Policy BriefPoint of Disconnect: Internet Traffic and the U.S. Communications Infrastructure
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Michael Kleeman is a senior fellow at UCSD, and at the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC, and is national chair of strategy for the American Red Cross. Formerly a vice president at The Boston Consulting Group, director at Arthur D. Little and an executive at Sprint, Kleeman most recently served as the co-founder, vice president, and chief technical officer of Cometa Networks, a wireless broadband provider. He was also the founding CTO of Global Telesystems Group and a senior executive at Aerie Networks, a long distance fiber optic carrier. He holds an M.A. from the Claremont Graduate School, and a B.A. from Syracuse University.
The internet was initially designed to help transfer files from one computer to another and for simple messaging. People used little bandwidth at home because it was largely unavailable. People used a little more at work. Delay was acceptable because one or two seconds of jitter, delay, or latency has virtually no impact on how a consumer experiences an email or file transfer. And, the infrastructure we have — and the economic arrangements underlying that infrastructure — were more than capable of handling this sort of demand. Then the demand started growing. It is easy to see why. One example: the most popular YouTube video download as of July 2007 was “Evolution of Dance”, a six minute video added in 2006, which had over 52 million downloads. This one video generated traffic roughly equivalent to a month of data network traffic in 2000.
YouTube currently serves over 100 million videos per day and thousands are added each hour to the online library. But “more traffic” only tells part of the story. There have also been changes in the types of traffic and the quality of service (QoS) that this traffic requires, and where the traffic is originating and going to — each contributing to the disconnect.
These changes in user demand have resulted in corresponding changes in network requirements. Contrasting this customer driven demand for service with voice provides a good comparison. Voice traffic was virtually all point-to-point and utilized a dedicated network resource for its duration which no other users could access, and all calls used the same protocol (which was 64,000 bits/second without any compression to reduce the capacity required — about the speed of a basic dialup connection). Contrast this with the internet. The internet is a packet-based network, where multiple traffic streams share the connection, and if one user uses increased network capacity it can degrade the quality of the service for other users.
These dynamics lead to a situation where the current and projected requirements for communications services have outgrown the architecture, traffic management and economic requirements of today’s networks. All these complications in network design and construction will require the development and adoption of new techniques and technologies.