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What Is the Real Need for Speed?

Is A Gigabit Per Second Too Much?

Cloud Computing may some day turn computing resources into a utility. Certainly that's the direction in which things are headed.

The first step on this path is well underway, with Internet service becoming a presumed utility by citizens and governments worldwide. Politicians the world over are outdoing each other promising that their country will be the world leader when it comes to Internet access and speed.

Admirable goals, to be sure. But arguments about the need for speed are accelerating too quickly along the Information Superhighway.

It's time to step back and ask, "what is the real need for speed?" How much bandwidth do individuals really need, whether at work or at home?

The NBN & Other Gigs
The National Broadband Network (NBN) initiative in Australia says its a gigabit per second. It has almost $2,000 per person to build a network to prove this. I doubt this speed is sustainable or necessary; in theory it would require a massive optical cable coming into the country with 100 times the capacity of the terabit submarine cables serving much of the world today.

But such plans to bring fiber optic cable to people's homes-Fiber-to-the-Home, or FTTH-are alive throughout the world, as part of a broader FTTx discussion about delivering bandwidth over the traditional "last mile" of telephonic service.

Promises to deliver at least 100mbps have been made from Finland to the Philippines, with dire warnings for those who aren't on this bus. US Rep. Anna Eshoo, from Silicon Valley, referred to a recent poll by Cisco that found the US ranked 15th in the world in "broadband quality." As she wrote in an op-ed piece in a local newspaper, "we must close these gaps, and quickly."

Meanwhile, the idea of using wireless for home delivery is alive and well. It did get hooted down in Australia, but in the US, President Obama just traveled to a remote, yet technolically savvy university to tout the benefits of wireless. Eshoo, too, in her article pushed for the continuing auctioning of wireless spectrum that is no longer being used by TV stations. I get wireless over the last two miles or so of my bandwidth's journey in Asia, at a speed of around 500kbps and a cost of less than $20/month.

What is True?
So how wide is this gap? How wide should it be? How fast is fast? What do individuals (whether at work or at home) really need? Do I sound like a hopeless Luddite if I question the current, headlong rush into trying to deliver 100mbps and gigabit service to every individual on the planet?

Note: Earlier today, I tweeted my need for some real engineers to go over all this for me, as my head hurt after a few hours of studying Brewster's Angle, GPON v GEPON, birefringence, etc. I got a response almost immediately and will follow-up with this person's insights soon. Meanwhile, if you wish to contribute to the discussion, tweet me or email me!

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Studies, (@TauDir), with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is also a writer & editor for SYS-CON Media. He writes for Cloud Computing Journal & Computerworld Philippines. He is Conference Chair of WebRTC Summit and Things Expo. He has a BA from Knox College, Certificate in Tech Writing from UC-Berkeley, and MBA studies at CSU-East Bay. He serves on the board of the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies, and has served as Director, U.S. Coast Guard Aux Int'l Affairs.