Rising use of Internet challenges its capacity
Posted in: Governance at 15/03/2008 10:50
Caution: Heavy Internet traffic ahead. Delays possible.
For months there has been a rising chorus of alarm about the surging growth in the amount of data flying across the Internet. The threat, according to some industry groups, analysts and researchers, stems mainly from the increasing visual richness of online communications and entertainment -- video clips and movies, social networks and multiplayer games.
Moving images, far more than words or sounds, are hefty rivers of digital bits passing through the Internet's pipes and gateways, requiring, in industry parlance, more bandwidth. Last year, by one estimate, the video site YouTube, owned by Google, consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet did in 2000.
The New York Times article focuses on a report last November where "a research firm projected that user demand for the Internet could outpace network capacity by 2011." It is also the subject of a debate scheduled next month at a technology conference in Boston with the title: "The End of the Internet?" While it is not predicted the internet will collapse, "clogging in the form of sluggish download speeds and frustration with data-heavy services that become much less useful or enjoyable" is predicted. However there are others who don't see it as such a problem, at least in the short term. These include Andrew M. Odlyzko, a professor at the University of Minnesota, estimates that digital traffic on the global network is growing about 50 percent a year, in line with a recent analysis by Cisco Systems, the big network equipment maker.
"That sounds like a daunting rate of growth. Yet the technology for handling Internet traffic is advancing at an impressive pace as well. The router computers for relaying data get faster, fiber optic transmission gets better and software for juggling data packets gets smarter."
The Internet Traffic Challenge: The Policy Dimension
The New York Times ran a story today that looked at the rapid rise in Internet traffic, led by the increasing popularity of YouTube-style video and other bit-hungry services.
The article is an "explainer," as we say. Projections of growth trends vary, as do views of the implications. But the takeaway: "The Internet traffic surge represents more a looming challenge than an impending catastrophe." In the Internet economy, high-speed networks are the testbeds of innovation, so investment is required -- mainly at the national and local level -- to keep them healthy and fast.
"You can't deal with the future of American competitiveness and economic health without a broadband policy," said Mr. Irving, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, a coalitition of nonprofits and corporations, including telecom carriers and equipment makers. "The reality is that carriers, Web companies, media content providers and consumers are all going to have to pay a bit more."