Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Internet Might Reach Total Gridlock

Have you ever seen those hilarious Malibu Rum commercials set in the Caribbean with the slogan "Seriously Easy Going"? They're humorous parodies on the fast-paced North American lifestyle. In one of the original commercials, a man riding a bicycle is waiting for a large bus to move out of his way, and remarks that the situation is "total gridlock". This is exactly what I thought of when I read a new report by Nemertes Research that warns the Internet could reach capacity (or gridlock) within the next three-to-five years. What does this mean?

According to Nemertes, it means that we could encounter Internet "brownouts", slower-paced services, and difficulty in accessing specific content. The reason is the growing popularity in more bandwidth-heavy content, like streaming videos and music downloading; as well as the increased use of the Internet on portable devices, like mobile phones.

"The Internet is inherently self-protecting," says the company's President and senior founding partner Johna Till Johnson. "You can't push more traffic onto the 'net than it can handle."

Nemertes claims that the industry needs to invest 60-70% more on broadband access capacity than they plan to (total investment should be about US$137 billion vs. just US$72 billion in order to meet demand!) By 2010, predicts Nemertes, the Internet's capacity will not be able to support user demand.

The company likens the situation to an open highway (i.e. the high-speed connections) and busy local roads (i.e. lower-speed, copper and coaxial connections). "If the freeway is empty but local roads are congested," the firm explains, "users will spend most of their time stuck in traffic at the edges."

Is this another Y2K scenario, where everyone panicked and nothing happened? Or will this be like the electricity situation in Ontario a few years back, where we did in fact experience "brownouts" in order to conserve depleting power resources? Either way, this study certainly sheds light on an important worldwide resource, and what might need to be done in order to keep it running successfully. Every day, more and more services are turning to the 'net as a means of distribution. According to comScore, almost 75% of U.S. consumers watched 158 minutes of online video and more than 8.3 billion video streams in May 2007 alone. Let's make sure these numbers can continue to increase without catastrophic repercussions.

On a humourous note, click here to see the funny Malibu Rum commercial on

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