“I Want The One With the Wi-Fis and the Big GBs!”
DENVER–Nothing like a fresh batch of data about broadband usage, topped off with the start of the FIFA World Cup Games — always a streaming video gauntlet — to check in on the Hype Central category that is Gigabit services.
The fresh data comes from Cisco System’s annual Visual Networking Index (VNI), released last week, which slices trends in broadband every which way — and serves as a perennial reminder to learn the nomenclature of big numbers: Petabyte, Yottabyte, Exabyte.
(Refresher: A Gigabyte (GB) is thousand Megabytes (MB); a Terabyte (TB) is a thousand Gigabytes; a Petabyte (PB) is a thousand Gigabytes; an Exabyte (EB) is a thousand Petabytes, and a Zettabyte (ZB) is a thousand Exabytes. Woof.)
Note: Those are measures of volume. Gigabit services, popularized by Google Fiber and AT&T, are measures of speed. Which makes this Cisco VNI nugget all the more notable: “Global broadband speeds will reach 42 Mbps (Megabits per second) by 2018, up from 16 Mbps at the end of 2013.”
One Gbps is the same as 1,000 Mbps, in other words. Globally, we’re somewhere between 16 and 42 Mbps over the next few years. (That’s about two orders of magnitude off from 1,000 Mbps.)
The point: There comes a time, and we’re pretty much there, that things can’t load or behave noticeably faster. Which isn’t necessarily cause to do nothing, but neither is it a looming competitive catastrophe.
The topic of “Gigs” was a centerpiece discussion during last week’s 20th annual Rocky Mountain SCTE Symposium, where lead technologists from Charter, Comcast, Liberty Global and Time Warner Cable dove into the options for “getting to a Gig.”
Refresher: The entire carrying capacity of a modern (860 MHz) cable system, if every channel were empty and available (which they aren’t), is change north of 5 Gigabits per second. (That’ll double with DOCSIS 3.1’s new modulation and error correction techniques, known respectively as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing and Low Density Parity Check.)
Getting there, technologically and operationally, is rife with options. There’s the next chapter of DOCSIS, 3.1, and there’s a vendor community bursting with ways to take fiber deeper towards homes. (The vendor displays this year were “a lot more about glass” than in years prior, panelists noted.)
Has the time come that the cost comparison between DOCSIS 3.1 and fiber-deep strategies is close enough to parity for serious examination? No, panelists said (emphatically.) Taking fiber deeper may make sense in greenfield (new build) situations, but not yet in “brown field” (existing plant) conditions.
Nor is the SuperBowl the harbinger of peak traffic loads in IP, even though it’s the most watched television show (108 million-ish viewers.) This year’s “March Madness” NCAA men’s basketball tournament set Time Warner Cable’s new capacity peak for streamed video (exact numbers weren’t disclosed; it was “more than 10s of Gigs,” said TWC Engineering Fellow Louis Williamson.)
Comcast’s highest peaks come from its “Watchathon weeks,” when all programming is made available over IP. “They generate at least four times normal volume,” noted Allen Broom, VP/IP Video Engineering for Comcast.
Do Gigabit services matter? Sure. Should operators drop other technology priorities to build it? Google “red herring.”
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.