It is a familiar scenario: we need more space, so we will add more space, then we expand our habits to fill it and once again we need more space. This is a problematic circle that can be attributed to a number of different areas of life, consider home buying or motorway construction, but for our purposes we are referring to the capacity of the internet super highway.
There was a time when telephone purpose cables and dial-up internet connections were all that were needed to get us speeding along the super highway. But then, when the internet’s popularity took off and its massive potential started to be fully realised, we needed more capacity.
Along came broadband (the cyberspace equivalent to expanding the M6 from 6 lanes to 66 lanes). We could once again speed along the highway but this time in huge trucks full of wonderful cargo such as music and film downloads, online games and other capacity greedy items. Now, however it seems as though our vast broadband super highways are once again clogging up, this time with juggernaut traffic jams.
The doomsday advocates say that our insatiable appetite for online video watching will break the internet by about 2010. However, don’t start panicking just yet. In reality the worst case scenario is that online video streaming use will just slow the internet down to snail speeds, so essentially taking us back to the dial-up era, the metaphorical stone-age of the internet epoch.
It seems that we cannot add capacity quickly enough to deal with increasing usage demand. According to Larry Irving, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, (from The Observer April 6, 2008) “estimates show US internet traffic increasing at more than 50% a year, with capacity expanding at only about 40% a year.”
While online video surfing has been identified as the catalyst for increased internet capacity demand, experts seem to be divided into two groups with regard to the reason for the new capacity congestion problems.
Some feel that a lack of foresight is to blame. That is to say that the rapid increase in online video usage was not anticipated. The other camp blames market forces, arguing that infrastructure providers are not willing to make the necessary investments to keep up with demand.
If the first is true then the benefit of hindsight will ensure that capacity is geared up to cope with the internet video era soon. As for the second, well it seems to always take the industry time to realise the commercial potential of internet developments. But they will eventually and when they do, the necessary investment in infrastructure will follow.
So it might look as though video is grinding the internet to a halt, but in reality the internet will adapt as it has always done – until the next big thing that is!