Questioning the coming Internet clog
One of the nation’s top authorities on global Internet traffic growth says his latest data show no reason to fear network capacity shortages, as traffic growth may even be slightly decelerating.
Updating data collected from Internet exchanges around the world, professor Andrew Odlyzko, director of the University of Minnesota’s Interdisciplinary Digital Technology Center,reported late last week that Internet traffic rates in the US and globally are continuing to grow at a rate between 50% and 60% (largely unchanged from recent years) -- rapid growth that nonetheless belies dire predictions of an escalation that would clog today’s networks.
“There is still not [sic] sign of the threatened deluge that was supposed to clog the Internet,” Odlyzko wrote in an email late last week announcing the new data. “Growth rates, if anything, are tending down.”
Last November, Nemertes Research released a study claiming that demand for Internet service could outpace network capacity as early as 2010.
In an interview with Telephony this week, Odlyzko said, “Traffic growth is still quite fast, so in some sense you could say yes, we’re on the way to the exaflood or we’re already in it. The issue is: Is this a reason for panic or action or throwing money at service providers so they could build out new links, etc., and the answer is no, because this growth rate, 50% per year, can be accommodated with essentially the current level of capital investment. We see more of a slowdown than a speed-up.”
Odlyzko now estimates average US monthly Internet traffic to be between 900 and 1550 petabytes per month, up from 750 to 1250 petabytes at the end of last year.
Though traffic growth tends to be higher in the second half of each year than the first, Odlyzko said the industry might consider focusing more on stimulating traffic growth rather than fearing it, an argument he voiced to Telephony last year.
Among the factors limiting Internet traffic growth, Odlyzko said, are the pace of broadband deployment, which he said is “not that fast” in some countries, including the US. But in other places, such as Hong Kong, where deployed bandwidth is much greater, traffic growth rates are slowing.
“Hong Kong is far, far ahead of us in terms of per-capita traffic volumes, and they’ve seen almost a halt in the [traffic] growth rate,” Odlyzko said. “Why? I don’t really understand it. Some people told me it could be due to the penetration of IPTV over there…Instead of downloading pirated video over the Internet, maybe they just get it legitimately from the service provider.”
Meanwhile, on a global basis, he said, “Usage depends very strongly on available services. There haven’t been that many new services. YouTube is the latest one. Hulu is supposed to be coming, but otherwise, there’s not much. Places like Facebook generate very little traffic.”
However, Mike Jude, senior analyst with Nemertes, who has cited Facebook in particular as a “bandwidth-intensive” application contributing to traffic growth, says the social networking site and others like it will increasingly generate more traffic over time, as will YouTube. Facebook users are increasingly adding video, he said, and YouTube users are increasingly using high-definition video.
Still, it remains to be seen if and when such factors might spur an acceleration in traffic growth. “There’s still a lot [of data applications] that can migrate to the Internet, and they should, it’s just doing it at a measured pace,” Odlyzko said. “On other hand, one could say there’s no crisis pushing people to do it. It’s not like people are ditching their TVs. They’re increasing their Internet presence and Internet viewing at the expense of ordinary TV viewing, but not dramatically.”
Though he doesn’t agree with Odlyzko that traffic growth may be declining, Jude said Nemertes’ predictions don’t contradict Odlyzko’s findings, in part because the professor is focusing on Internet core backbones, whereas Nemertes is focusing on the last mile, the devices in the home and the end-user experience. If backbone traffic growth were slowing down, Jude said, it may be because more content is being stored locally, bypassing the network core, rather than any cooling in bandwidth demand.
Furthermore, Nemertes’ warnings of Internet networks clogging refer largely to the gap between user demand and user experience, Jude said, rather than that between traffic volumes and network capacities. “We’re not saying the Internet’s going to break,” he said. “We’re saying the things people would like to deliver to you over the Internet probably aren’t going to work that well.”
Watching the video on his computer slow down and freeze as he spoke, Jude said, “The bottom line that no one can debate is: If the Internet were working perfectly, if access were appropriate, would it ever slow down for you?”