Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How Much Speed is Enough?

Lots of people think 100-Mbps or 1-Gbps access services are the wave of the future. One facetiously wonders whether they might always be. Mostly everybody likely agrees that bandwidth requirements are growing, and that "more" bandwidth is a good thing. The problem is that it is hard to answer the question of "how much is enough?"

StarHub, for example, already offers a commercial 100-Mbps service, and sells the "MaxOnline Ultimate" service for $62.40 a month, in Singapore.

Only five percent of customers have bought it, says Neil Montefiore, StarHub CEO. "I'm unconvinced about consumer demand for 100 Mbps."

U.S. access providers who already sell 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps connections seem to have had the same results. When it is available, relatively few customers choose to buy services running at such speeds.

"No one is quite sure what people will do with 100-Mbps symmetrical," he said. "Do people really need that speed?" The other issue is whether raw bandwidth of very-high capacity is sufficient, rather than merely necessary, to ensure creation of compelling and useful applications and services. In other words, higher bandwidth is needed as a prerequisite for valuable new apps. But it isn't so clear that where 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps access is available, that much of anything noteworthy has developed, beyond what could be done at 10 Mbps or 20 Mbps, for example.

The other question is how much demand there is for very-high-speed services, even when prices are reasonable.  If customers can buy 100 Mbps for about $63 (U.S. currency), but they can buy 50 Mbps for $50, is the issue the extra bandwidth or the value-price assessment which leads people to conclude that high bandwidth, but not super-high, is a better deal, and sufficient to accomodate their needs.

Consumers can buy 16-Mbps service for about $37 a month, as well, or cheaper 3 Mbps or 6 Mbps services.

German cable network operator Kabel BW claims that around 40,000 customers are using broadband with speeds of 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps. About three million homes are able to buy service at those rates. So buyers represent about one percent of customers.

Also, the price for the 50-Mbps access service is about $41 a month. What is not clear is what percentage of those buyers actually are businesses, rather than consumers.

It is a laudable thing to call for 100 Mbps service, available to most U.S. users, by 2020. What is missing at this point is evidence of robust-enough demand for speeds of 50 Mbps, at $100 a month.

Kabel BW has found only about one percent take rates, at prices of $41 a month. Obviously, no investor in his or her right mind would loan money to a service provider to offer 50 Mbps service at the same prices as users presently pay.

A new survey by Leichtman Research Group finds that 71 percent of U.S. broadband Internet subscribers are very satisfied with their current Internet service at home (rating satisfaction 8-10 on a 10-point scale), while just three percent are not satisfied (rating satisfaction 1-3).

To be fair, with broadband, appetite changes over time. But the issue is how to match actual demand, at market prices, to the amount of bandwidth that should be delivered.

While 77 percent of broadband subscribers do not know the download speed of their Internet service at home, they are generally pleased with the speed of their Internet connection. Overall, 66 percent of broadband subscribers rate the speed of their connection 8 to 10 and six percent rate it 1 to 3.

The findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,600 randomly selected households from throughout the United States. The survey also found that more than 70 percent of respondents said they subscribed to a broadband service.

Some 26 percent of broadband subscribers are very interested in receiving faster Internet access at home than they currently receive (rating interest 8-10 on a 10-point scale), while 44 percent are not very interested (rating interest 1-3).

Of all Internet subscribers, three percent of respondents say that broadband is not available in their area. In rural areas eight percent of online households say that broadband is not available in their area.

Overall, 1.4 percent of all households are interested in getting broadband, but say that it is not available in their area. Less than one percent of all households are interested in getting broadband, but cite cost as a reason for not currently subscribing to broadband.

Nobody can tell "how much bandwidth is enough." For the moment, though, the evidence here seems to suggest that there is not huge pent-up demand for dramatically-faster speeds. So far, the evidence from markets such as Singapore and other U.S. areas where either 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps is available for purchase, does not support the thesis that dramatically-higher speed is a huge need, at the moment, at least at prices far lower than they presently are.

Everyone expects demand for bandwidth to keep expanding. What seems less clear is the pace of that growth.

1 comment:

Cyberdoyle said...

once the copper cabal is broken and we are all on fibre then this question won't be important. The system will just work.

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