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How Much Bandwidth Do We Need?

How much bandwidth we really need is one of the critical questions service providers and policy makers around the world ask themselves as they stimulate and start to invest in Next Generation Access infrastructure. About a decade ago, migrating from dial-up to DSL and cable opened up for the Web and P2P applications. Moving next to fiber will lead to a far more reliable and dynamic digital society, with a range of consumer video applications driving the need for speed.

How much bandwidth we really need is one of the critical questions service providers and policy makers around the world ask themselves as they stimulate and start to invest in Next Generation Access infrastructure. About a decade ago, migrating from dial-up to DSL and cable opened up for the Web and P2P applications. Moving next to fiber will lead to a far more reliable and dynamic digital society, with a range of consumer video applications driving the need for speed.

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It’s always hard to imagine the uptake and requirements for future services. By its very nature, the future is unpredictable. Will HDTV take off? Will consumers ever want to narrate their own interactive movies in high definition? Or will they rather just lay back in the sofa and watch IPTV on the big-screen TV? The answers to these questions will have strong traffic planning implications.

Let’s look at what others are predicting. The FTTH council has compiled a list of broadband forecasts  in a response to an inquiry about the U.S. National Broadband Plan:

  • Heavy Reading concludes that households will need 100 Mbps downstream (actual delivered throughput) by 2015.
  • Bain & Co’s estimates the average U.S. household will require 30+ Mbps of download bandwidth, but points out that this requirement will move up to 100 Mbps over time.
  • Motorola mirrors Bain & Co estimates. Within seven years, service providers need to plan for this figure to top 100 Mbps of actual throughput.

It looks like the industry will broadly accept the 100 Mbps target. How to measure the success, however, is likely to differ. Additionally, when looking at historic growth in broadband bandwidth, 100 Mbps is a reasonable goal for the next 5-10 years. The Swedish Government is aiming for this in its national broadband plan. The objective is to have 40% of Swedish housholds and companies connected at 100 Mbps by 2015, and 90% in 2020. Aggressive? Yes. Probable? Why not?

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