Comcast Shows Moore's Law Applies in Internet Access Business

Comcast has been doubling the capacity of its access network every 18 months, precisely what one would expect from any product based on Moore’s Law.

The latest move is an upgrade of the entire Comcast residential footprint to 1 Gbps by the end of 2015, with 2 Gbps service available to about 86 percent of locations.

The thing about Moore’s Law, and any product built in part on Moore’s Law, is that the benefits flow broadly across the full range of use cases, and are not restricted to the headline improvements.

In other words, the fact that a given level of memory or processing doubles, but can be purchased at the same price, also means performance and price relationships are enhanced across the full range of processors and memory, below the headline figure.

That is the case for Comcast’s Internet access services, not scheduled to be upgraded to 1 Gbps across the full footprint, while 86 percent of locations are upgraded to a symmetrical 2 Gbps capability, by the end of 2015.

Though the “headline” is the boost in top marketed speeds to 2 Gbps, most consumers will  benefit because the speeds they actually buy are boosted, for no extra price.

That, more than the upgrade to 1 Gbps or 2 Gbps, symmetrical, is where the impact mostly will occur.

Comcast is launching “Extreme 250,” a new 250 Mbps Internet speed tier for California customers, but also boosting the “Performance” tier from 50 Mbps to 75 Mbps and its Blast tier from 105 Mbps to 150 Mbps, both at no additional cost to customers.  These changes will go into effect starting in May 2015.

Oddly enough, most consumers will not be able to detect the changes, the simple reason being that, beyond about 10 Mbps to 15 Mbps per user, the fundamental constraints on experience lie with the far-end servers, not the local access pipe.

Gigabit speeds will not--by itself--improve user experience, in other words.  After about 10 Mbps, no single user is likely to see much improvement, if at all, in page load times, for example.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission and U.K. Ofcom agree: beyond 10 Mbps per user, experience is not measurably improved--if at all--by faster Internet access speeds.

Instead, latency is becoming the key experience limitation.

Still, the primary “benefits” of gigabit or 2 Gbps speeds will be “seen” (in terms of marketing message) at the lower speed tiers up to 150 Mbps, which users will get at no extra charge, and which are the tiers of service most people now buy.

That is as much a Moore’s Law impact as the headline speed.  
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