"Back" to the Narrowband Future

“Voice” has been steadily losing value  as a revenue driver for communications service providers.

Still, voice will matter more in the future, but not “people talking to people.” Voice will be a key interface for interacting with computing resources. In many ways, that is an analogy for what will be happening in other areas of communications as well.

To be specific, even if industry revenue in recent decades has shifted from narrowband to broadband, in the next era revenue growth is likely to shift substantially back to narrowband.

That might seem crazy. It is most eminently realistic. Keep in mind that our old definitions of narrowband, wideband and broadband have evolved. Traditionally, narrowband was any access circuit operating at about 64 kbps. Wideband was any circuit operating between 64 kbps and 1.5 Mbps.

Broadband was anything faster than 1.5 Mbps.

These days, almost nothing matters but the definition of “broadband,” now defined by the U.S. Federal Communications as a minimum of 25 Mbps in the downstream. Using that definition, and recognizing the floor will keep rising, most of the coming new use cases will be “less than broadband, and many will be classically narrowband.

Consider the mix of existing and “future” applications. With the salient exceptions of 360-degree video, virtual reality and augmented reality and some autonomous vehicle use cases, virtually all other applications useful for humans (using smartphones, watches, health monitors, PCs, tablets) or sensors and computers (internet of things) require bandwidth less than about 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps.


The somewhat obvious conclusion is that most of the use cases and potential revenue will be driven by use cases that do not require  “broadband” access speeds. Once upon a time, video was the classic “broadband” use case. These days, even high-definition video requires a few megabits per second support.

In that sense, using the 25-Mbps floor for defining “broadband,” even video has become a wideband app, requiring about 4 Mbps to 5 Mbps.

The big switch is coming.

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