Monday, August 13, 2007

iPlayer Threatens The Internet

Is this the first specific incident where a video application could strain the Internet?
Some of the largest broadband providers in the UK are threatening to "pull the plug" from the BBC's new iPlayer unless the corporation contributes to the cost of streaming its videos over the internet.

The likes of Tiscali, BT and Carphone Warehouse are all growing concerned that the impact of hundreds of thousands of consumers watching BBC programmes on its iPlayer – which allows viewers to watch shows over the internet – will place an intolerable strain on their networks.

As more consumers access and post video content on the internet – using sites such as YouTube – the ability of ISPs to cope with the amount of data being sent across their networks is coming under increasing strain, even without TV broadcasters moving on to the web. Analysts believe that ISPs will be forced to place stringent caps on consumers' internet use and raise prices to curb usage.

Do we need more bandwidth, or do we need more bandwidth efficiency?


analyst said...

Let's get a few things straight. First of all I think the ISPs are more in a panic about uploading than they are about downloading or "watching BBC". P2P apps like iPlayer essentially outsources the server to the user base, which often pays flat rate for unlimited service. Conversely, with central-server apps (like iTunes Store), the server owner (Apple in that case) has to pay its ISP much more for much more capacity. No such extra revenue for ISPs if iPlayer becomes popular.

Second of all, Scott, I think that you should be pointing out (as the Wall Street Journal very much did, in an article you linked to when you wrote about video and Internet traffic) that when ISPs start threatening that they'll "pull the plug" on companies unless they get more money, that's non-neutral treatment of traffic, and it's exactly what Google, Microsoft, et. al. are complaining about when they say that we need network neutrality.

Next, that business about bandwidth efficiency. Your article back in April said "TCP typically utilizes less that 3% of the available bandwidth." I do not believe that particular number. Is Internet Protocol perfect? No, but it's a tradeoff between throughput and versatility. There's a cost for having maximum versatility, e.g. having your choice of streaming or downloading, plus your choice of tethered or P2P. Figure the overhead for downloading is around half. If everything's doubling every year anyway, like the Cisco data in the WSJ article said, it's not like a factor of 2 is that big a deal. Worst case 1-2 years delay in progress. That's nothing compared to the years and years we've waited for reality to catch up with the pundits, entrepreneurs, and ISPs who promised "anytime, anywhere" multimedia.

Finally, while I'm coming off all picky here, I have to say your blog is one of the most enjoyable and informative tech blogs I read. Great stuff.

Scott Shaffer said...

Thank you.

What I am trying to convey with these bandwidth topic posts is how inefficient the current method of downloading is. ISP's advertise x amount of download speed, but have you ever achieved speeds anywhere near that?

My provider Comcast promises 6 Mbps..on a great day I can get 3.

To see what speeds you are really getting try clicking on SpeedTest

Having a protocol(s) that can utilize the full "pipe" you are promised would go a long way in solving the bandwidth dilemma.

I am working with software that allows downloads at close to maximum speeds ISPs promise.

I can download mp3s in seconds, and movies in minutes. Most of the time I am getting over 5 to 5.5 Mbps.

Having this software embedded on every browser would open up a lot of new "e doors".