In 1977 Ken Olsen, Founder of DEC said, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Boy, was he proven wrong. The apocryphal Bill Gates quote that “640k of RAM ought to be enough for anybody” also shows the risk of predicting the future in the rapidly changing world of computer technology. Now, when we pay the cable bill or the video we are watching stops to buffer, all of us wonder, “How much bandwidth do I really need?” And while a reasonable question, it’s one that is open to the wild inaccuracies that plagued erstwhile technology titans since the dawn of the vacuum tube.
Today we take the use of rich media files, videos, photographs and audio with casual familiarity on the web, even though, just a short time ago, the task of watching content via the web proved to be a challenge. Some would say that we have come a long way, but one question still remains, “Where are we going?”
With the ease of today’s technology – from high definition video on every TV in every room, to virtual reality games – do we really need more bandwidth? We know it is easy to underestimate future technology demand, so let’s peer into the not-too-distant future to catch a glimpse of these bandwidth-hungry trends.
Whether crime is going up or down, our awareness of it is increasing. Today there are dozens of applications available to protect your home, school, office, or place of worship from vandalism and crime. These options often involve video surveillance. Not only is the content recorded, but some portion of this video is available as streaming content and accessible from anywhere. This trend will only increase.
Body and Car Cameras
We have all seen footage from Russian drivers of cars, crashing, speeding, or spinning in icy and snowy conditions. These drivers film their every kilometer in case they need evidence for the country’s notorious insurance industry. Likewise, we see the start of body camera use in police forces throughout the U.S. This footage is not necessarily widely broadcast, but it is only a matter of time before the rest of us are using some form of body camera; for better or worse. Bandwidth will be used in these uploads, and while you and I may have no inclination to watch this content, some people will, and clips could get millions of views that consume bandwidth from watching these “fascinating” streams.
Video Conferencing and Facetime
The infamous Dick Tracy video was a whimsical fantasy in the 1960s, but with FaceTime, Fitbit and smart watches, the fantasy is on the verge of being a common reality. As we increasingly use audio and video for routine communications, bandwidth usage will go up commensurately.
Do we have to say more? With on-line radio, cord-cutting among DSL and cable subscribers, streaming services like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, there is no end in sight to the bandwidth that we can consume for entertainment and other more productive activities such as education and advocacy. Either way, this category is real and growing.
Everyone has heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), yet few know what it will become. Even though the bandwidth usage per “thing” will likely be tiny, no one doubts that adding enough of them together will result in a new category of bandwidth hog. The IoT will span the range from RFID tags to monitoring smart commercial vehicles. The range of bandwidth and latency that these applications will require is vast, but the common underlying factor is that they need connectivity, and that means bandwidth.
The Sci-Fi Future
We can speculate about the day when we awake to streaming media and hundreds of data points about our homes, cars, meals, and bodies are instantly available for analysis by AI servers located across town or across the world. This robust data stew will be crunched for clues about what we should do for work and where we should shop, or how our future health issues are predicted based on the collection of thousands of data points an hour from smart clothes and buildings. Again, the common theme of these futuristic visions is a ubiquitous communications stream.
We can logically conclude from the examples above, all the others I’ve omitted, and those you have envisioned, that we are very far from the end of our quest for more bandwidth. So if someone asks you, “How much bandwidth is enough?”, the correct answer is always, “It depends.”
At MRV, we are preparing for the future by building innovative optical communications products that connect people, buildings and cities worldwide.