Exaflood revisited

01 Apr 2008
00:00

So, it's back to the exaflood.

Once more we are seeing extravagant claims of a massive internet traffic jam.

US research firm Nemertes says internet bandwidth demand is doubling every year and 'could outstrip network capacity both in North America and worldwide in a little more than two years.' The Nemertes study on what is has fancifully named 'internet singularity', of demand doubling every year, has been widely broadcast recently.

Nemertes says access networks, in particular in North America, 'will likely cease to be adequate for supporting demand within the next three to five years. We estimate the financial investment required by access providers to bridge the gap between demand and capacity ranges from $42 billion to $55 billion, or roughly 60%-70% more than service providers currently plan to invest.'

The urgency is such that 'even if we make the investment necessary between now and 2010, we still might not be prepared for the next killer application or new internet-dependent business like Google or YouTube. The Nemertes study is evidence the exaflood is coming.'

By an amazing coincidence this dovetails precisely with the arguments that telcos are making in Washington: that carriers need every possible incentive to continue investing, and that a 'net neutrality' law would be just the kind of thing that could tip us all into an internet apocalypse.
That's not to say that regulations mandating net neutrality don't carry their own risks. But if the debate is worth having, it's worth trying to conduct it on the basis of accurate data.

Certainly, measuring and forecasting internet bandwidth demand is an inexact science.

Slowing down

Larry Roberts, who worked on the internet predecessor, DARPAnet, and now heads IP networking firm Anagran, has made the same claim. Cisco chief John Chambers and others have even suggested growth might reach 300%-500% a year. A publication called Converge! Network Digest reported last September that internet demand was 3 Tbps, or about 1,000 times above the actual traffic volume.

But a more measured estimate from a Cisco white paper suggests that traffic will likely double every two years between 2007 and 2011, i.e., 50% a year. A report co-authored by George Gilder expects annual growth of 54% up to 2015.

The above figures have been helpfully provided in an analysis of forecasts by MINTS (Minnesota Internet Traffic Studies), a project run by the University of Minnesota. Its view, after canvassing a range of sources, is that demand in the US and worldwide expanded last year 50%-60%.

But MINTS goes on to say that net traffic growth might be slowing down. Since 1997, internet traffic growth has subsided toward an approximate doubling every year, and more recently even that growth rate has declined towards 50-60% per year.

That includes South Korea and Hong Kong, the world's most internet-intensive societies. Both those markets have access speeds comparable to Japan but generate a great deal more internet traffic: users in both economies consumer 17 GB in data per capita each month, compared with 3 GB in the US and 2.6 GB in Japan.

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