Bandwidth and Over-the-Top Video
by Leslie Ellis // December 06 2010
Three things are clear about video, in this last month of 2010.
One, it’s morphing from a service, into an app.
Two, it’s gigantic, size-wise, when compared to regular web surfing and phone calls.
Three, the “over-the-top” iteration of it represents 15 to 50% of traffic running over cable’s broadband plant — up from about 10 percent, 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, currently, 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 bit tsunami, clogging a network someone else built. It rides “over the top” of the broadband infrastructure built not just by cable, but by wireless, telco, 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 over-the-top video traffic. (Oh, and don’t forget the part about the no return on investment!)
Think of it this way. When a highway gets consistently clogged with cars, two options exist: Add a lane, or carpool.
In cable, “add a lane” becomes “plunk another DOCSIS channel into the bond,” which presupposes DOCSIS 3.0.
The carpool equivalent is to lessen the number of cars sharing the road. In cable 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 Level3 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.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.