PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Bandwidth demand pushing Web to its limits

Jon Van
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO - Those amusing YouTube video clips that Internet users send to friends gooble up large chunks of bandwidth and may cause the net to crash, some elements of the telecom industry warn.

It's an admonition many dismiss as political posturing intended to dissuade lawmakers from restricting the freedom of phone companies to manage Internet traffic as they wish.

But no one disagrees that the Web's capacity is being pushed to its limits.

"We don't see anything catastrophic near term, but over the next few years there's this fundamental wall we're heading towards," said Pieter Poll, chief technology officer at Qwest Communications International Inc., one of the operators of the Internet backbones, which are the big pipes at the network's center.

The problem, Poll said, is that traffic volumes are growing faster than computing power, meaning that engineers can no longer count on newer, faster computers to keep ahead of their capacity demands.

A recent report from Deloitte Consulting raised the possibility that 2007 would see Internet demand exceed capacity. Worldwide more users everyday join the 1 billion people who now use the Internet. Popularity of bandwidth-hungry video makes far greater demands on the network than more basic applications like e-mail, Web browsing or even voice over the Internet.

"For some service providers," the Deloitte report said, "video-chat traffic already exceeds voice volumes, and given that a minute of video requires 10 times the bandwidth as voice, the threat to bandwidth becomes clear."

David Tansley, a London-based Deloitte partner, said that "so many business models assume Internet capacity to be ubiquitous and inexpensive that capacity isn't seen as a limiting factor in applications.

"Yet little thought is given to how infrastructure providers may be incented to keep investing."

While the network was famously overbuilt during enthusiasm of the 1990s' Internet Bubble, much of that capacity is being used now or soon will be, Tansley said, and network operators are faced with making significant investment to expand capacity further to meet growing demands fueled largely by video applications.

"2007 may be the year of the tipping point where growth in capacity cannot cope with use," Tansley said.

The Deloitte report along with comments earlier this month by a Google executive at a technology conference in Amsterdam about Web capacity problems have been cited as examples why telecom companies shouldn't face new regulations.

Walter McCormick Jr., chief of US Telecom, the trade group representing dominant phone companies, wrote to lawmakers arguing that the need to manage capacity would be impeded if so-called network neutrality legislation passes.

Backed by several consumer groups as well as large Internet enterprises such as Google, network neutrality legislation forbids phone companies from managing the network to favor one Internet user's content over another's. Network managers need flexibility in order to provide needed capacity as demand grows, McCormick contends.

That logic is tortured at best, said Andrew Odlyzko, director of the University of Minnesota's digital technology center.

"It's posturing for political reasons," said Odlyzko. "The telecom industry opposes network neutrality and uses any pretext to fight it."

Having monitored Internet growth for a decade, Odlyzko said he sees parallels now to earlier ploys from telecom executives. Nearly five years ago, when computer users started to hold voice conversations using Internet telephony, industry insiders fretted that bandwidth demands would exceed capacity, he said.

"Local phone companies started fighting Internet calling," he said. "They tried to get regulators to impose access charges on those calls. In a certain sense, what the industry said was plausible because the Internet was small at that time, compared to the voice network.

"If all calling had shifted to the Internet, it would've crashed the network. But that didn't happen. The shift took place more slowly. Today the giants like AT&T and Verizon carry most of their voice traffic as Internet protocol, and it's just a fraction of total traffic."

Telecom executives focus on possible broadband capacity shortfalls because of their heritage, said David Isenberg, an independent industry analyst who once worked for the Bell System.

"They want to manage the Internet as a scarce resource," Isenberg said. "Internet executives want to manage it as an abundant resource. It's a basic philosophical difference."

A major obstacle for telecom managers in planning future capacity needs is that much of the Web's video traffic is generated by individuals who send clips to friends. This contrasts to the broadcast model where one source sends the same program to many recipients, said Bill Kleinebecker, a senior consultant with Austin, Texas-based Technology Futures Inc.

"People's changing habits drive demand instead of just sending out TV channels," Kleinebecker said. "It's much less predictable."

A growing appetite for high-definition video is certain to keep broadband demand rising, he said, noting that even inexpensive digital cameras available to consumers increasingly have high-definition video capability.

While keeping ahead of bandwidth demand is challenging and expensive, it's not impossible, said John Ryan, a senior vice-president at Level3 Communications, which operates part of the Internet backbone.

"With appropriate continuing investment, the Internet is capable of handling any applications," Ryan said. "What we're starting to see is a distinction between those operators who have the capital to fund expansion and those that don't."

Any service degradation will be spotty and transient, predicted Ryan, who said that under investment by some operators may "drive quality traffic to quality networks."

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.