As I enter my 23rd month on the beat at FierceCable, one of things that has confounded me is the push towards gigabit-level speed.
Living near Downtown Los Angeles, I've learned to live like a monk as far as data speeds are concerned. I've steadfastly resisted the triple-play offering from Time Warner Cable, leaving me to make due to with the 6 Mbps offered through AT&T U-verse DSL. Simply put, there are just not a lot of great ISP options yet.
My wife and two boys get by, simultaneously streaming Netflix, Hulu and Sling TV, posting to Vine and Instagram, checking email and joyously working in the Fierce content management system.
There are frustrating moments of buffering, plaintiff requests from the wife to temporarily suspecd all streaming while she's watching her stories (demands really) and there compromises made in terms of sometimes downgrading our visual experience to the 480p option for the sake of a smoother stream. We've somehow made it work.
What can I say, we really are "settlers," those delightfully backward folks you see in those funny DirecTV ads. (Of course, it all loses its charm when AT&T bills me $52 a month for this slop and slaps on a $9 late charge when I pay three hours late.)
So, from my byzantine perspective, I have to ask, what kind of digital glutton needs anything more than 20 Mbps?
I found a presentation delivered at Arris' investor day event earlier this month eye-opening. Looking at CPE trends, Arris CTO Charles Cheevers challenged me to look at my home in a near-term future, when technologies like IoT, 4K and virtual reality (VR) will render my DSL connection as useless as a 56K modem.
The average early-adopting U.S. household, according to Cheevers, has about 2.6 people living in it. Today, it has, on average, one broadband gateway, 2.2 set-top boxes, 2.2 laptops and/or tablets, 2.4 smart phones and 2.6 streaming media players. It has 0.3 Wi-Fi extenders, meaning that technology is found in only about one-third of early-adopter households.
Jump forward two years, and virtual reality enters the picture, with each home having, on average, one headset. Just to effectively stream 720p video in an immersive 360-degree format will require a minimum of 17 Mbps, Cheevers said. The home of the near-term future will also include an average of two Internet-connected surveillance cameras, compared to an average of 0.2 today.
The average number of Wi-Fi extenders, meanwhile, will be increased to one per household, as the proliferation of devices within the home — and within the domiciles of neighbors — introduces greater radio frequency challenges.
Jump forward five years, and Arris is predicting that the early adopter home will have an average of 3.5 set-top boxes, four streaming video players and four Internet-connected cameras. This future home will have, on average, three Wi-Fi extenders to manage all its frequency needs.
The migration to UltraHD video over IP will require a 4X growth in bandwidth, Cheevers said. The need for full 4K video VR, meanwhile, will require a 10X increase. You can see pretty quickly that 300 Mbps is hardly overkill.
With one 300 Mbps option from TWC, I'm sensing the urgency for local fiber competition to spur development of consumer choice. I'm hopeful. In December, it was reported that L.A. has become one of the 17 markets to which Google Fiber is considering expanding.
The more hopeful news came today, when AT&T announced the launch of its GigaPower service in L.A.
For these settlers, they can't get here fast enough. --Daniel