How much broadband speed is enough? Depends on what you want it for

by Doug Laws, Project Manager – Technical Planning & Implementation

There is much talk about broadband speeds these days from the FCC and service providers, and inside NECA. With its recent USF Reform Order the FCC now requires broadband providers to offer 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream (4/1), 10/1, or 25/3 for their customers, depending on several factors.

Providers in major metropolitan areas are offering continually increasing speeds to attract customers. Rural area providers like our members are also committed to providing their customers with the same advanced speeds available to urban subscribers.

What speeds are customers of pool members purchasing?

Downstream speedsAccording to the 2015 edition of our annual Trends report, more than half of our Traffic Sensitive pool members' broadband customers are purchasing downstream speeds of 4 - 10 Mbps. The breakdown of speeds customers served by these carriers purchase is shown in the chart to the right.

How do customers use the bandwidth?

How much speed customers need depends on what they plan to do online. Casual web surfing and email can take place at 1 to 2 Mbps. Photo and file upload and download to and from cloud storage (such as Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive) can work with as little as 1 Mbps, but 10 Mbps cuts the upload /download time by a factor of 10. For example, downloading 500 photos of 4 MB quality requires 4.5 hours at 1 Mbps, but only 10 minutes at 25 Mbps. Other common broadband uses and the amount of bandwidth needed are summarized in the table below:

Access Spring 2016 - Bandwidth chart_2

What are the capabilities of the loop access technologies?

 Our members offer broadband services using a variety of network technologies. The chart below summarizes a few of them.

Access Spring 2016 - Loop Access Technology chart_v2

 Hybrid fiber-coax technology deployed in most community access television networks use the Cable Labs Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification to add high-speed data services to an existing CATV system. The first generation of DOCSIS used a single TV channel and supported 10 Mbps; current DOCSIS 3.1 deployments can do up to 10 Gbps downstream and up to 1 Gbps upstream. The total bandwidth is shared by all customers on the CATV span.

Fixed wireless and mobile both support data at varying rates dependent on the radio spectrum used, total bandwidth available, and coding used, as well as local terrain and weather patterns. A fixed application using unlicensed spectrum may support a 1 Gbps service or higher in point-to-point configurations, or the bandwidth could be shared across multiple customers in a point-to-multipoint design using sectored antennae serving customers at 10 Mbps, 25 Mbps, or other speeds. Mobile data services have progressed from 19 Kbps in the 1990s (cellular digital packet data) to over 100 Mbps in some situations in 4G networks and are exceeding 1 Gbps in early 5G tests in limited trials.

Small cells provide for both fixed and limited mobile use in small areas, increasing network capacity and providing access for more users/devices. WiFi will support 1 Gbps, and is being deployed in homes, businesses and hot spots by telephone companies, cable companies and mobile carriers. This provides customers the increased speed and low cost of the landline networks combined with the ability to move outside the WiFi domain and into the mobile domain on foot, in cars, trains and planes…eventually the transitions will be seamless.

What can we conclude?

It is clear the industry is working to aggressively meet marketplace needs, which are driven by a multitude of users with wide-ranging interests including education, entertainment, business, employment and lifestyle needs.

Filed under April 2016 , Tagged with Broadband, Technology

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