Friday, October 19, 2018

Can ISPs Keep Increasing Internet Access Speed at Moore's Law Rates?

Perhaps improbably, at least some internet service providers--Comcast in particular--have been doubling the top speeds on their networks at rates consistent with Moore’s Law . “Comcast has increased speeds 17 times in 17 years and has doubled the capacity of its broadband network every 18 to 24 months,” Comcast says.

Comcast says gigabit speeds now are available to nearly all of the company’s 58 million homes and businesses passed in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

Of course, not every platform, or every ISP, has been able or willing to boost average speeds that much. The general rule is that a hybrid fiber coax network mostly can boost speeds by swapping out customer premises equipment, where a telco has to replace copper access networks with optical fiber. The former simply costs less than the latter.


That explains why cable TV operators tend to supply a disproportionate share of the fastest connections in the United States and United Kingdom, for example.


If  want to know why mobile service providers see upside in 5G , the ability to upgrade speeds to gigabit ranges without having to rip up copper access networks explains much of the interest.

Some have argued that fixed and mobile 5G is an existential threat to cable operators for that reason. Some us might argue that danger likely is overblown, but other existential problems arguably exist, among them declining revenue growth rates, profit pressures, lower average revenue per account and shrinking of revenue for virtually every legacy revenue stream.

Mobile substitution for fixed network voice services is one problem. But mobile messaging and voice revenues now are declining in most countries, while internet access prices also are dropping in most countries.

Sometimes, in some markets, actual price declines are disguised. That can happen when posted retail rates are not the prices most consumers pay; when customers actually buy more-costly packages over time; as prices per gigabyte fall or when prices are not indexed for inflation or compared to household income levels. In most developed countries, internet access costs less than one percent of household income, for example.

It also is common for ISPs to increase speeds on given tiers without price increases. That is an effective price cut, even if the nominal or posted retail price remains unchanged.


Today, 75 percent of Xfinity Internet customers choose plans with speeds of 100 Mbps or more, double the speed those customers took just three years ago, Comcast says.

One can see the shift in consumer demand to faster-speed tiers in data from 2011 to 2015. Over that four-year period, speeds more than doubled, for some telcos, and increased by 300 percent to 400 percent for many cable operators.
source: FCC

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