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Streaming video is taking over rural broadband networks

Streaming video is taking over rural broadband networks

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A new report finds evidence of extreme growth in streaming video across U.S. rural broadband networks.

In its first ever U.S. Rural Broadband Report, Calix today announced the results of a study analyzing data from 45 Internet service providers (ISPs) in rural areas of the country. Among the findings, streaming video accounts for more than two thirds of rural downstream traffic. Also, the top 5% of rural Internet subscribers use more than 100 gigabits of data per month.

After years of crediting file sharing for the bulk of Internet traffic, the reality of the web today is that video streaming demands far more bandwidth across broadband networks than BitTorrent-like applications. Users of Netflix, Hulu and other streaming sites are accelerating traffic growth and changing the way ISPs have to provision and maintain their networks. And as more video moves online, that trend is only going to continue.

So what does it all mean?

For consumers it means keeping track of Internet usage to avoid running afoul of broadband caps and overage charges. In rural areas in particular, there is greater reliance on mobile and satellite broadband to provide connectivity. Both of these Internet access types, unfortunately, tend to cap users below 10 GB of data per month.

For ISPs, the growth of video streaming means operators have to look at building networks differently, and at instituting policies that keep usage down. The old network model had ISPs assuming an average concurrency rate of 1%. In other words, the assumption was that only 1% of users would be using the maximum amount of bandwidth available at any given time. In the era of streaming video, that model no longer works.

Calix is careful to note that its data can be used by ISPs to promote alterative Internet applications that use less bandwidth. However, skeptics will note that the data also provides fuel for arguments that operators should throttle heavy Internet users more frequently, and charge higher fees when subscribers exceed their usage caps.

The Calix report has plenty of other juicy tidbits as well. In rural areas, large content delivery (or distribution) networks (CDNs) account for 80% of streaming video traffic. This supports mounting evidence suggesting that the Internet is consolidating around a handful of major infrastructure providers.

Also from the report:

  • Service providers that offer Internet services exclusively over fiber access networks saw subscribers generate over 2.67 times more traffic than service providers that offered Internet services over copper-based networks.
  • The top five percent of subscribers in the rural U.S. networks studied used more than 100 GB of downstream traffic a month, and accounted for approximately 50 percent of Internet traffic.
  • Application use varied across different regions of the U.S. in Q4:
    The West: Streamed video more heavily than other regions.
    The Southeast: Played the most online video games.
    The Northeast: Shopped online more heavily than other regions.
    The Midwest: Used business-oriented services in the home most frequently.

The full rural broadband report is available for free download. Calix plans to issue further reports on a quarterly basis.

Via Telecompetitor

Image credit: Calix U.S. Rural Broadband Report

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure