwidth demands on the Internet. The question is whether video packets will multiply so fast that the Internet superhighway will become as clogged as many physical highways.

Video is no different from previous "killer aps" such as email, Web browsing, instant messaging, blogging, or social networking. All of these applications started small, grew rapidly and eventually became part of the mainstream. There an actual pattern to all new technology introductions that looks like a letter "S" when you draw it on graph paper. The pattern is so familiar and repeatable that it goes by the term "s-curve."

The s-curve or growth curve increases slowly at first as the product or service is introduced. Early adopters get on board quickly because they like to try new things. This causes the curve to inflect upward. Then there is a long period of steadily increasing adoption when most people learn of the product or service through word of mouth, advertising, and editorials. As the mature part of the cycle is reached, growth slows and the top part of the s-curve forms. Eventually there are very few new users and technology moves on to the next innovation.

We're heading up the video s-curve now. It's more than YouTube. Many TV networks finally realize that there is a huge audience for their program episodes that can't be present when it debuts over the air or on satellite. We're probably not far from the time when every show will be available online right after it airs or perhaps simultaneously. The next step will be programming that was never aired originally because of the huge costs involved. Not just home videos, mind you. Even professionally produced programs that have appeal too limited for broadcasting. Content delivery networks will be the broadcast, satellite and cable channels of the future.

As fast as video over the Internet is growing, there is one more piece to put in place before it goes totally ballistic. That's the Internet tuner for your TV sets. The switch from analog to digital service is currently grinding through the marketplace. By the time it is complete and NTSC tuners are a thing of the past, it's likely that new sets will have Internet capability built-in. Right now that marketplace is developing in the form of set top boxes such as Apple TV. As directories, program guides and video search become more standardized and the television set becomes a small computer with a really big screen, the Internet will be the most popular way to distribute video content.

But isn't all of this new content going to jam up the Internet backbones to the point where nothing moves? The actual backbone paths are in a constant state of upgrade and will probably keep up. The real difference between downloading video and downloading a Web page is Megabytes and Gigabytes versus Kilobytes. In other words, it's a matter of scale. Private content delivery networks help to relieve the congestion from the long-haul paths and push the problem closer to the user.

The real overload potential is at the Internet Service Provider, particularly shared bandwidth services such as Cable broadband and DSL. You probably experience this now if you are a home subscriber or have business DSL or Cable connections. Available bandwidth seems to vary all over the place, although times when the most users are online are typically the slowest. That's often early evenings and right after school lets out. It doesn't take many video program streams or downloads to swamp out all the email and casual browsing traffic.

What can be done about this? ISPs seem like they are trying to one-up each other in offering more bandwidth for the same monthly fee. But they are really responding to a change in content that requires orders of magnitude more bandwidth than what was typical when they started offering broadband connections. ISPs are also peering with content delivery networks and legal P2P companies to minimize the network paths involved in transmitting video over IP.

As a business owner, you can best protect your bandwidth interests by leasing exclusive or dedicated bandwidth for your own Internet access, telephone trunk lines and video uploads/downloads. Competitive T1, Ethernet, and OCx bandwidth services all offer dedicated connections at prices lower than you might expect.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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