Study Predicts Internet Users Face Bandwidth Drought

Service providers debate the accuracy of a study claiming that some Web users could start experiencing a bandwidth shortage as early as 2010.

Imagine being a high-level executive trying to close a huge deal after hours from home using high definition video conferencing and your so-called high speed Internet connection, only to find congestion on the link makes communications impossible.

Or imagine finding that your formerly reliable broadband Internet connection frequently slows down to the point that you are rarely able to download the latest hot YouTube video before you give up in frustration.

Those scenarios are likely to happen in different locations and at different times on the Internet as early as 2010, if the conclusions of a Nemertes Research study come true.

Nemertes Research late last year stirred up the pot on a long-simmering debate in the networking industry over whether capacity upgrades to different parts of the collective Internet will keep up with increasing demand.

That debate spilled over into the new year as more players weighed in with their responses to the study's conclusion that, at least in North America, increases in bandwidth demand at the access portion, or so-called last mile of the Internet will exceed capacity starting in 2010.

The study, "The Internet Singularity Delayed; Why Limits in Internet Capacity Will Stifle Innovation on the Web," separately assessed infrastructure investments planned by service providers as well as projected traffic patterns. It found that exponential bandwidth demand growth driven by video, peer-to-peer file transfer and other Web content will exceed planned capacity upgrades at the access portion of the Internet, rather than the core.

While investments in the core or backbone of the Internet will keep pace, the study concluded that in two years the investment required to close the gap between increasing bandwidth demand and access capacity would be $43 billion.

Access is essentially the high speed broadband or DSL connectivity that many residential and some businesses users rely on to access the Internet. It does not include leased lines or network services that guarantee a specified data rate typically used by medium and large enterprises.

Not all industry players agree with Nemertes' forecast.

"Because their business is the -Net, it's in the service providers own interest to get ahead of this trend," argued Doug Webster, director of marketing for service providers at Cisco Systems in Austin, Texas. "We're seeing a number of service providers doing that. AT&T is doing a large core build out. Savvis is doing the same thing. XO Communications is doing that. We've seen a trend among service providers - not just the largest, but emerging providers and those in emerging markets - they are getting ahead of it," he said.