The Coming Upstream Revolution. And We Need It

[qi:gigaom_icon_routers] Most consumers pay some attention to their downstream bandwidth speeds, which can affect how quickly iTunes files finish downloading or the quality of movie streaming, but upstream speeds have never been as big of an issue. That’s clearly starting to change as Internet service providers like Verizon and Qwest offer data packages with increased upstream speeds so users can upload information faster. These boosts in speeds are following an increase in uploading activity and could change the landscape for service providers and startups.

Demand for upstream bandwidth is growing. Floyd Wagoner, a director of marketing and communications for Motorola Access Networks Solutions, said in an interview today that a U.S. cable provider has seen peak upstream bandwidth use increase by 24 percent from 2007 to 2008. The same provider saw average upstream bandwidth use increase by 17 percent. The unnamed cable provider was only measuring upstream use at 10,000 subscriber homes, but the point of the monitoring was to help forecast the cable company’s network buildout and customer demand, so the sample is assumed to be fairly representative.

Even though Motorola, which sells equipment to cable providers, benefits from an increase in network demand, I see little reason to doubt it on this. We’ve pointed out how online video uploads and file storage in the cloud are boosting our desire for faster upstream speeds and our use of upstream bandwidth. Over at NewTeeVee Liz reports that Facebook receives some 415,000 video uploads per day, while people upload 20 hours of video to YouTube per minute. And don’t forget about online storage services like Mozy or Carbonite, which are also growing. The numbers tell us that either more people are contributing content to the web, or that the few who do contribute are using a disproportionate amount of bandwidth.

Figuring out which is which will have big implications for the way ISPs think about their networks. You can place restrictions and caps on the few, but if this is a widespread movement of people putting their lives online (and I think it is) then ISPs are going to have to start pushing the limits on upstream speeds and capacity. Verizon, with its fiber-to-the-home strategy, is so far in the best position to provide fat upstream pipes, but the cable guys could allocate more of their RF resources to data services (as opposed to video) and use DOCSIS 3.0 to bond together fatter upstream pipes and catch up. The straight DSL lines are going to have problems, but AT&T has told me that its fiber-to-the-node products can offer symmetrical upstream speeds if needed.

That’s the provider side, but for startups there’s also an opportunity to offer products and services that take advantage of consumers’ willingness and potential ability to upload larger files. Posting keyboard cat videos or even video conferencing is just the beginning.

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