Why We Need Fat Pipes: The Top 5 Bandwidth-Hungry Apps

Unless you’re actively seeding torrent files or dream of one day having HD content streamed from the web to your TV, the debate over managing networks can seem hopelessly abstract. To help the rest of us understand why fast networks with a lot of capacity are so important, I asked networking giant Cisco for what it considers to be the top five bandwidth-hungry applications. Cisco mined the data it gathered for its visual networking index and came up with the top five in the consumer, business and mobile categories. I have chosen the following five based on how much bandwidth they use and how much speed they require in the network. While they don’t take up much capacity today because they’re not in widespread use, they are representative of what one could do with a fast network with a lot of capacity.

  1. High-Definition Telepresence: This could be Cisco’s product or another setup from a different vendor. The point is this: high-definition telepresence requires 24 Mbps and about a 50 millisecond latency to recreate the feeling of sitting in a room speaking with people. Maybe it’s a luxury, but the travel savings and potential business deals that could be struck using such systems are impressive. Companies such as Shangby, which is using standard video to sell jewelry from China, would benefit from faster bandwidth that would allow them to show their products in HD.
  2. Telemedicine and Remote Surgery: Sure, it’s the stuff of science fiction, but rural doctors have been sending medical images to doctors overseas for years. The next step is surgery done by robots or other doctors in consultation with remote physicians. Given the delicate nature of the job, this is a task that requires 10 Mbps and 1 millisecond latency for surgery.
  3. Video Instant Messaging and Video Presence: This one isn’t even close to reality and requires speeds of 10 Mbps on mobile networks (which won’t happen until we get LTE and fiber backhaul), but firms including NTT DoCoMo are working on the concept of having always-on video connectivity.
  4. High-Definition Television: Depending on compression algorithms and the network equipment, HD TV requires between 8 and 5 Mbps to deliver crisp video to consumer’s televisions.
  5. Real-Time Data Backup: This isn’t for those of us concerned about family photos — its aimed at Wall Street traders and businesses worried about interruptions to their operations and keeping their data secure. Such efforts require speeds of up to 2 Mbps and 10 milliseconds of latency, and they may become more necessary as enterprises begin to store and save data in the cloud.

Most of the big bandwidth applications are ones business and consumers pay extra for, which means that in addition to speed and network capacity, providers of such services and the recipients need to think about quality and service-level agreements as well. Arielle Sumits, manager of service provider marketing at Cisco, says she has talked with customers of Cisco equipment about metrics beyond jitter and latency to measure the actual user experience outside of the network, where software issues or other problems might interfere with a service. Those sorts of conversations will be more and more common as people consume more services from the web.

image courtesy of Cisco

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