When Will ISPs Reach Same Conclusions PC Suppliers Did?

Computer suppliers long ago learned that marketing focused on “speeds and feeds” was not especially helpful. Internet service providers eventually will likely come to the same conclusion, though perhaps not soon.

The reason is simply a mismatch between a typical user’s ability to perceive or use most higher-speed connections, with one clear exception.

ISPs believe they gain marketing traction when able to advertise higher speeds than other providers. Whether the higher speeds make a difference, in terms of individual user experience is the issue.

Beyond a fairly low level, higher speed does not improve any single user’s experience.

In general, 10 Mbps appears to be the tipping point beyond which most consumers rate their broadband experience as “good,” Ofcom says. That threshold also tends to be the ceiling for experience. Beyond 10 Mbps, app experience does not improve.

There is one exception to that rule. Multi-user households, especially those using lots of higher-definition video, do benefit to the extent that aggregate bandwidth better ensures a minimum of 10 Mbps for every user, at peak usage periods.

“A minimum of 10 Mbps is required by the typical household,” according to Ofcom, the U.K. communications regulator.

The “average” fixed network download speed is 28 Mbps, according to Ofcom, and 83 percent of U.K. households can buy service between 30 Mbps and 300 Mbps.

The other issue is that, for a growing range of apps--especially cloud-based apps--latency matters as much as speed.

It is a truism that availability and uptake are correlated. That is to say, higher speeds, and higher uptake of higher speeds, are correlated. Likewise, higher speeds are correlated with higher data consumption.

Households with connections above 40 Mbps are consuming significantly more data, Ofcom notes.

Previously, data use was relatively flat above 10 Mbps. “This change indicates that consumers who particularly value and use their superfast broadband services are now opting for higher-speed packages,” says Ofcom.

That correlation is nuanced. As Ofcom notes, people who consume more video are going to buy higher-speed packages that also come with higher usage allotments.

The proportion of video traffic delivered over fixed broadband networks in 2015 has risen to about 65 percent, up from 48 percent of total traffic in 2014.

The other issues are that, at higher access speeds, more data is consumed in any given unit of time.

Also, a more-pleasant experience will create an incentive for users to spend more time engaging with Internet apps and services.

Ofcom also notes that in-home networks now are a significant experience issue. In fact, the quality of home-network connections plays some role in over 75 percent of households with poorly performing broadband connections.

The quality of home-network connections is responsible for more than 25 percent of the connection problems in 20 percent of households with a poorly performing broadband connection, Ofcom notes.

But the “assembled” nature of ad-supported apps also plays a part in experience.

Many popular websites and services use advertising. In many cases, advertising represents as much as 99 percent of total consumed bandwidth, Ofcom says.
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