With iCloud, Apple puts the pressure on ISPs

Edit note: iCloud’s services do not involve streaming in the same manner as services like Netflix and Pandora do. However, the bandwidth should still be more than predicted by broadband providers. Apple’s iCloud assumes that users will “store” the music predominantly in the cloud and move it back and forth between the cloud and iOS/OS X
devices. This means that the gigabytes downloaded per month will still increase, although operators will not have to worry as much about the complexity of delivering traditional streaming content.

Apple’s iCloud product, which will be discussed and dissected on many other blogs, poses both a threat and an opportunity for Internet service providers. The iCloud product itself, which will deliver streaming music and photo content (but not videos) is an acknowledgement that people are ready to stream get their content on demand, and online rather than store it on local hard drives, which has huge repercussions for broadband providers.

ISPs can point to Netflix (s nflx) content streaming, or send subscribers notices about consuming too much bandwidth by blaming forgotten Pandora streams playing in the background, but when a major player like Apple — which has 200 million credit cards in its iTunes store — gets into the streaming over the air content delivery game it’s an acknowledgment that today’s broadband is robust enough to support a streaming service such heavy traffic as well as a potential wake-up call to the ISPs complaining about their overburdened pipes.

Years, ago a Comcast (s cmcsa) spokesman told me the company had seen a huge jump in bandwidth immediately after Apple released its iTunes product. People downloading songs and TV shows changed the profile of the average Internet user. Now, as Apple prepares to launch a streaming an over-the-air service — even one without movies — it’s likely that ISPs should get ready for consumer usage patterns to change again.

This time, ISPs appear to be ready, trying to implement tiered plans and caps that limit how much a subscriber can download in a given month. Currently, AT&T (s T) has a 150 GB cap on DSL subscribers and a 250 GB per month cap on U-verse customers (although folks going over the cap can pay more). Given that both one hour of HD video content and about 20 hours of music streaming at average bit rates of 128 kbps consume about 1 GB , it’s easy to see how the wider adoption of streaming more downloads could affect usage. And while Apple isn’t announcing streaming a similar service for movies or television today, it’s not too far-fetched to anticipate that occurring in the future. What then?