By Art Reisman – CTO – www.netequalizer.com
When it comes to how much money to spend on the Internet, there seems to be this underlying feeling of guilt with everybody I talk to. From ISPs, to libraries or multinational corporations, they all have a feeling of bandwidth inadequacy. It is very similar to the guilt I used to feel back in College when I would skip my studies for some social activity (drinking). Only now it applies to bandwidth contention ratios. Everybody wants to know how they compare with the industry average in their sector. Are they spending on bandwidth appropriately, and if not, are they hurting their institution, will they become second-rate?
To ease the pain, I was hoping to put a together a nice chart on industry standard recommendations, validating that your bandwidth consumption was normal, and I just can’t bring myself to do it quite yet. There is this elephant in the room that we must contend with. So before I make up a nice chart on recommendations, a more relevant question is… how bad do you want your video service to be?
Your choices are:
- downright awful
Although my answer may seem a bit sarcastic, there is a truth behind these choices. I sense that much of the guilt of our customers trying to provision bandwidth is based on the belief that somebody out there has enough bandwidth to reach some form of video Shangri-La; like playground children bragging about their father’s professions, claims of video ecstasy are somewhat exaggerated.
With the advent of video, it is unlikely any amount of bandwidth will ever outrun the demand; yes, there are some tricks with caching and cable on demand services, but that is a whole different article. The common trap with bandwidth upgrades is that there is a false sense of accomplishment experienced before actual video use picks up. If you go from a network where nobody is running video (because it just doesn’t work at all), and then you increase your bandwidth by a factor of 10, you will get a temporary reprieve where video seems reliable, but this will tempt your users to adopt it as part of their daily routine. In reality you are most likely not even close to meeting the potential end-game demand, and 3 months later you are likely facing another bandwidth upgrade with unhappy users.
To understand the video black hole, it helps to compare the potential demand curve pre and post video.
A quality VOIP call, which used to be the measuring stick for decent Internet service runs about 54kbs. A quality HD video stream can easily consume about 40 times that amount.
Yes, there are vendors that claim video can be delivered at 250kbs or less, but they are assuming tiny little stop action screens.
Couple this tremendous increase in video stream size with a higher percentage of users that will ultimately want video, and you would need an upgrade of perhaps 60 times your pre-video bandwidth levels to meet the final demand. Some of our customers, with big budgets or government subsidized backbones, are getting close but, most go on a honeymoon with an upgrade of 10 times their bandwidth, only to end up asking the question, how much bandwidth do I really need?
So what is an acceptable contention ratio?
- Typically in an urban area right now we are seeing anywhere from 200 to 400 users sharing 100 megabits.
- In a rural area double that rati0 – 400 to 800 sharing 100 megabits.
- In the smaller cities of Europe ratios drop to 100 people or less sharing 100 megabits.
- And in remote areas served by satellite we see 40 to 50 sharing 2 megabits or less.