Internet pipes not ready to burst, researcher says

Despite the fact that more people are dishing up video and other bandwidth-saturating content, Internet traffic growth rates are actually slowing down, according to a new Web site at the University of Minnesota.

The Minnesota Internet Traffic Studies (MINTS) site, which we first learned about late last year, shows that Internet traffic growth rates have settled in at about 50 percent to 60 percent in the United States and worldwide as the Internet matures. That's a far cry from the doubling rates every year or even every 100 days that some like WorldCom claimed in the mid-to-late 1990s.

Though that's not to say the exabytes of data sitting in databases and other places around the globe couldn't find its way onto the Internet at some point and create a problem, says Andrew Odlyzko, principal investigator for the site and a professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota  (not to mention an early critic of the bandwidth glut built up by telecom carriers at the turn of the 21st century).

The site reads: "The current slowdown in growth rates may not be permanent. There are exabytes of data that can conceivably lead to those famed 'exafloods' that could strain the network. The key issue is how quickly (if at all) that data will move to the Internet."

The purpose of the site is to get a better handle on Internet traffic, not an easy thing to measure. As the site points out, even organizations such as Cisco that are in the middle of the Internet have been known to claim growth rates of as much as 300 percent to 500 percent a year, only to later cite growth rates closer to 50 percent a year.

Getting a handle on Internet traffic is important for a number of reasons, including the ability to make more sense of arguments like that over net neutrality. Do service providers really need to be so careful about divvying up bandwidth if there really isn't much of a squeeze?

"Traffic growth rates of 50 percent per year appear to only about offset technology advances, as transmission capacity available for a given price steadily increases," the site reads. "Thus although service providers are pushing to throttle customer traffic, an argument can be made that they should instead be encouraging more traffic and new applications, to fill the growing capacity of transmission links."

The latest numbers on the site show that monthly Internet traffic in the United States last year totaled 450 petabytes to 800 petabytes, with worldwide traffic of 2,000 petabytes to 3,000 petabytes a month. Monthly Internet traffic per capita in the United States was said to be 2GB per month last year.

The site consolidates data from more than 100 Web sites (most of them public). These include the Abilene Network Operations Center, Cern Internet Exchange Point and University of Memphis.

Operators of MINTS are seeking even more data sources.

Check out Network World's Alpha Doggs blog for the latest in networking research at universities and other labs.

More must-reads from Bob Brown:

-- What "The Sopranos" taught me about technology (plus our Sopranos tech quiz)

-- Behind the scenes of MIT's network

-- What makes Harvard's net tick

-- The network industry's most colorful story ever

-- Alice and Bob: Security's inseparable couple

-- A brief history of the Bob-ification of the computing industry

-- When animals attack...corporate networks

-- Earthquakes, fire and lightning: Must be a NEBS test

-- For the record: Guinness book open to industry's greatest hits

-- Whirling through the world of propeller beanies

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