Is online video and TV streaming clogging the copper arteries of the information superhighway?
It’s generally accepted by anyone and everyone in the know that the internet is growing exponentially. To give you an idea of how much and how fast, consider that last year YouTube alone used as much bandwidth as was needed for the entire internet in 2000.
Trouble is, this growing demand for video and TV download services such as the Beeb’s recently launched and already successful iPlayer is overloading networks so badly that some particularly gloomy experts are predicting the internet could simply grind to a virtual standstill by 2010. They are calling it the broadband crunch.
The problem lies not in the fibre optics and underground cables of the main internet ‘motorways’ which have huge capacities and are constantly upgraded with new technologies but with the ‘last mile’ routers, switchers and copper wires running from exchanges directly into the home.
“There are going to be some real crunches, some real hard times coming. It’s because of the market and the business models which don’t see a way of making a profit,” commented Scott Bradner, technology security officer at Harvard University ahead of an ‘End of the Internet’ debate happening in Boston this month.
Essentially, internet providers are too busy undercutting each other to maximise short term profits without considering the long term implications of neglecting the infrastructure.
“There will not be a fibre-to-the-home network in the next 20 years,” according to BT spokesman Mike Bartlett. “It would be a massive call to say, “Let’s fibre up the nation.” It would take many years, cost billions of pounds [actually estimated at around £20billion], involve digging up all the roads and we don’t know if people really want it.”
There are new technologies in the pipeline that could eradicate these problems, such as nuclear research organisation Cern’s fibre optic linked servers that run 10,000 times faster than broadband. But timescale and guarantees are hard to come by.
As Larry Irving, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance so eloquently puts it, “We’re not saying it’s going meltdown, but you could have latency. It’ll be like trying to get from point A to point B in London on a Wednesday afternoon. Good luck.”