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Are We Reaching Peak Bandwidth?

Internet at 80 Percent Capacity and Counting


The Internet, both wired and wireless, will quickly reach “points of constraint,” according to Andrew M. Seybold, an internationally renowned expert in the field of network infrastructure. Seybold discussed the problem of bandwidth limitations during an event called “And the Bandwidth Played On,” hosted last week by the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast.

The moderator of the event, Jacques Habra, CEO of Noospheric, commented during an interview with The Independent on the importance of knowing about dwindling bandwidth and its effects. “Bandwidth is the actual data line to get on the Internet, use the phone, or download videos,” he said. “So, if we are running out of that data, then we are going to slowly find that every other call we make is dropped, or every time we get on the Internet we’d have to wait minutes to get to our email; it just won’t work anymore.”

Andrew Seybold
Click to enlarge photo

Andrew Seybold

Devices that attach to the Internet are growing exponentially. Whether you connect to the Internet via cellular device, laptop, or gaming console, chances are that transmission capacity — also known as bandwidth — has become a crucial aspect of your everyday life. Now, with devices that are working at top speeds, the requirement for more bandwidth is at an all-time high.

Just a week ago, according to Seybold, we were at 80 percent Internet capacity, thanks to the boom in smart phones and the accelerated use of networks for live video and video streaming.

“There are many predictions that the Internet will exceed capacity by 2012 in the United States,” Seybold said. Of primary concern is the lack of investment in new Internet backbone capacity, which means that most companies providing back-end Internet pipes are not creating any more bandwidth for consumers. Companies would, after all, see no direct or immediate return on their investment for doing so. The Internet “is not a managed network,” Seybold pointed out. “There is nobody sitting in a command center somewhere looking at the amount of Internet traffic and routing.” It was, he said “designed to be very smart, but there is no one organization or body that can come in and manage and distribute [bandwidth]; it is free running.”

Wireless providers have fueled the proliferation of smart phones, helping to create a world where access to the Internet at any given moment has become a necessity. Just last week, 4 percent of the iPhone users on AT&T networks accounted for over 40 percent of the nation’s broadband traffic.

Seybold suggests that adding more cell sites in available areas would create more efficient network operations. However, he noted, no one wants a cell site in their backyard. “The bottom line is we need more cell sites closer together, since there is no additional [bandwidth] capacity. The typical time to get a cell site through in Santa Barbara County is two years,” he said. “So you could have a dead spot, but it is not going to be fixed overnight.” Seybold suggested that Santa Barbara will need to triple the number of cell sites in the region over the next five years. He noted that there are no cell sites in Montecito.

While the world continues to evolve into a high-tech environment, more options for extending the bandwidth spectrum must be devised. Seybold talked about a culture where people are forced to pay for certain data speeds. “If [networks] keep offering up unlimited bandwidth, they’re not going to be able to serve all of us,” he said.

Seybold predicted that bandwidth consumers will sooner or later be charged by access fee, data usage, and time of day. The time-of-day feature would be an extra charge, applied toward a user who chooses to download a movie or any large file during peak afternoon hours rather than waiting until 2 a.m., when data usage would be free.

Although we are living in a world that may be close to losing bandwidth, Seybold urged that we all work together to make what we have more efficient and effective. So think twice before streaming that three-hour movie on Netflix. You may just thank yourself later.

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