The Need for Speed and Bandwidth

by Kip DuBois
MTCO Communications

The increased demand for blazing connection speeds and unlimited bandwidth are driving factors for today’s ISPs.

One thing consumers are looking for with their Internet service is connection speed, which refers to the data transfer rate from the Internet to your computer. That is, basically, the amount of time it takes your computer to download a given amount of data.

It can get confusing when you hear about different speeds, considering cable and DSL deliver the internet connection to your home in different manners. DSL provides a dedicated—not shared—connection between the user’s location and the DSL provider’s nearest central office. A 3-Meg or 5-Meg connection is a dedicated amount of speed at which each user will connect, offering a steady level of service speed.

Cable provides a shared connection to a user’s locations from a node. An 8-Meg or 10-Meg connection is supplied to the node that services users in a particular area. The amount of speed a single user receives depends on the amount of users online in that area. The fewer the users, the closer the customer will be to the connection speed; the more users, the slower the speed. Therefore, cable offers a connection that can be faster or slower than DSL depending on other users in any given area.

For a number of reasons, the U.S. broadband market has developed in such a way that unlimited bandwidth is regarded as a universal right. With the advent of heavy peer-to-peer traffic, demand for music and video, and increased penetration rates, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are faced with an ever-increasing demand on their network bandwidth capacity.

As seen in some overseas markets, some U.S. cable companies have been moving aggressively toward cutting down on bandwidth used by its customers. In 2008, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that the throttling back of peer-to-peer file sharing (including not only BitTorrent traffic, but other usage-heavy protocols as well) by a U.S. cable company was unlawful. This was the first time any U.S. ISP was found to violate “Net neutrality” rules.

This cable company has also been under fire after a discovery that they limited customer speeds in real time until its network congestion goes away. This throttle-back may have a limited impact on web surfing or email, and will only slow, rather than eliminate, peer-to-peer transfers. But for real-time applications like VoIP, the results can be more drastic, resulting in choppy or even dropped calls. In addition, the FCC is questioning why this cable company is affecting the performance of internet-based VoIP providers but not its own digital voice service.

This increased demand on bandwidth capacity is now leading some national ISPs to utilize bandwidth caps for its heaviest users. Monthly bandwidth limits are set at levels such as 150 or 250 gigabytes, and users that go over that amount will be asked to decrease their usage, face extra monthly charges based on usage, or potentially face account termination.

With the broadening use and applications available online, bandwidth capacity is becoming a significant challenge for all ISPs, big or small. These companies will need to look for answers, as increasing capacity obviously leads to swelling network costs. iBi