On Upstream Bandwidth and “Half Fast”
f you live in a Verizon FiOS market, you’ve likely seen the video ads denouncing upstream speeds other than theirs. If not, here’s the gist of it: Families, at home, surfing the web, but running into slowdowns when posting music and video to the web. The tagline? “Stop living with half-fast Internet,” uttered by Modern Family’s famously funny Ty Burrell, a Verizon spokesman.
On the one hand, “half-fast” is a brilliant and funny play on words, not unlike Kmart’s “shipped its pants” campaign, or the lesser known but still funny pairing of “sofa” with “king,” to emphasize how very … anything … something is. (“That is sofa king good,” for example.)
On the other hand, and as someone who perennially frets about the state of the upstream / home-to-headend signal direction, it’s another reminder about the growing plausibility of symmetric network traffic — meaning an environment where as much stuff flows out of a home, as flows into it.
For the longest time, now included, there’s not been a need, really, for symmetry. Think about it. When you click to retrieve a web page, or to initiate a video stream, that click is tiny, compared to what comes back. In general, and at any given time, we’re using way more downstream (towards us) capacity than upstream.
For me, the first vestige of the potential for upstream capacity calamities came last Spring, when my colleague Sara set up a chicken incubator at her farm. She used a paper clip to kickstand an old iPhone, which peered into the contraption, and live-streamed the output.
It was a forehead-smack moment: Video is big. Webcams stream it. Uh-oh, upstream path. Cameras that stream become part of the machine-to-machine scene, consuming bandwidth in ways not before seen. (Hey, that rhymes!)
Then, this year, the GoPro camera craze intensified. It won’t take too many of them, strapped to the dog’s head, or the kid’s bike, to gum up the upstream path.
The keepers of the bandwidth in my circles assure me (repeatedly) that from a normal traffic loading perspective, we’re nowhere near the need to build for network symmetry — meaning, as much data moving away from you, as toward you.
That said, there’s no shortage of gadgetry in our lives that can capture and stream video, and especially those that can be triggered to run remotely — you’re at work, but someone rings the doorbell at home. Who is it? See for yourself, via a live video stream.
One thing is certain: We can expect more video running upstream, coincident with the webcams and GoPros we use to capture and send live video. That alone will contribute to a tilt toward symmetry.
As a result, the widening of the upstream path will likely go from “not in my lifetime” — the decades-old harumph amongst technologists — to lots more trial expansions next year.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.