In telecomms and networking, 2006 carried a simple message: we want more bandwidth, and we want it now. This year, that need for speed will only increase at every level, as data sets grow larger and traditional media ends up digitised and served over Internet Protocol.
Drivers behind this accelerating trend include broadband applications such as Joost, formerly known as The Venice Project. This is peer-to-peer television (PPTV) and, if you worried about Skype chewing up bandwidth, consider this: Joost is said to use up 250Mbytes per hour in the downstream direction and 105Mbytes/hour upstream. There’s no reason to think Joost won’t become a success and if you’re in the content provision or media business, you’ll probably want to use it somehow. Could your network handle the bandwidth requirements though?
A second driver is a curious “killer application”, namely good old-fashioned phone calls. Their bandwidth requirements are, of course, comparatively modest compared to IPTV or PPTV, but stable, jitter-free networks that support quality-of-service for traffic prioritisation are a must.
On the internet side of the network, we are seeing some providers biting the bullet and deploying fibre-optic connectivity to the premises. France has a nationwide project underway to replace DSL with fibre-optic links. Even the US, where the market is dominated by cable and DSL, is seeing substantial fibre deployment such as Verizon’s FiOS, which offers 30Mbit/s down and 5Mbit/s up albeit at a pricey US$179.95 (NZ$260) a month. Other areas such as Hong Kong however, are ahead of the US. Customers there get their high-speed networking fixes at far lower prices with even better performance.
The delivery of an increasing number of products and services over IP means the terminals or end-points for these will proliferate. Deploying and managing these will be a challenge for users but also represent an opportunity for enterprising vendors with solutions that shield users from the complexity IP still brings.
I’m not ignoring wireless in favour of wired: 2007 should see broadband delivered over cellular networks as mobile operators go for a slice of the content pie and we have the ever-present ghost of WiMAX lurking in the background. It’s worth noting however, that cellular providers have been extremely cautious with their rollouts, keeping data speeds and caps low. There are rumours that problems with network equipment installed in the initial rollout forced cellular providers to go slow.
Whither “Networked New Zealand” in the above scenario? Unfortunately, we will still be busy prising the dead hand of Telecom off the market this year, leaving us five to ten years behind the rest of the world. There are some exciting developments, however, like FXNetwork’s North Island fibre ring and Vodafone’s 7.2/14.4Mbit/s-capable At Home WCDMA service. Overall, however, it’s clear the network endpoints are starved of quality, high-speed bandwidth still, compared with overseas.
It’s possible that regulation won’t be enough to bring us up to speed with the rest of the world. We may instead need a driver in the form of a public, not-for-profit open access network that will offer the sort of IP infrastructure a modern economy requires.