The Big ideas that are driving bandwidth


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End users don’t ask for much ; all they want is everything,
anywhere, instantly. Demand has gone exponential.
So how do we keep up? To answer this, we first need
to understand the big ideas that are driving demand.

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The Big ideas that are driving bandwidth

  1. 1. End users don’t ask for much  all they want is everything, ; anywhere, instantly. Demand has gone exponential. So how do we keep up? To answer this, we first need to understand the big ideas that are driving demand. In the beginning, there was Napster. When Napster was launched, the world was more concerned with the Y2K bug. It let people share music for free and it grew quickly by word of mouth. In today’s terms, the end-user experience wasn’t great. It was limited by the connection speeds of both the uploader and downloader – and these were most often dial up connections. But people didn’t care. At its peak, it had in excess of 50 million users. It was hailed as the fastest growing business ever – unless of course, you define a business as something that makes money. The free business model is not much of a model if it’s your songs being given away. Metallica and Dr Dre objected and the courts agreed. In 2001, Napster was shut down and the music industry bretathed a sigh of relief – that soon became a gasp. The genie gets loose Napster was gone, but it had spawned a new generation of peer-to-peer technologies that couldn’t be shut down. Whereas Napster had been a single, identifiable target, the music industry was now faced with a war on many fronts. It launched 16,000 lawsuits, but this did little to stem the flow. These new file-sharing technologies took advantage of faster home Internet speeds to download songs faster. But faster downloads also started to increase end-user expectations. If one file downloaded faster than another, they noticed the slow one. People started to become impatient. They wanted their music faster, and as it turned out, they were willing to pay for it. Comparing Apple to peers Even though the music industry was in a tailspin, the big labels weren’t willing to sit down and make a deal. It took the force-of-personality of Steve Jobs to finally get them to make an agreement that would enable legal music downloads. In 2003 the iTunes store opened. It offered hundreds of thousands of songs from the major labels. It wasn’t free, but it was legal and it was fast. Apple’s delivery infrastructure effectively removed the uploader bottleneck from the equation. Download speeds were now limited only by the downloader’s connection and songs now took minutes to download instead of hours. iTunes sold 1 million songs in its first week and has sold over 10 billion to date. Bandwidth takes off But as much as the success of iTunes was about Steve Jobs getting the labels onboard, it was also about the increasing speeds of home broadband connections. When Napster was launched, only 3% of US homes had what could be called broadband connections. By the time iTunes was launched, this had reached 18%. And every type of connection – broadband or dial up – was getting faster by the year.
  2. 2. Nielsen’s Law of Internet Bandwidth 100,000,000 10,000,000 1,000,000 100,000 10,000 1,000 100 Internet Connectivity (Bits Per Second) 10 1 1983 1988 1993 1998 2003 2008 2013 Source: Nielsen J, 1998 (updated 2013) Nielsen’s law states that the speed of a high-end user’s Internet connection will increase by 50% each year. This has held true for the past 30 years. Of course this increase is not universal. Ironically, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak said recently that he still doesn’t have a broadband connection to his California home. Streaming hits the spot By the mid 2000s, connection speeds were fast enough that not only could people download songs, they could also stream them live at listenable quality. Internet radio provided a real-time listening experience but users were still limited to listening to what was being played. In 2008 Spotify launched a service that took streaming to another level: instant music on demand. It was like Napster, but instant. And like iTunes, it had the backing of the big music labels. Today, Spotify offers over 16 million songs. Faster Internet access had made instant musical gratification possible. With it came a quantum leap in customer expectation. Now that they could have music instantly, there was no going back. But music was only half the story. We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far. Having allegedly killed the radio star, video had moved onto the Internet. Since the mid 1990s, it had been possible to stream videos. But on a dial up modem it was more an exercise in patience than entertainment. In 2005 YouTube was launched. It allowed people to not only stream videos, but also to upload their own. In this way they created their own content and avoided Napster’s fate. Soon cat-lovers, end-users, and companies all over the world were rushing to put their videos on YouTube.
  3. 3. OMG I’m on YouTube! Buffering gets the flick In the early days, YouTube was as much about watching the buffering bar as it was about watching the content. To improve the experience, YouTube adopted content delivery network (CDN) technology to host their most popular videos in multiple locations around the world. This enabled them to connect to customers via the most direct path and the fewest hops. Just as the shortest physical distance between any two points is a straight line, the shortest virtual distance and delivery time between content and customer can be achieved by a direct connection. While it was obvious that the world would never get tired of cat videos, end-users wanted more. They wanted the premium content that was on TV and at the cinema. They wanted it in high definition, and of course, they wanted it instantly. The market was ready for a premium model. However, less popular videos were hosted in fewer locations and often provided a lower quality experience. End users naturally compared. If anything, as home Internet speeds increased, end users were becoming less satisfied, not more. But it was still free, and by the end of 2009, YouTube was getting one billion views per day. One billion! By 2013, YouTube accounted for 20% of all US Internet traffic during primetime. But even that didn’t make it the biggest. Netflix was used to doing things differently. In 2007, they sent out their one billionth DVD-inthe-mail. Three years later, they had transformed into the largest source of primetime Internet traffic in the US. By 2013, they accounted for 30% of all US downstream Internet traffic during primetime. In terms of numbers, Netflix streams fewer videos than YouTube, but they are generally much larger files. Standard definition Netflix content streams at 3850kb/s and HD content at 5800kb/s. And with ultra high definition (UHD) standards just around the corner, this is only likely to grow. Multiply that by a lot of people, and that’s a lot of traffic. At any given time, the Netflix library contains more than 3 petabytes of movies, TV programs and
  4. 4. Increasing Internet connection speeds and big ideas video content. Making sure this is all available on demand, for customers all over the world, requires some serious delivery. Initially, Netflix used a variety of delivery networks, but eventually economies of scale meant that they were better off building their own. Netflix Relative increase in home Internet connection speeds. (Based on Nielsen’s law) In 2012, Netflix launched the Open Connect platform. This is offered to Internet serNapster vice providers (ISPs) for free and encourages 1998 99 00 01 02 them to deploy Netflix caching servers directly on their networks. This lets Netflix preload their most popular content into local caches during off-peak hours, ready to be downloaded. While this reduces the need for Internet transit for ISPs, the load remains on their access networks. Netflix relies on serious bandwidth – it would have been useless when Napster first came out. The same is true of all of these big ideas; they only work because connection speeds keep getting faster. But as demand continues to grow exponentially, it takes something special to keep up. Late 90s DATA RATE ENABLING TECHNOLOGY 2.5G WAVELENGTHS Spotify YouTube iTunes 03 04 05 06 07 09 10 11 12 2013 Year of release It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a... Super-channel. That’s the word that is keeping network providers ahead of demand – at least for now. We have come a long way from dial up connections on copper lines, when success was measured in kilobits. The introduction of optical fiber meant that by the late 1990s, wavelengths c2008 10G 08 40/100G 2012 2014 500G 1Tb/s SUPER-CHANNELS
  5. 5. could be used to deliver up to 2.5Gb/s. In the decade that followed, this grew to 10Gb/s, 40Gb/s and then to 100Gb/s. In 2012, Infinera took the next step up. Over a section of fiber on TeliaSonera International Carriers’ backbone between San Jose and Los Angeles; they sent the world’s first terabit transmission. It used 2 x 500Gb/s line cards and signaled the beginning of the super-channel age. Within a year, this technology was being commercially deployed. In 2014, 1Tb/s transmissions from a single card look destined to become a reality. Super-channel technology will let carriers stay ahead of bandwidth demand for now. But while size matters, there is more to demand than that. Bad ping kills the game. With even the heaviest on-demand video, once the stream is in place, it’s one-way traffic. Gaming on the other hand brings latency into the equation. Milliseconds mean the difference between life and death online. And gamers aren’t known for their patience. When two players are sharing a console, latency is not a problem. But when millions of players all over the world come together to do battle online – that’s a whole different game. For low latency, a short path is crucial. And the best way to achieve that is with a direct connection. Best effort networks will route traffic halfway round the world if it gives them a cheaper routing. Carriers who own their own global backbone don’t have to compromise. They can provide a direct connection between players on either side of the world. This ensures the low latency and high Quality of Experience (QoE) that gamers demand. And it’s not just gamers either. As more of our everyday life moves into the cloud, low latency and high QoE are becoming an everyday necessity.
  6. 6. The spoiled generation? In not much more than a decade, end users have gone from being happy downloading songs in hours, to demanding instant-response-HDeverything. Because this has been a gradual progression, they haven’t really noticed. Wanting more – and getting it – is all they know. We have created a spoiled generation. They want everything – and we need to keep giving it to them. We don’t know what the big ideas of tomorrow will be. But it doesn’t take much imagination to see that they will require more bandwidth and greater performance. To deliver this, carriers need to keep investing in technology. To keep up with demand, carriers should be investing in technologies such as super-channels to deliver more for less. And for performance, they should keep expanding their backbones, to make connection more direct. We may not be able to predict the future, but we can be ready.
  7. 7. References All things D (March 2010) The Numbers Behind the World’s Fastest-Growing Web Site: YouTube’s Finances Revealed BBC (June 2012) The Rise and Fall of Napster Cisco (May 2012) Cisco’s VNI Forecast Projects the Internet Will Be Four Times as Large in Four Years CNN (Sep 2013) Ashes to ashes, peer to peer: An oral history of Napster Computerworld (Feb 2010) Timeline: iTunes Store at 10 billion Diode Digital (May 2013) Online Video Statistics 2013 Gigaom (May 2012) Spotify said to hit 20M users, but it’s no wunderkind High Scalability (March 2008) Hong Kong Polytechnic University Optical Communications and Networking Inside Facebook (Sep 2011) Internet Society (Oct 2012) Bandwidth Management Florance, K (June 2013) In public address at Cloud World Forum, London Messy Matters (Aug 2009) Anatomy of the Long Tail Nielsen Norman Group (April 1998, updated 2013) Nielsen’s Law of Internet Bandwidth
  8. 8. References (continued) Sandvine (Sep 2013) YouTube’s Double-Dip in Quality Techcrunch (Dec 2012) Lars Ulrich, The Notorious Napster Destroyer, Announces His Band Metallica’s Music Is Now On Spotify UCLA (Accessed October 2013) Internet AS-level Topology Archive Variety (May 2013) Netflix Video Puts Even More Strain on the Internet Wikipedia (Accessed October 2013) Wired (Nov 2013) Full Steam Ahead: Inside Valve’s Grand Plan to Replace Game Consoles With PCs Wikipedia YouTube (Accessed October 2013) Wozniak, S (Oct 2013) In public address at Apps World, London