Johna Till Johnson, president and senior founding partner of Nemertes Research, writes in a column for Network World that “The Internet Sky Really Is Falling.” Nemertes Research, if you’ll remember, published a report saying that the Internet’s backbone simply can’t handle exponential growth with linear capacity increases.
“We’ve been called everything from carrier shills to nut-jobs. (No, the research wasn’t sponsored. And we never claimed your fillings were receiving extraterrestrial radio signals).”
Nemertes Research does some very good work, and I do not believe them to be any sort of carrier shill, and they are certainly no more insane than the rest of us Cuculidae. Yet, I think it’s a bit too soon to mourn for the Internet yet. Mostly because while I’m not questioning Nemertes data, I think they may be a bit too quick to come to a conclusion.
“The bottom line? We were right. YouTube recently announced it’s discontinuing video delivery to certain geographies due to — ahem — lack of access capacity. And providers from telcos to cable companies are implementing “usage caps” to keep users from, er, consuming “too much” bandwidth. Seems the only thing we got wrong was the timing — we anticipated the crunch hitting in the 2011/2012 timeframe, but we’re seeing it happening already.”
Not so fast.
I actually remember reading something about YouTube and video delivery to developing countries recently but I can’t actually remember where I did – Googling brought me to this quote from the New York Times “In Developing Countries, Web Grows Without Profit,” from April 26, 2009.
Last year, Veoh, a video-sharing site operated from San Diego, decided to block its service from users in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, citing the dim prospects of making money and the high cost of delivering video there. [Emphasis added.]
“Tom Pickett, director of online sales and operations at YouTube, says the company still hews to its vision of bringing online video to the entire globe. In the last two years, it has pushed to create local versions of its site in countries like India, Brazil and Poland.
But Mr. Pickett also says that YouTube has slowed the creation of new international hubs and shifted its focus to making money. He says that does not rule out restricting bandwidth in certain countries as a way to control costs — essentially making YouTube a slower, lower-quality viewing experience in the developing world.”
The issue, it seems, is not with broadband capacity, the way that Johnson and Nemertes research are talking about, but with simple profitability. Remote locations are expensive to connect to when compared to industrialized economies, but this, in and of itself, is not related to the capacity of the Internet backbone overall.
On the other hand, there are countries like Estonia, which has 100% coverage of WiFi, and plans to roll out 100Mbps Internet to the homes of every Estonian citizen.
But what about those “usage caps?”
Well, to be quite frank, we did an entire series on why usage caps really don’t have anything to do with network capacity – but to sum up, not every ISP is putting on usage caps, and the ISPs that are typically also offer television and telephone services (technologies being replaced by the Internet,) and are rolling them out in generally non-competitive markets. Long story short, we wouldn’t consider the fact that some ISPs are rolling out usage caps as supporting anecdotal evidence that there was any sort of Internet infrastructure problem, simply because there are too many other reasons that ISPs may want to institute usage caps.
As a counter-example, Verizon and Cablevision are offering 50Mbps and 101Mbps, respectively, without caps, in the highly competitive New York area.
Finally, Johnson addresses the IPv4 address shortage.
Pretty much everyone’s aware that we’re running out of IPv4 addresses at an alarming rate, and despite more than a decade of massive promotion, IPv6 deployments are a tiny fraction of what they would have to be to meet the gap. A few people are also aware that due in part to increased multihoming, routing table sizes are increasing dramatically, to the point where they’ll exceed Moore’s Law’s ability to keep up.
This may be true, but – and this is an important but – IPv4 address shortage already has a solution, and while it’s often hard to justify preventative measures in the budget, IPv6 adoption will increase when the need for IPv6 becomes more pressing. Upgrading later, rather than sooner, means that it will be an expensive, chaotic upgrade, but it by no means heralds the end of the Internet.
Nemertes did a good job with tracking the growth rates in capacity and demand, and based on research and evidence, came to the conclusion that demand will eventually outstrip capacity given patterns in growth. But by picking out these particular bits of anecdotal evidence, and failing to account for the possibility that these events aren’t related to bandwidth shortage and IPv4 depletion, Nemertes ends up undermining the argument that they are trying to make.