THREE THINGS ARE CLEAR ABOUT VIDEO, IN THIS
last month of 2010. One, it’s morphing
from a service into an app.
Two, size-wise, it’s gigantic when compared
with regular Web surfing and phone
Three, the “over-the-top” iteration of it
represents 15% to 50% of traffic running
over cable’s broadband plant — up from
about 10% two or three years ago.
The people whose work it is to manage
Internet bandwidth used to freak out
about peer-to-peer video. P2P isn’t exactly
chump change right now, but streaming video is definitely
the bigger ogre.
Over-the-top, under-the-bottom, call it what you will: Practically
and tactically, it’s a tsunami of bits, clogging a network
that someone else built. It rides “over the top” of the broadband
infrastructure built not just by cable, but by wireless, telco
or anything that moves Internet bits.
From that network-centric point of view, it’s fairly easy to
agree on one thing: “Holiday punch” takes on a whole new
meaning when you’re the guy handing in a budget request for
doubled or quadrupled capital spending next year, just to make
sure your CMTS ports don’t buckle under the extra load of overthe-
top video traffic. (Oh, and don’t forget the part about the no
return on investment!)
Here’s an analogy: Two options exist when a highway gets
consistently clogged with cars: add a lane or car pool.
In cable, “add a lane” becomes “plunk another DOCSIS
channel into the bond,” which presupposes DOCSIS 3.0.
The car pool equivalent is to lessen the number of cars
that share the road. In tech terms, that means splitting the
node — lighting up another strand of fiber so the available
bandwidth is used by half the number of homes.
Here’s why the analogy breaks down, though, when it comes
to over-the-top video: adaptive streaming. It makes over-the-top
video behave like a gas, filling all available space. Doesn’t matter
how much room there is; it’ll find a way through.
More bandwidth? Great! Higher-resolution stream. Less
bandwidth? No problem. Lower-resolution stream. And so
on, in real time.
Again: Streaming video, as a percentage of over-the-top
Internet traffic, grew from 10% to as high as 50%, in three
years. And Netflix streaming is just getting started.
This is why the whole hullaballoo between Level 3 and
Comcast, and related to the surge in streaming Netflix traffic,
is so necessary. Ugly, but necessary. It’s a question of
who pays what freight.
Sure, I love free shipping. Who doesn’t? The merchants
I buy stuff from often offer it as a perk. But I don’t expect it
100% of the time.
Man up, Netflix.