Having looked at the future of bandwidth, I started thinking about video as this is the major consumer of bandwidth today is video.
There is a huge amount of growth in this area online. Amazon’s Unbox, Cinema Now and iTunes all provide movies online and each file is 1.7GB in size. At 24Mbps this would take just under 10 minutes.. at 50Mbps the same movie would download in (unsurprisingly!) half the time. The time saving is nice but it’s not instant – from a consumer standpoint, you cannot beat now. Some form of instant start with it downloading in the background is much better. As per Virgin Media’s TV on Demand service. Using this method the speed increase makes little difference.
So where does the speed increase really start to help? The Livestation service allows you to deliver TV quality content via broadband. But so what? I can already get TV quality content. It’s called my TV 😉 They need to offer more than just the normal TV does. I am looking forward to seeing what this will be, at the moment the service is in beta and I wonder if it will end up being a platform licensed to existing TV providers instead.
BT Vision is an example of where the TV is being improved upon, but it is nothing new. Cable and satellite providers have been doing it for ages. Video on demand. So same thing just via a different medium. Still using the quickly evolving internet technologies may allow for a faster evolution of services than others. This evolution of services would increase bandwidth requirements if only because they would make the user consumer more content.
One improvement that has already rolled out on cable and satellite is HDTV. Providing HD over broadband for example would use around 15Mbps of bandwidth (compared to around 8Mbps for standard TV) so suddenly 24Mbps doesn’t sound like much. Whilst quality content and ease of use is still the major decision maker, things like HDTV, cross platform integration and other technologies are going to have an effect.
It strikes me that bandwidth will matter eventually. Homechoice was one of the first to integrate the TV and broadband connection but everyone I know who tried it has left now, which speaks volumes. It will be interesting to see what Tiscali will do with it now they have bought the service. It is no small ask but potentially, Virgin Media can put themselves in a strong position. They obviously need to provide quality content on demand and improve its interface but if they can innovate and take advantage of their bandwidth scale then there would be little the other broadband providers could do.. except Sky. They have been the innovator, bringing out products like Sky Plus and integrating its online services with its TV packages. Today, Sky is the company in a strong position.
Sky also have the bandwidth scale at least one way (the way that matters) via its satellite system, Virgin Media has bandwidth scale both ways. Historically, the old cable companies haven’t taken advantage of this but maybe now they are owned by one company – Virgin Media – things could change. BT doesn’t have the bandwidth scale past 24Mbps in the short term – will Sky and Virgin be able to take advantage?