Rob Dolin's Blog

Thoughts on technology, politics, non-profits, and their intersections; and food

Internet Bandwidth Use Cases

At last night’s meeting of the City of Seattle’s Citizens Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board (CTTAB), we discussed what levels of Internet bandwidth are needed now and into the future.  This got me thinking and I wanted to jot-down some thoughts and seek feedback from friends and fellow community members.  Thanks very much–

0) Text-only – If you can remember back to the days before the Internet, there were some applications like text-only email, text-only chat, and bulletin board systems (BBS’s) that would work reasonably well with only a text interface.  With the proliferation of personal mobile devices around the world, SMS text messaging provides for this use case.  Very few people use the Internet like this today.

1) Email and Web 1.0 – In the USA in the mid-to-late 1990’s, many people first connected to the Internet.  The two biggest applications were sending and receiving email (which might include inline images and/or attached files) and browsing static web pages.  However, both email and the web have evolved.  Email attachments are routinely multiple megabytes and web sites routinely send data back and forth while interacting with the user (ex: Google maps getting new map tiles, Facebook or Twitter getting new news feed items, or getting new emails.  With the way email and the web are used 15-20 years since, higher bandwidth is needed

2a) Buffered Streaming (Lower Resolution) – Imagine streaming an online course from a website like EdX or Coursera.  Resolutions of 320×240 or 640×480 is probably sufficient for the talking head of an instructor and to be able to read simple slides.  For the buffered streaming use case, latency is also not a huge issue as uses will wait a moment while the streaming application fills its buffer in case of bandwidth fluctuation; but the bandwidth must be sufficient to carry the streaming content in real-time (or possibly faster as some streaming applications allow end-users to speed-up and watch at 1.5x or 2x.)  However, if an online course includes video or even dense slides, you’re probably going to want to step-up to:

2b) Buffered Streaming (Higher Resolution) – It’s date night and you and your significant other want to stay in and watch a movie.  Instead of purchasing or renting physical media (which may eventually end-up in a landfill) and wasting fuel on pick-up or delivery of the physical media, you want to stream the bits over the Internet.  You expect a reasonably higher resolution experience (ex: 1920 x 1080 or better) and you’re willing to wait a few moments for the movie to start, but bandwidth needs to be sufficient to carry the movie in real-time so you don’t have long pauses mid-movie.  This does not just include movies, but sporting events (where higher resolution may be required to see a hockey puck or motion of players on a football field) may also accept a short delay.

3) Real-time Higher Resolution Streaming – There are other use cases that are particularly high value that require both high bandwidth and low latency because of their interactive nature:

  • Video Conferencing / Real-time Video Chat – Whether its to remotely join a business meeting or to stay in-touch with family, not only is high bandwidth required, but delay in a back-and-forth conversation will severely hamper the ability of a remote worker to participate.
  • Screen Sharing – in remote work situations, information is often presented in real-time and all remote viewers must be able to see the position of a pointer, data being entered into a spreadsheet, a document being edited live, etc.
  • Remote Desktop / Desktop as a Service – A trend among information security conscious organizations (ex: financial institutions, law firms) is to have the primary computer on which information resides physically within the organization and the end user can access the application through a real-time streaming of the desktop.  This must be very low latency as the end-user should not feel like they are waiting when they type a key or move their mouse.
  • Online Gaming – While not as business-oriented as some of the other examples above, being able to navigate a higher resolution 3D virtual world in real-time while others are doing the same pushes the boundaries of end-user experiences technology can offer and hopefully helps to increase the quality, richness, and interactivity of remote business meetings or conversations with family around the world. 

Filed under: Technology

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