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Bandwidth: We’ll Always Need More

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No matter how much internet bandwidth is available to us, we’ll always want more.

As the telephone industry grew, the average amount of data per user didn’t change much. Advances in voice transmission increased efficiency, but they did not alter the fundamental nature of voice communication.

The internet is different. As broadband capacity increases, we find new uses for it. In the late nineties, the internet was chiefly for e-mail and limited research. Few people foresaw that it would carry streaming video, or that it would be used for manufacturing, remote medicine, monitoring of home security systems, virtual reality interactive gaming, or real time video teleconferencing. But every increase in bandwidth fostered experiments in new applications. The  time we spend on the web  skyrocketed with the new functions. The monthly average, at 30 minutes per household in 1998, was 500 hours per household in 2014.

Very likely, this trend will only accelerate.  As “TV Everywhere” applications become more popular, more of us are streaming video to mobile devices via the internet. Netflix alone accounts for 28% of all bandwidth usage in the U.S. These uses will multiply demand for bandwidth, especially as resolution standards improve. High Definition (HD) video is giving way to 4K video, with four times the resolution, and some manufacturers are even developing 8K TV sets. Some film makers are developing High Dynamic Range (HDR) video, with sharper contrast and subtler shadows. These TV technologies encode massive amounts of information, which requires more bandwidth to transmit.

The “internet of things” will also consume huge amounts of bandwidth. Many of us will carry sensors on our bodies to monitor vital signs or to measure the effectiveness of our exercise programs. Sensors in our houses will enable remote monitoring of appliances, HVAC, entertainment. or home security systems. Connected vehicles will assist us in navigation, parking, engine management, communication with home electronics, and even driving.

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is finally becoming practical. It once was useful only for small plastic items, chiefly figurines and key fobs. New 3D printing composite materials incorporate metal, glass, and even wood, making 3D printing processes much more useful. Internet-enabled CNC (milling and routing) machines also help to put custom manufacturing within reach of garage tinkerers. Some manufacturers have even invented reliable methods for 3D printing electronic circuits. Of course, design software has to be downloaded from the internet. As 3D manufacturing becomes common, this will require massive amounts of bandwidth.

Virtual Reality (VR) was once only for video gaming. Recent improvements in peripheral vision, and with vision above and below, now make VR practical for other uses. Some municipal governments have begun to use VR to train firefighters. Other VR training applications are in development. As VR tools improve, they are likely to be used for remote manufacturing, trouble shooting, and repair.

In the future, the internet will assume many of the  functions we now handle with mechanical tools, direct observation, or muscle.  As the internet gets involved in almost every aspect of our lives, and as our tools become ever more sensitive, ever more bandwidth will be necessary. We will never stop wanting more.

(Editor’s note: To find out how much bandwidth you need, talk to our helpful staff at Bundle Deals. By asking how many devices your household will have connected at once, and what you use the internet for, our customer service personnel can recommend the internet service that works best for you.)